Sunday, November 9, 2014

Festive season #1 for 2014

[Edit: Guess what? I was nominated for Best Personal Blog of 2014 for Nepaliaustralian's 2014 Blog Awards !! I am so honored to have been nominated; vote for me if you want to, but please read all of them because the others nominated are wonderful!]

I know I neglect this blog a lot these days. Sorry ! :( The last few months have been a flurry of activity; basically I haven't slowed down since early September. I drove (solo) to Portland twice - once for a rehearsal and once for my singing school's recital. I drove to Seattle last weekend with a friend to see St. Lucia in concert, which was amazing. They are fantastic musicians and it was worth the eleven-hour round trip.

In between that was festive season #1 - Durga Puja, Diwali, and not one but two college fests that I sang for. Here in our small town, Durga Puja is generally 'observed' over two days in the community in a relatively small-sized get-together with pushpanjali, food, and a cultural program that consists of those of us who sing, dance, recite etc. doing just that (unlike some bigger cities who bring in musicians and movie stars from Kolkata to be the evening entertainment.) For me, who has never experienced a 'real' Pujo season in West Bengal, it is mostly a chance to reunite with friends and make promises to meet up more often, some of which get kept, and to meet new people who arrived in August, who are still making themselves at home in the area. One day I am sure I will get to see what is missed so much by others, but that day has not yet come.

Also during the puja season, I like to cook, and cook a lot. All Bengali food, obviously. This year I made alur dom, cholar dal, luchi, sooji halwa, labra, and a chicken curry, among other things that now I forgot. I ran out of steam before attempting mutton or fish; I am much better with veg food than nonveg anyway, so it was perfectly fine :)

Diwali week again was busy, though I wasn't really expecting it to be. I went to not one but two Lakshmi Pujas on the same day, and the days before and after were spent meeting and greeting friends and making sweets for said meet and greets. I wasn't even at HOME on Diwali and the lights I had so carefully put up on the balcony went unlit that day.

And the college festivals - both were at our local university - India Night came first, the week after Durga Puja, then Bangladeshi Night the week after Diwali. For India Night, I sang Iktara, from the movie Wake Up Sid. (And no, I don't have a video yet.) Bangladeshi Night was more involved; I sang three folk songs as part of a small chorus with two guitar players, and provided the percussion via my electronic tabla app. I was also asked to help with makeup, and spent much longer than expected in the sound check - between all these things, I didn't sit down for nearly four hours at a stretch. Both festivals went absolutely wonderfully and great memories were made, but I certainly did fantasize about a nice, quiet weekend doing nothing but sitting in bed watching Cosmos on Netflix!

Which, of course, has not happened... because festive season #2 is quickly approaching with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years coming up. We're still trying to figure out with A's schedule if we will travel or not this season but right now it's looking like no. Even if we stay here though, it will still be a flurry of parties, visits, baking, decorating, and gift-giving. It never stops, and I think I kind of like that. :)

Oh, and I dressed up as Pusheen the cat for Halloween.
D.B. and me for Halloween - the dark angel and the fat cat. Also, glitter.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fall Garden Update

It's too late in the season to take any good pictures, but here's how my first summer where I actually grew my own plants went:

Methi: My methi plants (fenugreek) grew from seeds and they were perfect. I grew two batches in a large pot and harvested and used both. It was a great start to the year, and I should have kept doing it throughout the summer. I'll definitely be growing this again next year.

Mint: Flourished like crazy for months and months. After three tries, I got a cutting to grow and now it's living happily in Portland with my friend Renee. Unfortunately, about a month later, the plant was root-bound and the stems got woody and leaves shriveled up. I cut most of the stems and loosened the root ball, and I hope that the few little leaves that are left will turn into something, but it may be too cool and cloudy now. Hoping for the best - and learned a lot of lessons for next year!

Rosemary: Perfectly happy plant. Hope to keep indoors during the winter. The only real issue we had was that A. wanted to cook with it nearly every week and so we harvested it down to a single stalk! It's growing back though and he's just going to have to wait a little while.

Marigolds: The ones that I grew from seed never flowered - they grew very, very tall with a lot of leaves, but no flowers came. I still think they kept a lot of insects away. I have what look like buds on the ends of the stems now, but still no sign of flowers; plus it's very late in the season; I'd be very surprised if anything were to come of them now. But I really wanted marigolds, so I bought some that looked a little tired at the nursery and decided to bring them back to life, and they certainly came back, in brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and even a few red ones. I have a few blooms left and even a couple of buds, and hoping they hold out until Diwali; I would love to make a garland with whatever I have left. It's an early Diwali this year, but in this weather it may still not be early enough.

