Savoring the Bittersweet

By Shyama Parui

Just a few more sunsets and we will soon bid farewell to 2019 and celebrate the start of 2020. As we inch forward to the close of the year, are you feverish with excitement or fraught with regret? Perhaps, you are eager to let go or desperately wanting to hold on.

Lately, I have found myself at crossroads where I am learning to balance a longing for the past with a yearning for the excitement of the future. It is, admittedly, far from being a piece of cake. Turns out, it is harder to get used to a blend of karela (bitter gourd) and gur (molasses) when our palates are trained to savor tastes that are either completely bitter or completely sweet.

My brief visit to West Bengal last year is a perfect example of this struggle. During the drive to my parents' hometown from the airport, I was grateful for air-conditioned cars and paved streets, but I was overwhelmed by the noise of traffic. Narrow streets were filled with every kind of vehicle ranging from two-wheelers to buses, all jostling for space. New buildings had sprung up almost on top of each other hiding the open fields and ponds. Dust and emissions blurred the landscape that used to be lush green and peaceful. The proximity to Kolkata had erased many elements of Howrah's past, turning its “grams" (villages) into suburbs.

An increase in opportunities for employment and education is a welcome change, yet I wonder what will be lost in the process. Will the neighborhood mashis and meshos, (aunts and uncles) remain hospitable and enthusiastically feed you roshogolla (a popular sweet) even if you drop in unannounced? Will kids giggle as they manage to trick their neighbor and steal their best flowers? While land grabbing and petty squabbles over fences may go down, orchards may disappear, consequently wiping away memories of afternoons spent climbing trees and picking mangoes.

Similarly, we experience these mixed feelings with our loved ones too. My nephews and nieces, who were once little enough to hold my hand and follow me around have grown into confident young men and women. They are my guides in the chaotic city of Mumbai, often telling me about the trendiest places to shop and eat. If need be, I will humbly let them hold my hand and lead the way across many of the insanely crowded streets where you are likely to be run over by autorickshaws and speed walking pedestrians alike. While I cherish memories from their toddlerhood, listening to them talk about their passionate causes and entrepreneurial dreams makes me proud.

Soon my own children will attend high school and each of those four years will involve conscious efforts to prepare for college and eventually for life. With that also comes the reminder that they will be living independently. When my children declared that they had outgrown the neighborhood Breakfast with Santa and Easter Egg Hunt, I was disappointed. “But you are only ten," I wanted to scream. I even considered throwing a temper tantrum to protest.

Better sense prevailed, however, as I chose to make peace with the many joys that come with fiercely independent children. Our parents had to reconcile with our choice to become immigrants in a distant country, even though they would have preferred to have us live in the same city if not the same house as a segment of the “joint family" set up. A big part of parenting is about embracing all the turning points in the lives of our children, particularly when they stop leaning on us for support or direction. We want to keep our children close to our hearts, but it also becomes our duty to let them soar. I have found that the happiest empty nesters are the ones who have mastered this balancing act.

Our professional, social and personal responsibilities are constantly making demands of us and when we are faced with a need to make drastic changes, it can pose a formidable challenge. Think about major lifestyle changes required after a health scare or job loss. Adapting to these situations can break an individual. Ironically, I can think of many examples of people who have attributed their success to the very hardships that blocked the course they had previously charted.

Grabbing a spoonful of the bittersweet, I am going to take the advice of a very wise person who once told me, “Shyama, there is a reason that a car is designed to have a big windshield and small rear-view mirror." Nevertheless, when memories from years ago pop up on social media, it will tug at my heartstrings and you may catch me shedding a tear or two.


Shyama is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: