What’s the time now? Shimonti, now Samantha (her
American name), looked at her watch, half past one.
Martha should have fed her baby by now. She had specifically
instructed Martha to feed Moni by one. But had she?
Samantha was doubtful. Most likely she was watching some
raunchy soap on TV, or listening to music on her cell phone.
She had not liked the attitude of that girl from the very beginning;
some American ‘don’t-care’ type, always chewing gum,
even while talking. But which American teenager was not like
that? It wouldn’t have been any better if she had called someone
Should she call home and check on Martha now? Samantha
looked at the X-ray plates lying on her desk. One more left. It
would take another ten minutes to write the reports.
It took less. Samantha reached for the phone. It kept on
ringing. Samantha felt a surge of anger swelling up inside her.
What was the girl doing? Gone to sleep or what?
The ringing stopped. Someone picked up the phone. There
was the sound of shuffling and dragging. Why was she taking
so much time to pick up the phone?
A soft voice was heard at the other end. Samantha’s heart
♦ 2 ♦
jumped and melted at the same time. Her baby! Her little girl
Monica! Saying hello to her on the phone!
“Baby? Is it you?” Samantha asked fondly. “Ma?”
“Oh, baby! Where is your Martha Auntie?”
A silence was on the other end. Then Monica spoke again
in her sleepy baby voice.
“She is in the other room, talking with Tim.” “Tim?” Who
is Tim? She thought to herself.
It took a couple of seconds for Samantha to realize what
was going on. Blood shot to her head.
The girl had turned out to be wilder than she had thought.
“Will you please call Martha, baby?” Samantha told her kid.
She heard Monica putting down the receiver on the table.
A surge of warmth flooded her heart.
The little girl, who only a while back could only say ‘Ma,’
was now answering the phone. But that girl! What is she doing?
The warmth melted into rage as Samantha thought of the
babysitter. Has that girl brought a boyfriend into the house?
“Yes, ma’am?” Martha’s voice was heard on the receiver.
Who else is there in the house! Samantha wanted to
scream, but did not. It wouldn’t be right. These girls could get
pretty nasty at times. If she yelled at her now, she could vent
her wrath on her baby.
“Did you feed her, Martha?” she asked in a cold voice.
“I am preparing. It will be ready in a minute,” came the
She was lying. Samantha took a deep breath to cool her
“I told you to feed her by one, didn’t I?”
“I will do it right now,” the girl replied in a gum-chewing
Samantha hung up the phone. A feeling of helplessness
overcame her. If only she could go to her baby now. She would
call some other babysitter tomorrow. This one was totally irresponsible.
How dare she bring her boyfriend over? The
ALL THOSE TEARS WE CAN’T SEE
♦ 3 ♦
thought made Samantha’s ears burn. The guy was still there
and who knew what they were doing!
“Won’t you be coming with me for lunch?” Patty appeared
at the door.
Samantha looked up at Patty Langford, her colleague and
junior radiologist. Samantha was senior to this smiling blonde
girl, both in age and designation, but that had not become a
hurdle in their friendship. Patty was now a family friend, often
visiting their house. She was very fond of Monica, and had
given her a big teddy at her birthday. Monica liked her, too.
“What’s the matter, Sam?” Patty asked. “You seem to be in
an off mood.” Samantha told Patty about the babysitter.
“I need to look for another one.” She shook her head in
indignation. “This one is too hot to handle!”
“Then better look for a granny!” Patty suggested with a
chuckle. “Any young girl as a babysitter would bring her boyfriends
into the house. I did when I sat kids during my high
school vacations. No big deal.”
Samantha looked at Patty and sighed, showing her frustration.
It was in these moments that she felt so helpless in
this country. Everything was so different here, the mindset
in particular. It would be no less than a scandal in Kolkata
(Calcutta) – a young girl bringing a guy into the house! But
here it was a way of life! Even the concept of babysitters was
non- existent back in India. There was always someone in the
house to look after the kids. And even if there was no one, the
kids could be safely deposited with the neighbors who would
take care of them until the parents returned, feeding the kids,
bathing them, even pottying them and mostly free of cost, just
for the sake of neighborly love. Here, even if Samantha called
the girl next door to look after Monica for a couple of hours,
the girl had to be paid handsomely.
“Are you coming or not?” Patty hastened.
Samantha rose reluctantly from her seat. Her appetite had
gone. Her baby had not had her lunch on time, and Samantha
♦ 4 ♦
did not feel like eating, but unwillingly went with Patty. This
would be interesting and informative to talk to her about
many things about this country.
Samantha hardly ordered any food at the cafeteria, and
asked Patty to take whatever she liked. Then she initiated the
conversation. “So you can’t trust any teenager to take care of
“Of course not.”
Samantha was disappointed. Patty said, “I know you
wouldn’t like many things in this country - take me for instance.
