Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nakshi kantha

Nakshi kantha, a type of embroidered quilt, is a centuries-old Bengali art tradition in Bangladesh.[1][2][3] The basic material used is thread and old cloth.[4] Kanthas are made throughout Bangladesh, but the greater MymensinghRajshahiFaridpur and Jessore areas are most famous for this craft.[5]

The Embroidered Quilt 

The small village still gazes at the faraway village
Whispering in silence, tears in eyes. 
Dried fields lie in between
Cracked, baked in the hot sun.
Ruthless peasants cut the paddies that cloaked the earth
And take them to some far between land
That we do not know. 
(Poet Jasimuddin 1920 - 1976)
  Translated from Nakshi Kanthar Math    

I was an only child. No siblings, no playmates to fool around with.  My only companion was my blanket. My security blanket.  I called it, my nakshi kantha.  Elderly relatives used to tell stories that when I was a child I carried that quilt everywhere, sweeping the whole universe. It was catastrophic to part  with it.   My parents had hard time washing or cleaning it. I don’t remember that.  All I remember is,  what a sense of security it gave me — that little piece of rag. 

“Your mother made it even before you were born. With the thread of her colorful saris she embroidered the designs, these vines of hope designs.” Baroma pointed the vines, sliding  her fingers through the leaves of the pattern. 

I picked it up and brushed it against my cheek, “Soft! How come it is so soft?” I’d ask.

“The quilt is made with your father’s old cotton dhoti that are washed and washed, and became so soft.”  She replied.  

No wonder it was so special;  it had the smell of  Babu and the vines-of-hope designs of Ma’s hands.  My life started wrapped in that special blanket.

When I was little, I vividly remember playing with the designs on the quilt. My fingers would hop with the seams of the embroidery  designs where the blue stitches ran up to get lost in  the green field, passing the orange french knot flowers.  Run, run, run, way up to the indigo  tiny triangle appliqués. They were like the hillocks  of  the Sushong Hills which I could see from my window. Then  I’d find tiny maroon squares and rectangles just  like the red tile roof-tops of the huts beneath the hills. Hop  with the orange  lazy daisy chain stitches that spiraled in the center  like the sun, and then  escape behind  the green vines. Oh, how it  found its way to the tan border at the end. It was the  same  ginger hue of  the color of  the Brahmaputra River. Does the orange spiral want to take a dip in that ginger-tan  water? I wondered.

I felt like a free white breasted kite bird  flying in the wide open sky and then  dropping on the soft plushness of the nakshi kantha.

The blanket hugged me. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017


Today is my birthday.  I thought I should start my journal today, fresh again.  Like most New Year's  resolution this is another one I make each year.  With a new notebook.

The part I like is,  buying the new journal.  I have so many of them, some so  beautiful that I feel shy to blemish them.  I brush fingers on them, sniff to  smell the opened blank pages. Then I  leave them untouched, bare. I consider myself a minimalist, at least a wanna-be-minimalist, but in this journal  buying thing,  I am confused.  My need and want areas are blurry, and I never feel I have enough.

 I did find a new journal on my shelf.  A pretty one in matted black with a tiny photograph of a blooming gardenia.  As I untied the scarlet satin ribbon attached to it,  the diary opened and a card fell. A blank card.  It read -

"Be patient toward all that unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." by Rainer Maria Rilke.

I must have bought it for someone and forgot .  Well, today it is mine.

I was thinking of my parents.  While they were alive each year a card came from my father with interesting messages and uplifting thoughts.  I wanted to believe that it was from Ma and Baba for my birthday today, and they were blessing me from heaven.  I felt tearful, thanking someone because they were my parents.

I thought of all the people around me today, all the love they have given me, unconditionally, unaware. Most of the time I take them for granted, but today it touched me in a different way.  I decided I should put this in writing today, this emotion, gratitude,  in my new journal.

I will capture all the fleeting moments of sweetness and spread it out here: the dazzle of the dew drop on the meticulous cobweb,  the humming bird's halted mid flight, all those  will be snapshots on  the page. And I'll  post the funny stories  that my little grand kids say.

