Monthly Archives: March 2014

Shoulder To Shoulder

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We’re hand in hand, side by side, shoulder to shoulder, all of us, and our most important assistants in the taking care of Mummy. We have a maid called Suvarna who cleans and cooks for us but when my father passed away in 2011 and Mummy came to us she had special needs and we had to find help, which is personified in the two women who are our great supporters.

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Sharada is our oldest helper who came in 2011, referred to us by a dear friend whose mother she had taken care of till she passed away. When she came to us she said she wanted a permanent job and that she would stay with us as long as Mummy was with us. She is solid as a rock, so tough and strong, and has a jolly sense of humour.

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Besides doing what she has to for Mummy, she has her own family, just as Lakshmi does. She lives in a joint family as many working class people in India do – to be of assistance to each other, and to share in expenses of house and home. This may not be always easy and women often take a disproportionate amount of the responsibility. Sharada has a decent guy in her husband who will do all sorts of jobs such as cook the chapatis for their meal if he returns home before her. She will have prepared the main food for the family before coming to work.

Family demands on women are no less than work demands. She has to see to the smooth running of the family and keep peace in the house. She has to cater to different needs, moods and temperaments, mostly with equanimity. She has years and years of experience and has many a time advised us of what to do because she has knowledge of how to take care of an elderly person.

She is also talented in other ways. When not busy with her charge she will often be on some creative project. One such project took weeks of fashioning –  a rug for her home, done with large knitting needles and strips of ‘yarn’ made from old saris. It was colourful and durable. She is also a great cook. She loves being in the kitchen when Mummy is lying quietly after her bath and will give guidance in how to prepare many types of vegetable dishes, Indian sweets and snacks if asked. The temptation to ask is very great.

Lakshmi came along after some changes in help that did not work out long term. She is Sharada’s neighbour and good friend. Their families also know each other. When we were looking for a long term employee for Mummy she was suggested and has been nothing less than a gem. She had done domestic work before but took to care work with ease and professionalism.

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She has proved to be a person with a strong sense of responsibility and dedication to a good standard. She is always punctual, always arrives with a cheerful greeting for Mummy whose face lights up. She can persuade Mummy to eat up anything with soft and loving words. Of course they both do this. She will keep note and trim her nails, and after seeing me cut Mummy’s hair, learnt it easily and now does it herself. A very commendable thing is what they have done for Mummy’s skin condition. Massaging her after a bath with oil and moisturizers has meant there is barely a sign of psoriasis any more.

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Home responsibilities are so great that it can lead to us having a sense of guilt realizing how very fortunate we are to have their loyalty to regular work and affection for their charge. Lakshmi’s daughter just completed her board exams. This is important for her if she plans at any time in future to be as independent as her mother and seek employment outside the home like her mother who has taken all the burden of family life on her own because men are not always reliable or are not worth living with.

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She lives with parents and sisters. Recently her brother-in-law was laid up with broken bones himself and she does much to help her sister. While her daughter was doing her exams she did night duty because it is a much lighter load and both patient and carer can have a long restful sleep, though they are up very early. She is a person of quiet dignity and self awareness. She does her work with minimum fuss and will do more than she has to, to feel that Mummy is being well looked after. I love these women with all my heart because they have come to our aid and taken so much worry out of the whole equation.

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Both of them are literate, will make time to read the Marathi newspapers, operate their bank accounts, and keep track of many other developments in the world around them and in our home and theirs. Fortunately for us they live halfway between my sister’s house and mine so it is possible to get buses to come to work here or there. Who sent these two angels to come to our aid? Some special providence – when we mention them in talk we give them thanks for the sustenance they provide. Someone must watch over them and be their sustenance in this world and that is our responsibility.

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The Same Old Same Old

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It took awhile to get our team together and functioning well, with some false starts and some unsuccessful team members, and funny experiences, but we got it all going some time ago and we love our present helpers who are proverbially worth their weight in gold. Slowly but surely everything settled down to an orderly pace.

After we came here, with much help and cooperation from the Air Force and my father’s bank in the village (The State Bank of India), Mummy’s pension (which is usually a portion of the deceased person’s pension, not the full amount), was activated and it is a great help in paying for her carers salaries, for medicines, doctors visits and supplies required for her.

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Now that there is a timing and a method to everything and everyone in the house knows what has to be done things function pretty smoothly. For at least the first two years she has been here Mummy was a bit difficult but not so bad that we could not deal with things.

