Tag Archives: #memory

A Memory, 2020

My best memory from 2020 isn’t necessarily my happiest. This year I felt no simple, one-note emotions. And so my best memory is one that encompasses the complexity of a harrowing year, glutted with loss. 

I returned to India at the end of December 2019 after a ten-year absence. On New Years Day I was in Chennai, after the drive from my family’s home in Pondicherry. I brought my three children along for this trip, now pre-teens and teenagers. They were toddlers on our last visit. 

Sunset in Pondicherry - Image taken by Author
Sunset in Pondicherry – Image taken by Author

As we drove from Pondy to Chennai, I devoured every scene of this country I’d missed for nearly a decade. The thatched huts, the overloaded lorries, a family standing in impossibly green grass, flanked by their taciturn cow. A woman posing for a selfie on the side of the road while balancing a great steel pot atop her head. Coconut groves, rice paddies, pilgrims wearing red saris that matched the blazing flowers on the nearby Poinciana trees. 

I went to the temple on New Year’s Day. Our driver guided us through a maze of people, thousands of them, a fact I can hardly contemplate now. That profusion of humanity is something I love and miss about India, and it’s one of the cruelest aspects of this pandemic—the inherent peril of India’s ubiquitous crowds. 

But at the beginning of this year, I could relish the throngs. What a different world it was.

Past the entrance of the temple, people waited in line to see the various deities. They pushed and complained, or fanned themselves with folded newspapers. Our driver presented an inscrutable, flimsy paper enabling us to advance in the queue. 

I stood at the front of the line, ready to receive my blessing, when an old woman, no higher than my elbow, strong-armed her way through the clot of people, shoving me aside. I let her pass. She was cracked and broken-earth old. And beautiful—in India such advanced age deserves reverence. 

In creative writing classes, instructors often advise us to “tell it slant”, a concept denoting the odd and intriguing detail that makes a story memorable. On this trip to India—my last real trip of 2020–the entire visit felt “slant”. From my uncle’s hilarious stories to the old woman at the temple, to the rickety stand on Marina beach selling dubious curry shrimp pizzas. 

Our prayers finished, I made my way back to my shoes, left outside the temple entrance. It had rained, and puddles collected on the uneven pavement, slimy on my bare feet. An old woman implored me to buy a garland of jasmine flowers. Another hawked damp, battered children’s books. 

As I exited the temple and approached our car, oblivious to what awaited us all just a few weeks away, I noticed a tiny, emaciated stray kitten, shivering as it crawled to one of the puddles. It lapped up the fresh rain. I wished I could hold the kitten in my hands. I doubt it survived more than a few more days.

But the image of that forlorn creature stays with me, slant indeed, and painful. In this year, so thick with loss and missing, I feel a kinship with that poor animal, stumbling forward, searching. When this is over I will have lost three semesters’ worth of connections with my students, along with the birthday parties, dinners, and the celebratory plans I had for my debut novel’s publication. 

And then, just weeks ago, the worst news of all. I lost my beloved uncle—the one I’d just visited in India for New Year’s. None of us could say goodbye to him. He could not even die in his hometown because the ICUs in Pondicherry were full. 

I often think the world provides me with poignant images that have little meaning for me in the present, but are planted in me to decipher later for some future lesson. And indeed, throughout this year my mind has returned to that kitten—now gone, I’m sure—because I feel so much like that creature these days. Stumbling forward, relentlessly aware of my fragility, but still grateful for whatever reprieve life offers. And sometimes, that reprieve is memory itself—of a time when life was easier and less freighted by loss. 

The pandemic will be over, and hopefully soon. I will return to India. My uncle will be gone, his flat in our family house empty, and I will be consoled instead by the palm trees and mangroves, frangipani flowers, bougainvillea, and other Pondicherry flora in which my Botanist uncle delighted.  And I will think back on that kitten, that New Year’s Day, when fragility belonged to something else, and not to me, or us.


Samantha Rajaram is the author of the novel THE COMPANY DAUGHTERS and lives in the Bay Area. 

