It was pitch-dark

“Mama, I had such a terrible performance year last year. I blanked in four consecutive recitals which has never happened before. I am not sure what will happen during the play.” I uttered a few words of encouragement despite being aware that actions speak louder than words. She needed to experience a successful performance.

She was chosen to be the pianist for the winter school play “The Sting.” After lots of weekend and late-night rehearsals, she played her part as the musician for three consecutive nights. I was there for the second one with a lot of apprehension.

“Mama the tickets are first-come, first serve. So make sure you reach early.” So I was there quite early to secure my ticket. While I was waiting outside the auditorium, I bought some candies to put them in her surprise brown packet. There were brown packets for all actors and actresses. The person at the counter asked “What is the name?” “I am Oishi’s mom,” I replied. “Oh you are Oishi’s mom! She is phenomenal. She plays in the dark.”

Frowning, I dropped the candies in her bag and took a seat in the second row so that I can videotape her performance. The lights were a little dim but I was able to record her coming down the steps in a jazz musician’s costume towards the grand piano. As she approached and imperceptibly sat down on the bench, the lights went dimmer until it was completely dark. With nervous hands, I continued taping while Oishi’s hands tore the stillness of the dark night with a beautiful melody. It was still pitch-dark when she stopped and I listened to the loud applause from the audience.

Notes from friends and family
Notes from friends and family
Note from Mama
Note from Mama
The Musician
The Musician

Sharmistha’s Book

A kind heart at Pei Wei

Oishi turned 17 today. It is hard to believe that 17 years ago, I held this little bundle covered in amniotic fluid who was to become a source of so many of my emotions. My life had changed forever. Her happiness and well-being came first in every decision I made and every step I took.

I decided to pick her up from school today and have lunch with her. She had picked Pei-Wei, an Asian Diner. Wearing a shimmering silver dress and golden jewelry, which is very unusual for her, she looked happy. As soon as we entered the diner, one of the associates exclaimed, “Oh my God! You are looking so pretty today! Such a dazzling dress!”

I beamed and said, “She turned 17 today. Can you take some pictures of the both of us?”

“Sure,” she replied.

At the counter, when we were about to order our food, she took a large double chunk chocolate cookie and gave it to Oishi, saying, “This is for the birthday girl. I baked it.”

Oishi, with an ear-to-ear smile, said, “Thank you so much.”

We ordered the entrees and I asked Oishi, “What drink do you want?”

The associate picked up two glasses and said, “The drinks are on me. This is her special birthday.”

Stupefied, Oishi and I looked at one another and sat down at our table. We didn’t expect any of these gifts of kindness when we entered Pei-Wei. It was going to be a celebration moment between the two of us, but the extraordinarily kind and wonderful associate became part of that beautiful moment which we will always remember. It was a gift of love from her because she didn’t expect anything in return.

Time and again we come across people who touch our lives and make them more meaningful and beautiful. Before I left, I asked her name. “Kara,” she replied.

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Cookie from Pei Wei
Cookie from Pei Wei

Our First Earnings

Oishi got a summer job as math tutor in a tutoring center – her dream job. After a month, when she got her first paycheck, she opened a bank account and was awarded a debit card with a Visa sign. This made her other dream come true – she will now be able to buy surprise gifts for me from Amazon for Mother’s Day.

Sure enough, a few days later a small package was left on my kitchen counter – a very pretty necklace. “Mama, I knew you wanted to buy a 16″ gold necklace for sometime now. I cannot afford gold, so I got gold color and the length is adjustable to 16″. Also, look, the stones are known as CZ. I did a lot of research on them. They look like diamonds, don’t they?” Then she emailed me a link on Cubic Zirconia. With blurry eyes, I wore the necklace. Seizing that perfect moment, she asked, “Can I please take you out to dinner? Nothing fancy. Just dhosa.” All my lectures on how she should save money seemed to have little effect then. So we went, and Oishi proudly gave her debit card and signed her first receipt at a restaurant.

