Friday, November 7, 2014

Durga, the Mother Out Front

In Massachusetts, there is a small but growing group of climate justice activists called Mothers Out Front. When I first heard the name, I was skeptical. Why just mothers? Does climate action now fall in the category of cooking, attachment parenting, bargain hunting and PTO fundraising--things that flexibly employed spouses are supposed to execute while their partners punch the 9-5? And what did this group hope to contribute that other activists were not already doing?

So, at the invitation of a close friend, I went to my first meeting. Even as the moderator outlined the group's short and long-term goals, skepticism dominated my consciousness. Why mothers? Especially, mothers who have already made the ever-questioned choice of working full-time outside the home?

"Fierce Protectiveness" was the phrase in the Mothers Out Front declaration of intent that drew my attention. Yes, fierce.

Before my eyes flashed the pratima of Durga--bloodied, armed, serene, determined--fresh from the festival that had ended just a day ago. The crunch of sweet গজা , sent 400 miles by my own mother, lovingly over-packaged by my dad, still lingered in my mouth.

I realized why this climate action group focused on mothers: because it works.

Call it the "mother bear effect" or the "Ma Durga effect", there is science behind the reality that mothers react with vengeance when the vulnerable are threatened*.  Harnessing this anger into collective action simply works, explained the group's moderator.

When climate change disrupts our children's lives much more dramatically than it has today, "If my children ask what I did to stop it," she said, "I want to say that I did my best."

So, on the backs of lions, and with Shiva at our sides, here we come.

De Dreu CK, Shalvi S, Greer LL, Van Kleef GA, Handgraaf MJ. Oxytocin motivates
non-cooperation in intergroup conflict to protect vulnerable in-group members.
PLoS One. 2012;7(11):e46751. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0046751. Epub 2012 Nov 7. 

Saturday, May 31, 2014


Five-and-a-half-year-old Rohan has got his dad and paternal grand-dad's focus and concentration. But what, other than an overdose of melodrama, did he inherit from me?

It took five years to figure it out: it's a love of words.

It was the case of the Cretoxyrhina that proved it. This prehistoric shark's common name is actually a cool one: "Ginsu shark," named for the way its teeth sliced through its prey. Yet, Rohan prefers the Latin. It's way more fun to say and write.


It could have been a one-off, one-shark phenomenon... but Squalicorax met a similar fate. Most people call this beast "Crow shark," but after a few trials, Rohan reverted to Squalicorax.

You say it. It oozes mystery and odiousness.

Since then, I take notice of which paleo-nasties Rohan likes:
  • Mosasaur
  • Hybodus
  • Stethacanthus
  • Liopleurodon
...and my favorite: Inostrancevia. 

This vicious early mammal's name is enough to liven up just about any mundane activity. I'm at work, getting water from the cooler, whispering to myself, "INOSTRANCEVIA!" Or maybe I'm on hold, waiting for a conference call to start. "Inostrancevia."


Oh, i guess there is someone else on the line after all.

Puerto Rico: April 2014

Having forgotten any sort of diary to bring on vacation, I wrote some things on scraps of paper, which I've become tired of saving. So, transcribing here.

April 21 -- 5:20 AM
True journey is return, wrote Laia Asieo Odo, and we have made our journey come true by returning to Punta Santiago, PR. It is largely unchanged; the same rooster crowing at 3:30 AM on, the green sea, the raucous bars on weekend nights, and Villa Jennice--open to it all, yet insulated from it, too. Jenny herself looks, as if it can be imagined, even younger than her age than before.

The main change to us is the addition of Uma, or, as Rohan refers to her, "Mumpsu-mime-so." Following Rohan everywhere, she discovers freedom here, and even without napping 3 days in a row, she stops short of a full-on tantrum. Uma is self-aware, and loves to bustle around with helpful business. Yesterday she picked, then shelled pigeon peas for the better part of an hour.

April 23 -- 5:40 AM
Another true journey completed by returning to La Mina falls in El Yunque rainforest. Yet it wasn't a true "return" because of how different the experience was. Instead of steady rain, slick paths, no stops, it was a brilliant, warm day, with lizards, diverse bird calls, breezes rustling the leaves of the canopy. Hordes of tourists clogged the base of the falls.

