Extracts from my mom’s diary

On this Mother’s Day, sharing extracts from my mom’s diary. Her journey through cancer and how the mind won over disease. This is as is taken, no word changed, and most of it is in Hindi. I can’t describe the emotions that I went through while copying this. It is a story of hope that overcomes depression. I love you Mom.

25 May, 2008, Noida

कठिन रोग-ग्रस्त अवसादमय मन लेकर जब मैं हताशा के समुद्र में डूबती उबर रही थी, झिलमिल ने मेरे हाथो में कागज क़लम थमा दिया – “माँ, जो तुम्हारे मन में भाव आए, उसे कागज में उँडेल दो, भाषा की चिन्ता मत करो। मन की भावनाओं को दबा कर मत रखो ।

डायरी लिखने की आदत मेरी पहले भी थी। लेकिन पता नहीं क्यों मुझे लिखने की इच्छा ही नहीं हो रही थी।

समय जैसे ठहर सा गया था। समय एक सूनी सड़क की तरह मेरे सामने फैला हुआ था।आगे बढ़ने का मेरे पास कोई रास्ता नही था। रात, आधी रात, भोर, सुबह, फिर दोपहर, लम्बी शाम काटे नही कटते।

बीच बीच में उठकर बैठना, फिर लेट जाना यही क्या मेरी नियति थी? Condemned cell में जीवन यापन करने वाले कैदी की जिंदगी? निर्वासित यक्ष जो हमेशा अल्का पुरी की याद में डूबा रहता था, की तरह, मैं केवल पुराने दिनों को याद करती रहती थी। पुराने मतलब, बहुत पुराने, बचपन की यादें, जवानी की भूलें, पुराने गानों के बोल, पुरानी फिल्में याद आते रहते।

30 May, 2008

कल मेरा जन्मदिन था। मेरा जन्मदिन हमेशा ही बेरंग, बिना उत्साह के, बिना किसी समारोह के आता है, और चुपचाप बिना आवाज़ किये चला जाता है। आखिर जन्मदिन का मतलब तो यही है कि मैं मृत्युदिन के थोड़े और करीब आ गयी हूँ। कुछ कोषाणु अपने ही शरीर में आतंकवादियों कि तरह आतताई बन जाते हैं और स्वयं उसी को नष्ट करने में लग जाते हैं। युद्ध! महायुद्ध! महारोग से युद्ध! रुग्न अंग काट के निकाल दो, जहर से शरीर को भर दो ताकि वह विषाक्त अणु नष्ट हो जाये, फिर भयंकर किरणों से उस भाग को दग्ध कर दो। कभी समझ में नहीं आया कि रोग अधिक दारुण हैं कि उसका उपचार।

15 June, 2008

पूरा सप्ताह प्रिंटआउट पढ़ने में लगाया। कैंसर के स्टेज, कैंसर रोगी के जीवन की अवधि, इसके कारण व उपचार। क्षतविक्षत अंग, केशहीन सिर, दुर्बल शक्तिहीन शरीर। यह जगत हैं स्वाभाविक स्वस्थ स्त्रियों का, पर हमारा संसार दूसरा हैं जहाँ हम अस्पतालों में हारे हुए जुआरी सा चेहरा लेकर डॉक्टर का इंतज़ार करते रहते हैं।

20 July 2008

इस विपदा में भगवान को याद करना, प्रार्थना करना, कुछ अवसरवादी सा नहीं लगेगा क्या? बाहरी मंदिर में कभी पूजा पाठ, जप-तप नहीं किया। पुकारे भी तो किसको पुकारे,  श्रीकृष्ण, संतोषी माँ, काली माता, या शिवजी ? क्या यह सचमुच कर्मफल हैं? क्या मैं आत्महत्या कर लू? किसी भी तरह, पानी में डूबकर, फांसी लगाकर? मगर फांसी लगाने लायक पटुता भी मुझमे नहीं हैं। भगवान् के सामने असंख्य आवेदनपत्र हैं, क्या मेरी वाली अस्पष्ट पुकार वैकुण्ठ या कैलाश तक पहुंच पायेगी?