A Cup of Tea With Papa

I met Neelu’s Papa just once, two or three years ago.  I went to her home for a meeting we’d planned. It wasn’t Neelu who opened the door, but a trim gray-haired gentleman.  “Neelu had to step out unexpectedly to pick up her daughter,” he told me, “she asked me to tell you she’d be back in a few minutes.  I’m Neelu’s father,” he introduced himself, as he ushered me into their living room, “please come in and sit down.” He offered me a cup of tea and insisted on sitting and chatting with me until Neelu returned home; telling me about his son, daughter, grandchildren, and how he spent time traveling back and forth between Mumbai and California to be with each of them. In those fifteen short minutes, I got a sense of the man and his love for his family.

Neelu’s Papa died late last month in Mumbai, a victim of COVID-19. I watched as she did her very best to ensure that her father received the best possible care; driven to do the best she could, and distraught and helpless at not being able to travel halfway around the world to be with him, hold his hand, and be there for and with him, in the way she so desperately wanted. 

Neelu could not have dialed up a better day for a prayer ceremony and remembrance for her beloved Papa. It was crisp and sunny in her backyard as she and her family performed the traditional Hindu rituals sitting around the Havan Kund, as the prayers and shlokas invoking eternal peace for the departed soul were expertly chanted and rituals orchestrated and explained by a learned priest dialing in remotely from New Jersey. Fifty-plus relatives, friends, and colleagues of the family watched remotely on Zoom from locations across California, the US, and India. It was a surreal experience – this improbable juxtaposition of ancient Vedic rituals, many thousand years old, with a fledgling technology that enabled far-flung, somber, and grieving onlookers to hold hands in remembrance and prayer in a single virtual room.

The final prayer was complete. Then came the eulogies and the sharing of memories, tears, and laughter; in a trickle that soon became an outpouring of emotion. A picture emerged of Papa and the man he was. A loving father, grandfather, friend, neighbor, and mentor. The adopted ‘uncle’ of many.  A loving, caring father who sacrificed a lot in his own life in order to give his children the education and grounding that would carry them to successful professional careers.  A man who helped look after the grandchildren he loved deeply – a love that was reciprocated by them manyfold. A man who never forgot someone’s birthday or anniversary; who always made time to reach out to people, meet them, talk to them, and inquire about their wellbeing. Invariably over a cup of tea, as evidenced by the number of people who, in their reminiscences, talked about chai with Papa ji!  A simple, decent, hardworking, loving caring soul. One whose loss reverberates through many households, cities, and countries; his influence and memories carved indelibly in the hearts and minds of so many. 

I am blessed and fortunate to be among those whose path through life crossed with his. It is, however, my loss that I did not have the good fortune to share a few more cups of tea with Papa.

We have lost yet another treasured soul to the illness that this scourge, monstrous Coronavirus has inflicted on humanity.  Each death has shattered the lives of so many.  As I write this piece, more than 1.2 million lives have been lost to COVID-19 worldwide – with more than 230,000 of those in the US – staggeringly large numbers that fail to describe, or even begin to measure the impact of their loss on all their loved ones.  How many more stories like Papa’s remain to be told? 

We can all collectively heal as a community, as a nation, and as members of the human race by sharing our memories of these departed souls. Each one of them must be cherished and treasured. We can live our lives better by celebrating theirs and passing on to those that follow the life lessons they taught us.

Neelu’s Papa, we will all miss you!


Mukund Acharya is a co-founder of Sukham, an all-volunteer non-profit organization in the Bay Area established to advocate for healthy aging within the South Asian community. He is also a columnist for India Currents.

Teenagers Use Technology to Fight Dementia

Brainy Haven is a nonprofit created by high school students from Huron High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Its founders, Raayan Brar, Darron King, and Siddharth Jha, worked collaboratively on the initiative after realizing the lack of online resources for not just the elderly, but specifically those with dementia-related illnesses.

“In the modern world we live in, using technology to better those around us is our obligation,” says Jha. “At Brainy Haven, our team hopes to serve those with dementia-related illness by aiding their process, which can be terrifying for many families.”

Brainy Haven aims to assist those with memory through the use of technological resources. Their website contains an assortment of puzzles and brain teasers for dementia patients to use, ranging from patterns to a fully functional memory game. Having already sent it out to many nursing homes, the team at Brainy Haven has received positive feedback from users.

