My Friend Alexa Post 8 – Durga Puja in the time of COVID-19

In the last three posts, I wrote about my experience of celebrating Durga Puja in Mysore, Bangalore, Kolkata, and Berhampore. For the last post in this series, I wish to speak about the way life and the idea of celebrating a festival changed for us this year.

Life during the pandemic taught me perseverance and resilience. My son and I hadn’t taken a trip outside Kolkata since March. It was more out of compulsion than by choice that we decided to return to Berhampore after more than a year this October. Leaves were canceled at my husband’s workplace during the festival. Both my father and in-laws weren’t in a position to travel back to Kolkata at such short notice.

Tuneer offering his prayers at home

After the mandatory isolation period, the only distance that I traveled in Berhampore was from my in-law’s house to Baba’s home for a couple of days. I consciously decided not to step out of home for pushpanjali or pandal hopping. We offered our prayers at home. The bhog preparation for our para pandal happens on the ground floor of my home. Thus, we weren’t deprived of the delicious food options during the festival.

Baganpara Durga Puja

While I have a couple of pictures of Tuneer celebrating with my father and in-laws, I could only click a single picture of Ma Durga in the pandal near my home. I took the snap standing 10 meters away from the pandal while I was leaving for my in-law’s place. My husband clicked the other picture of their UCC Durga puja, which has entered its third year since inception.

UCC Durga Puja

We missed out on meeting friends, enjoying the endless adda sessions, visiting multiple pandals, and eating out at restaurants. But it was a conscious decision to stay indoors, not just for our safety but also for the ones who are most vulnerable to this deadly virus. I wish to remember 2020 as a year that showed us the importance of minimalism and sensible choices.

I hope you had a grand Durga Puja, celebrating in your way but without compromising on precautions. Here’s wishing you and your family a Shubo Bijoya Dashami/ Vijaya Dashami and Happy Dusshera. May we overcome the hurdles to go back to the old normal very soon.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  This is the eighth and last post in the series; you can read all posts here.

My Alexa Post 7 – Durga Puja in Berhampore/Kolkata

For the past four years, I have spent every Durga Puja in Berhampore, a place where I grew up and also happens to be my husband’s home town. Last year, we decided to explore puja in Kolkata for a couple of days before heading to Berhampore on the sixth day of the puja.

In Berhampore, the puja near my house smells of childhood nostalgia. It was a delight to see my son soaking in the festivity and ambience, just like I would relish these four days in my childhood. My husband and his school friends started a new Durga Puja in 2018. The experience of watching grandeur unfold in front of my eyes, and showing my son the strength of sustainable friendship was mesmerizing.

This post will take you on a tour of my puja experience in 2018. Happy Maha Ashtami to you and your family.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  This is my seventh blog post, and you can read the previous six articles here.

Durga Puja in Berhampore

My Friend Alexa Post 5 : Durga Puja in Mysore

I wrote four rant posts as part of the My Friend Alexa campaign this month. Durga Puja begins today, and I have decided to stay indoor to stay safe amidst the pandemic. I thought it was a golden opportunity to take a trip down memory lane and revisit Durga Pujas spent in various cities during my student/professional life.

I lived in Mysore from 2009 till 2014. ICICI Bank gave me the first posting as Branch Manager in this beautiful laidback city. Mysore barely hosted a couple of Durga Pujas then. This picture was clicked in 2012, a year after I had lost Ma. It was my second puja after the wedding. I didn’t apply for leave to go home for puja that year; it was traumatic to celebrate when every small instance reminded me of my mother. We went out for dinner on the day of Saptami, and on our way back we saw the first Durga Puja of the city. Needless to say, it was difficult to control my emotions.

Durga Puja in Mysore

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  This is my fifth blog post and you can read the previous four articles here.

My friend Alexa: Rant post 4 -Learning should be fun

A recent ad on TV shows a kid developing an app after learning coding and a bunch of investors starts fighting at his doorstep for funding his venture. The ad drew a lot of flak on social media for its insensitive content. While the idea of learning coding at an early age might not be a bad idea, luring people into unnecessary competitiveness and showcasing unrealistic dreams are both unacceptable. This ad reminded me of the multiple instances when I would coax my parents to buy a jar of Horlicks/viva/complain because I felt that the products would lead to my growing intelligence.

