Aug 3, 2017

Giggly fathers

The VCR whirred into life at the exact moment when my mother had overpowered my father. He was lying on his back, trying (and failing) to defend himself from her tickle-happy fingers. The camera jiggled in my brother’s hand as he shook with laughter.

My brother had returned home to Kolkata for a visit, after a year in the US where he was helping our aunt set up her fledgling business. He had acquired the videocam with the first of his American earnings and zealously recorded our family life. 
In agonizing detail. 

Mar 22, 2017

A percolating jog

A little boy travels on the Commuter Train to Boston with me most mornings. He's about 4 years old and hard to miss once he hits the platform. The toy Thomas trains clutched in each hand (usually James and Percy) are as distinctive as his exuberant little jog. He also has a kind of barely contained energy that convinces you that the only reason he doesn't flat out sprint, is the inconvenient office throng crimping his style. He makes up by percolating between people as Dad does an erratic jog to keep up.

Jan 10, 2017


A slightly edited version of this post also ran on
Fourth grade, 1980, Doha, Qatar.
  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. What it was not, was Nairobi where I had lived until recently; cool and green. 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. 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 you. You have brown skin."

Nov 16, 2016

#OneWaltham against hate

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. 

So I reach for Hope.

Oct 17, 2016

Out of synch

One misaligned spine in a tidy row of 'books' drew me.
To a cliched metaphor about Conformity. 

Then the host of the yard sale ambled over.

He spoke of his father:
of neatly bound 'books' of 45 rpm records.
of a love of music.
of the promise of promotional singles.

$300 for the lot.

Priceless treasures likely lurked in this carefully curated collection.
If the close of day didn't bring a sale, they'd catalogue. And Research.

I looked down at the mug of cooling coffee in his hand.
Up, at the faraway eyes beneath graying hair.

He didn't want a sale.
He wanted his father.

Jun 2, 2016

Odometer Clicks

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.

Apr 22, 2016

"The Cleaner": birth of an idea

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. 

Apr 20, 2016

Other mothers, 2015

(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 

Jan 22, 2016

Empty threats

As I collected my 9 year old from school, he excitedly whispered in my ear...."The dog ate my biscuit!"

The bright little face turned up towards me was expectant. The problem was, as with most of Oyons non-sequiturs, I had no idea what he was talking about! 

Dec 17, 2015

Santa: out of the Chimney, into the fire

"M told me the truth about Santa, you know." he mumbled from atop his bunk bed. I only caught the glint of wet eyes because he was above my eye level.

"What Truth about Santa?" I asked, nimbly skirting accidental disclosure.

"His mom said she bought the Santa gifts. And Baba said yes too in the car when I told him…I knew it!!!" he said in a voice wobbling with indignation and grief.

My little human's despair has never before taken my breath away like this. I should have expected it though. In the two years since his suspicions about the Tooth Fairy were confirmed (at age 7), he's been stewing over the Santa Question. 

Oct 7, 2015

Tom, who feels fortunate

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.

Oct 5, 2015

Tooth Fairy in a tutu

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.
So when I handed it to Oyon to store his first dropped tooth, I thought I had vindicated the buying of more plastic while also celebrating a momentous occasion.

Who knew the havoc this would cause?

That first tooth was a doozy too. It hung stubbornly, in full wobbly splendor right in the middle of Oyon's upper jaw. Poor kid walked around in a distracted daze, obsessively worrying it with his tongue and demanding mushy, spoon-able sustenance since his key biter was out of commission.

The evening finally came when life became unbearable and Oyon took to yelling at it: "Just! Fall! Out!"
A childhood full of stories about string-tied-to-slammed-door prodded me into confused action. But children of Gandhi, are we (Oyon makes me relocate, not squish, house ants) so violently yanking out a part of his body, though it be inanimate, did not come easily. Compounding my uneasiness was my incompetence: flustered by my child's discomfort, I reached for the first string-like thing on hand.

Dental floss.

It's obvious in hindsight, of course, that a slippery string designed to glide smoothly over teeth was not the ideal tool for the job. Each yank (by hand, I simply couldn't get myself to do the door thing) only brought forth squeals. Not all of them were his. The floss would slither off, leaving Oyon hopping around, clutching his bleeding gums and me, cursing with increasing desperation. The penny eventually dropped and I scrambled for some cotton thread. Within a minute, the little devil was swinging from the end of it, pendulum-like, in front of our flushed faces.

We placed it ceremoniously into the special Gingerbread Man box, Oyon wrote out a note to the Tooth Fairy in his best Kindergarten handwriting and everything got carefully stowed under his pillow as he placed his relieved and adorably gap-toothed head to rest that night.

After dinner, my husband Shouvik and I started deliberations over our family Tooth Policy. A quick recap of our friends' lives (or at least the FB versions) revealed that some people pay more for a first tooth as the symbolic start of big-kidhood. Others place a premium on the LAST tooth to fall, signalling a total end to childhood. A few even pay incrementally more or less with each successive tooth. These are very critical decisions to weigh, you understand, so we poured each other more (and more) Single Malt whisky until it all became clear.

