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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Story

All of these lines across my face

Tell you the story of who I am

So many stories of where I've been

And how I got to where I am

But these stories don't mean anything

If you've got no one to tell them to,

it's true
I was made for you . . .
The Story, Brandi Carlile

The lines above are from one of my all time favorite songs by singer/songwriter extraordinaire, Brandi Carlile. Despite the wisdom of her words and the lines she speaks of, I think she is only about 27 years old with no visible lines that I see.

But I get it Brandi. I really get it. And thank you for one of the most moving songs that brings me near to tears every time I hear it.

I think about this song when I think about my father.

My father has a lot of lines on his face. And each line is a beautiful line. My father has a lot of stories to tell, and over the years, I wish I had listened more closely.

I wish I had paid more attention to the stories he has of growing up in a poor village in India, the eldest of ten siblings. I wish I had listened to the many stories he had about each of his siblings, my aunts and uncles, some of whom have passed away, and others whom I have not seen in years.

I wish I had paid more attention to his own stories of growing up in poverty but having the love of an amazing mother and father, whom he still speaks of with emotion in his voice, pushing them through.

I wish I had stopped being distracted by my latest "issue of the day" to maybe listen to the inflection in his voice when he talked about what it was like to be so malnourished that he did not walk until he was four years old. Or stop to think about how some of the health issues he experienced later in life, like premature blindness, may have been related to that rocky start in life.

Of how he made it out of the village to earn scholarships to get an education at some of the better schools in India. So that he could help be a provider for his family, as the eldest of so many children.

Sometimes I want to go back and ask him to tell me in more detail about how he came to this country with no money but with the support of a strong band of friends who were like brothers, many of whom I call Uncle today. How these men came with nothing to this country except some petty cash and their hard earned degrees, and stayed at a YMCA in NYC until they were able to get jobs, rent places and set up shop in a country that was so new and foreign to them. How they supported each other till each was able to stand on his own feet.

Where was that YMCA? Did I ever even think to ask? Queens? Brooklyn?

What did he feel like, leaving everything he knew behind in India?

Leaving his first wife and children behind in India, while he tried to start a life for them. Was that scary?

Being in the United States when his first wife got sick and passed away and returning to India to four grieving children, my brothers and sisters.

Of being arranged to marry my mother and returning to the United States with her and his four kids. And carrying not just their luggage, but what must have felt like the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Of what it was like to have me years later, years after he thought he was probably done, to welcome a fifth child into the world. Of the relief he felt the day his last child was married, long after he had given hope that anyone would have me.

And his undying gratitude to John for taking me off his hands. (see that smile below. priceless). **

Of the pressure he may have felt as a young man, knowing so many people in India still were counting on him for money while trying to build his own family in a new country.

Of the mistakes that he made - maybe in his career, maybe in his marriage, and even sometimes in raising us. Because while he is a wonderful man, everybody does make mistakes.

Of the happiest moments in his life.

And the saddest.

I have a great life today. I have had opportunity. I have had food. I have had education. I have never gone hungry. I have been loved always.

I have two wonderful sisters and two equally wonderful brothers. We don't always get along as well as we probably should but I love each of them dearly. I love their children and am proud to be an aunt to all nine of them.

I have an amazing extended family that was able to come to the United States with help from my mother and father. I am lucky to have grown up with cousins who are more like siblings to me than anything else.

I have a husband and two wonderful children.

We are healthy.

Life is not perfect, but at this point in my story, it is my responsibility to make it as close to perfect as I can get (without being too perfect that I want to gag).

My own story is intrinsically tied to my father's story, and all the subplots that unfolded within it.

It's not too late for me to ask my father to tell me these stories again, and for me to really listen this time.

So that one day, I can tell my own children these stories that need to be retold so they never forget where they came from.

Love you, Papa.

** (Also note, my mother looks like the cat that ate the canary. I bet she is thinking, "Oh, John! You sucker!")

In Hindi, of course.


Nick said...

This was really amazing to read. There are so many stories from first generation Americans that should be cherished and passed down from generation to generation. Unfortunately so many of those stories have been lost - I wish I knew more of what it was like for my great great grandfather arriving here with his three brothers from Italy in the 1890's. Hopefully you can use some of the amazing technology we have today to capture those stories and preserve them for future generations. That would be an amazing gift.

Kiran Kairab Ferrandino said...

Thanks Nick. I am thinking the same thing. So much experience would be lost if I could not re-tell my fathers stories. Maybe just having this blog will allow me to start preserving things, for myself and my kids.