But the utopian world created by the advertisement industry is for another day. While growing up, I believed that my father’s favourite lines were ‘learning is fun.’ I didn’t realize how much those words took away the pressure to perform, to be a topper, or crack every competitive exam. I excelled at academics because I had a family who celebrated every small achievement with love. In turn, studies became a source of happiness for me. When people ask how difficult it is to get back to academics in the late thirties, I say it is fun. Probably, my best years of life comprise memories of my academic life.

It is only after my son started school last year that I learnt to appreciate my parents’ outlook towards learning and knowledge. As a mother, I don’t think I have that level of confidence and calmness. I still get rebuked by Baba if I ever use a parameter to compare my son’s performance with anyone else. Over the last few months, online classes have brought out the darker side of competitiveness in many parents. Irrespective of the age of the kids, parents fight to create a favourable impression for the child. Every time, I feel like joining the race, I remind myself that the race has only begun.

The issue lies in the education system of our country, where marks are given precedence over knowledge or applied skills. The parameters for success begins at high scores, getting into any prestigious institute and then seeking conventional career choices. None of this should be a problem if the child is happy and acquires skills relevant to his choice of career. But the number of students committing suicides is growing at an alarming rate and most of them crumble under the unnecessary expectations of parents and society.

I could have continued with the doctorate program at India’s top institute and become unhappier every day. Instead, I chose to quit and enter the corporate world. I didn’t need to explain my decision because my happiness meant the world to my parents. After MBA, I became a banker more by chance than by choice. When life gave me an option to take a sabbatical post-delivery, I reconnected with my love for written words and decided to make writing my profession. It wasn’t an easy choice either, but it makes me happy, and the same joy spills over to my personal and professional life. Going by the parameters that judge success, I am not sure where I can fit in. But, if I revisit my learning curve, it has only followed an upward slope.

And I hope I can raise my son with the same thought of enjoying the process of knowledge acquisition and learning how to apply practical ideas to theories. The reforms in the education system might still be a long route, but dismantling the parameters that separate success and failure on an individual level might be the first step towards a happier future for children.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  This blog post is the fourth and last rant post for this season.

Durga Puja begins tomorrow onwards, and quite a few of us have consciously chosen to stay safe by staying indoors. I intend to take a virtual trip down the memory lane over the next four posts and post pictures from the puja celebrations of the last few years.

My Friend Alexa: Rant post 3 – Writing is a profession too

In the last couple of years, I have earned the displeasure of a bunch of relatives for not staying in touch. Some have even labelled me a snob for not picking up calls to catch up on life. Eight years of corporate life, filled with multiple con-calls throughout the day, customer queries, and work-related conversations had the phone glued to my ears. When my son was born in 2015, I made a conscious decision to stay disconnected.

Within a couple of years, I had successfully managed to rub them on the wrong side with my assumed ‘snobbish’ attitude. Instead of getting worked up about the unfairness of the deal, I took it in my stride and decided to stop giving explanations. If people didn’t understand the difficulties of raising a new-born with the husband on an outstation medical duty, they didn’t deserve my time.

In 2017, when I began writing and eventually decided to make it a full-time profession, there were quite a handful of ‘well-wishers’ who wanted me to go back to a real job. According to them, penning down thoughts was a hobby that I could pursue while continuing with a corporate job. They gave examples of their ‘super mother’ friends and acquaintances who had managed motherhood, high-profile’ jobs, and hobbies with elan.

Initially, I took a lot of pain to enlighten my near ones that I wasn’t pursuing a hobby; I was turning a passion into profession. Did they understand? Hell, NO! Some thought it was a stupid idea, some spoke about how my son was soon going to grow independent and make me regret my choice, and some didn’t even think twice before labelling me an escapist. Thus began my first step into a new profession.

Last year, I decided to get a professional degree to add value to my career. The snide remarks related to going back to academics in my late-thirties only made my resolve stronger. I kept a screenshot of the payment I made for the course. It came handy to combat those who thought my husband was paying for my third post-graduation. While writing isn’t a great paymaster, it isn’t impossible to earn the amount needed to fund my studies. Unfortunately, many in my immediate circle still have trouble understanding it.