As we started hiking back, R. proclaimed, "That was 82,000 fun!" We hadn't warned them of the possibility of swimming in the falls, which wound up being an unforgettable surprise. They pretended to be seals on seal rock off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. U. echoed, "It was a Million fun!"

Apparently, she was also a "million" tired, because she promptly got onto my shoulders, piggy-back, and fell asleep. After the hike back, I transferred her to the car and she slept all the way to the Supermercado La Favorita in Punta Santiago, where we stopped for ice cream and trash bags.

April 25 -- 5 AM
"I have SO MUCH sharing-the-news! I just love... where we are," says R with wondrous joy. The week of a million fun continued with a kayak tour of Humacao Preserve's lagoon, where we saw two iguanas first observe humans signing up for kayaks. Then the iguanas ambled down to the bank, then up to a branch, one next to the other, to what seemed like a good spot to watch the humans put in. As we paddled past, the iguanas watched us with their heavy-lidded eyes, enjoying "The Human Show."

On Thursday, the ageless Paco Lopez took the five of us on his little boat out of Playa Naguabo to Monkey Island. Interestingly, R. insisted that Kitty come along. "Kitty ish sho excited to go on the boat," he explained in his deliberate, cute-kitty voice. Once we pulled out of the little harbor, Capt. Paco put on music, then pulled out maracas, tambourine, wood blocks, fish. After some music making, U. started looking surly, so I took her on my lap, where she fell asleep instantly. Once the boat was anchored, we laid her on the bench of the boat, and Paco offered to babysit while the rest of us snorkeled.

Unexpected freedom. I jumped into the clear water, where the boys were playing with a starfish. We swam to a 1944 shipwreck, around which swirled tropical fish. From Cayo Santiago, a band of monkeys chattered, fought and peered at the boat. The captain joked that he had been coming for so many years that the monkeys knew his boat.

Eventually I got a signal from the boat that U. was awake. No doubt it was a shock to her that, within 5 minutes of waking, she was strapped into a life jacket, thrust into the water and presented with a starfish.

April 26
A mangy cat frequents Villa Jennice, and the children call her Catty Jane, after the feline of the same name in the High Five magazines. After being chased and swatted with brooms too many times, Catty Jane learned that squeezing under a prickly bush was the best way to avoid children. "I miss Catty Jane," said R. as we sat in San Juan airport.

I do not miss Catty Jane, who peskily begged for our hamburger and chicken, but I do miss G. already, after having him as a traveling companion for a week and friend to R and U. Luckily, he has left me with the memory of some of his stories that make me cry with laughter hours and days after he tells them. The most notable is the story of his Prius running out of gas and the battery indicator light turning from "green to orange, to yellow, to PURPLE, which I'd never seen!"  The story is not actually very funny at all, but G's telling of it will stay with me.

G. stayed home one night so that Mike and I could go out. Our first choice was to eat seafood at Rest. Vinny in Naguabo, but that place was closed, as was El Makito, Daniel Seafood and just about every other restaurant in the vicinity. In the end, we went to Church's Chicken and devoured dos Volcan, 5 minutes before that place closed as well. In the parking lot was a Volkswagen rally, with motley buses and a couple of classic Beetles. My stomach protested slightly, in spite of the deliciousness of the Volcan, that it had been presented with chocolate instead of dinner, so we went straight home and ate a real dinner.

Like last time, cooking in Puerto Rico was a real pleasure, this time even better with an audience expanded by two. U. loved eating the pigeon peas as much as shelling them. G. and I loved eating chicken stirfried in sofrito verde. Happy to have discovered the concept of sofrito.. I must make a batch and store it in the fridge.

G. came with us to Old San Juan yesterday, his self-declared 3rd home, where he often rents an apartment and works on his apps during the gloom of San Francisco summers. We flew a kite, to U's extreme delight, at El Morro, then "sneaked past the guards" into the castle a la Jack and Annie in Knight at Dawn. R and U. loved pretending to defend the castle against pirates and hide in the secret passageways, sentry box and lighthouse. The instant we returned to the beach house, R. gathered miscellaneous items (foam cooler, cups, a bath mat, toilet paper rolls) and recreated El Morro on the balcony.

G. took us for a lunch of mofongos at his favorite eatery in Old San Juan, where the wait staff recognized him. U. had fallen asleep in the short car ride across town, so we transferred her to the stroller, where she napped while we ate.