Many, many years ago, my first earnings came in the form of scholarship money after I started my engineering program. Before going home for my first summer vacation, I decided to spend the money on Ma and Baba. However, the thought of giving jewelry to Ma never crossed my mind. There were so many things Ma needed to improve the quality of her life and jewelry was certainly not one of them. So I settled for a tortilla maker; it was not an electric one because those were not available then, but rather a cast iron one, which I carried home from Kolkata. “Ma, won’t this make your life a little easier? Now you can make the roti and poori much faster and won’t have to spend so much time in the hot and sultry kitchen.” Ma’s eyes beamed. “Yes, it definitely would,” Ma replied proudly.

I bought a utilitarian gift for Ma while Oishi bought a fancy gift for me. Surprisingly, both were extremely fitting with our mothers’ needs. We adjusted the form of our gifts as time and space changed. But we remained true to our primal desire of making the people we love happy.

Necklace from first paycheck
Necklace from first paycheck

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Oishi’s Junior PROM

I was coming out of the Oxford Valley Mall in Pennsylvania last weekend, when I saw a teenager window shopping through a row of exquisite dresses. She pointed to one dress at a time and said, “Not this, maybe this, definitely not, yes, yes, and maybe this.”

Her mom gave her a light hug and said, “Let’s go inside and check.” They were probably shopping for Prom.

I couldn’t help but notice how happy both the mom and daughter looked and found it difficult to veer my mind away from Oishi’s Prom experience.

Oishi initially did not want to go to Prom but declared one day that she wants to. “It is going to be in an aquarium. So I think I will have fun” was her reply when I frowned at her change of heart.

A day before the Prom, she declared again “I will wear jeans and T-shirt instead of dress.” “I will be lot more comfortable that way” was her simple answer to my concerned look.

When I went to pick Oishi up from her school after the Prom around 1 am, she was bursting with jubilance and talked incessantly about her relaxed, fun time at the Prom. “I am so glad I didn’t wear a dress. I couldn’t have danced as much as I have today, mama.” Then she added, “But mama, many kids were staring at me and one of them asked why I wasn’t wearing a dress.”

Oishi is a pianist and has recitals throughout the year in New Jersey and New York for which I bought her numerous dresses. But she chose to exercise her freedom of choice by not wearing a motion-limiting dress to the Prom.

The stares and questions were expected and understandable. But I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was all because we are seasoned to think in a certain way and frown upon any deviation from the norm.

Nonetheless both my daughter, dressed in jeans, and her friends, dressed in beautiful sparkly dresses, had a wonderful time at their long-awaited Junior Prom.

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Fireworks and Pad Thai

Since Oishi likes to see fireworks, I researched 4th of July fireworks in the nearby towns and found Monroe to be a pragmatic choice; it was not too far from home and Oishi liked the activities – sand art, pony ride and petting zoo. Oishi was also excited about eating out, while I tried to hide my dearth of enthusiasm for eating french fries and hot dogs . I was not despondent but not elated either.

I parked my car in the event parking lot of Thompson Park and unexpectedly and excitedly found myself standing in a bus queue to be transported to the actual event site. It reminded me of my visit to Disney World, where tram cars took us from the parking lot to the park entrance. I thought, “This is a good start. But what about food? Maybe, just maybe, they will have some spicy Asian food…”

In the hot summer afternoon, when the mercury touched 90°F and above, we got down from the bus in front of a large picnic area with clean picnic tables spread out on luscious green grass underneath big trees. I told Oishi, “This looks shady and cool. We will eat here.” We spotted a lake little far away and an artificial beach in front of the lake where a DJ and a group of people, adults included, were entertaining a crowd of people on a gallery around the beach, while a lake breeze tried its best to keep everyone cool. Oishi said, “Mama, this is awesome!”

