Ghosts of Christmas (and other times) past

I’m always a bit hesitant to write what might be viewed as a “personal” entry on these pages. I used to have my own personal blog for those types of musings but decided to give it up because of the pressures of a full time job and this blog. I also don’t want to be presumptuous and assume that the vast majority of SM readers care about my life (as opposed to my writings highlighting something of interest or importance to the South Asian American community). That being said, today is a holiday (when SM readership plummets for obvious reasons), and so I figured I’d get away with some personal blogging. Since many of you seemed to enjoy my previous entry about my arduous toils in my basement, I thought I would serve up one more entry based on the booty recovered from the nine tons of refuse we removed from down there over the last three days.

First off, I know some of you don’t believe me when I say I’m a Grinch. Do these pictures finally convince you? I could tell even at a young age that this new-fangled Santa Claus was an imposter:

Leave this one alone. He’s bad to the bone. (Age 1)

And Frosty? Please. The only large snowball I care to associate with is a snow cone with watermelon syrup:

Where is Frosty’s left hand?

Digging some more I found these pictures in an old, overflowing brown suitcase with a broken zipper…at the bottom of a stack of boxes. I am guessing that they are the final pictures that my dad took at his home before embarking for America with a few dollars in his pocket (literally) and admission secured at the University of Cincinatti’s Graduate School.

No Britney Spears posters on the walls?

“Is it to late to change my mind?” (1966)

Next, I found this old student i.d. card in a small envelope in a box full of junk mail from the 70s. My dad will not thank me for this one. You can see he has let his hair begin to grow out to fit in more with the 60s culture in the U.S.:

Among the heaps of old pictures, I found nearly 500 “biodata” type shots my dad had taken of himself posing in various locations. Most of the backgrounds appeared warm and sunny and a disproportionate amount of them featured large cars. Again, I haven’t talked to him about any of these (interpreting these pictures for myself is actually much more fun) but my guess is that when you leave India to come to the States you want to convince your family back home that you are happy, doing well, and living the American dream (the latter would best explain posing with all those cars and the glamor shots). Your family in India will thus feel less apprehension about the fate of their child in America.

I was also desperately searching for pictures of my mom from Uganda. I think I may have found a few but I don’t want to post them here attributing them to the wrong location if I am incorrect. I did find two of her that I really liked though. Again, looking through the pictures I have this strong sense that many were taken to convince relatives back home that life in America was ok and they need not be overly concerned. From the perspective of my mom, she also had to convince her mom and siblings (her father died when she was young) that married life was ok and that she wasn’t sad or lonely.

Was this picture (taken in Chicago) the first time my mom played in snow?

Of all the things I hoped to recover from my basement (old pictures, cherished toys, home movies) there was one item I was searching for with more desperation than all the others. It was the one item that my mom pleaded with me to find before she left for India last week (and she has been pleading about this for years). “Abhi, please find my pharmacy school diploma.” My mom was never a pharmacist here in the U.S. The diploma from a school in Ahmedabad didn’t transfer, and she would have had to have gotten re-accredited or something. For a woman new to the States, who had to support her new husband who was in grad school, dreams of her own career died. She took a number of odd jobs when she first got here (including making cassette tapes). For most of her career she worked in department stores (my mom dresses me, which is why I’m such a good dresser). She was once the top sales associate in the nation for her large department store chain. Still, my mom is really smart and that diploma was proof of that, proof one can hold. She had to give up her own dreams for her husband and kids as many of our moms might have had to. I really wanted to find it for her but it just wasn’t there. I talked to her yesterday and tried to convince her to go back to that school and talk to the dean. Maybe they still have a record of it. I will keep pushing here and keep SM readers posted.

As I continued to sift through stuff I discovered the little books that my parents used in their (ultimately failed) attempt to teach me Gujarati when I was a kid:

I’m going to save these so they can try again when I have kids someday.

I also found the record/book I played incessantly as a child. This, of course, helps explain why I am such a sci-fi/fantasy fan. I heard Bilbo battle Smaug hundreds of times (often right before bed):

And finally, I found this picture. It must have been taken at our house in Chicago when I was 1 or 2. I was a precocious child and enjoyed the company of tall blondes back then. I remember clearly that this woman had an Easy-Bake oven in her basement. Which might also explain why I love to cook.