It will not be a book for to do lists. It will  be a friend whom I can confide to, it'll be the mentor who'll transcend my spirit from the mundane.

I looked at the picture of the gardenia:

"And now in age I bud again
After so many deaths I live and write
I once more smell the dew and rain
And relish versing..... "  

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Protagonist

How I found my protagonist

My mother was stuck in bed for the last four years of her life as a stroke victim. Though her motor skill was gone her memory was intact, especially the long term one.  She loved telling stories of her childhood days in Mymensingh, before they became a refugee,  after the Partition.  And I loved to listen to those stories.

Living twelve thousand miles away with a window of two weeks vacation time with her, every other year or so did not give me much time, but it gave me a ton of guilt feeling. One day I admitted that to her and she replied, " Even when I am not there any more, memories will.  And the stories.  You may come and visit them as often as you wish, for as long as you want."

What a haunting statement!

After I returned to California to my normal life, and even after she  had passed away for several years, often a little girl visits me.  She catches me in my quiet hours, while I am driving, when I am washing dishes absent mindedly.

"Who are you?"  I ask.


"Where are you from?

"From the past. " She replies.

A lanky little girl of seven or eight years of age, with a missing front tooth, fair as snow, delicate as a fairy calls me waving her tiny fingers.

" Come, I'll show."  She takes me by my hand through a lush garden of overgrown bushes where the smell of  kul overwhelms the air.  She picks one up and puts in my mouth.  The jelly like jujube melts under my tongue.

Blossoms of shiuli phool underneath our feet feel soft.  She picks up a handful and lets them rain.  She smashes them between her fingers.  The orange stems burst into carnelian hues. She smiles.
 " Magic!"

Shiuli Phool

I open my journal and write:



It was a peaceful morning  otherwise, until the news paper came.
I was busy discovering all kinds of magic in our garden that early spring day.  Flower pots on the entry steps  were brimming with bursts of red hibiscus and the white star jasmine crept up the columns and entangled my swing on the porch.  New leaves, as large as elephant’s ears, with the darkest bottle green shade and  tiny dots shot up from the planter box.  I thought the garden fairy must have visited at night and painted those red and white dots on the leaves with sandal wood paste. 
Our ivory color brick house had curved doorways with dark green wooden shutters and through the arched stained glass windows yellow, orange and red lights flooded and  reflected on the floor.  I was playing hop-scotch with the patterns  on the floor and then chasing a tiny white butterfly entered the garden.  Babu, my father, was weeding kneeled down close to the ground with his back facing me. Sweat drops glistened on his almost bald head.  I tip-toed and quickly covered his eyes from behind with my little hands. His glasses flung.  He turned.
“You! Aren’t you cold, little one?” He wrapped me with his soft woolen shawl and picked me up.  I put my head on his shoulder.  Soap, soil, sweat made up my daddy-smell. No one in the whole world smelled the same. 
“What are you doing?”  I asked him.  He got me down. 
        “ Look, these are the  new growth of the seeds we  had planted the other day, but these are no good, just weeds.”  He tried to give me a lesson in gardening. But I turned away, I heard the garden latch clank. 
It was Jasimuddin, our gardener, helper, care taker,  a person whom I saw as my older brother and addressed as Jasim da (brother Jasim).  He was a tall, scrawny person with black beard, and always with a smile on his face.

Jasim da, in a grey, long kurta and his usual  black musselman tupi (cap) was coming with the morning paper in his hand like  he did every day.  I ran to him. “ Jasim da, where is the thing you promised to bring?” 
“Wait a bit more, little sister.” He smiled and handed the news paper to my father. 