However, wanting to do more, the three contacted a team at the University of Michigan Alzheimer’s Disease Center to receive feedback on structure and implementation. “I had known the Alzheimer’s Center’s Director, Dr. Henry Paulson, from past events so it seemed like he’d be the perfect person to reach out to for help,” King explained, “Dr. Paulson kindly introduced us to a group of people with diverse skill sets working at the Center and they gave us some detailed, brilliant feedback.”

In addition to Brainy Haven’s carefully crafted program, users can find important information regarding dementia-related illnesses and their impact on the brain. The team was astonished to see the sheer number of people affected by dementia and they hope that through Brainy Haven, those who are lucky enough to not have been afflicted with dementia can take a few moments to educate themselves on what dementia really is and its effects on their communities.

Brar remembers reading an article from the Hindustan Times and being shocked at how many Indians that are personally affected by this devastating issue.  “Helping the community during difficult times is an amazing thing to do,” Brar says, “I have always wanted to better society, and what we did is something so simple, but I do believe that it can help the lives of our seniors.” The trio is proud of the work that they had done, and now they want teenagers all around the world to do something similar and help benefit their community in some small way.

Sticking to their roots in India, Jha and Brar plan on sending out customized programs to homes in India. Both having had family affected by dementia-related illnesses, the two are aiming to help those suffering in their ancestral lands. “After talking to family members and visiting India numerous times as I child, I hope to be able to give back to the people of Bihar and others who have not been blessed with the same opportunities as myself,” says Jha. “Brainy Haven is the first step to accomplishing that goal.”


Siddharth Jha hopes to change the world and solve global problems through management and technology. When he is not coding, Sid can often be found playing a game of chess or partaking in any other strategic activity.

Raayan Brar passion in life comes from the joy of teaching others and helping the community. As a teacher at various student programs, Raayan knows and enjoys the true value of critical thinking.

Darron King is planning to pursue a career in the field of neuroscience and psychology in his future endeavors. He is interested in learning about the endless capabilities of the human brain and is excited about the future of neurology.

Your Trash, My Memories

During my usual spring cleaning, I was throwing all my clothes on the floor, taking the trash out of drawers that haven’t been touched in ages, and organizing all my personal belongings. Every year, I tend to skip over two shelves in the back of my closet. The thought of cleaning all the endless junk of failed dioramas from elementary school all the way to the newest addition, the Hy-Vee receipt that I found in my wallet from three days ago, made my head hurt more than a sprained ankle.

After years of my mom pestering and nagging me to clear it all up, I finally thought to myself that this was the year. This was the year I would plow through all the pieces of Butterfinger candy wrappers that I was too lazy to put into the trash and all the loose beads that have fallen off my Indian clothes over the years. I grabbed three heavy-duty trash bags, blasted my “Hype Up” playlist on Spotify, and got down to work. 

As I opened my closet door, I felt instant regret. I was defeated even before the task had started.

Nevertheless, I proceeded. I pulled my old movie ticket stubs, crumpled up pieces of paper with random math problems, and an assortment of different colored pencils and pens. But through all the miscellaneous junk, I stumbled upon my seventh-grade art projects.

I started to look at them for a bit. The longer I looked, the more memories came back. I saw my art teacher, Mrs. Castillo, demonstrating how to draw a flower on the SMART Board while I tried to recreate it with my unskilled hand. I heard my friend whisper about how cool the seventh-grade dance was going to be and how sparkly her dress was, and I smelled the pizza sticks in the cafeteria being cooked for all the hungry preteens in the upcoming period. 

I started to look more intently through the massive mess to find even more thrown away memories. Everything I grabbed had a different meaning, each item brought back moments of joy, sadness, regret, anger, and fulfillment. Stuff that I assumed was junk and trash turned out to be something meaningful and sacred. I found the first book that taught me how to read. I found my plans to throw the best birthday party which involved cotton candy covered clowns and puppy playpen. I found my kindergarten yearbook filled with people I had completely forgotten about. I found a shirt I had tie-dyed all by myself during summer camp. All these moments were right in front of me and I didn’t even notice. All the moments that I once thought were insignificant turned out to shape me the most. After an unsuccessful attempt at drawing in the seventh grade, I took several art classes in high school to help improve my ability. 