At 5:30 PM, we took a last dip in the Carribbean, where the water felt like 85 degrees F. R. did a bit of swimming on his own, and U. tossed seaweed.

Beside the daily swims and Catty Jane, R and U have been entertained by 'water painting,' in which they make a big puddle in the void deck, then dip in brooms, brushes and body parts to paint the rest of the concrete floor. One afternoon, broom painting evolved into elbow-prints, nose-prints and whole-body-prints.

R. continued to live in his sea monster-tinted view of the world, with every jungle being the Late Cretaceous, logs being Tylosaurus and driftwood being jaws of Liopleurodon.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fathers' Night, 2013

Fathers' Day, technically, was nearly one week ago. Yet in this house and in two others nearby, Fathers' Day is only marked by an outing of three Dads to go out to a late show of a "guy movie." Thus, Mike and friends C. and L. can mark their paternal experiences by Hollywood gems like The Hangover and the A-Team. Tonight, it's .. oh, I can't even remember the name of it, but I do know that it's 10 P.M. and the men have JUST left for the Fresh Pond Cinema.

I suppose, once all of our children are a bit older, they will be able to better express what Daddy means to them, and we'll have more to remember Fathers' Days by.

This year, I was inspired by my niece and nephew to have Rohan fill out a Fathers' Day questionnaire. The results:

"My dad's name is :   Mike"
"My dad eats :    Spice"
"My dad drinks :   Milk and Water"
"I like it when my dad:    Gives us a piggy back ride."
"It's funny when my dad :    Shakes us and makes my mouth go wawawawawawa."

Uma's answers were less intelligible. She, instead, created a "Father Day Painting" for Daddy, and insisted that she "write name." Rohan helped, and labeled it, "Rohan Uma".

"It says Rohan and Uma, because we're friends, AND we're in the same family."

Mike is a dad who devotes his whole self to whatever he is doing. Here he is, blowing perfectly sized, well-aimed bubbles for two friends who happen to be our children. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Giant Girl meets Saraswati: What does pujo mean?

 There are those American-born Bengalis lucky enough to live close enough to the communities in which they grew up. Pujo remains, for them, largely the same as ever. Then there are the transplants, like me. We try to make our own traditions, one "superhero" at a time.

Our Saraswati pujo day started at home, watching music videos of popular Rabindrasangeet, sung by happy animated creatures of the forest and grassland. Then Rohan wanted to make his own "Bengali music video," so he drew a great white shark and we made it "sing" Alo Amar Alo.

Then we went to the library, of course, for Saraswati is the goddess of arts and literature. We walked out with a volume of Marvel comics, Avengers series, featuring Storm, Wolverine, Captain America, Spiderman, The Hulk and Giant Girl.

We sat in the pews of the Unitarian church next to the library, then, listening to the Arlington Philharmonic rehearse Benjamin Britten and examining the transformation of Janet van Dyne to Giant Girl. As we drove from the church to the pujo, I explained to Rohan that Saraswati, too, is a superhero. Like Giant Girl. But her powers are to make people appreciate books and music.

Rohan was slightly fearful, understandably, after his terrifying encounter in October with the heavily armed, bloodied goddess Durga. He looked visibly relieved that Saraswati bore no weapons, only the veena, and was accompanied by a pleasant swan or two.
Scary Durga; Oct 2012

What will pujo ultimately mean to our children? To my young self, Saraswati pujo meant running amok with our parents' friends' kids, entering sit-and-draw contests, demonstrating our nascent Rabindrasangeet skills for a forgiving audience of mashis, dads playing bridge, and eventually performing plays.

So distant from our 45-minute, pre-nap pujo outing to a neighboring high school, that the kids remember for its snack machines that contain Chortles. It's the only place I've ever seen Chortles for sale. They're pretty good, and are guaranteed to have "over 65 in every bag," but have nothing on my mom's sandesh.

Just as this feeling of distance had peaked, Rohan declared (now filled with Chortles) that he would like to sit "over there" in front of Ma Saraswati. For a satisfying length of time, we watched the priest read Bangla poetry to the goddess, examined all the yellow decorations, and Uma embarrassingly called some ladies "Dimmi!" because they were wearing saris as Uma has only seen my mother wear.