I knew Babu would ask for his morning cup of tea now  and go inside.  This would be the end of the garden session for this morning.  But today it was different.  Babu took the morning paper and stretched it out.  And his brows got knitted.  His face looked disturbed.   “What?” he murmured to himself and sat down on the step. He did not get inside, nor did he ask for his tea. I understood something was wrong. 
“ What is it Babu?” I asked.  He glimpsed, not sure how to explain it to a seven year old child and  turned to Jasimuddin.
“ The Lahore Resolution is passed. Passed on March 24th.” 
“ What does that mean, sir?”  Jasim da gazed at his face.
“ It means that the Muslim majority areas are asking for a separate place.  Areas in  the west of India like Lahore, Karachi, and in the east, Bengal do not want to be part of Hindustan,  India,  even when  the British give us freedom.”
“Then what will happen sir?” Jasimuddin asked. 
“ I don’t know. I don’t know how it could be solved, Jasim”  Babu studied his face. 

Jasimuddim lowered his eyes looking at the ground,  his hands folded,  not sure how to respond. 
I went to him and whispered in his ears, “ Jasim da, aren’t you going to ask permission for the puppy now, please?”
“ It’s not a good day, little sister” he mumbled back with a sad face.             


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Is Writing a Solitary Activity?

Writing IS a very solitary activity and you do need silence for that to dig what you have in that ink well.  That is why you take your lap top and disappear into a cafe with head phone on, so that your toddler can not pull your skirt any more  demanding your  attention; or your mother can’t bother you nagging that your dirty  shoes are still in the living room.

Then again there are times when the muse decides to break relationship with you and visit you no more.  You stare at your blank page day after day and  find thousands of excuses why you can not write. You  feel ashamed to face the mirror that nags - Didn’t you promise to tell that story to the world?

That is when and why you need your writer friends. They  can exactly understand your feeling. The friend   stretches her hand to pull you up from that dark corner, stays with you while you read  and give you feed back, constructive and honest ( so that you do not burst with ego), yet gentle ( enough, so that you do not wilt or dry like a dying plant). 

You feel like you have experienced the birth of your friend’s child when your writer friend’s book comes out.  That is what I want to share today.  My friend Christina Tomerson , her real Polish name is Krystyna Mihuka is published recently. Krysia, a Polish Girl’s Stolen Childhood During World War II is  a memoir of her experience of the World war Ii.  The book received  A Junior  Library Guild Selection and a great review in Wall Street Journal.

I saw this book being created chapter by chapter, polished and dressed today..  My 87 year old friend doubted her talent every time she read to us, so humble she is but I was just waiting for this day.   I am so proud for Krystyna.

Today in CWC (California Writers Club), our keynote speaker  Meagan Ward talked about  co operative writing, and how writer friends need to help each other. I did not know that there are places in San Francisco ( San Francisco Writers Grotto)  and New York ( and couple of other places mentioned) where you can rent a space to write with  other writers, sitting among other writers.  Some are close doors, some open, like a library.  It is fascinating ( though I don’t know if I’d use it)  

The main point is writers  do need writers as friends. No wonder   Jack London felt it long ago, a hundred some years back and created this  wonderful club- California Writers Club.  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Part of an unfinished story.  

Mightier than a Sword

“ You don’t know how privileged, how lucky you are that  today you can  go to school.  We did not have that privilege.  Never neglect your studies.” Dhuli didimoni warned. 
  Which thirteen-year old child  likes to hear such lectures? We didn’t either. 
But when we heard,  “ Just a stroke of pen, and that saved my life”, we sat up straight. 
“How?  How was your life saved? Tell us, tell us”. Padma's doe-eyes twinkled. Dhuli didimoni crackled, “Oh that’s a long story.  You must go back to your studies now, prepare for your exams.” 
“Please, please Didimoni, we’ll stay up late tonight and catch up for our tests, now tell us that story, please,” we cuddled beside her. 

Paan Bata...very close to what I described here.  