30 July 2008

मेरी बीमारी ने मेरा सारा ध्यान ले लिया हैं। मुझे इसके आगे किसी की परवाह नहीं हैं, चाहे किसी राष्ट्र पर बम गिरे या आतंकवादी बम फेंके। बाढ़, तूफ़ान, भूकम्प, यह सब मेरे दुःख के आगे नगण्य हो गए हैं। मुझे हमेशा, हर क्षण अपने अलगाव, अपनी पृथकता का बोध होता हैं। मैं सबसे अलग हूँ।

4 August 2008

अब मैं नकारने की स्टेज से आगे आ गयी हूँ, स्वीकारने पर। जैसा भी रोग हैं, अब तो उससे जूझना ही पढ़ेगा। जोधपुर से रोज़ दोस्तों के फ़ोन आ रहे हैं। सब सचकित हैं. सशंकित हैं, दुखी हैं। “ना काहू से दोस्ती, ना काहू से बैर” सिद्धांत पर जीवन यापन करने वाली, स्वच्छ, राग द्वेष से परे, जीवन व्यतीत करने वाली मैं उनके शुभ कामनाओ  के भार से दबी जा रही हूँ। क्या सब लोग मुझे इतना चाहते हैं, यह तो मैं जानती भी नहीं थी।

सोचती हूँ मैं अकेली ही दुखियारी नहीं हूँ। मुझसे भी बदतर लोग हैं। यदि मुझमे यह बीमारी सहन करने की शक्ति नहीं होती तो भगवान् मुझे यह रोग नहीं देता। यह मेरी परीक्षा का समय हैं। मुझे इसमें उत्तीर्ण होना ही होगा। यदि दो चार वर्ष और जीवन ही हैं तो उसे हंस हंसकर ही व्यतीत करुँगी। लोगो की करूणा या दयापूर्ण दृष्टि मुझे सहन नहीं होगी। मैं फिर सीधी खडी होकर माथा ऊँचा करके चलूँगी। किसी अज्ञात कवि की इस कविता ने मुझे सहारा दिया


I asked the Lord for a bunch of fresh flowers but instead he gave me ugly cactus with many thorns

I asked the Lord for some beautiful butterflies but instead he gave me many ugly and dreadful worms

I was threatened, I was disappointed, I mourned.

But after many days suddenly I saw the cactus bloom with many beautiful flowers flying in the spring wind.

God’s way is the best way.

थी कभी चाँद तक अपनी उड़ान
अब ये धूल ये सड़क अपना जहान

 

maa

Let me fly

Just reminiscing, thinking. Yes I do this seemingly impossible task as well, specially when I am free and alone. You would probably not believe it if you have read my writing, you must think, this female just vomits words, doesn’t waste a precious moment doing the incredible task of using her grey cells. I have been told to ensure sufficient exercise of my brain since my knees started aching. So, I was thinking that once upon a time, like every other young person, I wanted to literally fly. अरमानों के तो पँख होते है। who doesn’t? The good part of my life was, my parents let me. They did not ask me to fold my wings and put them in the almirah and lock it. Yes, there were struggles but minor ones as compared to what some others go through.

I believe our Indian minds are conditioned to think that the sole aim of life is get married, reproduce immediately after and then get your children married and then your grandchildren. ( like one of those TV soaps whose sole purpose is to show parties and functions one after the other) Follow the rules set by the elders in the family, study, get good marks, become a graduate and post graduate, to better the marriage prospects, but NOT to work. Learn to sing and dance to the latest Bollywood songs, only to show the art in family sangeets. Learn to cook, sew, embroider, so that the creations can be showed off to prospective grooms. Learn to speak but not have your own voice, then what, then get married and make rotis for your newly acquired family. This is not really a feminine-centric blog, it applies to both genders. Are boys treated differently? They are brainwashed into submission by – Be good, get good marks, get into the engineering college, then get a good job with a salary your parents can show off. Never drink, party or go out with girls unless u are engaged to her and have been granted permission. Don’t have any life outside family. Get engaged and then married to a girl with impeccable credentials chosen by your parents and start producing your progeny. And if you dare to be different , you will be crushed mercilessly by the emotional अत्याचार by your own family.

Recently a colleague told me that she was very worried about getting her son married as he was already 28. She said I have asked him if he has someone in mind but he doesn’t, and he wants her to choose. Tell me one good reason why a person who has been an adult for 10 years straight wants his parents to take the life’s most important decision for him or her. My maid, her daughter being of “marriageable age” is still open to letting her work, but is facing family pressure “he is a good boy, you will not find a good match for later, why does she need to work”. I have been trying to brainwash her. Let her work. Let her stand on her feet and gain some self confidence, she is just 17, wait for a few years, it will help your family, let her be ready to face the battles of life. She gets convinced to some extent and then she goes home and comes back in the morning again full of apprehensions.

Trust me, I am not saying arranged marriage is bad, or that our parents don’t want the best for us. I am talking about a different problem. I think we don’t let our children grow up and become independent in thought, take their life decisions, we don’t want them to grow up. We don’t prepare them for the challenges of the world. And if by some miracle, they are able to voice their thoughts and their wishes, we don’t listen, we don’t want to listen, because our mind conditioning says that children are the ones who should listen. We don’t discuss things, we announce decisions. Children do not have a say, and cannot question. If they do, ” अब तू इतना बड़ा हो गया कि मुझसे सवाल करेगा?” And here I am talking not of children, but adults masquerading as children. Supposedly grown ups 20 years, 30 years, 40 years old who are being treated thus.