Most of my friendships in middle school and elementary school started to disappear once high school started. Having these moments to reminisce about those others helped me reconnect with so many intelligent and kindhearted people. Not only that, I learned so much about myself as well. I saw how much personal growth I had made in the last ten or so years. I saw all my mistakes and defeats which have helped me tremendously move forward in life. I learned micro-concepts like slowing down when you talk so that people can understand, but I also learned lifelong truths like trusting yourself before trusting others, being patient will lead to the best results, hard work is vital in any situation, and facing your fears isn’t as bad as it seems. 

It has been a couple of months since the shelves have been cleaned. However, the other day, as I subconsciously started to toss a straw wrapper to the back of my closet as I was too lazy to walk to the nearest trashcan, an epiphany hit me. I glimpsed at my two cleaned shelves and I was greeted with properly sorted middle school art projects, summer camp props, tacky participation awards, baby memorabilia, which reminded myself how much I have truly grown and how much progress I still need to make in order to become a more well-rounded person. I can’t wait to commence the journey of my next chapter!


Ishani Adidam is a high school senior who lives in Nebraska. She plans on studying medicine in college in order to tend to the underserved patients. In her free time, she loves to bake and cook various Indian foods to grow closer to her heritage and culture.

A Father Sees the Sugar Cube Moments

On the first of January 2016, our girls party drove up to the Gateway of India and entered the heritage Taj hotel for a quick immersion in the grandeur of a bygone era. 

“Let’s do high tea, it’s tradition!” I told my daughter and niece. 

We sprinted through the lush corridors of the hotel and floated up the cascading carpeted staircase. We caught a glimpse of ourselves in the long mirrors. To our chagrin, we were not dressed in our Sunday best. But we “ragamuffin trio” shrugged our elegant shoulders because the sparkle in our eyes more than made up for our casual attire.

The hostess of the Sea lounge looked at us and asked if we had a reservation. “

“No,” I said, “but I used to frequent the Sea lounge with my dad when I was a teenager.” 

“Surely,” said the well-trained employee, without blinking an eye and took us to a window seat in the restaurant. 

We sat down. I gazed out at the glimmer of sea. The silver waters stretched over the teeming heads of a madding crowd of Mumbaikers and their guests on the street below. In the seventies of my childhood, Mumbai was not so crowded!

I studied the scene in front of me like viewing a painting in a gallery. The boat with ochre and emerald trim and a hint of red. White billowing sails competing to mingle with fluffy cloud gestures in the western sky. The barely perceptible boats far away on the horizon, bobbing peacefully on the waves invoked tranquility.

With a great difficulty of a child leaving the sight of her companion, I turned my gaze inside. I looked around me. I was alone at the table. From the snowy white linen, my eyes jumped to a Blue China sugar bowl heaped with perfect cubes of crystallized sugar. 

Transported to my childhood, I took a cube and let it sit on my tongue. As it melted, I remembered how I would gingerly advance my fingers towards the sugar bowl as a child. At the same time, cleverly gauging how many I could stuff into my fist without catching the eyes of either parent in one go. Dad would be sipping his tea and mom would be pouring her cup. In that busy moment, when the spoon was turning, I would plan my sugar swoop.

Me and my younger sister with sugar cubes in our mouth.

I would manage to pilfer two or three of these extraordinary sweets with great ease. I would surreptitiously stuff them into my mouth and then try to conjure an expression of innocence. Alas, the two sharp bulges in my, then smaller cheeks, would give me away! My sister would take pleasure in my failure.

As I tried to assimilate the cubes, I was amazed at how much time they took to dissolve in my mouth in those days. My countenance would melt in embarrassment and I would beg for mercy at my mothers’ rebuking gaze. My mother prided herself in instructing us on good behavior. The tension would break as my dad would chuckle and say, “trying to avoid the horse’s eye, eh?”

I never understood that expression because there was no horse in this gathering! But I always obliged him to be at the butt of his joke. Then I would hide my face in my hands, but not for long because he would smile his dazzling smile and we would all be hypnotized by his presence. His lips would form his sweet singing signature moue that I have never been able to emulate and he would sing:  “Rum jhum rum jhum, (2) Chhupo na Chhupo na, oh pyari sajaniya, sajan se Chhupo na…

I brush a tear and listen to the sounds of the ocean. I can hear dad’s laughter rise and fall on the waves.  I catch myself singing the same song…

The waiter appears at my elbow, discreetly ignoring my faux pas of pilfering sugar cubes, “Would you like some champagne, miss?”

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.