71 thoughts on “Ghosts of Christmas (and other times) past

  1. What a treat this post was! It wasn’t more than two weeks ago that I was looking at pictures of when I left India myself (just 10 years ago, a generation later). The hordes of relatives were still there, although they have now learned to smile at the camera. I too went to the University of Cincinnati, and sent back pictures of me frolicking in the snow.

    Some things may have changed, but only a little bit, and only around the edges.

    I too spent many hours this summer scanning old negatives from my parents’ photo collection. I can attest to the rich dividends you speak of.

  2. brilliant haircuts, abhi! my mother also just went through a photo-cleaning, and showed us the fruits of her labour last night at dinner – good to know we were all somewhat style-challenged in the 80s :)

    re the picture of your mother in the snow – i think we’ve all seen at least one of those when our parents first came here – i particularly prefer those from the 60s and 70s – something so familiar in the red(?)-hued, faded photos from that time…

    She had to give up her own dreams for her husband and kids as many of our moms might have had to. I really wanted to find it for her but it just wasn’t there. I talked to her yesterday and tried to convince her to go back to that school and talk to the dean. Maybe they still have a record of it. I will keep pushing here and keep SM readers posted.

    so sweet!

  3. Wow, what a great post! I love the old pics! (This post made me realize that maybe I SHOULD scan our old family pics from the 60s and 70s and put them online!)

  4. Abhi, if you do look even a little bit like your father, you should use this as your shaadi.com profile photo. It will have the ladies flocking, I’m sure.

  5. I’ll answer some more queries in a while but:

    1) Yes, Glendale Heights near Chicago. I lived there until ’79. Before that my mom and dad lived in Skokie and along Lakeshore drive.

    2) Fellow Hobbit Record owners, I salute you

    3) The vast majority of people always say I look like my mom.

    4) I am pretty sure that is a train in the back when my dad is leaving.

  6. 1) I always thought Abhi looked exactly like Yo Mom. After this post, I am windicated I say. Windicated.

    2) Count me among those who had the Hobbit on vinyl. Sigh. Good times.

  7. Abhi, I HEART your style of personal blogging. Thank you for this lovely post. And respeck to Yo Mom and Dad.

  8. This really was a fantastic post, and the photos brought back a lot of my own memories. Will be sending the URL to my folks – they’d enjoy this as well. Thanks for sharing.

    Hope that you had a Merry Christmas. Best wishes for the New Year!

  9. Great post!

    The pictures with cars and snow, and the send-off party at train are classics. They happen even now, though in different flavours (webcams showing snow through window, family send-off at airports).

    Abhi: your father is a Civil Engineer! Yay to “civil” solidarity :)

  10. What a fun post..I hope we are treated to more of the same in the future. =)

    I’m going to echo the sentiments of many who say that the older pictures of your parents are near identical to the ones of mine (who also immigrated here in the late 60′s)…right down the the glamour shots! =) There was a Botanical Garden at Penn State Univ where my Dad did his PhD, and him and my Mom have countless “smelling the flowers” pictures that could have come out of a Bollywood flick. =)

  11. Clearly, you are the next generation… You guys should have opened a thrift store or had a garage sale, instead of taking 9 tons of refuse to the dump. My grandparents would have been horrified at that kind of waste. ;)

  12. Now that I think about it, in my family, that stuff would have just found a new home in the front yard, alongside building supplies, chickens and tireless vehicles.

  13. The vast majority of people always say I look like my mom.

    Lucky men look like their mothers, and lucky women look like their dads.

    M. Nam

  14. This post was perfection and triggered so many memories. Seeing this after watching The Namesake was quite the 1-2 punch. Many thanks.

    Kids today, with their Wii and iPods and peanut free Mars bars–they’ll never know the joy of Hobbit records and Easy Bake Ovens and Lemon Twists. Also, they should get off my lawn!

    And Amitabh, I agree wholeheartedly with your comment #7. Yes, there are similarities, but in my view, many more differences between the diaspora of 25-40 years ago and the diaspora of today.

  15. There is definitely hope for getting your mom’s diploma re-issued! My mom never received hers from Delhi University before she immigrated in the 1970s. When she visited 2 years ago, she went to the college and talked to the dean. They gave her a fresh copy, though it took a month or so, and she had to pay a bribe to get it. Best of luck!

  16. Abhi, thanks for the great post. On such a tragic day, this brought a much-needed smile to my face. Your parents’ pics look almost exactly like my parents’ pics from the late ’60s/early ’70s in Chicago. I think I might create a website w/those pics and stories, as a tribute to the fascinating lives they’ve led. Thanks for the inspiration.