Tag Archives: #longdistance

Caring Long Distance

“Get rid of Annu right away!”

The injunction came from the top.

And then came an oblong package that we hadn’t ordered. It was the implement to lure us into believing that getting rid of Annu wouldn’t be as hard as we were thinking.

Sinister as the plan appears to be, Annu is merely our regular help and the box contained a fancy mop intended to replace her during the scary spikes in COVID positive numbers in India. And the injunction, along with the hair-raising pandemic stories across the world, came from our son, half a world away from us, in the US.

To a person untutored in the ways of middle-class Indians – domestic help is an indispensable part of our lives, our frontline warriors against the daily battle against the dust and grime. And they really aren’t the luxury it would appear to the Western eye, but a necessity at a place where things get coated with dust before you can spell D-U-S-T. The vibrant, vivid Rajasthan that one sees in the travel brochures hides the truth of the unannounced, unexpected dust-storms, the extreme heat with it, which, in turn, necessitates cooking three fresh meals every day, which are rarely one-pot meals.  Pots and pans pile up like mini-mountains with this uncompromising adherence to fresh meals every day, thrice a day. 

A similar command from our White Hope had come on top of our Lockdown 1 and we had obediently followed it. What followed that, was however a nightmare where my dreams were about endless mopping, sweeping and washing, which would make me wake up in a cold sweat. By the end of the month, I’d done my soul-searching – not Corona, this endless drudgery would kill me first. 

“Helloo?” I mumbled when I talked to Sonny the next morning, “Look, Annu is coming from tomorrow…”

The rest was drowned in a “Noooooooooooooo!!!!” as piercing as the siren of an ambulance.

“Listen…” I tried again, “It has been a month, Annu and us, we have all been isolating and are healthy, and….”

“Do you know numbers are climbing in India?”

“Well, yes, we have newspapers (sanitized) and Twitter.”

“So?”

“So, Annu is returning. Yes, we will be supremely meticulous about sanitization and social-distancing and masking but I’m damned if I open and try the contraption that you have thoughtfully sent over!”  

Aditya, our son, is in Illinois, and we are in Rajasthan. If the pandemic hadn’t hit the world, we three would have been together at this time, after a whole year. A visit we had been so looking forward to. We had been gleefully planning family trips, long lists of things we would do in our three months together, longer lists of what all we would be cooking and eating. 

Instead, COVID-19 came.

Overnight the plans, the world went topsy-turvy and it hit us afresh how far away we were from each other. Fear gripped us like nothing we had known earlier. It wasn’t only the unpredictably dangerous novel virus, it was/is also the lockdown and the bans on travel. The thought that we wouldn’t even be able to be close to each other to comfort or console, if, God forbid, something untoward happens was the most unnerving of all. It’s a scenario we try to avoid thinking about.

Children of many Indian families are in the US, either working or studying. Even in the world BC (Before Corona) it was a tough decision to make but the plethora of better opportunities and the first-world amenities appeared to make the separation and the distance worthwhile. After all, we were just a long flight away. But when COVID-19 hit the US and international flights were banned, many of us wondered about the wisdom of that choice. Some went as far as to implore the kids to return and find work in India as it was ‘safer’. An argument which didn’t take into account two things, one, that very soon we, in India, would be hit just as hard, making home as dicey as ‘abroad’ and two, no pandemic could last forever, COVID-19 too would pass and things will go back to normal. 

After months of being in suspended animation and of adapting to the weird reality of lockdowns; obsessively checking the spread of the octopus tentacles of COVID -19, oscillating between unrealistic hope and deep despair, most of us have come to terms with recrafting our lives to a new normal while we wait for the vaccine or the natural demise of the virus.

And during the unpredictable wait, we are finding new ways to be there for each other. One blesses the technology every day when we ‘meet’ twice a day and exchange all the newsworthy, and for that matter, news-unworthy tidbits. Much like he used to as a kid, my son blabbers about all that is happening with him; we discuss what we are bingeing on, on Netflix, and of course, the family-gossip is exchanged with as much alacrity as ever. The only difference is that earlier he used to lean against the door-frame, these days he is propped up against my pickle bottles – the perfect vantage point for him to keep the whole kitchen in his sight while I cook for the day. On the other side, it is we, who do the propping up, while the son gets on with his cooking – another art which he may not have learned as fast had it not been for the lockdown across our worlds.

I finally have the satisfaction of having passed on the family recipes, and the utter joy on his face is evidence enough that he has mastered the art which he, till now, thought to be complex witchcraft. 

He, on his end, looks at us through a microscope, gnaws his nails as he reads up about the number-spike in India and then sends us the scariest articles he can find on COVID-19, and peers at us throughout our calls, maintaining a relentless vigil on whether we are following all safety-protocols and woe betide us if he finds us without our masks when our house-help is around.

From checking up on each other to gossiping to ordering care-packages online when we are physically miles apart is the new-normal we are getting used to and are indeed, so thankful for. The one thing that technology has still to achieve is to transfer the fragrances of home. 