Even today, I don’t pick up calls unless they are from my immediate family, very close friends, my son’s school or an unavoidable urgency. I prefer to revert over messages as per my convenient time, ensuring that I respond to each one. Writing isn’t a job that can have anyone working with my mind switched off. My mind is active even as I go about my daily chores. So, when I sit down to write, I shut out the world and plunge into creating a magical world. Like Stephen King advises in his book ‘On Writing’, “Write with the door closed.”

Creative endeavours require as much hard work and support as any other profession; the return on investment is much slower and lesser. But that didn’t deter me from diving into this new world after taking a 180-degree turn from my previous profession. And I am not the only one fighting a battle for creating a new identity as an author. The least that a ‘well-wisher’ can do is acknowledge that writing is a real job.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  Stay tuned to read my fourth rant post in this series.

My Friend Alexa : Rant post 2 – Doctors are humans too

If you have read any of my posts, or follow me on any social media platform, you would know that I have a doctor for a husband. As batchmates from school, best friends, and eventually a married couple, we have explored the joys and sorrows of life for more than two decades now. Yet, nothing prepared us for the most difficult phase of our lives that began in March 2020.

After the pandemic hit, his posting took him to one of the Government hospitals in a faraway district of Bengal. My father, who travelled to our home town just before the pandemic struck, couldn’t return because of the lockdown. My in-laws, who had come for a month’s visit to Kolkata, had no option but to stay back. It was a tough time becoming the primary caregiver to a five-year-old son and ageing in-laws while balancing the MFA course.

As we grappled with the new normal, my husband’s work schedule went from bad to worse. They were working round the clock, without a break. The fraternity of doctors, nurses and primary healthcare workers were fighting like frontline warriors. Yet they also had another fight to get the requisite number of PPE kits, N95 masks, sanitizers and other essential items.

Doctors are humans too

Within a couple of weeks, I saw people banging utensils to show appreciation for the fraternity, helicopters showering flowers to show gratitude and a top Bollywood actor re-releasing a song comparing the dedication of doctors to men in uniform. Although I could never stop worrying about the risk his profession carried, I felt proud of his service in this crisis.

The facade was short-lived. A few days after the thali-banging ceremony, one of my husband’s seniors from college was asked to shift by their residential complex society because his duty exposed him to the deadly virus, making him a threat to other residents. They didn’t have the common sense to think that the same doctors would risk their lives to treat them from Corona. Thus began the discrimination against doctors.

Violence against doctors is on a rise. In Bengal and the rest of India, there are very few days when one doesn’t hear of friends/relatives of patients beating up doctors without any provocation or reason. Last year, one of the junior doctors in Kolkata was hit by a mob in such a brutal way that his skull cracked. Every profession has a few rotten apples that bring their line of work a bad name. Then why is it the doctors who are at the forefront of facing such violence and discrimination as they risk their lives to save that of others?

Despite their selfless service, there are instances where doctors haven’t received any payment for months, they were asked to vacate rented accommodation, and have faced the falsified allegations of medical negligence. They go through such trauma at a time when most of them haven’t even seen/met their families for months at a stretch. Even when they return home, they keep themselves isolated for days before embracing their child or hugging their loved ones.

I refuse to agree with the age-old belief that doctors are second to God. It puts them on a pedestal with an unnecessary pressure to be capable of performing miracles. What we need to understand is that doctors are humans too, battling health and wellness issues, as put their problems behind to cater to the needs of a patient. While they continue serving the citizens with care and compassion, the least that they deserve is our respect, kindness and gratitude.

For the last nine months, I had a tough time explaining to my son about why he gets to talk to his father mostly over video calls. I heard the panic in my in-laws’ voice whenever they called me to check on their son’s schedule. I saw the concern in my father’s eyes every time he hears about my husband skipping meals to attend to his duties. And I have been trying to push away every negative thought from my mind as I grapple to hold the family together. And, I am just one of the many families who have lent their unrelenting support to a doctor/doctors in the family.

