August 2016 marks a watershed in my life. My primordial bond was snapped that month. For as long as I live, I know, I’ll divide my life into two phases – with and without Ma, before and after August 2016.
Today was Srishti’s first encounter with snow, on her way to school. She didn’t like it! We had been warned of the snow in weather reports earlier in the week. The Dutch welcome it, of course, fond as they are of winter sports and disappointed that they have been for the last few years for not being able to ski enough or at all. Skiing comes as naturally to them as cycling and they love to do it on natural ice.
For quite a while after my daughter Srishti’s birth, my life centred round GELDERLANDPLEIN, the local mall in our neighbourhood in South Amsterdam, a mere 8-minute walk from our building. The word “Mall” conjures up visions of pleasure shopping, I know – but what I’m referring to is worlds away from that. For my ‘shopping’, for more than 4 years, has basically been doing the rounds of ETOS (for all manner of baby stuff), HEMA (household items) and ALBERT HEIJN (groceries).
Please don’t believe what they show on the ‘saas-bahu’ serials in India – the relationship between the ‘bahus’ (sisters-in-laws) of a joint household need not be all jealousy, hatred, intrigue and back-stabbing. There can be love, friendship and solidarity, too – not despite the circumstances, but because of it; as the common experience of being ‘bahus’ of a joint-family, and all that it entails, can be a great bond.
My bond with Srishti predates the womb. She had been a spectral presence in my life long before she was born – through all my years of waiting to be a mother. I’d always wanted a daughter and that’s how she came to me, in myriad visions: at nights, I would mostly imagine a baby, snuggling against me; but during the day, I would see a small girl – playing, singing, swinging, reading…. [I took mental snapshots of her --- she hovered, just beyond the pale of touch.]…
Distance, they say, lends enchantment to the view. It – the distance of both space and time – also gives fresh perspectives to relationships. Having lived almost a decade away from India and my loved ones, I am now able to see my relationships in a new light, in a way I would never have otherwise. And this applies most potently to the closest of all my relationships – with my parents.
When the world is white outside your window, you will have to stand and stare. Especially if you are a creature from the tropics. You may curse the weather in whichever part of the white world you are (pun intended) – curse it when for months morning can’t be distinguished from evening; when everybody insists on wearing black, making the bleak landscape even more depressing; when the flu is a recurrent companion and the overcoat becomes an extension of yourself.
Bengalis are notorious for their associations. Whichever part of the world you may live, you are sure to find the Bengali diaspora creating their little Bengal – where incorrigible foodies (read men) frequently get together to have machh-misti-and-more; self-conscious beauties are forever desperate to show off their latest sarees and jewellery; and their reluctant children are constantly (and unsuccessfully) coaxed into appreciating and propagating ‘Bengali culture’: with nach, gaan, abritti, natok – mostly ‘Rabindrik’.