Being food lovers, we turned our attention towards the food stalls. Oishi’s choice was limited because she became a vegetarian more than a year ago. We saw funnel cakes and french fries, even spicy french fries, and decided to go for the spicy french fries. No sooner had we started walking towards the spicy french fries stall than Oishi looked at me with enlarged eyes and said, “Oh my god, mama, they have Thai food here!” We dashed to the stall, only to find that there were no vegetarian options. Crestfallen, we began leaving the stall, when the chef, who was cooking a few feet away, approached us and offered to make vegetable Pad-Thai for Oishi. Pad Thai is Thai flat rice noodles made with egg, vegetables, peanuts, and soy sauce. It is scrumptious. We were ecstatic and thankful toward the chef. I ordered chicken Pad Thai and Oishi ordered the vegetarian version of the same. To top it off, I found out that the chef teaches Thai cooking class in Spotswood, NJ. I took her card and decided to take her class in the fall.

There was no petting zoo or pony ride due to the heat, but there was sand art. Oishi filled a little monkey with layers of hot pink, red, dark blue, orange,  pink, aqua, yellow and purple sand.

After all of that, it was finally time for what we came for. We sat in the gallery and watched the burst of colors illuminate the night sky, while songs like ‘God Bless America’ played in the background.

After the fireworks, when I just started to reminisce about the wonderful day, Oishi asked “Mama, can we have a funnel cake now?” So we bought a cake to share at home before we called it a night.


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Happy Father’s Day to Baba

Growing up in a small town in India during the 70s and the 80s, I did not have arguments with my parents because I never knew that was an option. Both my brother and I were expected to obey our parents. Not arguing was particularly difficult with Ma because she was a strict disciplinarian and I had a curious mind. Not surprisingly, despite our many good and loving moments, Ma and I sometimes collided in our ways of thinking and I, not allowed to protest verbally, became upset with her more often than not. Ma never asked what was wrong because she believed in giving me time to cool down.

Baba, on the other hand, simply could not stay away when I was distressed. He lingered around me just to start a conversation. Sometimes it worked, and I started talking to him. And sometimes it didn’t. One of those times, I was lying down with my face covered, and he started to pat my back affectionately, which made me more annoyed. I told him “I don’t want to talk to either you or Ma. So don’t touch me.” He did not stop caressing and calmly said, “I am not touching you. I am patting my daughter.”

We did not observe Father’s Day in India the way most families do now. In fact, I learnt about Father’s Day after I came to America. I wish there was a day called ‘Father’s Day’ back then so that I could have told him, “Thank you for your unwavering love, unyielding support and unbelievable patience. They made a world of difference in my life.” I did not get a chance to tell him then, so I am telling him today, “Happy Father’s Day, Baba!”

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How my daughter and Bing teamed Up For Mother’s Day

I came home from work and unlocked the door, expecting my daughter, Oishi to be at her desk doing homework. She had been working on an American History thesis paper for the last two marking periods, and her chosen topic was Music in the Underground Railroad. It was natural for her to do online research on many websites for the paper, but not Amazon.

“Oishi, why are you on Amazon for your research? And why are you using Bing instead of Google?”

“Mama, I had to check something on Amazon, and I use both Bing and Google for my online research. Don’t worry. I have good material for my thesis paper.” With a hint of nervousness, she tried to assure me that her research was on track.

A couple of days ago, when I returned home from work, Oishi looked at me and said, “I cannot keep it a secret any longer, even though I wanted to surprise you on Mother’s Day.” She put her hand inside her school bag and took out a small pouch which had a pair of aqua colored, silver designed, oval shaped earrings.

Ecstatic but perplexed, I asked, “How did you get those?”

“Bing has a rewards program. I opened an account and used it for my research. I accumulated points everyday by searching on Bing, and when I accumulated 525 points, I got five dollars for my Amazon account.”

She gave me the pair of earrings and said, “Happy Early Mother’s Day, Mama!”

Sharmistha’s Book