Basil: I bought a basil plant on a whim, and the summer was very good to it. I harvested the leaves a couple of times, but in the end it had the same  problem as the marigolds; the stem grew very long and eventually the leaves got smaller and smaller. I didn't repot it properly; I think I should have put it in a different pot.

I think I will grow all these again next year, but with a few changes. I'll buy marigolds that have already flowered for sure. The mint and basil will go in significantly larger pots. The rest, I hope I can just do more of what I did this year and they'll grow bigger and better. Not a bad start for someone who's really not very good at outdoor things!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What a Virgo does on her day off work

I just got done with a 2200 mile round trip mega-vacation of awesomeness. But I will not post pictures of that right now. Mostly because I forgot to take very many pictures. After the kind of vacation where you forget to take pictures, you really need a vacation from your vacation, so I took one today - and spent the majority of the day organizing my spice cabinet and pantry.

The organized cabinets, which contain (from bottom) tea and other drinks,
sweeteners, and spices I use almost daily; other useful ingredients like
corn starch and kosher salt (and medicine, to make sure it stays out of
the light), spices I use on a less regular basis; and on the top, extras
of everything stored so they are easy for a short person to access.

On the inside of all the cabinets, I have written what is on that shelf.
So now my husband can't make excuses that he can't find things.

Close-up of the list of spices stored on my "I use these all the time" shelf

The organized pantry. Hard to believe that just a few weeks ago I was
throwing things in randomly and shutting the door fast so they wouldn't fall out.
I've found that it's a lot more fun to cook when you're organized. I already did three of the four utensil drawers, and now the pantry, so hopefully this will lead to less stressful cooking that takes a lot less time! Now I can concentrate on getting fresh and healthy ingredients and making tasty food, while also knowing exactly what I have so that I don't go out and waste a ton of money buying extras of things that are hidden in the back of the pantry or cabinet somewhere. Not like I've ever done that, of course, not once or a million times ;)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Guest Posting on today

I have featured my friend Anirban Saha's photography on this blog before, but this time I will send you over to his site once again because he has asked me to guest post there. We had been talking about it for well over a year, and the time has finally come. So go check out my vignette on my experience with Kolkata, and how it connects to the best of my life - Kolkata, a Love Story.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My little garden and an unseasonal Rooh Afza mocktail

I think even calling the few plants I am growing this spring a "little garden" is hyperbole, but it sounds better than "the things in pots on my balcony" so I'll stick with it.

The second house I lived in while in Delhi was known as a barsati - a rooftop room whose original purpose was to have somewhere to sleep when it was too hot to stay in the house but too rainy to sleep on the terrace, but whose purpose now is to rent out to students or other non-locals and make a little extra cash. I had one of two rooms on the Bhalla family's terrace. The other room on the terrace was occupied by the Meenakshis - one a student, one who had recently started a job near the university - and the terrace itself was occupied by countless plants in pots - flowers of all sorts, mint, cumin, and a tulsi plant in the place of honor.

I had never been much of a gardener, but when I came back to the US, I found myself buying plants every spring. It became a spring equinox ritual to go to the local nursery and figure out what I should plant this year. My first year, I had alove vera and a big bromeliad. The next year, I added rosemary and cilantro, which would have been so useful for us if only the local critters hadn't thought it was just as good an idea as I did. I seriously considered getting a curry leaf plant, but could not find a local supplier.

Then we moved cross country to a completely different climate zone. I awaited March 21 as I had begun to do, ready for my annual shopping trip. But there was no equinox plant browsing that year; the ground was completely covered in snow. Curry leaves were right out, and I didn't think I could plant anything.

The secret was to wait a couple of months. I didn't even have to buy plants that year - our local CSA gave me a cayenne pepper plant and a tomato plant for free. I carefully got them home and set them up on the balcony. But did I mention that I am not really a gardener? I don't know very much about soil and shade and water other than what I can find on the internet, and I did not realize at the time that tomatoes and peppers - particularly the peppers - needed full sun. Lots of it. Which is impossible on my balcony. I get about three hours of sun on a portion of the balcony for about three months; the rest of the time it's completely in the shade. So I got exactly two cayenne peppers and three tiny grape tomatoes that were supposed to be full-size heirloom tomatoes. Disappointed, I did not grow anything the next year, and last year we knew we would be going to India, so I didn't even bother since there was no one to take care of the plants while we were gone.