I loved one guy with all my heart but he fooled around
with many girls. It is very common here. Of course, I had no
choice but to abandon him. And unfortunately, long before, it
had happened with my husband too. It is hard to trust anybody
these days. I had to divorce him…which is very common as
you might know.”
Samantha was puzzled. “We had a very small divorce rate
in our country though many marriages are dull and without
excitement. But we don’t get divorced so fast like you do. We
don’t believe in it.”
“There are two sides to everything, Sam. Sometimes when
I am alone, and waiting for the date; it is the downside. On the
other hand, I can’t even imagine how you stay with one person
day in, day out the rest of your life. How do you do that?”
“We are brought up that way. Even if the marriage isn’t so
great, for the sake of the family, for the tradition of my country
and culture we stay in that marriage. I know you won’t
understand. Security over love, I may say. Loyalty is very important
to our country’s people. I am sure two different mindsets
– Eastern and Western.”
“Two different cultures too, ha? It is very hard to understand,
really. Women in your country compromise and sacrifice
a lot for the sake of the marriage. It is not like that here.
By the way, how is your relationship with Amit now-a-days?”
“Well, yes. Even though he is not romantic at all, but he is
ALL THOSE TEARS WE CAN’T SEE
♦ 5 ♦
always there for me. It is kind of a boring and indifferent relationship,
and if he wasn’t always busy with his career, then
may be, we could have a better life.” She complained.
“Oh, that’s not very good, Sam. I’m more concerned about
Moni though. What are you going to do about the babysitter?”
Patty was thoughtful.
“I’m thinking very carefully. I don’t know what exactly I’m
going to do, yet. It is such an appalling issue for all women to
decide what to do about their child or children if they have to
work and I feel for all single mothers in your country who had
to bring up their children all by themselves. ”
Samantha looked at her watch. “Oh, Patty, we better get
back to work, otherwise we will be late to finish.”
“Okay. I will catch up with you later. I really enjoyed the
conversation, very interesting!” Unwillingly they went back to
As soon as Samantha got home, she hugged Monica.
“I don’t like Martha,” complained Monica, the moment
Martha was gone and she was alone with her mother.
“Why, baby?” Samantha asked.
“She doesn’t play with me. Always tells me to sit quiet. She
“Why did she scold you?”
“I dropped my ice cream on the floor. She didn’t give me
“I will get you one. Do you want another one now?”
Monica nodded her head in eager consent.
Clinging on to her mother, she licked the cone with great
satisfaction. Samantha caressed her hair with great fondness.
This little thing was even more little not so long ago. On one
cold February morning, she came into her life, lighting up
♦ 6 ♦
her world. It had been a long wait, a pretty long one. Seven
years to be precise. They had chosen not to have a baby for the
first three years of marriage. Coming to America, they both
got busy, first in their studies and then in their jobs, delaying
the desire to be three farther and farther. And when they
decided to have a baby, finally discarding their habits with
contraceptives, they found they could not conceive. Samantha
had developed complications and it took innumerable visits to
clinics and specialists and many more nights and days of painful
longing until, finally, one day while in the kitchen her head
spun and she emptied herself in the sink.
Much had changed by then. They had achieved things after
a long struggle - the American Dream. Amit had set up
his own clinic in California, the land of movie stars, earning
loads of money and a reputation as an orthopedic surgeon in
the process. They had moved out of the one-room apartment
in New York. They had endured lots of hardship and doubt
over the years, but they were always confident that they would
make it eventually.
Amit bought a big beautiful house in California with a
swimming pool, Jacuzzi, and palm trees. She still remembered
when Amit bought a BMW and asked her to drive. In her
wildest dreams, she had never thought that she would drive an
expensive car like this on her own. She realized she was now
in America, the richest country on earth.
She took a job as a senior radiologist, climbing the ladder
one step up from a junior radiologist, the designation she had
when she joined the hospital after completing her MD.
America had given them all they had desired, but the one
thing that could be achieved without migrating to a country,
without much effort, only by a spell of love followed by a spell
of pain, had eluded them for years and without it. All their
achievements seemed meaningless. Getting back to bed after
a hard day’s work followed by routine love-making, they lay
side by side, sleepless in the dark, surrounded by a consuming
ALL THOSE TEARS WE CAN’T SEE
♦ 7 ♦
hollowness. Waking up the next morning, they immersed
themselves into more work to get rid of the feeling of helplessness
only to make it more acute at the end of the day. Passing
by happy, healthy American families full of life and children,
in parks and in malls, her heart twitched in silent pain and
she felt the dryness within her suffocating her very existence.
Nothing seemed to help. The changing colors of the Grand
Canyon seemed monochrome; the night spent under the tent
at Yellowstone seemed no different from the nights spent under
the shingled roof on Castle Hill Avenue. Life was fast becoming
a monotonous slog.