"They have the same hair, too," added Rohan loudly, not relieving my embarrassment in the least.

I had the kids offer pranami money on the plate in front of Saraswati, and asked the deity for help in ensuring Rohan's successful entry into Kindergarten this fall. We retrieved our books ("Port Side Pirates" and Richard Scarry's "A Day at the Fire Station") from Saraswati's feet, and rushed home for the rest of our "abangali", secular, shark-themed day.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Merry Christmas, Mike.

It's the beginning of December 2012, and my present to you is some memories and some wishes, that usually only come out in the form of tears (when I'm sleep- or sunshine-deprived), drool (when I'm really tired and fall asleep on your pillow), and snarfs (when you make ridiculous jokes while I'm drinking water or brushing my teeth.) But I'm a writer, so I should be able to "do" words, right?

One of the main reasons I love being married to you, is that you are a witness to the otherworldly absurdity that constitutes our daily lives. You know the meaning of:
  • Fooer (device used to fan food and cool it down)
  • Boosher (container used to dump water over heads during baths)
  • Dino blanket (green, fleece blankets used by me and by Rohan)
  • Hoppy game (two kids, one crib, chaos.)
  • Bonn Baynor (sp?) (superhero of unknown powers)
  • Nap pants
  • Pap dudh (what R. used to call his bedtime milk bottle)
  • Boo (what U. calls her milk cup)
  • Peepee, Poppy, Scrufty, Slashy and French (names of some stuffed animals here)
  • Flying-in-the-air Museum (Boston MFA)
  • Tree-fell-down-in-the-pond (Habitat Audubon Wildlife Sanctuary)
  • Struction-con cones (the orange things on the road)
And only with you can I discuss the plotlines and characters of just about any Arthur the Aardvark book. Only you understand how frustratingly mysterious it is when Arthur says "That's no camp, that's a zoo!" when he passes Camp Horsewater. We will just never know.

Which brings me to the realization that 2012 has been largely dominated by ice hockey, race cars (still!) and Arthur.
So. Much. Arthur.
To the point that even Uma knows lyrics, some dialogue, and characters in the books.  I swear I heard her sing, "... adve-enture.." the other day, in the car on the way back from Aisha's. And you know she always says "DIM!" when Arthur calls D.W. a dimwit.

So Mike, as an additional Christmas present, I forgive you officially for accidentally referring to Rohan as "Arthur" the other day.

What will 2013 bring?

Here are my predictions (I don't do resolutions):
  1. More sea creatures. As if our FOUR visits to aquariums (aquaria?) and multiple readings of ocean life books in 2012 didn't already make us all experts on sandtiger sharks, anglerfish, and stickleback gar.
  2. More date nights. Uma is finally warming up to grandparents, and if I manage to wean her of "baby-snacks" by the time she is two, we might finally get to go climbing.
  3. Less screaming in automobiles. This is a risky one. Uma hates car rides so much that those Peltor earmuffs have been a staple for dad and brother, in our Honda Civic. But I'm hoping that turning her carseat front facing in June can work wonders.
  4. We finish at least two seasons of Mad Men. Mike, I admire you for your extreme patience with my glacial pace of TV watching. I know, I know, it's been over two months and we haven't even gotten through season 1... but we'll do it. You'd think that having freed ourselves of cable TV would accelerate our Netflix pace but no.
  5. I try another recipe that your mom says you used to love. Yes, it took me seven years to attempt the corn pudding... give me a couple of months to make our next celebratory dinner.
 When I first loved you 9 years ago, I could not have predicted the contents of this post. I guess that means that all 5 of these predictions may be completely wrong. But I strangely don't care. Whatever happens, you will share it with me, and that fact will make everything even better than our combined expectations.

Here's to another year of surprises!
your wife.

Massive List of Sayings From Rohan: 2011-2012


“NO tickle-face. Daddy is TOO scratchy.”
M: “I shaved! My face is not scratchy.”
“Your NECK is scratchy.”

Me to mike: “I’m going to go over and check him for poop.”
R: “Mamma, go back there and eat your lunch!”

“Get the hat with the crossbones and the hat with the yellow-diamond-blue-diamond-red-diamond!” (Pirates hat and Steelers hat.)

“I bumped my Noggin with the cup.”