“Well, then listen.”  She opened up the lid of a brass box.  The rectangular ornate box had several chambers inside.  We found that the very first one was a shallow tray  that held a moistened cloth. Dhuli didimoni gently took out  the tray and put  aside. Unfolding  the moist cotton cloth she took out a betel leaf, paan. Several  tiny  cylindrical  brass pots came out after that. From the very first one she scooped out a little white paste, slaked lime, and smeared it on to the paan with the tip of her forefinger. Shredded areca nut pieces, supari, were added from the second one and then from the very  last one she drew out a pinch of silvery something and added  on her paan.  “This is zarda, a kind of sweet tobacco, absolutely not okay for kids. It will make your head spin like crazy and make you throw up and that’d be  the proof that you stole zarda and ate it. ” She warned with wide eyes.   Didimoni then folded the paan into a neat triangle and shoved it in her mouth.  One side of her  cheek flared up as she kept on chewing.  
We knew it would be a long wait now until that puffed cheek normalizes. The little pots and pans went back to the brass box to their respective designated space.  The lid was shut with a swift click.  Didimoni swallowed the juice of her paan with great relish and started:

“ I was the fifth child of the ten children my parents had.  But the very first daughter.   I had three younger sisters.  When I was nine years old, I was married. Don’t remember much of that, only,  that I was bundled in a heavy red sari with  a thick gold border.  Real gold thread. Gold jewelry was hung on me that was too heavy and bulky for my size.  I felt like a sack, but fell asleep any way.   Late at night, they woke me up and carried me to the groom. I had no idea how the man looked, or what this fuss was all about.  All I remembered was,  I had overheard a whispering murmur, ‘Oh, what a match, such a beautiful girl for that old coffin-dodger? How long is he going to last?’
‘Hush, hush, think, what a family she is going to be married to, the highest of the Brahmin caste,  a Kulin Brahmin.   They have three more daughters to be married and this will pave their paths’. 
‘Doesn’t the groom have fourteen other wives?’ someone remarked.‘Of course he does.  Which Kulin Brahmin groom  would you find that doesn’t?’ another answered. 
‘Why you frown, dear child.  Smile. It’s your wedding today’, an old lady held up my chin with a toothless grin.  I must have scowled and turned away, I don’t remember. 
I managed to live with my parents for four more years.  But then came a day when I became a woman, and it was time to go to my husband’s house. 

I vividly remember that day. I  had heard that my husband was almost my father’s age. To me he looked like my grandfather and indeed he had fourteen wives.
All my family came to see me off at the river bank  While they were busy with the farewell rituals,  I looked around.  

The sky was crisp cerulean,  not a single speck of cloud. A blue machranga, kingfisher bird,  with its long scarlet beak  gazed  faraway.   An egret stood on one leg,  forever.  The swarna champa tree was full of blossoms . Tiny  bell shaped, golden flowers made an  amber circle around  the tree.  People  walked on them, trampled, unaware. Unaware of that  heavenly smell.  

That  smell defined home to me. My childhood, my familiar life,  all that I was leaving here.

Ulululu.  I startled at that shrill.  They were now inaugurating me, ceremoniously  saying good bye, wishing me  a safe journey to my new life. Clay lamps were lit, sandalwood paste  was smeared on my forehead.   A man from the groom’s team announced that we must hurry, speed things up. My younger sister, Bonu, scurried.   Streaks of  tears running down her cheek, she  embraced  me in a tight hug and emptied something from the corner of her sari to mine. And then tied a  tight knot to keep the contents safe. The swarna champa flowers. Some spilled on my feet.   How could she know? 

They pushed me to board the boat.  The rope unfurled. The vessel shook.  I felt dizzy  as if there was no ground under my feet.  Indeed, there was none. I held on to those flowers as tight as I could to my bosom.  They were the only tie with my known world."

Friday, June 3, 2016

Puerto Vallarta - The best and worst Part II - Time Share Gamble

 Time Share:  Did we win the gamble?

At our Grand Mayan Resort, the very first thing they ask us is, attend a  Time Share presentation,  the very first thing, next morning. 

“We can’t.”  We protest.  “ Any one catched  you at the airport and want to meet at Walmart?”  The robust manager barks.

 “ May be!” my husband admits.

 “ No señor! Why did you do that?”  His brows are knitted.

“ Any way,  we’ll match whatever he promised and give you mucho  more.   Right now you have a cheap studio  unit with view of the construction site.  No good, senorina. “ This time he looks at me crinkling his nose. 

