On the first day of first grade at the Doha British School in Qatar, I discovered that recess was hot, dusty and not entirely pleasant. It was nothing like cool, green Nairobi where I had lived until recently. I found myself shunning the overheated, running/shrieking kids in favor of the small playground area where the metal play equipment baked quietly in the desert sun. I was testing the creaky swing with my hand (before trusting it with the rest of me) when my new classmate, Jennifer Bentle, approached. My heart leaped at the thought of making a first friend. Literally: I'd never been to any kind of school before. I offered Jennifer a shy "Hello" as the swing groaned to and fro on it's own.
She looked at me with a frown, scrunched up her freckled, button nose and whispered into my ear, "I hate your brown skin."
Address to the School Committee for Waltham Public Schools during the public comments period of their bi-monthly meeting on 16th November, 2016.
Good evening. My name is Chandreyee Lahiri. Our son Oyon Ganguli attends 4th grade at Fitzgerald Elementary. First of all, thank you for all your hard work in determining the future of our high school. An updated building is key to a strong future for our kids. Before you proceed with this important work tonight, I'd like bring up anti-hate programming in our schools so that we're strong on the inside too. Since last week's presidential election the Southern Poverty law Center has tracked over 300 hate crimes nationwide. Against Muslims, the LGBTQ community, people of other ethnicities and other minorities. Many of these hate crimes played out in schools. Some were even directed at the winning party, proving how ill is this wind that blows. We in Waltham have been safe so far (I think), but I can’t help but worry.
This piece will be performed as a piece of oral story telling at a public production called 'Voices' on June 4th and 5th (2016) at Somerville's Davis Theater (near Boston). Loosely modeled on the Moth Radio hour, this is the debut story telling event of the Bengali Theater group 'Off Kendrik'. It is themed 'Immigrant experiences' and will hopefully be repeated to capture more 'Voices' from the diaspora. Event details and theater company info here.
Odometer clicks by Chandreyee Lahiri
Did you ever watch your car odometer for a milestone? 100,00 miles? 200,00 miles? If you did, chances are, you were young. In that excitable phase where Life is charted with symbolic milestone. Let me take you back to one of mine.
We were spending a lazy summer weekend at our neighbors 'camp' on the shores of a New Hampshire lake when my friend Anu's FB tag showed up. It was the ALS Ice-bucket challenge that was swamping everyone's news-feed, inciting equal parts amusement and annoyance. I've done my share of ranting over armchair activism that breeds complacence and indifference but jumped happily at this one. That afternoon on the O'Connors' dock by the glassy, peaceful lake our friend Michele filmed as my 7 year old son Oyon dumped a bowl of ice water on my head and we made our appeal for research funding to cure this awful disease.
(Written May 2015 but published April 2016)
We had just finished up at Oyons doctor yesterday afternoon. On his way out, Dr. Biller paused in the doorway, twinkled briefly and said "Happy Mothers Day!". As we drove home, the car radio burbled its support too for this sentimental occasion: WBUR's alliance with Winston flowers, please your mom and support public radio.
Like last year, my thoughts wandered from the fanfare around this holiday to those who are deprived of it:
- Mother's who have lost their children
- Mothers whose children cannot (or will not) come celebrate like in years past
- Single mothers whose kids may not have father figures to orchestrate the celebrations that young kids cannot wing on their own
- People who are struggling to care for and celebrate their mothers
- Women who wanted to, be could not become mothers
Last night a friend was bemoaning the poor state of her focus that prevented her reading "100 years of solitude". It just took too much thought for her current mood for amusement and escape.
Books that require the exercise of emotion in addition to thought, can take more than they give sometimes. They are eventually the books most worth reading, though what they bring to the reader is less easily identified than the sobs triggered by a tragedy or the sighs from a steamy romance.
Just before Christmas, the Gingerbread man shaped box had called out "Stocking stuffer!" from the grocery store end-cap and slipped into my grocery cart. It then proceeded to lounge idly at the bottom of the kitchen drawer and mock me for months after. It had after all, only space to hold about 3 Jelly Beans. Find me a kid who'll settle for that few and I'll give you mine in exchange. The kid, not the box.
Early this morning, a horrible nightmare that had wound itself around my sleep receded quickly as consciousness dawned. Something about a baby, I think, though it's too dim now to know for sure. I've been on pretty strong drugs for a while (for a terrible cough) and am convinced they are taking a toll.
Headed towards oblivion, but in clearer focus was another bad dream from a separate portion of the night.
Pia of http://peppercornsinmypocket.blogspot.com/ recently wrote of an area of Calcutta from her past where "secondhand bookshops created a strip that smelled of ageing pages, a slower time". Her piece was luminous, as usual and ended with a prod to the readers to share their memories.
I'm certain that every Calcuttan can name their own personal favorite from the time before cable TV and internet broke-up the long and innately Bengali marriage of reading and 'adda'. The picture that flashed before MY eyes was of the boulevard between Gol Park and Gariahat in South Calcutta. The once grassy median trapped between bi-directional traffic on arterial Gariahat road, used to be crowded with rickety stores selling everything from second hand books to clothes.
Oyon's imagination recently got ignited by internet previews of Jurassic World. We allow him those in lieu of the real (PG) movie currently in theaters. Some of this fascination, I imagine, is displaced passion for Harry Potter - since I won't allow him to read book 4 until he's older. The rest of it is undoubtedly an 8 year old's wonder at genetically engineered super-dinosaurs terrorizing and outwitting smug humans, not to mention the explosions and cool chases.