In the Mt. Auburn Hospital ER waiting room: “Daddy, I’m racing my Nasty Cars!”
M: “You mean, NASCARs…”
R: “Yeah, my nasty cars!”

“I’m Naked Boy playing baseball.”

“It’s not the spiky pillow, it’s the norom one.”
“Rohan has brown chul. Mamma has black chul. Daddy has chul like Tessa. Dimmi has gray chul. Dadan has… ektu bit of chul.”

“Don’t come near!”
“Don’t say no!”

“That could be an idea!” (when he thinks of something he wants to do.)

“Do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around;
That’s what it’s all about! Doodlebug-doodlebug!
I like to say Doodlebug at the end.”

“I’m your little doodlebug. I’m daddy’s little doodlebug.”

“Tessa, you wanna ankh with me?” (holding sidewalk chalk.)

“Today, we watched the funny cars race. It was Great Fun!”

“I will eat more, I will get bigger, then I will play football.”

“This is the blanket-snake! I LOVE this!” (about the striped afghan)

“This is a special crib for this noke and the bad noke. Two babies in the crib. Like Asha and Thomas. They are at Dimmi’s house. Sometimes I live at Dimmir bari. Sometimes Dimmi and Dadan live at Yerxa Road, and I can show them this special crib.”

“I race the motorcycle on your no-hair part.” (about Daddy’s side as opposed to chest/stomach.)

“I like to pick flowers. I give them to Mamma and Daddy sometimes. I’m not dogs! Dogs don’t want flowers!”
Mike: “Dogs might eat the flowers.”
R: “Oh, yuck.”

“I could give this flower to Tessa. She could love it.”

“This guy fell down! Poor little noke.”

“I liked the part where the frog played the guitar, sitting on that wood.” [first time watching Muppet Movie.]

“What are you likh-ing, Mamma?”

Mike: “I don’t know that song. I’ll have to look it up on YouTube.”
R: “MY tube??”

“Uhhhh, Daddeeeee…( I’m ‘tending to cry.)”

“I want to shun that gaan.” (about God Bless America sung by Fozzie Bear.)

“Daddy, you could dress up as a peddler, with caps on your head. You would be a Handsome Boy.” [demonstrating pile of caps]

“Quite incredible!” (about jumping over pile of pillows)


“It’s NOT time for dinner. It’s time for racing.”
Me: “The cars are hungry.’
R” “No they’re NOT. They’re hungry for racing.”

“Daddy, you need to shave. You have Whiskers.”

“Maybe Santa’s pups could make it.” (meaning elves.)

“What happens when you put cars in the dryer? They turn into Hot Wheels cars.”

“Is this an animal?” grabbing Uma’s feet.

"My skeleton is rattling around inside my body."

“Daddy, my naked is the same as your naked! We’re ALL naked!”

“The Washington Capitals are sleeping with the Boston Bruins.”

“If you cut off all your hair, you’ll look like Dadan.”

“I don’t want to go to preschool, I want to go to a Mojar Jaiga!”

“Bridger and me went fishing, and we caught a great white shark.” [one of many Bridger Tall Tales.]

R: “Can we have a new baby?”
Me: “No.”
R: “We could borrow one!”
Me: “We could visit Owen’s new baby.”
R: “Yeah, and bring it home and put it in your belly.”

“Come on, Daddy, let’s go for a Nailed swim!” (about the beach in Ocean City NJ)

“This is the running-water.” (describing the water before a wave breaking)

“If Uma saw this scary movie she would one hundred cry.”

“I had ELEVEN pee!”

“If Mamma went to Daddy’s work and Daddy went to Mamma’s work, it would be so silly.”

“We definitely can’t buy a Real Gun.”

"I'm making this fort 'shnug' for Uma."

“I don’t want to see ANY ankylosaurus.”

“These firefighters did a big big dushtumi. They didn’t slide down the pole.”

"This is a mousie in the picture. I think Uma will love it."

(sniff) “This house smells like cat food AND dog food!” (after I made slow-cooked bbq ribs.)

"We made whooped cream, and then it turned into cupcakes."

"My stomach feels like something's crumpled up inside it."

"This nutcracker is not scary because he doesn't have a sword."

(to Aisha, recounting the holidays) "We went to Nana and Papa's house and Dimmi and Dadan's house and made a 'splosion and Uncle Justin drank the 'splosion!"