As a doctor’s wife, I am proud of the way my husband and his fraternity has been on duty during this crisis period. As a thinking and opinionated individual, I also want to scream out at the apathy of those in power and the blood-thirsty mob culture that has become a threat to the sanctity of this profession. None of us signed up for this level of unnecessary tension and stress. So, please stop considering doctors equivalent to God and expect them to have magical healing powers. I would rather request you to treat them as a fellow human with the same dignity and compassion that an individual deserves.

“I am taking my blog to the next level with Blogchatter’s My Friend Alexa 2020″ campaign.  Stay tuned to read my third rant post in this series.



SONIASMUSINGS.COM TURNS THREE

It feels like yesterday when I decided to quit my banking job and mustered the courage to follow my heart. On 13th September 2017, I let my intentions known to the world through the launch of my blog soniasmusings.com. From 2017 until now, it’s been a roller-coaster ride of blogging, writing articles on esteemed platforms, authoring a book, and eventually choosing to do my third masters program, an MFA in creative writing. It wasn’t easy to venture out in an unknown territory, yet it was more difficult to convey that writing wasn’t a passion anymore; it was going to be my third and full-time profession. If I have to pick a turning point in my life, I would always choose this phase of pursuing my dreams.

#soniasmusingsturnsthree Three years of blogging and writing. Thank you, for the support!

Thank you, dear readers and followers, for showering me with so much love, support and encouragement over the years. You motivated me to stay focused on my goals.

Hello September, the month of hope & joy!

I started the last trimester of the MFA course this month. For the past few months, I haven’t blogged much or written actively on any digital platform. Yet, I was writing a lot, mostly through my assignments. Amidst all this, the pandemic stuck. I have often spoken about how the Covid-19 crisis hit us as a family, with the medical professional husband away on duty for months.  His posting outside the city compelled us to mostly connect over video calls. It is still difficult to explain to the son why he gets to meet his father just once a month, for a couple of days. For three months, I felt stuck, frustrated, and annoyed. Almost everyone around me moved ahead, upgraded their skills, progressed in career, and did a great job of balancing their roles. And, I was struggling to stay afloat amidst this chaos. It was overwhelming.

Burning the midnight oil for MFA assignments
Burning the midnight oil for MFA assignments

Two months back, I decided to log out of social media, uninstall all apps except Twitter, quit 20+ groups on WhatsApp, block people I didn’t wish to stay in touch with any longer, and focus on the optimization of restrained circumstances. I spent two months nurturing the relationships I genuinely care about. I worked steadily for the MFA course and read books in genres I could never appreciate before. I finally made peace with my bushy eyebrows, shoulder-length hair, and supposed ‘laidback’ pace of publishing books.

Rediscovering A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Rediscovering A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

On Aug 22nd, I decided to return on social media, consciously restricting the time I spend on each platform. I wanted to share my journey of handling a difficult phase with a lot of people who were struggling too. But what primarily occupied my thoughts was the book that I am currently reading – ‘A Suitable Boy’ by Vikram Seth. I gave up reading it a couple of times in the past. But when I borrowed the book from the library last month, little did I know that this going to be a delightful reading journey of the literary world. It confirms my belief that there exists a suitable time and space for every book in our lives.

The boy and his superheroes
The boy and his ‘superheroes’ as birthday gifts

September is a very special month for me. Exactly 5 years ago, my son Tuneer was born on the 22nd of this month. Therein began our journey of parenthood. The lockdown introduced him to a bunch of superheroes. From Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Captain America, Avengers to Justice League, his love for these characters made us rename him as Tuneerman. We had plans to celebrate it with friends and family before Covid-19 brought life to a standstill. The family has come together to make it all about his favorite cartoons and superheroes. The tees are from his paternal grandparents, maternal grandfather, and his father. The ‘Othello’ game is from his best friend. I chose to gift the posters and a surprise puzzle set is on the way. He was so excited about the presents that we couldn’t coax him to wait until the 22nd to open them. That expression on his face after unwrapping the packages made every effort feel special.

I look forward to a kinder, safer, healthier, and fulfilling month. Stay safe and take care.

