ALL IN A DAY’S WORK

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Growing up in India, I never dreamt in a million years that one day I would be living in America and working at the reference desk of a public library. Life unfolds in unexpected ways or maybe it was always destiny’s plan, but here I am, in the southeast, enjoying every minute of helping people find information and also observing the vivid displays of interesting interactions which occur at the library. 

People are always curious about where I come from and it is really endearing when some people start the conversation with a Namaste, complete with folded hands and bowed down heads. They ask me if I am Hindi and if I speak Hindu and it is always funny to me because I am Hindu and I speak Hindi! One lady asked me if I put Chameli (a flower similar to Jasmine) oil in my hair and I was flabbergasted that she even knew about that since most people just know about coconut oil. Another woman told me that I looked like Nikki Haley (Governor of South Carolina, whose parents are from India) and I was so flattered! 

Last year, a middle aged Caucasian gentleman came up to me and told me that he was a big fan of Priyanka Chopra (Bollywood heroine) and followed her on Twitter. Since then, whenever he visits the library, he stops by to chat about the gorgeous Priyanka and I update him on all the gossip about her from the Indian tabloids. He knows her whereabouts and he got really excited last year in April when she visited Tampa for the IIFA awards. I find it amusing that he pronounces her name Pri- yank (as in the word yank) –a. He is so earnest that he wants to learn the correct Hindi pronunciation and he tries but fails. 

My face is a dead giveaway of my nationality but once in a while someone will come up to the desk and flood me with a barrage of Spanish complete with animated hand movements and intermittent laughs and giggles only to be cut short by my curt response of “Sorry, I do not know any Spanish” and they will give me a confused look as though they are thinking “Chica, are you kidding me? I could have sworn you were a Latina!”  

Sometime back, I was on the phone answering a reference question and the person on the other end was intrigued by my accent. He asked me if I was French and it gave me such a thrill, sounding European sounds so exotic and uber fancy to me. 

The best part of my job is that every day I get to learn something new. A lady called me on the phone with the description of a small bird which is brown in color but has some red on its head and under the neck. I asked her if it was a Robin and she said the bird is smaller in size. “Could it be a hummingbird?” I thought aloud, only to be rudely silenced by her saying that the bird she saw is not that small. After giving her many options like a Cardinal, Woodpecker, Blackbird with some red on it etc., I finally figured that it could be a Red Finch and as soon as I said that, her voice took an excited pitch and she screamed to her husband “It’s a Finch, I got it, It’s a Red Finch” and then she thanked me profusely and put the phone down. It was quite exhilarating to help her come to that conclusion! 

A young girl came to the desk the other day and asked me if I could find books on light workers. I asked her if she was looking for books on people who worked with lights like Electricians and she started laughing.  Then, she told me that a Light worker is a human being dedicated to the cultivation of inner presence and the elevation of awareness in self and other selves. I had never heard that term before but I did help her find some Internet sources on that topic.

 Reference books on religion are researched a lot. Recently, there has been a lot of interest in the Koran and the Bible has always been widely read and interpreted. Sometimes, people remember a passage from the Bible and want to know which book and verse it came from which is not hard to find, thanks to Google. Long back, an old lady came to me and said “Honey, Are you Christian?” and I told her that I was not but I did respect Jesus. She told me in a concerned and quivering voice “You are so sweet, do become a Christian, I do not want you to burn in hell.” I shook my head and smiled and thought “What if I was sour?” I told her that she should not worry about me as I will be fine. I have not read the religious texts in depth but I do know in my heart that I am a good person and I have not committed any crimes and so there is no logical reason why I would be banished to the fires of hell.

 Mentally ill people visit the library too and we treat them with courtesy and respect. A lady calls me Ruth (a noble woman from the Bible) and refuses to call me by my real name. There is this patron who is always wearing a helmet, even inside the library. I do not know the reason behind it but I am guessing that he could be scared of getting an injury to his head. To a normal mind, the idea seems preposterous but in his mind the fear is real and therefore worthy of taking precaution.  My heart goes out to people who suffer from mental disorders. In our society, we offer so much help and support to people suffering from physical diseases like cancer or diabetes but for those who are tortured by their own minds and suffer from anxiety or depression, we do not extend the same compassion. 

Sometimes, an incident happens at the library and it teaches me a life lesson. Few years back, on a Tuesday evening, two women got into an argument while using the public computers and one of them attacked the other with a box cutter. We called security and they came to the scene immediately and separated them. Our security workers are the best and they are really skilled at their job. One woman was bleeding profusely from her forehead where the box cutter had taken a swipe and it was quite shocking to witness the whole event. The lady who used the box cutter was jailed. 

