Eight

To Chotto-ma:

You turned eight today. So I’m sitting here trying to draw you a phoenix because I know it’ll make you squeal with joy.

As you grow older, I find myself less willing to write about you. Not about the books you love and the rocks you collect, but about the person you are. Your thoughts, your heart, the way you look at the world – the things that really matter, the things that make you the very unique eight-year-old you are. So if you’re reading the blog some day, when you’re as old as me, and see the silences here, know that I’m keeping you to myself. I’m keeping you to yourself.

When we decide to leave our phones and cameras at home for the day, and then suddenly find ourselves living a moment – like you picking wildflowers in the sunset – and I wish I could take a photograph, you remind me of what I’d once told you, “Ma, we can take a photo with our memory.”

So that’s what we’re doing, Ba and I. We’re taking photos in the privacy of our memories. And telling you, every day, with words and squishes and the occasional phoenix, how much we love you.

You make us believe in magic.

You at Seven

I can see the three of us standing under the horse-chestnut by the river. The leaves are brown. They float down softly on our heads and toes, they tickle a little. Above us, squirrels leap from branch to branch making conkers fall around us like stars. And as we stand on the crunchy floor of rusted leaves, you jump, and turn seven.

Seven. Today. 

Seasons are easy to sum up, but not you at seven. I often see your thoughts whirling round and up and up like leaves in the wind. My autumn child. Not summer, not winter, but the in-between. You’re the in-between. There are two of you, so many of you. One, for the people you love: goofy and loving, nonstop-talking. Another for the rest of the world, in which you hold back, observe, keep your thoughts to yourself. I took out my paintbrushes and tried to draw your world today, you at seven, but I didn’t draw your eyes; I can never do them justice. They say so much. You’re deeply independent, unflinchingly honest. You can be positive about the greyest cloud. Never conflicted about what you feel. And when your questions come, they’re as sharp and clear as raindrops on blades of grass.

“Ma, why does extraordinary mean something really special when it’s extra + ordinary?” you asked yesterday.

Happy birthday, our Chotto-ma! You’re seven. That’s seven whole years of making our lives a little less ordinary. We love you more than all the leaves that fall in autumn.

 

A year older

 

Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota
James Wright

Over my head, I see the bronze butterfly,
Asleep on the black trunk,
Blowing like a leaf in green shadow.
Down the ravine behind the empty house,
The cowbells follow one another
Into the distances of the afternoon.
To my right,
In a field of sunlight between two pines,
The droppings of last year’s horses
Blaze up into golden stones.
I lean back, as the evening darkens and comes on.
A chicken hawk floats over, looking for home.
I have wasted my life.

There’s been much said about what James Wright meant by the last line. For some, it means what it says – a wasted life, a regret. But in my mind, there’s never been any doubt that he meant quite the opposite. I can see him, lying in the hammock, his proverbial tongue in his proverbial cheek, gently laughing at those who rush and run. Laughing at those who think lying in a hammock at William Duffy’s farm is a waste of time. Because James knew, even then, that they were all wrong. That life was in watching a bronze butterfly sleep, listening to cowbells, and seeing the chicken hawk float home. And so he laughed and changed not a damn thing; just swung on his hammock as day turned to dusk. 

When I was young, I would stare at the clouds for hours with my school books open in front of me; Ma Baba kept the curtians drawn before an exam. And now, as I get on with this business of being an adult, I still find time to waste. 

It’s midnight now. July 22, 00:00 hours, the laptop tells me. Which means I’ve just turned a year older. Two sleepy voices, one big and one little, will sing me Happy Birthday in a few minutes. And there’s one thing I know for certain: I’ve wasted my life well. 


If you’re in London, and fancy joining me for a spot of time wasting, please drop by The Society Club in Soho on July 25 – I’ll be there for the launch of Structo Magazine’s new issue, and I’d love to meet you! Structo publishes a fantastic anthology of fiction and poetry, and I’m very proud to have my work in its new issue. I’ll be doing a reading from my story ‘Dancing in the Drawing Room’, which is part of the anthology (available online and in bookstores post July 25).