Starting from what they will wear, to who they should befriend, and what they should study and when, we are used to taking decisions for our children. Is it because we were treated thus and we want to carry the tradition along? Because we could not take those decisions for ourselves, we take it out on our unsuspecting children and this will continue ad infinitum. Some generation has to change and give in. Some generation needs to let their children take their own decisions, make their own mistakes, grow up and not just literally and support them as they stumble, pick themselves up and start anew. Hopefully it will be our generation.

What if the kid wants to pursue art and painting instead of engineering. I had a team member who dared to go against his entire extended family to pursue a career in fine arts and animation and wanted a job to prove to his parents his decision was right. What if the kid doesn’t want to get married? Big deal. Why does it become “जवान लड़की छाती पर पत्थर की तरह होती है।”. Maybe he or she will find love at 40. So long as he is independent, happy and able to take care of himself or herself, why should it matter? What if the person wants to get married to a person of his own choice, maybe of the same gender, maybe a widow(er), divorcee, a much younger/ older person/ a different caste, or wants to lead a life of chastity. In the Indian context, these are taboo. We clap when we hear of such news items, but have a major problem when something like this happens in our family.

What is needed to to help our children grow independent in thought, be consulted in important decisions, help their thought process mature, and enable them take their life decisions. Important aspect is to let them do it, instead of doing it for them. Support them, guide them, help them understand the difference between right and wrong. They will make mistakes, and will learn from it. These fb quotes that we see every day, don’t just forward them blindly, apply them to your life.

Some of us are not born to be engineers and doctors, some of us will fail in class, some will try drugs. Not everything is right but then are we the epitome of what is right? Do we give support when it is needed most? A lot of engineers I know, force their children into the same discipline just because that is all they know. Give your children the confidence to speak in front of you and put their opinion, not just nod to whatever you say. Respect their opinion and have a healthy discussion before a decision is taken with mutual consent.

Wives whose husbands are categorized as mama’s boys, trust me, their kids turn out to be the same. वदला ! You don’t need anyone to yes,mama, as you say, mama, you. Again, I am not saying, taking your parents opinion is bad, but love can be smothering. ( बोलना पड़ता है, various generations are going to read this and I have to try to be politically correct while I say what I think is right), and then taking your children’s opinion can’t be wrong either. Love should not be restraining and restrictive. Your kid will respect you more if you show respect to him. Let them be, let them grow, let them fly, don’t clip their wings before they take off. 

My baby

My beautiful colicky baby, aka, the “अंग्रेज़ बच्चा” was born after a long wait as you may have read in my earlier blog ( https://myhumerousbone.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/the-pre-natal-era/ )

From the day he was born he was tuned to US timings, sleep in the day, play in the night. I remember my days in a haze, get up after a sleepless night, go to office, sleep whenever possible, especially if there was a presentation ( sorry boss). I figured quite early that lectures and meetings are a great place to take a nap. Came home tired to a more tired mom or mil who had been looking after my baby and now needed a break, so played with kiddo, while the man of the house watched TV. His diet was small, he would eat very little, sleep for an hour, then was refreshed enough to want to play. At 11 pm in the night, all I wanted was a bed and a pillow, and my baby used to be wide awake. In wee hours after midnight, I would be irritated enough to wake up the husband sleeping like a baby to help the baby sleep. I had this fundamental issue of not being able to sleep while my son was awake ( which occurred till he was almost 18), and after catching a few winks, it was time to take my tired bones to the next grueling day.

One night he started crying and just would not stop. With no prior experience we had no idea what was wrong, tried walking him around on the shoulder, taking turns, but he refused to cease his howling. Hungry, stomach ache, rashes, no. Finally we were out on the road in front of the house along with the startled dogs who till then had एकछत्र राज of the lonely streets. The dogs and the baby wailed in unison, till the opera reached its crescendo and we knocked on the friendly neighborhood doctors home at 2 am in the night. He diagnosed the problem as an aching ear, a few drops of the magic potion and he was fit as a fiddle, went off to sleep and we left the sleepy dogs lie.

We actually had two babies growing up together, my son and my sil’s daughter who was a few months junior. With both kids in the same pram, looking almost twin-like since my son, though was older, was thinner. All ladies coochie-cood the babies and would invariably ask whether they were twins. We had fun answering, no, 4 months apart, and leaving them with their open mouths and feverishly working brains on how that was scientifically possible.

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The pseudo twins

90’s was pre diaper era when American products were not so easily available and of course the moms and mils were firmly against the use of any such contraption. Delhi being pretty cold in winters, and without diapers and no central heating, all we did through the night was change pants. By the time it was morning, there wasn’t a place to walk at home where a wet pant wasn’t unsuccessfully trying to dry.