It made me a little upset as the fight was initiated by the woman who went scot free. She was in a mood to argue and pick a fight and she was constantly heckling and provoking the other woman who could not take it anymore and decided to leave. While she was leaving, the other woman threatened to beat her outside and that is when she snapped and took out the box cutter. The moral of the story for me was that in situations like these you have to keep your cool and walk away, using violence only gets you into trouble, nobody cares about who started the fight, they only see who got hurt and they punish the person who inflicted that wound. Let me add that the library is a very safe place and incidents like these are extremely rare. 

Changing gears, on a lighter note, I am reminded of a library patron who looks like Sean P Diddy. He dresses in very fashionable long coats, well-tailored pants, sunglasses, lots of bling and he walks with a swagger as though he is a millionaire. The other day, a man asked me for paper scissors and I told him that the rule was that he could not take the scissors anywhere and he had to use it right there at the reference desk well within my view. I thought he wanted to cut some paper, but to my surprise, he took the scissors towards his face and feeling alarmed, I asked, “What are you doing?” and he said, “I just want to trim my moustache.” I said, “No, no, you are not allowed to do that at the library, please return the scissors immediately!” Thankfully, he did return the scissors and I breathed a sigh of relief. 

The reference desk sagas are never ending. All of these stories are real, I cannot make this up. I get to help people in their quest for knowledge and I also get to observe them with all their quirks and idiosyncrasies! Some hours at the desk can be a little dull and slow but more often than not there is plenty of mental stimulation and excitement going on, all in a day’s wo

SWEET SIXTEEN ( original post date: December 2015)

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Growing up in India, I did not know that turning sixteen was a big deal. The only thing I remember about my sixteenth birthday is that it was my first birthday without my loving dad who passed away when I was fifteen. Last December, when my daughter turned sixteen, my first thought was, “Thank you, God, she has a stable, loving and caring dad to celebrate her birthday with and her special day will be much happier than mine”

Sweet sixteen birthday parties for girls are an extravagant affair in America. It is a coming of age party celebrated with pomp and splendor. Ballrooms are booked, DJs are called, and the birthday girl gets a car and a tiara and what not. Thankfully, my daughter is the sweetest and the most sensible sixteen year old I know and she did not want us over spending on a party. My friends had been asking me to have a big affair as everyone was excited for us and they also needed an opportunity to dress up and party! Sadly, I had to tell them that I may not do that as Mansi does not like crowded parties.

All she wanted was to hang out with her close friends and a Wii U to play video games. We gave her what she wanted, she has an eclectic mix of friends who got her thoughtful gifts and they chatted, sang, danced and played board games. I got her favorite cake and they all had a good time painting her face with the icing before eating the cake.

My husband always tells me that I let our kids spend too much time on electronics and yet every time Mansi’s birthday comes up , he buys her some or the other electronic device whether she has asked for it or not. So far, he has got her a smartphone, a kindle, an iPad, a Nintendo 3ds, a smart watch which syncs with her phone, and then this year he did not disappoint with the Wii U, and then, I get blamed for spoiling our kids! 

Mansi is our first born and we were blessed with her five years after we got married. She was supposed to be born on Dec 31 1999, a Y2K baby and yet she came 4 weeks early on Dec 2, 1999. The nurses called her peanut because she was so tiny and they admired her long eyelashes and head full of beautiful black hair. The day before I went into labor, we had a dinner party at home for some of my husband’s single friends and I had made biryani and other entrees and desserts. Those poor guys were shaken up when they heard that the baby was born so early and they were calling my husband and telling him that he should have taken them out to eat instead of letting me get tired from all the cooking!

 Mansi was the most beautiful chubby little baby and I enjoyed every minute with her. I stayed home the first couple of years and I was always carrying her around, I loved cuddling with her, dressing her, talking to her, just always holding her close to my heart. I wish I could use the rewind button and relive those days again. The day she started preschool was traumatic for me as she held on to my leg, would not part, and the teacher had to physically pull away a crying baby from an equally emotional mom. I cried all the way home and then finally pulled myself together when the teacher called and said that my daughter had stopped crying.

I am proud to say that today she is an independent girl who goes on band trips with friends and chaperones and can manage by herself. However, if she does not respond to my text immediately, I start hyperventilating till I hear back from her. I am always amazed that even though Mansi is my daughter, she is so different from me. At her age, I was so foolish, I had crushes, I would tell everyone whatever was going on in my mind, I did not know what profession to choose when I grew up and I was not focused. My daughter is very private, she thinks most boys her age are dumb and she does not scream and cry tears of excitement at a boy band like One Direction or anything similar. She knows what she wants to study, who she wants to be friends with and she is very selective and focused.  