Our meals are similar to what she ate in Brahmanpalli but with less frying, more vegetables, less meat, more dal and beans and healthy stuff like sprouts. She ate lunch with us, whatever we were eating – vegetables, dal, salad, yogurt, chapatti and dessert after. Her vegetable soup has continued up to now and is an invaluable tool for her digestion and  nutrition. She liked her soup with buttered toast as well as enjoyed her breakfast oats with banana and other fruits. Earlier she did not like eggs and believed she had an allergy to egg yolk.

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Her day starts early. Whoever is staying with her at night wakes at dawn (it seems to me) and the trundle bed is pushed under. She is woken up and teeth brushed and freshened up. Then she is alone for an hour or two – this being a time of day required by the helpers Sharda and Lakshmi, to attend to what is required for their own daily routines, making dabbas (packed lunches) for their family members going to work or school and cleaning homes, having a fresh bath and then setting out to work themselves. I peep in from time to time, to see that she is asleep and sometimes quite wide awake and she will call me Deborah, what are you doing? Sometimes she needs water because of a coughing fit, (maybe because of being prone so much).

Some days, though rarely, she does not want meals and fusses a lot. Then she is coaxed, cajoled, asked to cooperate and finally accepts what is being offered.. She finishes her oatmeal and banana while seated in her wheelchair and might have some other fruit after. Then she sits a bit more, when it is cool, to get some sun, but not at this uncomfortable part of the year. After her daily bath and especially when she’s had a shampoo she is extra relaxed because after being helped into bed she sleeps very well for an hour or so. Then its free time till lunch for the carers and some chatting and tea drinking go on in her room which she has always liked and finds comforting. She gets a peaceful look on her face if people chat in her room.

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Lunch means some more sitting, we try to increase her sitting up but she does not favour it too much, though she can sit for up to three hours. The lady on duty will pull out the bed and have her afternoon nap while my mother will lie quietly. When she is extra wakeful she calls out questions or asks for water. In these summer months nearly every flat in the vicinity is shut down for a rest because the days are long and hot. By eleven in the morning I will have shut the windows and drawn the curtains to keep out warm air and to make it feel dark and cool. Everyone in the house relaxes or sleeps but I am usually on the computer.

At five Uday will appear and make tea for himself and whoever wants and Complan for Mummy. She has it with something to munch, biscuits, or cake. I have tried successfully to make banana/yogurt/chocolate chip cake, carrot cake and  sweet potato cake – some with eggs, some without.

We have our Scrabble board game and then I rush out for my walk around the building after which it is fun to sit with friends in the evening and shoot the breeze.

Mummy’s dinner follows which presently has to be really varied or she fusses and fusses. She has started liking scrambled eggs with toast, or a tuna fish sandwich or French toast. Some more sitting in the wheelchair and then its bed and TV till sleep intrudes.

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So that’s Mummy’s typical day.

All this while and for most of these activities she is helped and cared for (with some help from us in propping her on the walker) by Sharada and Lakshmi. They pour affection on her and feel a strong sense of responsibility towards her.as well. I will write much more about them later and add photos too. They will definitely be in their favourite and beautiful saris.

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Mummy is in Pune

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Mummy adjusted to life in Pune quite well in just a short time. She has forgotten many things and many people but she still remembers my father. She is not the type, though, to give meaningful looks to his picture on the wall next to hers (at first she would glance away quickly from his photo). She seems to be comfortable here with us.

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Pune is a few degrees cooler than Hyderabad and its surroundings. Mummy never seems to feel heat all that much though she will say when she is cold. In that first year she was here, as usual she would get angry and yell at us if  we urged her to do anything that she hated, like trying to move using the walker. That was all, of course, something we knew well by now and took in our stride.

Debbie’s house has a beautiful garden with trees, shrubs and flowering plants.

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However, Mummy did not want to go outside and sit there. Other  houses overlook the lawn and she did not want ever, to be stared at, and for some reason, people had an uncomfortable habit of giving her sidelong looks as if she is weird or something. And this makes us feel bad for her. She was quite happy to spend time in the living room among us when we were talking. She would not say anything but just liked sitting there, not even, it appeared, listening to what we were saying, just reassured of our presence.

Debbie of course was a familiar face, a very soft-spoken, caring sort of a person. Vani was also, for a while a continuing presence. Vani had the ability to be patient and good natured. Her singing and cheerful greetings had made such a difference in my parent’s lives. Mummy would always be persuaded to eat and do anything Vani asked her to do. She would speak in her own language and sometimes in her own English, continuing to do my mother’s hair in elaborate styles and enhance this with clips and bows etc as if Mummy was about five years old.