Coming home from office, he would be on the bed mostly wearing nothing more than a shirt on, feverishly cycling away with his hands and feet and giggling away only to gurgle when food was stuffed in his mouth, breathe, swallow and giggle again. I can close my eyes and see the sight again, that made my days so wonderful, despite wet pants and tired bones and sleep deprivation.

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The coming home hug

As he learnt walking, the world developed a different set of problems. He walked with his head held high and invariably tripped over every obstacle in his path and his chin, knees and palms were constantly grazed and red. Till I decided to get him a helmet and knee pads.

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I can do it too

My baby did not like meeting strangers. Once I took him to office and as expected everyone wanted to carry him and he responded by shouting at the top of his voice for the rest of the day. At home he marked his boundaries. If we had visitors, he would remain in the bedroom and not venture out while he stared unblinking at the aliens who dared set foot in his space. No amount of cajoling would pull him out of his लक्ष्मण रेखा. Strong attempts just resulted in further howling so.. Take him to any crowded place, and he would cling to me or his Dad and cry.

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Time to howl

He learnt his tantrums from his parents. When he wanted a toy or book in the shop, ( this was once or twice), and I said no, he lay down on the road and raised hell in order to get me to buy it. But me being me, I would pull him back home, gave him a strong lecture on how a child should behave and generally pulled him up for the childish behaviour that a child should not be doing. He would stare at me with big doleful teary eyes during such sessions or व्यथित eyes as my dad would say. Needless to say, he did not repeat it too often, who wants a hiding from a strict parent. He soon learnt that the way to get anything is via his dad, who would melt easily.

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The divine tantrum

His first day at the creche, he was flabbergasted to be left alone and cried for the whole 3 hrs, he at the creche and my mom at home. When she went back to pick him up, he was standing precisely where she had left him, with a teary wet face, holding his bag and bottle firmly. Both laughed and cried after the reunion and held on to each other tightly. Next day, when he was being left, the look on his face said- what you are betraying me again? and turned his back to my mom and slowly started adjusting. It took my mom more time to adjust than him. The first new slang he learnt from his toddler friends was “कुत्ते का पित्ता” as he proudly kept repeating at home.

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dance or look?

The love, the hugs, the playing with almost everything, be it vegetable peels, waste papers, clothes in the cupboard or while washing, kitchen utensils, the jumping to the lap, pulling my ears, learning to walk and then run, falling down, crying, picking himself up and walking again. The hiding in the clothes cupboard or in the washing machine tub and the “boo” on being discovered, the forever unkempt house with nothing at its designated place. The first words, “dadadada” and then the अनर्गल प्रलाप at the top of his voice. His own created vocabulary, spoon was “tinta” and curd was “din-din”, camel- ऊँट  being टून्, and Aarti, my sil, was “तेते”. The sicknesses, the cough and the vomiting, the looking at me with “when will I feel better” expression, but being brave during the injections. I can go on and on, but I have crossed my self imposed word limit, so more later..

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Boo

The two-frock childhood

My childhood was awesome, and then some. We were a piece of the big mass of the great Indian middle class. But the two frocks was more my Dad’s idea of what girls should be wearing in the 70’s. We were not poor, we always had plenty to eat, a roomful of books ( a household where books were a preferred choice than any other gift), holidays ( no, not to Singapore and Malaysia, but more like Bhopal, Osiaji and more local flavored places). Bengalis buy their new clothes during the once-in-the-year phenomenon called Puja. My mom, as usual, never had a say in the important matters of the family like what should I wear during the 5 days.

So, our standard process started with me sitting pillion on the cycle, and my dad, driving laboriously to our favorite seamstress, somewhere between B road and A road. He would stop outside her home and shout, Seemaji! at the top of his voice. She would come out looking terrified. Now, I must tell you something about her. She was very prim and proper, hair tightly wound in a bun, possibly widow or unmarried, never smiled, wearing faded cotton salwaar kamiz. You get the drift. Once she came outside, dad would ask her, pointing to me, how much material for her frock, she would look up and down at me and mutter some meters and then we would cycle down to NTC shop.

All brands, as per dad, were चोर and bigger brands महाचोर. So it was always NTC. He asked me to choose the cloth for my frocks, and I would pick from whatever little options I had. Then back to the seamstress. She would take measurements and then ask me for what kind of design I wanted. Now I was pretty unimaginative where fashion was concerned. Not having any access to magazines, no TV at that time, only idea I had was by reading books, Victorian books. So my choices were typically over sized, high neck, full sleeves, a lace here and a lace there, at least 4 inches below the knees, belts and frills in weird places. She also added some ideas from her minimal small town marwari experience and what evolved was something pretty OK, but then there was no other choice. And those few dresses had to last me for the full year till it was time for the next Puja again.