The quality I admire most about my daughter is that she is her own person and she is not a follower. I always wanted her to fit in but she has no trouble standing out. I remember, when she was in the fifth grade, the teacher said that on one day the girls could either dress as cowgirls or Native Americans. All the girls decided to be cowgirls and Mansi dressed up alone as a Native American and was not worried about that at all. To this day, if I am going to a party, I will call my friends and ask them what they are wearing so that I am not the only one in Western clothes if everyone is wearing Indian or vice versa. The whole high school could be wearing skinny jeans and boots but my daughter will wear comfortable athletic pants and tennis shoes and does not care one bit about what others think and I really admire that about her. 

She is a voracious reader who taught herself the periodic table in fourth grade from library books on Chemistry. Physics has been her favorite subject and she wrote a paper on anti-matter in fifth grade. I could never understand Physics.  In high school I made the mistake of taking science subjects under parental pressure but quickly realized I am terrible at it and do not understand the basic concepts at all. I am very expressive and I can write pages and pages but Mansi takes a long time to write an English language Arts paper. I send her lines and lines of texts on her phone about what’s going on with me and how much I love her and she responds with one word – ok! I worry about the fact that she is an introvert and does not open up quickly but I have learnt to let go of that and love her for who she is.

 My daughter has a great sense of humor. Since she is very quiet, if she ever opens up and has a conversation with somebody, I get all excited and say, “Good job Mansi, that was so awesome, you talked so well, yay, you can do it.” My son will quip ,“What is the good job for, all she did was talk, what’s the big fuss about?” and Mansi will laugh her sweet laugh and say “ You don’t know Arjun, when I talk it’s a magical event, violins play in mom’s head and angels sing!”

My daughter never disrespects us or rolls her eyes. She always tells me I am beautiful. She is my strongest supporter. I always second guess myself and she always fills me with her quiet strength and confidence. Incidentally, last summer, I was walking on the dam with the kids and a man with three rolls of fat and without a t-shirt was running towards us, Arjun kidded: “Mom look perfect flabs” and I said “I wish I had his confidence ,he is inspiring me to wear a bikini but if I do that dad might die of embarrassment” to which Mansi replied “no mom, if you wear a bikini, dad will die of your hotness!” Age is just a number, so often our roles get reversed. Just last week I went for my twenty fifth high school reunion and turned into a giggly sixteen year old full of excitement, nerves and exuberating at the prospect of meeting old friends. My daughter told me to go have fun, enjoy and not get into trouble! 

Daughters are the best. She is the only girl among seven boys between me and my two sisters. We joke with her that she will have to look after her mom ,dad and mausis and mausas when we get old since we do not have much  hope from the boys! She is so sweet that she tells us that we are all welcome to live with her. Good luck to her future husband with that, he will have to deal with seven brothers and six live in in-laws! On a serious note, I love my sixteen year old with all my heart and soul and I wish her nothing but a long, happy and healthy life. I know that if something happened to me , I can count on her to be quietly strong for her dad and brothers and she will be there for them. We are so blessed to have her.

THE TWO MEN IN MY LIFE

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If you read the title of this blog and you are wondering who the second man in my life is, let your dirty mind not wander anymore, I do not have an illicit paramour! The two men in my life are my husband and my dad. As many of you know, my dad passed away and departed to his heavenly abode in 1987. Yet, he is still present with me, in my thoughts, in my memories, in my actions and in the very core of my being. He is omnipresent and omniscient. Once in a while, I get to hug him in my dreams only to wake up with a terrible longing of wanting to hug him physically in the real world. When I miss him too much, I go and sit by his photograph and it seems like I am in his company which always calms me down and comforts me.

My dad was the most dashing, dazzling, dynamic and daring person I know. He was six feet and one inch tall, broad shouldered with a sharp nose, thick curly hair and big eyes. He was in the army for a short while and he looked incredibly handsome in his military uniform. He was an extrovert, he cherished company, he loved to invite people home for dinner and the way he met people by shaking their hands robustly and maintaining great eye contact was really charming.

He could not hold his drinks and when he had one too many, he would talk in a loud booming voice, enthralling people with his tales of the army and he would always be the life of the party. He loved watching movies and during his army days he would fly in the helicopter with his friends to catch a show at the neighboring town and then fly back to base. He also won the prestigious and coveted Raksha medal while in service.