As urgent as looking to her needs and being helped by Vani was the need to get our own house prepared for her to live in as was Debbie’s. We take care of her in turns from times varying between three to six months as and when we have to travel or have other guests. Things like this have to be planned well in advance. It is just fifteen minutes drive between our homes so we have got the transfer routine down pat by now.

We asked the same carpenter to make her a bed in our house. It is solid and sturdy and has the same guard rails at the side, with some different artistry on this one. Under is a trundle bed that pulls out for an attendant to use. As important is a TV so that they have some distraction because she does not need attention all day long, more than anything it is supervision because she sometimes develops bad coughs and colds. Other equipment was the same as what was there in Brahmanpalli but we do change and get new ones from time to time. She is on her third wheelchair now. The last one simply started to come apart at the seams.

In the beginning she would not stay alone if she was awake for more than a minute. It could be very trying, though understandable. Being alone and immobilized obviously made her insecure. It became imperative to find a person or persons who could help out. Pune has organizations called Nursing Bureaus. They have men and women working for them throughout the city. On their rolls are trained nurses (quite expensive and I guess only required if the person is seriously ill) and untrained attendants who learn each family’s needs as and when required. They are told what sort of work to expect and  some people even expect them to cook for the patient. They bathe or sponge the patient, wash their clothes, change the bed linen and keep their charges clean. They give a percentage of their earnings to the bureau, though some leave the bureaus if they get steady work. They also negotiate, apart from this, for other allowances, for conveyance, yearly bonus, for a raise, for loans, gifts and maybe new clothes on an important festival.

This was becoming crucial as Vani had to leave and that time was getting close. About two and a half weeks went by and her room in our home was ready. We put Mummy in the car with all her goods and chattels (us) and brought her to our house. Vani came for three days and then tearfully parted with her “chinna papa” (small baby as she called Mummy). It was sad to see her go because of the very genuine affection she displayed and that made her so acceptable to my mother.

We tried to keep Mummy’s routine as close to the one she was used to in her own home. Very soon new people entered the equation and have been a strength and blessing for the last few years. Next time I want to introduce them and tell a bit about their lives and personalities and the invaluable work they do. Everyone who has any knowledge talks about Indian ‘servants’ or home help. It is definitely an unorganized sector – any kind of organization of domestic help is highly disapproved of by employers and is, of course, why they SHOULD be organized so that they are not exploited. Maybe some people, all the same, give them a good reward for work and some give them a raw deal. There is a great demand for good workers so if they don’t like conditions they often leave.

We are very lucky to have two wonderful women who help us with Mummy. And Mummy adores them in turn

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The Long Way Home

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The frantic activity of the night before our departure from Brahmanpalli meant we would be finished with our work and awake by four in the morning. We wanted to be on the road by 5:30.

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How heart breaking it was to leave this place and to be taking Mummy away from this wonderful home.  Never again would this car of ours stand next to Denis’ car in the porch.

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One of the Sisters came to take possession of the keys to the house and quietly wandered about but not disturbing us. We had left the computer, the cooking range which Denis had bought barely a month ago, the fridge, steel cupboards and lots more. The things we brought here were some that we had always seen in our childhood homes. Some random items were Mummy’s old cake mixing bowl, a sauceboat, a wine decanter, an old biscuit jar, very precious things. And we had tried to leave the house as clean as we could.

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few things remaining from our childhood home....

Then it was no looking back. We now had to concentrate on making the long road journey with my mother safely seat belted in the front with Vani and me at the back. Debbie and her husband were following in another car. We had barely gone five kilometres when Mummy started asking to be put back in her bed. It is the place she feels the safest. The last few times she had sat in a car was always on the way to the hospital with my father driving, but this was going to be a long drawn out affair.

Vani had agreed to come with us to Pune to be a familiar carer while we looked at the other things that needed doing. After a few weeks she would leave for her village or maybe go live with her brother who was an autorickshaw driver in Hyderabad city. She and I sitting in the back seat kept fiddling about and getting confused about what to do with what of the needed equipment at hand.

Mummy started to get very agitated. Both Uday and I were thoroughly nervous throughout the drive. The sun began to climb up in the sky. The heat would have made the drive terrible but our loved Honda car did not let us down.