Now, since I had limited wardrobe, my attire at home was mostly a गंजी and bloomers, or frocks from past years which had moved above the knees and therefore, not suitable for public viewing.

I was into Athletics in school and was expected to wear something called shorts, which my dad would never never buy for me. When my sports sir told me, wear shorts and come to the ground, I went in my bloomers and he promptly sent me back home, he was more shy than I was. So, to find a jugaad solution, my brother’s old faded Mahesh school trousers came to the rescue, which fitted me perfectly and just needed to be made short enough to qualify as shorts.

As I grew older and started getting a monthly allowance, I started exploring other avenues like Bombay dyeing. And a tailor called Verma tailors who was the one person everyone went to in our town.

I had no exposure to readymades, jeans or trousers, national or international fashion, something which you may find hard to believe. Thanks to my bro, when he started working in Bombay, that is what it was called then, he started bringing me back stuff from fashion street. So in high school and college, I had a wardrobe with little more variations. I still remember my first and only vanilla jeans, that lasted all through my college years. I had a dreadful time with the zip that insisted on opening every time I would sit till I learnt by accident how to lock it. That was a problem that could not be shared with anyone, save my dad, who just told me I was too fat to fit into it.

In school, I also learnt to sew as part of the optionals and enjoyed it so much that I started experimenting on myself. Yes, I sewed my own clothes for a few years, frocks, tops and the likes. I was absolutely not great at it, just about passably ok. But I did get a little more variety, my own designs, now with buttons, and elastics, and embroidery, which was the fundamental idea.

My best friend gave me some exposure as she had relatives in Australia and my God, when I saw some of her stuff, carelessly thrown in the almirah. The material, the fall of the frocks, with my eyes wide open I would try some of her stuff, close my eyes, and feel like a fairy.

The final journey

It is not easy. To be 80, weak, not understand what is going on, feel pain and not know the reason why. But life takes you there. If there is one absolute truth I have learnt in the past few weeks, it is that pain is universal. Pain does not leave you till your last breath.

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A few weeks ago, we brought my parents’ home. Settled them down in a nice airy apartment with attendants constantly managing all their needs of food, sanitation, entertainment and health. I would see them every morning before leaving for work and every evening after coming back home.

First week was relatively good. Baba kept on “Umaji’ing” for a while, he would want to watch “romantic movies” on the television, would want to go to the bank to get “taka” since he knew he had to pay his attendant when she shaved him. His diet showed a marginal improvement.

Second week he had mild cough and the doctor gave him some antibiotics. He was weak but his diet was ok, his fever subsided quickly and he was ready to start his physio end of the week.

The physiotherapist took one look at him and said he is too weak, but we can try. And he did try to stand on his bony legs, did all his exercises mostly passively, resisting when it pained making a grimace. That was the last week he stood on his own two legs.

The fourth week everything changed. He was drowsy. He slept through the day and the night. He slept like never before, like a child who had been deprived of sleep for ages. For a person who mostly needed meds for sleeping this was absolutely alarming. You had to wake him to feed him, he would open his eyes with effort and promptly go to sleep again with his mouth open. I knew this was not good. We got his vitals tested. His physician said he should see a neurologist. We spoke to a couple to come home but then nobody was willing, and we toyed with the idea of taking him to the hospital for a proper neurological checkup.

Friday 3 July evening, Baba started sinking and perceptibly gasping for breath, his oxygen level and pressure started dropping and we had to rush him to the hospital. He was put on ventilator and taken to ICU. He stabilized for a while there, BP and saturation came back to normal but he was unresponsive, drowsy, kidney functions not normal, creatinine was rising, sodium was high ( Having dealt with multiple patients at home, I am an internet-trained-quack myself). His Brain MRI spoke volumes. It basically explained why he sometimes thought he was 40 and sometimes 90. Part of his brain were not functioning (lacunar infarct) due to some emboli that may have happened maybe sometime in the past 3 months.  My brother, husband and I, all silent witnesses to everything, there was nothing we could really do.

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ICU is terrifying. I witnessed two demise right there in those fateful 5 days. Heard stories of people with serious illnesses, dealing with far more issues, people who were there for weeks and months, people who had still not given up. It is all so morbid and makes you feel completely helpless. What can I do? Nothing except wait day and night outside the door to see the doctor and find out how he is, any better, with hopeless eyes. Go in and see him with multiple tubes sticking through him and machines living the life for him, swollen arms and feet, drowsy eyes, haggard cheeks, blank eyes. The sight was drowning me, and then saying with a smiling face- Good Morning, holding his cold hands, reminding the nurse to give him 2 blankets since he would find the place very cold, gazing into his eyes to search for that spark of recognition, which never came.