But this year, I was determined to make it work yet again. I wisely let the equinox pass, then in mid-May, once all danger of frost had passed, I bought two plants, some seeds, and looked through my cabinets to figure out what this year would bring.

This picture of odd perspective is my little marigold seedlings in a seed starter. I grew these from a seed packet I got at Ace Hardware. I'm looking forward to transplanting these into their own pots this weekend, rain or shine. The perspective is due to the fact that they are sitting on a plant stand about three feet off the ground that you can't see (and also because I'm a lousy photographer.)

These are my methi plants! I grabbed  a handful of the seeds that I use to make  panch phoron and soaked them in water for a day, as was instructed. I kind of forgot about them, though, and they ended up soaking for three days before I was able to get them planted. I was sure that I had ruined the seeds and nothing would happen, but I held out a little hope and sure enough, after about a week, I had little green leaves  peeking out. They are getting taller now, and they're very thirsty plants! I had a migraine yesterday and didn't get to water them, then when I came out this morning, the one in the white had wilted in protest. I gave it lots of water, and as you can see, it's perked up quite a bit in the last four hours.

Mint is always a very useful thing to have around, particularly in the summers. So here is the mint plant (also from Ace Hardware). It's grown a little since I got it and seems to be maintaining pretty well. I'm not sure at what point I can actually start using the leaves. I think I will harvest a few for my first summer's glass of Rooh Afza, which while the weather is still about 66 degrees during the day (19 degrees Celsius), probably won't be for at least a few more weeks.

Finally, my rosemary plant. I don't think I potted this one very well - you can see the biodegradable pot it came in well above the top of the clay pot - but the plant does not seem to mind. This will be wonderful to keep and dry for soups in the winter and to use fresh when roasting lamb in the fall. From my previous experience, rosemary likes full sun but will be fine in a little bit of shade. I have also found that it's much harder to kill rosemary than other kinds of herbs, so it's perfect for me. And I love the smell. Of all of them, really! I did not realize how fragrant fresh herbs on the balcony would be.

The only thing I am not sure about right now is what to do when the warm weather is over for the year. I will have to ask some people who live locally. Still don't know what you can keep over from year to year and what needs to be re-planted. The methi, of course, I think is only good for one season, and probably the mint too but not sure about the rosemary. Either way, it will be wonderful to cook with herbs that I grow myself this summer - and my wallet will thank me too, since they're terribly expensive at the grocery!

All these pictures are useless without a recipe, so I will share my recipe for my Rooh Afza mocktail with you. Rooh Afza, as you may know, is a rose syrup popular in South Asia. It's used to make various drinks and desserts, but this is the way I like it best.

4-5 ice cubes
2-3 tablespoons Rooh Afza (I suppose - I just pour until I feel guilty)
Diet 7Up or your lemon-lime soda of choice
A pinch of kala namak (black salt) - available in Indian grocery stores
A squeeze of lime juice (optional; limes are crazy expensive now)
Mint leaves

Put ice cubes in a tall glass. Pour Rooh Afza into the bottom of the glass, then fill up with the lemon-lime soda. Add a pinch of black salt for tanginess, some lime juice for zing, and mint leaves for coolness. Stir it up really well so the syrup mixes with the soda. Drink, happily refreshed. If you don't like black salt you can leave it out, but it adds that certain je ne sais quoi, so try to acquire the taste if you're adventurous.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Translation: Taara Jala by Junoon

This one is actually... not a Bengali song. It's a song by Junoon, a Pakistani band I first heard in college. But I did not hear this song until Holi of 2007, when a friend gave me a CD of songs to listen to upon my arrival in Delhi. My Hindi was really at the beginner level at this point, and considering this is Urdu, I barely understood much other than the chorus but knew the song had something to say.

The more I sang it, the more I understood - both the words of the song and the limitations on my voice that kept me from singing it. But it wasn't until many years later I was able to fully understand the song, and in understanding, was able to break through those limits as well.

Thanks as always to those who helped me understand it better - Sanjay for going back and forth with me on that one confusing line, and Ankur for the CD. It may not be word for word perfect, but it encompasses the way I feel when I hear it.

Taara Jala - Junoon
Blazing Star

Tere vaaste main...
For you, I...