In a manner of speaking.

We concurred that in the Ganguli-Lahiri household, it was to be a flat rate with no discrimination against tooth order, position or potential symbolism. We can't influence American foreign policy or tax laws but under our roof, there would be dental liberty, equality and fraternity, dammit! Also, we were tipsy from all the whiskey and simply couldn't be bothered anymore.

In our home, all proceeded well with the drop that night. Shouvik placed 3 crisp dollar bills under the pillow and appropriated the Gingerbread Man box and it's precious content. The next morning Oyon strutted around delightedly with his first earning, eventually stuffing his first paper currency into his piggy bank.

I wouldn't even be writing this blog post if Shouvik had hidden the darn box instead of tossing it on his home office desk. I'm sure he figured Oyon had no interest in that room, as indeed, he never had before.

Sometime shortly after, Oyon came running to me in round-eyed surprise...
Oyon (breathlessly): Mummum!!!! BABA'S the tooth Fairy!!!
Me (with only partly feigned surprise): No!!
Oyon: He is! He is! I saw my Gingerbread man tooth box on his desk! Right there...look!!
Me (yelling through clenched teeth): Shouvik! Do you know anything about Oyon's first tooth lying around on your desk? Didn't the Tooth Fairy take it? AWAY?
Shouvik (looking panicked, playing for time): She did, yes, but didn't I tell you what happened that night?
Oyon: What? What?
Shouvik: I got up to visit the bathroom at night. I heard a noise and saw her creeping out of your room! I really wanted to keep your first tooth as a memento so I bought it from her.
Oyon (skeptically): Really? How much did you pay her?
Shouvik: $5
Oyon (suspicious look lingering): She only gave me $3.
Shouvik: Well, she paid for a tooth she didn't have anymore. She needed SOMEthing in place of it!

Nothing more was said for a long while after this brilliantly creative, if not watertight, resolution.

More teeth fell.
More dollar bills were swapped.

Until one day in first grade, when one of the pearly whites found freedom during the school day. The director of his YMCA after-care program, Kelly, let me in that afternoon at pick-up time wearing an uncharacteristically grim expression. She pulled me aside for a word, setting my heart thumping as I imagined some grave misdemeanor by my deceptively cute (but secretly evil) first grader.

My appreciation of after-care providers is already immense but that day, Kelly rose many notches in my eyes.

Kelly: I really hate to break Oyon's confidence but I thought you might want to know that he's planning an 'experiment' on you guys tonight.
Me (still tense): Experiment?
Kelly: He lost a tooth today and told me that he thinks Shouvik's really the Tooth Fairy. So tonight, he's going to place his tooth under the pillow but NOT TELL you guys.
Me (confused now): How will that....?
Kelly: He thinks that if he still gets money tomorrow, the Fairy's real. If not...
Me (starting to laugh now): The little brat!
Kelly (smiling faintly, still upset): I really hate that I told you though. He was so excited that he was going to be running such a solid experiment and I'm so pleased he shared his secret with me. But I just wasn't sure you wanted the Tooth Fairy to be outed just yet.

Truly...early childhood and after-care providers have not only co-parented my child, but curated his childhood with the kind of loving care that is difficult to quantify or articulate, leave demand. Kelly is the latest in a line of such stars that we have had the fortune of encountering. My gratitude is immense.

Anyway, our little Einstein had overlooked one tiny detail in this diabolical scheme: that large, unmistakable gap in his smile where his top incisor used to be. He grinned slyly at me all the way home, hugging his plan to himself as I feigned ignorance that his breathe now whistled through his smile. I simply could not maintain a straight face though when he spoke and spittle from the gap misted up my glasses. I  had to comment and he in turn, broke into excited little hops as he inadvertently spilled his secret plans. The boy has absolutely NO future as a spy or a professional poker player, this much is for sure.

He begged to know if the Tooth Fairy was real and I kept repeating my stock answer (applicable to the Santa and God questions too): "I really don't know. It's up to you to decide."

He swore he didn't mind if it was us...he just wanted to know the truth. Me sticking to the Tooth Fairy story morphed in front of my eyes, from 'feeding an innocent childhood fantasy' to 'outright lying and deception'.

So I told him.
We exchanged promises: he'd collude with the myth for his friends' sake and we'd keep the money flowing. He's one of us now. A Secret Keeper.

When I'm occasionally out of cash for a dropped tooth, he'll even extend me credit. He seems to be growing business sense along with new choppers: once when my tab had reached $9, he threatened me with a late fine.

I dutifully paid him an extra dollar when I settled my bill. After all, Fair Trade costs more because it skips over the middle man and we had certainly sent ours packing.

Sep 24, 2015

Of demons & monst-ahs

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.

Sep 11, 2015

Not remembering

On this anniversary of the 9/11 terror attack on NYC, I am able to neither respond nor subscribe to the requests to 'Never forget'.  Like every year, I wonder 'why?'