Tuesday evening 7.30, his doctor gave his verdict. He did not mince his words. He said Baba is terminal. Multiple organs were failing and he did not expect a recovery. And then he asked- what do you want to do. And we said unanimously – we want to take him home. I had promised my mom I will bring him home. She had been looking at the empty bed every day with tearful eyes and a questioning silence. The doctor said- That is what I wanted you to say. And we brought him home the next day, with little hope, but a strong resolve. I have been told that is a very brave thing to do but I did not really feel brave, I knew he was slipping away and I wanted him next to Maa.

8th, we brought him home for the last time. We were so relieved that he was breathing well without the ventilator, he opened his eyes, looked at everyone and everything. We had so much food that day, like we had been starving for days. Got his meds and air bed and oxygen concentrator and everything else he would require for the next few weeks. Wishing for a few more days of life.

He had his feed and medicines, all through the pipe and went to sleep at around 9-9.30 pm. We went for dinner. 9.40, the nurse called, he is not breathing. We rushed. His pulse was normal, his oxygen level was normal, but we could not see his chest heaving. None of us had witnessed death, we kept on looking for the heartbeat, trying to feed him water so that he would pass urine, shaking him to see if his eyes would open. He looked so peaceful, and I could almost imagine him suddenly opening his eyes and smiling- Oh I gave you a scare, did I? But that is filmy. 10.30 the doctor came. The world had turned hazy and timeless by then, everyone was talking but I could not hear a thing, it is like I was going through a sound barrier. The doctor did his duty. My mom did not cry. She still has not cried.

I have been haunted by the if’s and maybe’s. If I had brought him here earlier, if I had seen the issues early enough, maybe if we did not bring him home and was still in the hospital. Running to Jodhpur every month for the past few months had become a habit. People tell me he is at peace, he has handed over Maa to you and he has seen everything with his own eyes and hence he is relaxed. But I am on a guilt trip, guilty because I breathe, eat and sleep and work and watch TV and go about my normal duties. Guilty because it is too soon. Guilty because I always focused on Maa more and refused to understand Baba’s depression. Guilty because I was powerless to do anything. This was not my will.

Looking at him just before cremation, and then what was left of him post that, I finally understand the meaning of dust to dust, ashes to ashes. I don’t know how many times I touched him that night, went to see if he was feeling cold, maybe he will wake up and ask why is the room so cold. As he was tied down to the – I don’t know what it is called- I was thinking it would hurt him, but he is beyond pain. As he was put into the electric pyre, I felt the burning sensation that he would feel. But he is beyond feeling. The realization dawned that I am never going to see him again.

Last 10 days the rituals have kept us all busy. Leaving with no time to think and mourn. Maybe that is the intention. That is what human nature is like, we move on. There are more important things, like taking care of my mom. So many people turned up at Jodhpur, his old friends, colleagues, the Bengali community and family. Oh he was so jolly, relived the pain  with them again as they spoke about him, cried and remembered all that was good about him. Crying is easy. Crying is selfish. I am not going to be selfish.

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It is strange to see everything around so normal. The sun still shines, the traffic is still the same, same serials on TV, but smiling is a little tougher, especially when I am alone. We talk normally, eat and sleep. I look at Maa and smile for her. She does the same, mentally we are both giving strength to each other. I know I will watch movies and go out for dinner and start enjoying life all over again. With my son here for his holidays, it is important to take care of the people who are alive and who need me.

Before we lived happily ever after

Logically speaking, I should start with how I met and started flirting with my current husband. But that is for another time. Today I want to talk about some of the hilarious events leading to the inter-caste-marriage that we had. Remember that 90’s was a conservative period for the smaller towns in India and divorces and love-marriages were spoken in shushed-tones.

Once upon a time in 1988-89, Anuraag and I decided, we will get married. To each other. Some day. We did not talk about it at home, of course. Who does that? My mom, being a die-hard Bengali and strongly influenced by her peer group, when I was in III year, decided that it was time for some prospective grooms to meet me. I know there were people who helped influence her judgment about the girls-growing-up-and-getting-out-of-hand (and whose daughters wanted to do nothing in life except marry and settle down).  I thank such interfering bees from the bottom of my shoe, who have nothing better to do than match-making for all kids in the block.

Well, to continue the story, some ill-meaning neighbor brought a “रिश्ता” and I was asked to meet the guy. I, as expected, said NO. But maybe not loudly enough, because the family turned up officially to “see me” one evening. My mom begged me not to create a scene so I complied. This guy was tall and broad, his wrist was probably twice mine (remember you are supposed to keep your eyes demurely down- all you get to see is the hands and the lower anatomy of the fellow). Having decided his fate a priori, I went and say Hello and sat down to talk to him. No, I did not wear a sari, or take a tray-full of samosas and tea. My parents and his parents, delicately left us alone and went to the bedroom to talk. Though I could bore anyone with my incessant conversation, I was tongue-tied for a while and we made some formal talk, what do you do, where do you study, what are your hobbies kind. Then he asked me what do you want to do. And I saw light. I told him I wanted to be the prime minister of India followed by an 5 minute extempore of why I believed  I was right for the job (the gift of glib came handy).  After my nonstop nonsense, I never quite figured out why he was in such a hurry to leave.  My parents were so happy that we had so much in common to talk about- little did they know how I scared him away.