Then the moment arrived; she had conceived. The prayers
kept at the Kali Temple at Baldwin and the blessing of the
Mother Goddess of Light via the dry red hibiscus made ‘blessed’
at her stony feet had finally paid off. The heaviness of pregnancy,
the pain of labor was almost pleasurable compared to the
dry days of unbearable barrenness. Samantha came back from
the hospital pressing the little ball of flesh close to her chest.
Suddenly, life was colorful. Waking up in the middle of the
night to the shrill cry and changing soiled diapers with sleepfilled
eyes seemed no big deal at all. Little Monica had filled up
the vacuum in their lives with her little heart-warming baby
ways, evaporating the hollowness that had surrounded them
before she came, cementing the disappointment that was beginning
to appear. She babbled and crawled and walked and
talked, in her crib, on the floor, in the bed, and on Samantha’s
lap, filling up the emptiness of the house and of their souls,
bringing them closer together like never before.
Days passed into months, months into years. The little ball
had grown into a beautiful little girl who ran to hug her mom
and dad, every time they returned home from work. She recited
rhymes that she had learned from her teachers and showed
the dance moves that she learnt, too, and she cried helpless
tears if her parents happened to fight, forcing them to call a
truce as soon as they started. And after a meal in the evening
♦ 8 ♦
on weekdays and anytime on Sundays and Saturdays, Monica
sat on her mother’s lap and listened with eager ears and wide
eyes to the stories she would tell of Sinbad the sailor and his
adventures, stories of rajahs and their sandstone palaces in
Rajasthan, of wise Birbal and Akbar the King, of Abdullah and
Marjina and the 40 thieves on whom Marjina poured hot oil.
And the stories of a magical land far, far away called Kolkata,
where her mother once lived, where everything was good –
the food and the people and their gentle, caring ways – her
father, her uncle, her aunt, her sister, her grandfather, and
Samantha wanted to create a magical dream about India
for her daughter where she spent the best time of her life. She
told her the story about sleeping on the roof when it was very
hot and humid, staring at the broad, beautiful sky lit up with
the golden moon and how they would chat for hours and fall
asleep with the night’s cool breeze. She also told Monica about
the first rainstorm or monsoon of the season when the dry,
dusty, and thirsty earth waited for it and the clothes left to dry
on the roof would get wet and how Samantha would run out
under the pretense of bringing the wet clothes back in because
she wanted to be showered with the cool rain water.
“Why are you crying, Ma?” Monica would ask, wondering
why her ma’s eyes would moisten every time she narrated the
Now she was playing, sitting on the expensive carpeted
floor of her new big house, her dolls and toys strewn around.
Samantha watched with a peaceful heart. The fruit of her
love was growing before her eyes. Life and its progress was
a permutation of genes, circumstances, and luck, besides the
power of will. And prayers. She could not speculate about her
child’s willpower at such a tender age, but she had the genes
of a sensitive mother and a hardworking, practical, intelligent,
ambitious father. They would provide her with the best
opportunities that a child could get in this country. Samantha
ALL THOSE TEARS WE CAN’T SEE
♦ 9 ♦
was even ready to sacrifice everything for that. But what luck
would bring for her little girl she did not know. The tragedies
that had struck her family in the not-so-remote-past made her
shudder in apprehension at times, but then, this was America,
where despite the alienation, they were safer and they were
richer – in money and in spirit. It was no less than good luck
that her daughter was born in this land of opportunity and
hope, where one can be the person he or she wished to be, as
Amit had. She could only hope the best for her little Moni. And
Amit returned to the bedroom, taking a look at his sleeping
daughter. This had become a habit for both of them, always
checking up on the little one. Samantha had never liked
the idea of their little daughter sleeping in a separate room,
and she still didn’t.
“How could such a little girl sleep by herself? Let her grow
up a little, and then she can sleep alone.” She had argued and
pleaded, but Amit was firm. He wanted Monica to grow up
like any other American child, independent from the very beginning.
But his paternal instinct was no less than the maternal
instinct of his wife, and the slightest noise from the other
room woke him up too. He had never grumbled while changing
diapers when Monica was smaller, and he never grumbled
now when he had to get up and pacify her when she cried in the
middle of the night, woken up by some terrifying dream.
“I am not going to keep that babysitter anymore,” Samantha
said, expecting a reply from her husband as he lay on the bed.
“You won’t get a better one,” Amit answered, turning off the
bed lamp. “They’re more or less the same.”
“But how could she bring a guy to the house? We can’t allow
“Do one thing then,” Amit chuckled. “Employ someone else
♦ 10 ♦
to keep an eye on the babysitter.”
Samantha did not react to the humor. Amit’s response
was not a surprise. She did not expect anything else from her
‘broadminded’ liberal husband who was more than eager to
assimilate into the American way of life. It seemed to be her
problem and her problem only. The rest of the world was fine
with everything that was happening, however gross it might
be. Only she had a problem accepting things, ‘stuck in a middle
class Calcuttan mentality’, to use her husband’s words.