We were four sisters and my dad believed that his daughters were the best at everything. He could not stop bragging about us. In his eyes, a piece of art work/coloring  done by me was a Monet masterpiece, the tea I made for him could very well be the best tea in the world and of course, we were the smartest, brightest child prodigies around. I remember winning third place at a state level story competition and when I went to get the prize on the stage, my father had arranged for a professional photographer complete with a big camera stand and fancy lenses to take pictures of me as though I was a celebrity! He was insanely generous with gifts, if you asked for one thing; he would shower ten of those upon you.

He was also quick tempered and impatient. While driving, he would constantly honk till the other drivers on the road made way for him! He would never get angry at us but god forbid, if any young man decided to write a romantic letter to one of his daughters or misbehave with one of them, that guy would face a storm of my dad’s torrid fury and blazing vengeance. 

My dad loved babies and was willing to have a fifth child. My mom, of course put her foot down and said – no more, four is enough! When I had my first son in 2002, I really missed my dad as I knew that he had always wanted a son. It is so heartbreaking and ironic that today he has seven grandsons and yet he is not here to see them or play with them.  He lives on in my son Arjun whose eyes are just like my dad’s – big, sparkling and popping. Arjun has the same voice and he is a wonderful orator like his nana (grandfather). Arjun can engage a crowd with an impromptu speech just like my dad could.

Few days back my daughter told me that when she grows up she wants to marry somebody just like her dad. Then she asked me, “Mom, did you want to marry somebody like your dad?” I was stumped by her question. I told her that we may think we have a type of man we are looking for but then life has other gifts in store.

Marriages are made in heaven or in my case arranged by my mom and uncle.  My children are always disappointed by the story of how their parents (Ajay and Mona) met. Arjun told us that our story sounds like we were out in the market to buy a cow! My kids can be so brutal sometimes. I wish I had a more romantic story to tell them but I do not have one. 

When we met, I was impressed by Ajay’s good looks, he was tall (5’11”) and he did not smoke (this was very important to me, my dad smoked lot and I did not like that) and he also seemed very nice and decent. He did not talk much in the first meeting and so I told my mom –“I like him but he does not talk much.” My mom replied in her usual headstrong way –“That is good, I find people who talk too much really annoying!” I kidded with her if she was finding a match for herself or for me! Then, she told me that the next time I meet him I should be quiet and give him a chance to talk. So that is what I did and slowly and steadily he opened up to me. I discovered that he had a great personality with a fantastic sense of humor. 

He is also very calm, disciplined, patient, hardworking and organized. My husband is a planner and he always makes decisions after weighing the pros and the cons. If he has to buy any electronic device or even clothes he visits multiples shops, compares prices and takes his time to decide. I feel flattered that marrying me was the only impulsive decision he ever made in his life. I was the first girl he met, the first proposal and even though his family wanted him to meet some more girls, he stuck with me. He was smitten and committed and that gives me a tingling thrill to this day.

Despite being outgoing and social my dad had an underlying sense of sadness and melancholy about life. He lost his own dad when he was a baby and he remembers people telling him how manhoos(unlucky) he was that his arrival brought his own father’s death . My heart breaks when I imagine my dad as a little boy. His mom remarried and he had several more siblings but the loss of his biological dad and lack of communication with that side of the family really ate at him all through his life. I wish I could have taken his pain away.

My husband has an optimistic outlook on life and nothing really brings him down. He loves to play pranks, once he kept a dead snake from the yard in an empty box of doughnuts and handed it to me; I screamed my head off when I opened it. Then, I laughed too because practical jokes make life fun. Recently, I have been trying to lose weight for an upcoming India trip and I am really slow on the Elliptical machine. He runs on it when he warms up before a soccer game but I was dragging my feet. He came and copied me, he had my tired and dull expression on his face and he was doing the elliptical movements in exaggerated slow motion. I laughed so hard to see him copy me to a T that I almost fell off the elliptical machine.

The other day I was smiling to myself and he asked me why I was laughing. I kidded with him that I was thinking about my boyfriend. He replied – “ Toh isme hasne ka kya hai, tumhara boyfriend joker hai kya?” ( What is there to laugh, is your boyfriend a joker?”)My husband is not very expressive and extravagant with his praise and therefore when he does pay me a compliment, I get ridiculously ecstatic and I feel like I could die of happiness.

Ajay can drink a lot and not lose control. He tells me that is because he drinks slowly and he does not gulp it down like I do. My dad got really emotional and talkative after a few drinks. My dad and my husband – my most favorite men, polar opposites and yet they have one thing in common- me. My dad loved me and my husband loves me unequivocally. My biggest disappointment is that my dad could not meet my husband but hopefully he is watching us from above. My two sons aged 10 and 12 are a combination and culmination of the physical features and personal qualities of my dad and my husband and I am waiting for them to grow up and turn into wonderful young men!