With that safely out-of-the-way, life continued sedately for a while. A few days later, I heard another name, someone else was again coming for the same ritual. The day is etched in my mind. My dad was shaving. Mom was laying out breakfast and said they were going to come in the evening. And I burst out- I am not interested. I don’t want to meet anyone. And she asked- why? In 80’s 90’s the standard question was whether I had a boyfriend and not if I was gay. I said I have someone else in mind.  My mom asked- who, Anuraag? So I said yes. And then the slow motion B rated Hindi movie scene started.

Dad paused his shaving for an instant and continued as if nothing had happened. My mom, sat down heavily, not knowing what to say. I left for college. By the time I came back, mom was in कोप भवन. Her first and strongest reaction was “How can you marry a non-Bengali?” In her mind it was clear that there were only two classes- Bengalis and the rest of them. And of course, Bengalis are the elite ones, how can anyone even think of competing with Rabindra Nath Tagore and Uttam Kumar, Shuchitra Sen, the literature and एकला चोलो रे and the rich history? How could I stoop low enough to give up the cultural heritage and other such blahs for matters of the heart? When I said it doesn’t matter to me- she could not believe her ears- are you my daughter? Is this the संस्कार that I taught you?  Her next problem was “he is so dark, your kids will not be fair” Really ! She refused to eat for 3 days, I was crying in my room, she was crying in hers. My dad was mediating and cooking dishes trying to cool and feed both of us. Mom actually told my dad- she can’t go to college any more. And my dad laughed- you can’t do that, she is studying engineering. In next 3 days I tried several ways to get her to see reason- listing all the pros of my to-be-husband, why Bengali-panti was irrelevant to me, how I intended to survive without माछेर झोल, finally the only thing that worked was – I promise I am not going to run away to get married. I will only marry with your blessings and then she broke her fast-unto-whatever and started eating. After a few days, things became quite normal at home, except for some taunts that came out of nowhere, which I did my best to ignore. Little did I know what was brewing in her mind.

When Anuraag broke the news at his home, his mom’s reaction was even more lame “नमक लाना हैं तो माँ से पूछता हैं कौन सा , चला हैं लड़की पसंद करने” and finally- right now focus on studies, we will worry about these things later- which was probably the sanest thing to say.  Her only issue with me was thatI came from a non-vegetarian family. Interestingly the fathers on the both the sides were very pleased with the liaison from day one – maybe it saved them some hard work of finding a suitor.

This episode I came to know much later – few years post marriage. My bro had come home for a week. He got all the juicy details from my mom, with her local flavor added. The whole family conspired behind my back and my big bro – decided to intervene to save the इज़्ज़त of his younger sister and मान-मर्यादा of the family. He went over to the Jodhpur court to meet Anuraag’s mom. (She was working as a judge). Her version of the story.  She got a note that Jhilmil’s brother wants to meet her. She came out, a trifle apprehensive. And my bro gave it to her straight “आपके बेटे ने मेरी भोली-भाली बहन को फसाया हैं”. She responded in kind – “तुम्हारी बहन ने मेरे बेटे को फासा हैं” Corny dialogues of the same genre flew back and forth till they did not have anything more to throw. Finally they mutually agreed to find ways to keep us away from each other (the fact that we were classmates in college did not help them at all). My bro came home, exhausted with the outburst, but since they were fellow conspirators, he also added “But they are a pretty decent and educated family. Maybe we should really think this through.”

It took the families next two-three years to think things through. I left for my post grad. Anuraag took up a job somewhere in Rewari. Both parties were perversely  delighted- now that the kids are away from each other- the infatuation will go away. They don’t know till date that Anuraag came every weekend to meet me at Delhi. After waiting unsuccessfully for a year for us to have a breakup, they finally yielded and the rest is history. Polite perseverance and determination worked wonders.

Ps. Some expressions only make sense in the mother tongue, hence I resort to it from time to time. Like आपके बेटे ने मेरी भोली-भाली बहन को फसाया हैं- is not at all the same as- your son is luring my innocent sister. Qed.

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Bringing Parents home

My mom, 77, a cancer survivor and as tough as dough. She has taken to bed the past two years, gained a lot of weight, refuses to stand and only says “Maa”, when she is happy, when she is upset, when she wants something, when she doesn’t like something. You have to recognize by the tone and context what she is trying to say and deal with it. If she tries to say anything else, it gets garbled up by the time it comes out and you can’t make head or tale out of it.

