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Inspiration flows from expected and unexpected sources around us. Our neighbors provide a constant supply with how well they execute the intricate dance of life and home, work and kids, soccer and social engagements, and dogs and travel. Their homes are immaculate, their yards even better. We say having brown neighbors is a good thing for them because we set a low bar on the yard; anything they do outside their homes, by definition, looks better next to ours! They keep us on our toes, they are our dear friends, and we will chain them to their front doors if they talk about moving.

Then there are the jokers among us, the ones who find humor in the banality of life. It's a good thing to be able to laugh when you want to cry and laugh harder when you don't. Sometimes I roll my eyes, but secretly I admire their ability to see the lighter side of life. And how about the friends who check on us even when we have not checked on them. How do they remember, how do they make time, how do they juggle a hundred to-dos and still stay connected? Bless them for their tenacity. They remind me everyday that humor and empathy are right up there with oxygen.

Tarun's father, my father, and our dear friend "D" inspire us in too many ways to count.

The other day, Tarun and I were wistfully looking at his father's portrait in our bedroom, trying to remember his voice. He was a man of few words so we were not surprised that the memory of his voice is fading from ours. Yet, we can hear him clearly in our hearts, gently slapping our back and asking "Ki re?" (what's up). He was a not a big man but he was a gentle giant. Gentle most of the time but when you irked him beyond his threshold, well, you'd have hell ringing in your ears. A dozen years after his passing, he continues to inspire us to be patient and with an immovable line on what you should not tolerate.

My father was the family imp. Brilliant at his work, he preferred to be the mischievous elder who interacted with ease regardless of gender, age, and station in life. His day job was stressful beyond reason. He was a physician and businessman in a town where political machinations reign supreme. He passed away a few months ago and continues to shine the light on true north with the way he navigated turbulent waters while keeping his ecosystem stable. We feel the presence of both fathers in everything we do - they guide us through our troubles and they dance with us when we achieve.

"D" was a delightful force in our lives and offered a bundle of contradictions. From Gregorian chants to Rabindra Sangeet and from Satyajit Ray to Akira Kurosawa, he expanded our horizon each time we met. He was an exquisite cook with a sharp wit. Incredibly well read, he knew more about literature, history, politics, and cinema than anybody else we know. He loved the Bengali culture yet disliked being amidst throngs of "us". Did I say contradictory? His joie de vivre was rooted in food. He would seek out the toughest recipes and render them to perfection. Tarun and D lived from one fish fest to the next. I used to say they were twins from two mothers. The journey into their culinary extravaganzas always began with the perfect fish. It could be Shad or Buffalo Carp from the Mississippi or counterparts from Bangladesh. D would lift the ear, check the gills, and consider the color of the fish before deciding which one would have the privilege of selection. Tarun would gleefully serve as his sous chef, awaiting the delicate rewards at the end. On D's last day with us, the fish was on the kitchen counter and Tarun was waiting to cook up a storm with him. This week as we fixed one of his signature dishes for his daughter, we knew D was right by our side.

And then, there are the kids. Being the responsible parents came naturally to us when they were little. In their teen years they successfully caught us off-guard with a mind-boggling cocktail of bravado and inexperience. As they became young adults, they quietly turned their parents into followers. In college when they juggled exams and social pressures while managing their Indian and American identities, they offered us insights into the gaps we left in their lives and how they coped. Most importantly, they taught this compulsive mother an important lesson about the million trivial things I fret over...that "literally no one cares"...

We never got license plates with the names of our kids when they were little because it felt odd to advertise mere saplings. But now that the boys have grown and shown us how much we still have to learn, I wouldn't mind dedicating a license plate to the them and to the entire village of influencers that inspires us daily.

It will simply say, "GRTFL2U".

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