Details for the launch and reading, here, if you can make it!

Have a happy, wasted week, everyone!


 

You at six

Let’s first face facts.

You’re six.

Like every year, this leaves me stumped. And like every year, Ba and I talked about the day you were born, and the morning we brought you home from hospital. You should’ve seen us, Ba and me – two utter amateurs, all by ourselves, no family in the country, clutching onto a teeny-tiny person swaddled in a great length of cloth. I remember standing outside the hospital in the October sun holding you while Ba went to fetch a taxi. If I close my eyes, I can still smell you; the one-day-old you. I can still feel the texture of the crocheted white blanket you were wrapped in. I can still see your little face, eyes shut in sleep, nose wrinkling with the first smell of the outside, the smell of sunlight. Your skin peeling in little patches. Everything new – arriving, waking; all at once.

When I say it was just the other day, it was.

The only difference is that now we don’t have to hold you gingerly anymore. We can squish you and squash you as much as we want, and you squish us right back. You also write us letters – long letters, sitting in school – which you give us when you come home. Sometimes you keep them in your hidey-holes, little surprises for us to find. On your birthday, as Ba and I sang your birthday song early in the morning from under our duvets, still groggy, the sun rising behind us, you bounced out of your bed and ran into our room, and after we’d given you your birthday card, you said you had something for us too: you ran downstairs, there was shuffling, and then you ran back up holding a card. You’d made us a card for your birthday with a letter inside, and kept it hidden all week. But there’s nothing you keep hidden on these sheets of paper  – all your love is in there in careful handwriting. Every emotion, every time you’ve ever missed us, is on it. The way you see us is on it. And we’ve never looked better. I’m always humbled by how powerful, how uncomplicated, this love is that buzzes and crackles and flows without ebb.

When you’re not writing, you draw. Yes, you still love to draw. Visual references of your world,  journaling things that stick to you. Like rainclouds and rooftops, geese flying over water, a wild hare in mid-leap.

You also drew your birthday party, only the guests looked a little different, and decidedly four-legged.

The actual birthday party though was by no means less wild: sixteen six-year-olds; it would’ve been calmer with the animals.

You had a Totoro Party in honour of your favourite movie, with a popcorn-and-sushi screening at home. And party bags with soot gremlins and chopsticks.

And finally a cake that made you so happy, that it made all the late-night baking and smearing and Totoro-drawing worthwhile.

Apart from Totoro, these are some of your other favourite things at six:

The animals you collect; a veritable zoo, each animal with its own name: like Cuba and Havana (the leopard and her cub – gifts from Bobo), Chandan (the St Bernard, because you love the smell of sandalwood), Charcoal and Snow (the black horse, and the white), or Snot (the snake; because that’s what he feels like).

Taking late night walks by the river, your dim little torch showing us the way.

Discovering the joy of reading your first chapter book. But still much preferring to sit on my lap listening to old favourites like the Beatrix Potter books on your desk.

Going to Ba’s Aikido class and copying his every move on your own little mat. 

Making tiny sculptures that can sit on the tip of a finger. Like this dog and baby Totoro you made today.

Coming into our room, crawling under our blanket and snuggling between me and Ba every morning before our day starts, and we run late for school.

Dancing with me, and making music with Ba.

Chotto-ma, how we love you! From the ends of your short, spiky hair to the tips of your six-year-old toes. You make music for us every day. And every day, we wonder how we created a note so perfect.

Enter at your own risk

When I asked her what cake she’d like for her 5th birthday party, her answer was quick, sure: ‘Dinosaur’. I admit I tried suggesting other options. I couldn’t begin to imagine baking a cake that resembled a Stegosaurus, or any Othersaurus for that matter. But what other options could stand a chance next to earth-stomping, tree-chomping, meat-chewing monsters?

Chotto-ma is a keen follower of all things prehistoric, and a dinosaur party for her fifth birthday was the appropriate rite of passage. So, here we are.