“ I will upgrade that to a one bed room with kitchen and a great ocean view….. and ….” 

“ Thanks, but no thanks. We are  fine with the studio.  I am not going to any presentation.  Please give the key for my room.” my husband demands.

The guy ties a yellow- red- aztec design bracelet  on our wrists that looks more like a friendship bracelet that little kids make. This is the key he explains,  and made a face that scared the heck out of me  that we’d end up with a stinky room with a lousy view. 

With that strange key when  I opened the room we were pleasantly surprised.  It’s   a beautiful room  on the fourth floor with a  balcony  view of a cute wooden bridge in a lush green forest.   The room has a  king bed and enough room to do all the yoga moves I want to,  on the floor.  The bath even has a jacuzzi. We are quite happy.

Next morning I get a  text message from Marco that he is on his way to Walmart. Even with our very limited Spanish when we informed the taxi driver our destination,  he understood immediately. “ To meet a person, señor ?” he nodded his head.

At Walmart the taxi driver spotted Marco before we did, who paid our fare and took us to Flamingo Resort. We are still not sure if we won the gamble,  yet.  I am kind of enjoying this little adventure, the way  it is unfolding.  What the worst can happen? 

Flamingo Estate is not as big or grandeurous like the Grand Mayan, but charming enough. 

At the gate Marco hands us to the next Welcoming Guide,  John Smith.  John Smith speaks very good English and he looks  more American than Mexican.  Indeed! he  is from San Diego.  Born and brought up there. 

“I can’t speak Spanish. No man!” he confesses.  “John Smith, like apple pie, what can be more American, right?’- he chuckles.

 “ I consider myself a guide, a mentor, rather than a sales person.  Try to show people what to do with life…how to do it.  Life is short. Vacations are so so important.  But you need a plan.”  John says in one breath. Then as he shows us the path through the meandering walkways, he looks at my husband.  “ “What do you do sir? “ 

 “ Retired.  Taking a vacation.” he replies.

 I look at my watch.  We have spent about three hours talking with him.  He had taken us to a grand buffet  and introduced us to several  special Mexican dishes,  “ This lady will make you an empanada with your choice of fillings and don’t forget to try the roasted poblanos.” 

 In the mean time he told us his  life story, may be, tapping  our needs. May be he thought  it will make us  feel comfortable  to open up,  But,   in the process  John Smith,  unconsciously  was confessing how confused he feels about what to do with his own life.  He had changed careers many times, been to several places and wore many hats.  “ This 15th July I’ll have my 50 th birthday!”  he adds.

“ How do you plan to celebrate?”  I ask.

 “ I think I’ll celebrate it becoming a Mexican citizen and give up my American passport. I hope my Mexican papers will be done by then”. He keeps his fingers crossed. 

“ Really!  While everyone wants to go to the other side?”  My husband could not hide his surprise.

 “Yes Sir. I’ve seen both sides. Been there, done that.   My mom lives in San Diego. I go there.  But this is my home.”  He slaps on the table.  

“ I was an adopted child.  No clue of my biological parents.  I grew up as a single child with no siblings.  My  mom,  as a single parent, raised me  with much care. She is kind and generous. She did a lot for me.  She was stern too.  But you know …when I go there, I feel restless, anxious to return here.  I don’t feel comfortable. Family… home… you know…!”  John squeezes his shoulders, wiggles, trying to find the right word.

 “ Last winter I was terribly sick.  Dengue…from mosquito bite. I was dying. You wont believe what these people did for me. That is home.  That is family. “ 

John met his soulmate, Jaxmen here. “ She is also a single mom raising her twin girls .. with so much love.  Very caring.  I’d miss the girls much when they’ll go to college after this summer.”  John takes out his smart phone to show the pictures of his family.

“ Life is much relaxed here., much slow- paced, with much less needs. I am enjoying what I am doing  now,  and I feel I am giving back.  Over there I was only concerned if it was giving me enough, I was only counting  my profit..  I was tired of running, running… running the rat race and getting stuck at  Los Angeles traffic. 