In lamhon ke peeche
Koi to hai lamha aisa bhi
Jo begaana bhi hai apna bhi
After these moments, another moment like this will come
Even the unknown belongs to us

Jahaan thehere yeh lamha
Wahin se to aage jaana hai
Jise socha hai usko paana hai
Where this moment stops
From there, then, we go forward
He who thinks this will achieve 

Jaaoon main...
Jaate pal se aage jaaoon
Jaoon main, aage jaake usko paaon, chahoon, aage hi jaaoon main
And I go on...
From this moment, I go on
And from there, I'll attain, desire, and go ever forward

Taara, taara jala
Kehkeshan ki tarah
Tere vaaste main
I am a blazing star
Shining like a galaxy
For you...

Jahaan manzil hai meri
Kabhi to vo duniya dekhoonga
Mujhe kaise hai jeena dekhoonga
Perhaps i will see that world of my destiny--
How will that life appear to me?

Kabhi dekhoonga jaake,
Chuda ke main peecha kaamon se
Kabhi nikloonga subho shaamon se
Perhaps I will catch a glimpse, my work left behind me,
Perhaps I will emerge from my quotidian

Jaaoon main...
Jaate pal se aage jaaoon
Jaoon main, aage jaake usko paaon, chahoon, aage hi jaaoon main
And I go on...
From this moment, I go on
And from there, I'll attain, desire, and go ever forward

Taara, taara jala
Kehkeshan ki tarah
Tere vaaste main
I am a blazing star
Shining like a galaxy
For you...

Tere saath hum nahin
Gham ki tarah gham nahin
Teri mohabbat kam nahin
I am not with you
There is no sadness like this
There is no love greater than yours

Main taara, taara jala
Kehkeshan ki tarah
Tere vaaste main
I am a blazing star
Shining like a galaxy
For you...

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Translation: Sunset by Nitin Sawhney

I first heard this song on a compilation CD one of my students gave me nearly a decade ago. This was the first song, and the music and voice gripped me from the first second. I didn't know who was singing, what he was singing, but that didn't matter. The English vocals were no less enticing; I must have listened to this song hundreds of times, if not thousands, over the last ten years.

Over that time, I learned that the singer in English was Eska. That the beginning lyrics were in Bengali. That the singer's name was Pandit Jayanta Bose. That I would eventually meet people who had learned to sing from him. And I would learn how to read and write those lyrics that at first listen were nothing but beautiful music, and today I am able to translate these four lines for you.

হঠাৎ যদি আমি থেমে যেতাম
শেষ বিকেলের মতো অস্ত যেতাম
অসীম রাতের শেষে শয়নে
সূর্যের সাথে আমি ঘুমিয়ে যেতাম

Hothat jodi ami theme jetam
Shesh bikeler moto osto jetam
Ashim raater sheshe shoyone
Surjer saathe ami ghumiye jetam

If I were suddenly to pause; to set beyond the horizon as dusk arrives,
At last, in the bed of boundless night, I would fall asleep with the sun.

(Special thanks go to Abhik Ray for discussing compound verbs with me at length, and Shumon Sengupta for his translations of Tagore that inspired me to do this.)

Friday, February 14, 2014

A Valentine's Day tradition

Okay, maybe it's just MY tradition. But when I was an unattached freshman in college, all my new friends around me joining sororities, meeting guys, pairing off, I wasn't really looking at Valentine's Day as something particularly exciting to celebrate. But I didn't want to be bitter.

So I went to the local toy store, bought beanie lizards for all my single friends, and gave them out with ribbons tied around their necks. Ever since then, I've given little beanie lizards to my friends -- single or attached, Valentine's Day or not -- as expressions of love. Like flowers or chocolate, but cuter.

Happy Valentine's Day! Here's a lizard.
I never thought of Valentine's Day as a couples-only holiday anyway. My parents would always give me Valentine's gifts - heart-shaped earrings, chocolates, cassette tapes. And I would always make cards for them. A religious group in India has declared 14 Februrary to be Parents Worship Day so that the youth aren't tempted to celebrate Valentine's Day with their 'premik' or 'premika' ... but why not both? Love isn't just for boyfriends and girlfriends. We love our parents, children, siblings, friends, and pets too. Why limit Valentine's Day to just expectations of romance and extremely expensive roses? Don't we need more love in the world; less hatred and division? Why not have a day to commemmorate love, of all kinds?