“I’ve been invited to lecture at the African-American
Institute, Shimu!” Amit said excitedly. “I am the first Asian to
be invited there! They are going to give me an honorary doctorate
in recognition of the AIDS awareness program I conducted.
I want you to come with me.”
Samantha did not want to respond as the thought of the
babysitter still occupied her mind. But she knew Amit would
be hurt if she remained mum. A big achievement indeed for
the high-flying doctor, though not his first and neither would
it be the last. She should be happy about his success, or at
least express it.
“Great!” she exclaimed. “When is it?” “Coming Sunday.”
“Coming Sunday? But aren’t we supposed to attend the
Bongo Sammelan in New Jersey on Sunday? We don’t want
to miss the once-a-year cultural program for the Bengalis. I
heard 8,000 Bengalis will be there to celebrate, Indian classical
music, dance, food, jewelry and socialization.”
“Oh, yes!” Amit exclaimed. “I forgot! What can be done
now? I have already accepted their invitation!”
“We have to skip the Bongo Sammelan this year then.”
Samantha tried to sound as cool as possible, but she was very
“Won’t you be coming with me to the felicitation?” Amit
“Okay, I will.”
A silence descended in the darkness.
ALL THOSE TEARS WE CAN’T SEE
♦ 11 ♦
“You don’t seem to be very enthusiastic about it,” observed
“Am I not?”
“You know better.”
She was not. She had been to these felicitation programs
many times before, ornamenting her husband’s illustrious
presence. It was great to see her husband basking in glory,
and she basked in it too. His pride was her pride; his happiness
was her happiness. She had persuaded herself to believe
this age-old conviction. Some hot-shot white American hanging
a medal around her husband’s neck pinning a badge on his
lapel was indeed thrilling to watch. And even more satisfying
was the sight of a house full of whites, blacks, and browns impeccably
suited in black and charming ladies adorned in high
fashion outfits, listening to his speech in mesmerized silence,
then bursting into thunderous applause.
It reminded her of that afternoon in Calcutta where before
a hall full of young students; her father delivered his speech on
market equilibrium, equally mesmerizing the audience with
his baritone voice. She was so proud of her father in those
moments and very much upset when the speech was interrupted
by some political goons. No such bad luck for Amit. All
his seminars and speeches had gone smooth as silk, with no
interruption, no criticism, only praises and facilitation, and
medals and honor. But over time she felt tired and bored,
especially after Monica was born. She didn’t feel good at all
attending the functions, leaving her baby behind under the
care of some babysitter. She felt uneasy in the milieu, thinking
of her daughter, always worrying, always wanting to go
back home as early as possible. She never complained, carefully
camouflaging her true desire behind sugary smiles and
She was feeling the same at her work lately. In the middle
of looking at a plate or writing a report, she thought of Moni –
her baby qualms and antics, the sudden burst of laughter that
♦ 12 ♦
came from slightest of wonders, filling the surroundings with
sunshine. Samantha felt like leaving everything behind,
the reports and the deadlines and the programs, and rushing
back to her daughter. The more hectic her job became,
the more pangs she felt. Should she quit then? Leave her
job and spend quality time with her child, watch her grow
up before her eyes, savoring every moment of it, sharing
all the joys and pains? She knew that was what her heart
wanted her to do. Should she listen to her heart? In this
country, everyone tried to listen to their hearts and act accordingly.
She knew highly skilled professionals who had
quit their well-paid jobs just because they believed that
they were missing something very important by not being
at their children’s sides as they were growing up. She, too,
felt the same. She knew Amit would not object, he would
be happy if at least one of them was at their daughter’s side
all the time, and, after all, Amit earned so much money it
would not be a problem at all. It was she who would have
to make a choice. Between a job that she liked – a job that
was the fruit of her years of education, her father’s dream
– and something that was even more precious: her fruit of
love, her own flesh and blood. She could no longer keep
herself immune to the cries of her daughter when she left
for the office each day. She could no longer put a stone on
her heart when Moni said, “I won’t let you go, Ma. I want
you to stay with me.” Samantha would quit her job bringing
up her daughter when she needed her the most. It would
be worth the sacrifice; she had to choose at this moment.
When Moni was grown, in the future, Samantha would be
working again. She always wanted to give her, undivided
attention and bring her up with her own Indian values, her
own traditions, her own culture and religion.
Of course, this time she would attend the meeting with
her daughter and there would be no worries at any time.
“What are you thinking?” Samantha heard Amit ask.
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♦ 13 ♦
“I am quitting my job, Amit, and it is completely my decision.
Besides, I can join your clinic later,” she replied, trying
to sound as serious as possible.