My dad, almost 80, was fine till about a couple of months back and then suddenly  went into a mom-effect. He lost a lot of weight, needs a catheter and is pretty stubborn about- I don’t want to eat, I want to see a doctor, I don’t want to bathe, brush, and only want “Umaji” who has been their caretaker for the past 3 years. He sometimes believes he is 48, wants a ticket to Bihar, talks about everyone as “rascals”, calls someone called “Robinson” and insists that he needs to visit the washroom every 5 minutes.

Looking at this state, we decided that staying at Jodhpur was no longer a viable option for them and planned to bring them to Pune to be close to me where they can be better taken care of. (I heard that my dad remarked- I am least interested to go to Pune.) The journey was the longest I have ever gone through. And I am not even talking about the work that was needed before and after.

I don’t know why there are no direct flight between the two places. After looking at all alternatives- shall we bring them by road in an ambulance – it will take more than 24 hours, ruled out, shall we get a charter flight/ air ambulance – after looking at the cost- ruled out, what about train – same issues as road and their decibel level will not let anyone around sleep,- ruled out. So no option left other than our very own Air India Jodhpur-Delhi-Pune.

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So, come Thursday, having mentally prepared them for the journey- don’t talk too much, don’t shout too much, the pilot may refuse to take us, we loaded them into the car to get to the airport. Remember that every load- from bed to wheelchair, from wheel chair to car, and so on- is a herculean task in itself as my mom does not support her weight. If not done right, with proper strength and in one fluid motion, she will slip down and then it will be 15 minutes of “maa” in loud complaining tone.

Reached airport with no incidents, got attendants and wheelchairs comparatively easily, breezed through security check etc and waited for the flight. My mom was excited, so many people, so much ambient noise, so kept on excitedly telling me “maa”. My dad was depressed. Umaji was not to be seen. He kept on asking for Umaji in an undertone,with me shshing him every now and then to keep the decibels down. Jodhpur does not understand aerobridge, so it was “दम लगाके हईशा” to take them up the stairs to the aircraft, seat them on the aisle and window seat respectively with me in middle. So far so good. Dad slept through the flight, mom was her excited self and we landed at Delhi an hour later.

Exiting after everybody else is way different from standing up as soon as the plane lands and pushing and pulling to get out first. Found some easy-chairs to wait for the next flight. By this time my parents were getting tired. Fed them some खिचड़ी . By now the “Maa” had turned to a wailing tone as she kept slipping down the easy-chair, could not pull herself up and neither could I. My dad, in his hyper state of mind, started calling out to everyone around – “ओ  gentleman”, “ओ  सरदारजी ” even after my admonishing tones of “don’t bother others, tell me what you want”, he would calm for a minute and start all over again. Couple of hours later, time for the next flight. Holding my purse and a cup of tea for both of them and intermittently pushing their feet on to the wheelchair platform which kept slipping, while shshing them and saying sorry to all passerby’s who were called out in a loud voice by dad, it was altogether very noisy situation and I was just thinking, when people make a spectacle of themselves, I am relentless and blog about it, might as well write about us being a spectacle.

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Boarded the next flight. Air India, intelligently, had given us seats in row 18 and row 8, even though they were wheelchair passengers. After a big fight, we could get 1 aisle seat on row 3, and then 1 more after asking for consideration from other passengers, so two aisle seats. The entire flight I stood between them calming them both (with the air hostess banging into me every time and asking me to sit down) , who were really agitated by this time, my mom’s hat kept falling off and she wailed loudly every 2 minutes. My dad wanted Umaji to serve him in the flight and kept asking the people around to call her. They refused to sleep. I kept on repeating like a parrot- a few minutes more, we are about to reach Pune, then you can go home and rest. They would listen disbelievingly, look away and wail again. finally my dad slept for ½ hr on the shoulder of the next passenger, drooling on him. Poor guy, not a word of complaint. He would even put his head back on the headrest as it kept falling down.

Landing at Pune was quite eventful. We landed and the pilot announced, we cant get an aerobridge because it is allocated to a Spicejet flight, hence we have to take the stairs, as per ATC. It took them 45 minutes to sort out the mess before we could disembark. The last leg of the journey to home was uneventful. Reached home at 8 pm, after starting from Jodhpur home at 11.00 am. As soon as they could lie down on a flat bed, both were quiet and relaxed slowly.

Making a joke of all this is easier. It prevents me from being depressed and crying. Every time I look at them, remember how they used to be and how they are, I want to weep. To see your parents reduced to being totally dependent for feeding, sanitation and every little need, they are like children who don’t understand and all you can do is not lose your temper (guilty as charged, there are so many moments I get angry, want to give up, be a good boy, I will take care of you, when they don’t understand, it is so depressing), be patient and help them relax.

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