Life is short and we don't know if we're going to be here tomorrow. Tell those you love that you love them. And, if you're so inclined, give them a lizard. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Exploring the local culture - Pacific Northwest edition

Memorial Day Trip to Mt. St. Helens, 2013
Photo courtesy Jayanta Mondal
I have been in the Pacific Northwest now for three years and I absolutely love living here. At times I wish I was closer to Seattle, or Portland (Portland. Yes. Please?) but as my dad always said, "home is where you hang your hat." And I certainly need a lot of hats here!

Being a "Ph.D. wife," I'm aware that we may not be in this area much longer. It could be another year, maybe two; likely not more than that. And one of the things I regret the most about my short time in Louisiana was all the things I didn't do. I was always an outsider and never really integrated into the culture there -- I never even did the stereotypically touristy things like swamp tours or visiting the Tabasco factory in Grand Isle! Of course, I didn't expect to ever not be an outsider, but I admit I didn't really try very hard to meet people or build relationships there until right before I left.

I don't want to make those mistakes here. It's very easy to get caught up in the web of Life, of chores and cooking and work and internet and not really experience a lot of what the area you live in has to offer. It's easy to not put yourself out there, be vulnerable, make friends or at least acquaintances. I don't expect everyone to roll out the red carpet for me, but I want to put myself where the people are and live here, not just exist here.

So here are some of the things that I have done, or want to do, in the short time I have left here:
The only tomatoes we were able to grow!
They weren't supposed to be grape
tomatoes, but that's what happened...

  • Get involved in outdoor recreation. We've done this, in part. We biked a lot in 2011 and 2012, but A's bike was stolen when we went to India this year and he's not interested in getting another, so we may need to change up our activity. Hiking, perhaps? We went camping with some friends over Memorial Day weekend last year and it was one of the best trips I've ever been on. I have also just started cross-country skiing and want to keep it up as long as there's snow on the ground. I can go weekly with a small group from the college. I don't think I'll ever be one of those people who goes rock climbing one weekend, kayaking the next, and runs a marathon the following month, but I would like to make outdoor fun in the fresh air a more regular part of my lifestyle, be it cross-country skiing, the occasional camping trip, or just taking a walk at the arboretum. 
  • Buy our food from the local farmers market. We do this when the market's in session and we love it! We joined the university CSA in 2011 and although we probably won't join again due to uncertainty of when we will leave, it was great to be able to pick up local, organic, fresh produce on a weekly basis and then have fun trying to figure out what to do with it. Once we get settled somewhere, I'll look around for similar programs in that place. The farmers market is also good though. It's really an all-morning event. This year, I'd like to go weekly if possible.
  • Volunteer on a farm. Our local co-op has a program where members (of which I am one) can go volunteer on local farms and really see where our food comes from, up close and personal. I just found out about it this winter, and am hoping to be able to do this in the spring. I have gone apple, cherry, and raspberry picking which is always super fun and economical if you like eating a lot of fruit. 
    picking apples at the Organic Farm

  • Sing in the local chorus. Done, and done. Concert is May 3 and 4. Please come!
  • Join a spiritual community. I am involved with our local Sanatan Dharma center, but not regularly. At this time in my life this is something that is difficult to work in for many reasons, most of which are not bloggable. I do think after I have a family it will be something I will want to be more of a priority in my life. 
  • Attend collegiate arts and sporting events. I have not done this yet but 2014 will be the year. The local universities have so much to offer. I already sing in India night events but I think I should be more of an attendee and not a performer as well.  As far as sports go, I'm not really a big football fan, plus that's already got a lot of support, so perhaps I will come out and support the tennis team? Or baseball? Or women's basketball! I also just found out that the university is putting on Die Fledermaus on the one weekend I'm not singing in April so I will likely be attending that too! 
  • Sing more. The problem with college towns is that everyone moves away, and most of the people I sang and played music with when I first came here have done exactly that. But just yesterday I talked to a girl at the other university who knows a guy who plays guitar and wants to have a jam session... so let's see if we can get Round Two up and running!
  • Go to local wineries. We've already done a lot of regional trips when A's parents came to visit us - Portland, Seattle, National Parks, local attractions. There are a few other places I'd like to go, but the Columbia Valley wineries are at the top of the list. This is a big to-do for this spring.
So that's really my Pacific Northwest Bucket List. Anything else you think I should add? 

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Why did you learn Bengali?