And here’s the day in pictures. It was a good, good day.

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(* The dino illustration on the favor bags is from a lovely blog called Sugar Beet Press. She also has a beautiful Etsy store.)

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You, at five

Five! My poised little, wise little Chotto-ma, you’re one two three four five. How did it happen? Weren’t you crawling and drooling and speaking La-La-Language just a minute ago?

Five sneaked up on us, and I have a sneaky feeling it sneaked up on you too. When you heard ‘five’ your eyebrows nearly ran into your hairline. And your eyes got bigger, if that’s possible.

Everyone says you have my eyes, but I wish I had yours. Yesterday, you looked up at the clouds and said, “The sky looks like a big bowl of porridge.”  I looked up, and wanted a spoon. And I don’t even like porridge.

That lopsided little triangle, from your eyes to your head to your heart, holds thoughts that stretch much farther than your five years. As far as India and Jupiter and Mars. Those thoughts make you call Calcutta to check if Mamma’s TV has been fixed (since she said it wasn’t working the day before). It makes you hold me and Ba tight, very tight, and ask us not to die for a very very very long time. That is what you worry about the most now; every day. You worked it all out in your little head: dogs die when they grow old, and people must grow old too.

Thankfully, the worry melts in the face of good gobbly kissing, or bouts of frenzied dancing. And suddenly there you are as you are, my happy chotku-potku girl; so lovely, my heart bursts. You tease us, you twirl round and round, and you tell us stories of creatures only you can see.

So this is you.
Just the tip of you,
just a whiff of you,
just a smidge of you.
At five, at five,
at fah-hive!

When we asked you what you wanted for your birthday, you said you’d like an Arctic fox. At the shop though, the fox didn’t match up to magic. Sometimes, life just needs an unicorn. An unicorn that gallops out of a porridge sky.

This is your absolute favourite book now. It’s your book with Ba. You plonk down on Ba’s lap, get comfely; Ba reads out one poem after another, and you giggle and guffaw and ask for one more.

You’re always leaving us little messages. Here’s one I found on my study table a few weeks ago. Translated from Bengali, it says Dear Ma, I love you very much (I love your spellings so much, I’m almost sad they’ve started to straighten out)

You clean; and it’s no pretend-play either. I can give you a rag, and mirrors will be shining and table-tops dusted. I can hand you the laundry basket, and clothes will be colour-sorted and loaded into the washing machine. I often walk into the bedroom in the morning to find you’ve made the beds – yours and ours. Pillows lined neatly, the heavy duvets heaved and dragged till they’re folded neatly at the foot. You give me these little surprises every day, and I can’t tell you what a lucky Ma I am.


Here’s what you’re drawing now:

Us, kissing.

Dinosaur, growling.

 

Wolf, howling.

Animals, circusing.

And, a happy monster called Pah dancing with a lovely little monster girl, next to a Stegosaurus, next to a winged man, next to a duck.

You’re the honestest little person I know. You don’t lie. Even when you’re scared of telling the truth, you say it. And your eyes stay as clear and steady as the day you were born.

You’re trying very hard to like wearing jeans (for my sake), but really, you’d rather wear dresses with flowers and butterflies. Every day.

You still hate water on your face during baths.

You love space. And the planets that float and the stars that wink and the moon that waits for nighttime and the rocks that go flying through time. These hang over your bed.

You make a shopping list every time we go to the grocery shop. You have a clear idea about essentials.


We also have purple shoes in common.
(Your shoe size is 9-and-a-half now. We might start swapping soon.)

A few days ago, you told me this in exactly this order of words:
“I love you and Ba so much, so much and it’s so big, so big that it’s heavier than a building. It’s so heavy that you can’t carry it, you can only feel it inside.”

If there was a giant workshop amidst the constellations where babies were made to order, and we’d put in an order on a list so long that the scroll hung down from the clouds and touched the grass, we still couldn’t have thought up a daughter as wonderful as you.

Our Chotto-ma.