And a way to box our son’s ears, the next time he suggests getting rid of our help again.


Madhumita Gupta is a dreamer, animal-lover, writer, teacher, incorrigible movie-buff.

Mother Says So…

A mother’s love is that divine gift that enables a child to do their best.  Mother is not a noun but a verb that personifies unselfish love. We are all connected to our mothers through a special bond even after the umbilical cord is cut. Sooner or later we all start emulating our maternal traits, some of us more than others. 

I remember my mother every morning when I wake up. I open my eyes to my palms and recite the morning prayer. During the day the Rudraksh beads of practical wisdom from her rosary guide my actions. At night when my head touches the pillow, it is her voice that calls upon me to surrender myself to the creator: “Om Hari Sharna”.

I am fortunate like many of you to have a very loving, kind, courageous, talented, and devoted mother. How I wish I could be with her on this Mother’s Day but I cannot travel to India because of the COVID pandemic. It breaks my heart but assembling the pieces of my love for her into a collage, I share this writing as an homage to all our mothers. In my conversations with friends and family on the phone, FaceTime, Facebook, Instagram, and zoom, I have gathered stories about mothers all over the world.

One of my friends said that her mother has a rule, “Never leave the house without saying I love you to your brothers and sisters. You don’t know when you would be together again.” She also said, “Contentment is a difficult virtue but not unattainable” What good advice.

Another lady’s mother went by, “Beauty is what beauty does!”

One mother bade her child to stay organized and she obeyed by keeping an immaculate home. 

A lovely southern belle shared her mother’s advice: “Always be polite and well dressed”. Your good manners can take you around the world. 

My aunt advised her daughters not to do everything themselves even if they knew how to do it. Let your children learn for themselves. Excellent advice, I wish I would have heeded this one. Because of her teaching, my friends and cousins have become experts at delegating their chores to others. Very convenient indeed! 

My aunt always had useful culinary advice. This came in handy before instant cooking and googling recipes was a fad. She said, “If you don’t want to spend your time in the kitchen, rolling rotis for your brood, just make them all rice eaters.” Although I love a fresh chapati with ghee on occasions, we generally cook rice to go with our vegetables.

My son admits that I taught him to be polite to everyone. I think somewhere, in all the telling of stories and reciting poems during his childhood, my sweetness might have taken hold in his nature.

My mother told me not to openly voice my opinion about others but I have not followed this advice. In my personal life, I am known to speak my mind, like my dad. My daughter overlooks my stubborn streak most of the time and we enjoy creative activities together. I paint and write and she creates my Instagram and web pages. My daughter is an honest critic. When I really need advice I go to her.

My grandson had some interesting inputs. He said, “My mother has taught me to say thank you, sorry and to cover coughs and sneezes”.  All helpful tips indeed.

I asked him what I had taught him? He said, “To say Hanjee instead of Haan.” I still think that he does not understand that it is meant as a sign of respect to others and not a mere grammatical appendage that he constantly forgets. 

My mother also said that save your money because ultimately it will help you in any dire circumstance. This is so true in the time of the pandemic when so many of us have to rely on our savings for food, shelter, healthcare, and helping the needy.

Mother taught a lot through her actions. She started her day early, in “Brahma Muhurta”. This good habit gave her an early start into bathing, prayers, gardening, cooking, and reading the morning newspaper. By the time other members of the house woke up, breakfast was ready on the table. She knew that a way to everyone’s heart was through their stomachs. We had fresh food every day: parathas and pickles, poori aloo, omelet toast, upama, idli sambar, and seviyan. 

At home, we kids did not have a natural inclination to learn cooking or help her in domestic chores. She never complained working on her on but was most particular about her afternoon siesta. She took a thirty-minute nap every day and no one could disturb that. We kids squirmed and protested but that was a ritual we all had to follow. Mother was very determined but her effect was gentle and angelic. She never laughed or cried loudly. Very ladylike was her expression and perhaps because of that she has a smooth unwrinkled face to this day. She was able to sense my dad’s moods and always cautioned us, kids, to behave accordingly. We had wonderful conversations at the dinner table which are dearly missed but I don’t miss having to gulp down spinach with water.

My mother often said, “Apne Hath Jagannath.”

As I was explaining the meaning of this cryptic phrase to my friends, I realized that my mother literally took my hands and put them to action. She gave me the gift of an industrious life when she presented me with a sketchbook and colors. Wherever we went, we carried our hobby bag with us.

Ever since then, I have tried to create my own world through medicine, art, and writing. Creativity is my life mantra. I gaze upon the elegant visage of my mother as she tries to bless me by touching my forehead through the phone, I feel humbled. There are not enough words, phrases, poems, or songs in this language that would encompass my feelings of deep gratitude for my mother. But I don’t have to…

There is a woman in the house

Her breath rises and falls

She rests her head on my shoulder 

We both read from the same page

Our eyes close

We hold kindness

We are happy…

Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.