I saw this question float through my Facebook timeline today. And was surprised to see so many responders who had learned Bengali or Hindi! Most for religious reasons. Some lived in India and picked it up that way. I didn't really respond except to post links to Let's Learn Bengali, the Facebook group I admin. But that is my way, isn't it? When confronted with a question, I take the intellectual route. If I can examine something, analyze it, then I don't have to provide a narrative. I can easily tell what I know, give you the right answer, get an A+, but I don't give away my stories, my motivations so easily.

So to correct that lapse, I shall answer that question here.

I have always loved languages. I started learning Spanish and French from childhood, majored in French in college, started learning Hindi while finishing my French degree, and had a brief foray into Norwegian before I realized I had no one to speak it with. I have been told I have a natural talent for language, and found that the one thing that my extremely right-brained orientation was good at was translation. My only real problem was that I was casting my net too wide, trying to learn too many languages, when it makes more sense to dive deep into one. If I had known then what I knew now, I would have chosen Bengali from the start. Its rich literary and film traditions would have been enough. But they do not teach Bengali in school, and so I went with French instead. Je ne regrette rien, but it would have been nice not to have to wait so long.

I suppose if I had paid better attention, I would have started learning years before I actually did. Here are some snippets of conversations I had throughout the years:

A: You should learn Bengali.
Me: LOL, no, Hindi's hard enough.

P: You should learn Bengali.
Me: What for?

F: You should learn Bengali.
Me: Maybe later. Let's practice singing.

S: You should learn Bengali
Me: I don't understand why people keep telling me this.

Or maybe I could have started learning in 2006, when I went to Mumbai amidst the glowing reviews of all of my closest friends and found it left me cold. In the airport, I began reading a book about Kolkata and said, "Well, if I ever come back to India, maybe I'll like that place." I could have prepared myself, but I didn't.

Or I could have started learning once Hindi started making more sense, and I began listening (on 2006's recommendation) to Bangladeshi rock music, just to listen to music whose lyrics I didn't understand once more. But that would have defeated the purpose.

But I did go back to India, and upon invitation from a friend, I did go to Kolkata, in a rare monsoon weekend where the clouds gathered angrily, then dispersed to reveal the most brilliant blue sky without a drop of rain falling. At the risk of sounding like a second-rate travel novel, everything seemed to fall into place. Yes, the roads were full of people, full of monsoon mud, animals roaming the roads - everything you would expect from having read all those other India travel novels. But there is a palpable difference between Kolkata and Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. Those two metros, they move quickly. Business gets done. The trees do not have time to really be green.

Kolkata was different. It was slower; it seemed more concerned with the things that matter to me. It revels in nostalgia. Art and music were important, not just resume-fillers and networking opportunities. As in other cities in India, I did attract attention as a foreigner and people approached me, but simply for a minute's chat at a store counter or crossing a street, then they said goodbye and we went on our separate ways. I felt safe there; I felt home. Of course I wasn't; it was my first time in a city I have, as of today, spent less than a total of thirty days in. But it felt the same way it did the first time I went to Dallas as a child, enthralled by the streetlights; my heart settled there and the Life I Had Always Wanted found an ideal setting.

In some ways, I suppose you could say I fell in love. With the humidity, the tree in my courtyard, the house behind mine. With turning the pages of Tagore and reading the words of Gitanjali for the first time. With Music World, where I deciphered characters round, angular, and elegant and vowed to learn this alphabet. And so I bought a book.

But love did come later, and with it even more reasons. In-laws, naturally, but there is also another reason. We communicate in my native language. English has so many twists and turns of phrase, hundreds of synonyms, dozens of ways to say the same thing, each variation carrying its own shade of meaning. I speak various dialects, including Texan and LOLcat, switching effortlessly between them. I write songs and poems, drawing upon the richness of the language. But Bengali is just as rich, with words carrying so much meaning, connotation, and power in a way that is not like English at all. Learning Bengali teaches me another way of thinking, and that way conveniently happens to be my husband's native way of thinking. How can I know the context that shapes him, how can I comprehend his hopes, dreams, and fears without knowing his language? Even if we don't speak it together, I find that the more I learn of it, the more I understand of him.

The more Bengali I learn, the less I know. I realize with every new thing that there are a thousand more things I wasn't even aware of, and it is quite unlikely that I will ever speak like a native or near-native. But I really don't care too much about that; as long as I keep learning, I'll know more than I did the day before, and those small moments of learning, those light bulbs of comprehension, the songs you listen to and feel without the need to translate, the times when you realize that you've just had an hourlong conversation in your fifth language and people understood you and you understood them, those moments are why I learn.