A couple of more reviews of Deal of Death and an interview featuring my blogging journey

Thank you, for loving my book ‘Deal of Death.’ In the last couple of days, I have seen some more encouraging reviews from authors, who are also known for their literary skills. Sonia Dogra, Radhika Acharya, and Vartika Mehrotra rave about this past-faced detective thriller in their reviews on Goodreads and Amazon.

Review by Vartika
Review by Vartika

If you have still not read the book, you can get a copy HERE.

On the personal front, I was interviewed by Naveen from blogabout.blog about my journey as a blogger/author and I had a great time answering his thought-provoking questions.

My blogging journey featured
Featuring my blogging journey

You might enjoy reading the interview here.

Myths and facts about the ‘harmful’ effects of vaccines

A host of the new generation parents get their knowledge of vaccination from their pediatrician and through the websites of WHO and the Ministry of Health. When my son was born four-and-a-half years ago, we decided to be actively involved in understanding the need for vaccination, following the vaccination schedule, and staying updated about preservative-free vaccines.  Having a Doctor spouse made these choices spontaneous and the same was encouraged by the pediatrician.

Yet, a section of elderly relatives, friends, and acquaintances warned us about the adverse effects of vaccination in infants. It was shocking to hear that seizures or other life-threatening diseases could be an after-effect of vaccination. While my husband confronted the claims with his background in medical education, I decided to read-up on the harmful effects of vaccination before meeting the pediatrician for a detailed session.

The most common side-effects of vaccination could lead to soreness, swelling, mild fever, rashes, and pain which generally persist for a couple of days only. Yet, I stumbled upon reports that suggested autism as a side effect of vaccination. Thimerosal, a mercury-based compound, found in preservatives, was blamed for the increase in autism in children. But those claims were refuted because no substantial evidence could link the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism or even the hepatitis B vaccine to multiple sclerosis.

During our conversation with the pediatrician, it was an awful revelation for me to know that newborn babies suffered from the risk of life-threatening diseases like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Their congenital conditions could also be detected during this stage. This meant that they already had a high risk of facing an untoward medical condition. But at times, the proximity of a vaccination schedule in a similar time frame leads to incorrect reasoning as the cause of the event.

He mentioned that the chances of serious side-effects like a seizure or life-threatening allergic reactions are very rare. Statistics show that if 1 million doses of a vaccine are given, only 1 to 2 people may have a severe allergic reaction.

When a person encounters a pathogen, it is difficult to predict whether the reaction inside the body would be mild or severe. But vaccines are pre-tested to ensure that the response to these weakened or dead pathogens leads to the development of immunity in the body without harmful side-effects.

Other than physicians being the primary source of vaccination information, the availability of the immunization information system (IIS) from the healthcare provider also describes the common and rare side effects of a vaccine. At times, the vaccine manufacturers also provide some of these details through package inserts.

In India, pharmacovigilance of vaccines is highly important to promote the safe use of vaccines. India launched the Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFI) surveillance program in 1986 for monitoring suspected adverse events following immunization.

Considering the times that we live in, failure to immunize a child carries a higher risk of leaving them exposed to potential diseases.

Our doubts and concerns were put to rest by the in-depth QnA session with the pediatrician. Ever since we have strictly adhered to the vaccination chart and ensured that we don’t compromise with the healthy future of our son. We trust vaccines for the development of his immunity towards diseases.

However, our responsibility doesn’t end there. It is imperative to understand the need to spread this knowledge and correct information about the importance and safety of vaccination. Only by creating awareness in the society, we can hope for the holistic development of our future generation.

What’s #YourCareQuotient? How much do you understand your child when it comes to sleep patterns, feeding, and vaccination? Take the easy, interactive quiz that guides you and get the childcare guide now. 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog content are independent and unbiased views of solely the blogger. This is a part of the public awareness initiative supported by Sanofi Pasteur India. Sanofi Pasteur bears no responsibility for the content of the blog. One should consult their healthcare provider for any health-related information.

References –

https://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/articles/vaccine-side-effects-and-adverse-events

https://www.vaccines.gov/basics/safety/side_effects

https://www.aafp.org/afp/2002/1201/p2113.html

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-vaccines-are-dangerous/

http://www.ijp-online.com/text.asp?2019/51/4/243/266824