A random moment in my life came and went like a thought, a brief moment of pause that brought with it a million memories of rumination. From the warmth of the womb to the protection walls of this world. Memories of a soft pair of hands teaching me to hold a pencil and write my first alphabets without smudging on the edges of the lines. Memories of learning how to add, subtract, and learn my numbers for a life full of calculations and decision making to come. The feel of the blue inland with a confident writing that made me reminisce about a wrinkled, aged, yet deft and strong pair of hands. Memories of feeling protected, hiding my face in thy bosom and crying, knowing that you were my safety net, and everything in the world would be fine as long as I had the corner of your saree to hold on to. Then, there were a little pair of hands, six years littler than my already little hands were, that had the perfect nails, perfect fingers, and the perfect shape. The hands that held on to mine as we took the steps to school together. Such was the bonding of sisterhood.
As I grew, the soft hands, the wrinkled hands, and the little hands gave way to more hands, hands that built more beautiful memories together. The hands that made narkol nadu (coconut sweet) for me and gave me some coconut scrapings every time I stood greedily in front of her in the verandah. The hands that made alpona (rangoli) during the pujas. The hands that shared homemade food during school tiffin breaks. The hands that held the cane, strict and firm, yet caring and loving, that took me on beautiful journeys of learning, from the positives and negatives of algebra, to the alluvial soils and the red soils in geography. The hands that taught me to learn, to hold, to draw, and to dissect. The hands that shared. From the memories of the hands of childhood, to the hands of a teenager. A teenager excitedly putting red nail polish without smudging the edges. The hands that took copious notes on Wuthering Heights so that we could share it and study together. The hands that switched off the table lamp when I fell asleep at my study desk studying for exams. The hands that cooked fish curry and rice so that I never went hungry while studying. The hands that got me the glass of warm milk and Bournvita without even asking for it.
Those hands gave way to more hands of support. A pair of hands that taught me to cook my first shrimp curry, when I was lonely and friendless in Seattle. A pair of hands that touched my head with the flames of the puja fire (aarti) and gave me my share of Saraswati Puja prasad so that I do well in academics. A pair of hands that wiped my tears when I was crying over the betrayal of a friend turned foe. Hands that reassured me when I took the first steps toward my safety. Hands that pumped mine as they wheeled me to the doctor’s clinic. I held on to her as we spent the evening shopping in the streets of Kolkata. We shared a sinful helping of Shrikhand, our favorite afternoon indulgence from Mayuri Grocery. The tiniest pair of hands I have seen in years that held on to mine as we walked by the children’s play area of the Bellevue Square Mall, singing Sa-Re-Ga-Ma and Hattima Tim Tim together. The hands that held on to mine as I secured her in her car seat.
For years, you have loved me and cared for me in different forms. You were my mother, teaching me my alphabets. You were my grandmother, writing me letters from distant lands. You were my dida, making me narkol nadu. You were my friend, teaching me to solve those mathematical derivations. You were G, teaching me to take my baby steps in America. You were Baby Kalyani, playing with me as if I were your best friend, only 28 years elder. You were teaching me to cook to be able to sustain myself. You were comforting me when my heart was breaking. You were inspiring me to be a writer, and to publish my work. You were challenging me to go on stage and break my mental barriers, by acting, by public speaking, and by giving dance performances. You were playing the harmonium so that I could relearn my sa-re-ga-ma. You were giving me the keys to your house, because I was unemployed and homeless. You were traveling the world, from Banaras to Greece, all alone, and inspiring me to be like you. You were bemoaning the killing of your cousin, a victim of domestic violence, and my heart wept with you. You were a mother, a professor, an actor, a student of medicine, and as successful an economist as a humor writer.
You were traveling for hours in crowded local trains. From Naihati to New York, from Sealdah to Seattle, I saw you in the hustle and bustle, traveling to work. I saw you come home and fend for your family. I saw you take care of your babies, study, and work, and take exams, all at the same time. I saw you indulge in self-care, in those manicures and pedicures that made your beautiful hands and feet even more beautiful. I saw you bravely live through abortions, abuses, and subjugation. I proudly beamed when you went to space as a rocket scientist or won the Grand Slam. I proudly saw you get your well-deserved movie awards. You cooked, coded, and cured with equal deftness. Most importantly, you shaped me, helped me be who I am, and inspired me to define and redefine my boundaries, and to resurrect and break my boundaries, and not stop until I had reached for the sky.
This post is dedicated to my mother, my grandmothers, my sister, my friends in schools and colleges, my friends in U.S., my YKB sisters, my roommates, my colleagues, my students, my fellow bloggers and readers, the women who inspired me to write, to travel, to self-design my life, to be fearless, to strive for the best, the women who have struggled for what they believed in, be it their freedom or their rights, and all the other women in this world I have idolized. Happy International Women’s Day!