Thanks again.

Jennifer said...

That was a beautiful story. thank you for sharing. My family game over from Sicily when my Mom was 10 and I wish I had listened to my Nonna's stories a little closer and I wish even more I had learned Italian so I could actually communicate with her. She's gone now but I still have my Mom and I pray that one of these days I stop and take the time to get all her stories on tape so that one day my children can hear them from their's Nonna's mouth directly.

Kiran Kairab Ferrandino said...

Thank you Jennifer. It's a very streamlined story of what you can imagine has been a tough, but very full, life.

I have regrets that I did not cherish the time I as a child had with my grandparents as much as I could have when I did get to visit them in India. I was more concerned about how soon I could be back in the States, with my pizza and air conditioning, indoor plumbing and telephones.

I guess in the end, I can add to my regrets. OR I can make things right as much as I possibly can.

And it's NEVER too late to learn Italian ;-) Your Nonna may be gone - but your heritage remains.

Kamesh Kairab said...

So true and so nicely told so many things in such a short piece. We should find time when I can tell you my story on a time line basis and you can write it. Rhank you.

Kiran Kairab Ferrandino said...

Thank YOU, Papa. It's a plan. Next time we see each other, let's do this thing.
love you,

Anonymous said...

Kiran, what a beautiful piece about your dad. I have known your parents for a long time but never knew all this in detail. We all have some regrets in life, I always wished I had known more about my mother's wishes. If there was something she wanted me to do or take care for her after she was gone. But you know when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer we never talked about it. I always prayed and hoped that she will get thru this. After she passed away, I often hoped that she would come in my dreams and talk to me. I often she her in my dreams but never telling me to do anything rather her normal self.
Pauli was only two and ryan never saw her but I still try to tell them as much as can about their NANI. She was the most beautiful and good hearted person I have known. Definitely do your Papa's time line story. We would love to read it.

By the way you write beautifully, I love reading your blog. Keep writing.


Kiran (Masala Chica) said...


I often remember your mother. She was a wonderful woman - full of warmth and love and generosity. Some of my favorite childhood memories are when I got to sleep over your house. Apart from following Punam around because she was my idol when I was a little kid, I would also follow your mom around the kitchen and eat anything she served up to me and just reveled in her company.

You and your children (along with Punam and Deepu) are probably fulfilling her dreams in more ways than you realize. Your children are beautiful and I am sure she was with you when you had them.

Thanks for reading the blog - I am enjoying writing it and hope you keep reading it.
much love,

R3 said...

Kiran - It brought tears to my eyes reading about your father b/c he seems to have lived the same life as my father. It's unreal how similar! I recently took a trip to India with just my dad (after 20+ years!)and traveled everywhere with him, but most importantly, back to Punjab (Ludhiana)where he and his 9 siblings grew up. I learned so much more about him - we walked the crowded streets as he told me stories, visited the house where he grew up, saw the port where he waved goodbye to his entire life to come to America by himself, etc. It was by far the most amazing experience ever. So, cherish any time you can with your dad and live the experience as much as possible. I've changed more than you can imagine since this trip. Seeing what our fathers went through really puts life in perspective - what's important and what's not. You'll never hear me complain again in my life! My best to you and your dad for a beautiful relationship.

Masala Chica said...

R3 - thanks for sharing your own beautiful "Story." Go listen to that song - I think you will like it and maybe it will make you think of your dad too. As Indian Americans - many of us share stories of our own that we don't even realize - our culture and heritage is so rich and what our parents gave us so tremendous that I often forget how much it has all framed me. My father grew up in a village in Bihar - I have been there many times in my life and every time it blows me away, to see what my father and so many immigrants have been through and how lucky I have been in my own life.

Thanks for stopping by. Leave an email address next time you post!

amitesh said...

It was really a great piece of prose, full of emotion and affection. I would love to meet ur parents and would like to listen their experience.
I am always away from my parents since last 12 years but whenever I get along with them they always share their life stories with us (me and my siblings). Like Kaamesh dada ji (I think I can call him dada ji)my father also struggled a lot in his youth and still struggling till date. Though my mother loves me most but still my father is an iconic stature for me for all his patience and knowledge,he aquired over years.

And for passing the untold stories of previous generation, I write all my conversation with my parents in my diary.

Anyways it is always a pleasure to read ur blogs.
So keep writing and keep smiling always.



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