This place survives  by serving people.  Tourism is what brings food on the table, so people go out of their way to make you happy.  There is no crime.  There is a prison, but it is not needed.”

John could not sell us anything.   But we enjoyed knowing each other.   

Along with several tours and perks that they had promised, John’s story was the most precious gift in this deal, to me.

An iguana
 When I go visit a  new place,  with its flora and fauna and the superficial  charm I  crave  to know the  real people who live there. I wish to understand their ways of living, their values and culture.

A show o the beach where they were thanking nature for her abundance

 John gave me an authentic picture of that: an endorsement of the character of the people of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico.  What could I expect more?   I think the $50 gamble was not a loss. 




Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Adventure in Puerto Vallarta

Puerto Vallarta - The best things and the worst things

The Welcoming Guide

In Puerto Vallarta airport, the first thing you'll encounter after you pass through immigration and customs, is a Welcoming Guide.

We were told  ( by our resort manager - The Grand Mayan) that a 'Welcome Tour Guide' in a tan shirt and a placard  with VIDANTA sign  in his hand will meet us and take us to our resort.

Indeed we were greeted by a tan color- shirt -wearing guy with a VIDANTA placard,  who brought us in front of a booth.  We saw VIDANTA signs  and logos  all over  on the walls.

A young man  with a name plate Marco  greets us with a big smile.

"Buenos diez Señor, I'll call you taxi.  He'll take you to the Grand Mayan, your resort.  While you wait you want me to help you with any thing, any special tour you want to take?" he asks with high Spanish accent.

We saw some pictures of ethnic dances. My husband points to one of them.

"Of course, Señor.  It is beautiful. It is $169 a ticket, but we can give you a discount for $100 for two.  That will include taking you to the island in a nice boat, a nice ethnic dinner and then the show."  He smiles, then adds, " And señor, if you come to our presentation,  a time share presentation, we'll show you more  savings.  ..just a 90 minute presentation, that's all I'm asking."

"No thanks!" I interrupt. I am afraid of these time share presentations.

"We can add a city tour with board walk and show you where Richard Burton and Liz Tayor made the bridge, and then a jungle tour and sir, we'll also pay for your taxi fare back  to the airport."

This is what got me doubting him more when he started showing how much we'd save.   We all know that catch. " No sir, no 90 minute presentation." I protest.

"Senorina, nothing to lose for you. Don't buy anything.  This just gives me a commission, that's all."  he touches his heart, and looks humble.

Another guy ( his boss) comes in and they start talking in Spanish that we don't understand.

" Ok, I  make it $50 for you senorina, Just come tomorrow to meet me at Walmart, and come to this presentation.  I  take you and give you all that I promise.. "

My husband took out a $50 bill from his pocket and hands him. " Now please give me a receipt and take me to my hotel. I'm tired."

" Why not at our hotel?  Why at Walmart?" I ask with a blank stare.

" Because, your resort won't let any one else enter there,  senorina.  Not me.  Every one wants to sell time  share here, you see.  Your Grand Mayan too.  It is  a very big place,  senorina.  Trust me you'll not lose.  Just give a chance to me." He pleads.

A taxi  appears and he opens the door for us, then exchanges phone number and we take off.

" You just gambled  $50, Didn't you?"  I look at my husband. " What if he does not show up tomorrow?"

" Yes, I gambled.  But he'll show up.  He'll get a commission.  This is his livelihood. Let's see.  A little adventure." He smiles.

I read somewhere that the biggest industry of this place, Puerto Vallarta, is tourism.  This is how modern Puerto Vallarta survives.

There was a time when the people of this place yelled at the green suited (army suit) Americans 'gingo', meaning,  green go!

Today, they welcome.  Please come here,  they say as soon as their eyes meet yours, with the right hand touching the heart, they nod and smile " Bien venido amigos, gracias".

I'll be able to tell you tomorrow if we really won the gamble.  Stay tuned.