It was very stressful for us too, of course maybe not as bad as what she was feeling, to hear Mummy begging and pleading to be taken out of the car. We tried to distract her with sips of cool water and something to eat but she never let up. Vani kept massaging her shoulders and soothing her forehead which, when she is disturbed bobs up and down continuously. She would put out a hand and take Uday’s arm, which was resting on the steering wheel – making us frightened that she would summon some strength from somewhere and wrench his hands off it.

It was a dreadfully long trip with two railway gates closed and one wicked traffic jam because of a mishap on the highway that brought us to a standstill for nearly an hour. By the eleventh hour of this seemingly interminable drive she could only whimper, please, please. This was the journey we had been dreading and now it was getting over. We had gone up and down this route for years, making our ‘pit stops’ and eating stops and photo stops but not this time. I think we voluntarily stopped only once for Uday to stretch his legs.

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We knew every town, major and not so major, the trees, the landmark buildings and some sweet rural town names. Suddenly a temple would come in sight, brightly painted, or an old abandoned fort, or a truck ahead carrying an enormous blade for a windmill. A lot of the area was drought prone and unwelcoming to look at in the summer haze.

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But finally Pune was in sight. Debbie’s house had been prepared well for Mummy. Her house, being a bungalow with a compound, had enough space for Vani and for Venkat, G Swami’s son, who had come along too. When we arrived at Deborah’s place there was no walker to help lift Mummy out. It was in the other car and they were nowhere in sight! But her kind neighbour and the gardener and all of us somehow lifted her up (she was quite heavy in those days) and managed to seat her in her wheelchair. She was taken up the ramp specially built for this and then at last she was helped into her bed. A carpenter had made a sturdy teak bed with neat side railings that bolted shut for safety and easily opened. The bed was freshly made and ready but even while lying down Mummy couldn’t get over her stressed state and kept calling out to us to be with her. It was awful to see her so distraught and panicked to be in this unfamiliar place. She had last travelled anywhere out of  their place in 2006 and must have forgotten our homes. By slow degrees and some soothing stroking and calming words she did settle her down.

As night came on she seemed to relax. After her dinner it wasn’t long before she fell into a deep and exhausted sleep. That was the beginning of my mother’s life in Pune.

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Marking Time

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After Denis passed away we stayed three weeks in Brahmanpalli, our last stay in this familiar dwelling place. The beloved house which my father had once said he would leave feet first, was settled as he had wished and put into the hands of its gracious successors. It was officially and once and for all transferred to the Order of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy. There was bank work to be done, Mummy’s medical papers to be filed and kept, and other sentimental things to be sifted through, the whole household to be wound down, the car to be sold. No more would our car stand side by side with Denis’ car as it always did on our visits there.

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Throughout all this hectic activity Mummy was mostly tranquil though she would shout out for someone to be with her most often when she awoke from a slumber. It was sad that she could not participate in much of anything except our evening conversations in the living room but also we were keeping from her the knowledge of the more painful tasks like giving away my fathers clothes and other personal effects. There was hardly ever a lull in the activities of winding up the place but she had to be seen to as well, lying there alone in her double occupancy bedroom. Sometimes we would sit there sorting through papers and pictures, sitting on my father’s bed, and she would be so glad to have all this company. As much as Denis had been a collector of stuff she was indifferent to possessions, only very occasionally stating ownership of anything.

The Swamis would now return to work in the Air Force after twenty three years of staying near their own village. What would happen to Vani? Growing up in her village next door and speaking only her native language and some English she did not want to come and live in Maharashtra (the state where two of us live), where she would be away from her family and friends. She had not been able to pass her exams but was well trained in how to care for an elderly patient – if that was what she wanted to do. She told us that most probably her parents would use the money willed to her to arrange a marriage for her.

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We decided to have a proper grave constructed and that surprising little town of Toopran turned up a marble seller and contractor who set up shop in a corner of the garden. They built a brick structure to begin with and there was endless discussion of measurements of sides, height, width and how many slabs it would take. We saw it emerge in shape day by day, little by little. Then they dropped the largest slab that would be the top cover and it broke in half. More confusion. Next they measured and cut the slab for the lettering much too narrow. Everyone’s nerves were getting frayed. The engravers were a different group which came from the city, and on the final day of construction they arrived complaining about how they had had a hard time trying to fit the wording to the width. Around four in the afternoon the finishing work started.

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The lettering had been printed to the size of the slab and made to adhere to its surface. We couldn’t help remarking how much Denis would have enjoyed watching the young artisan at work chiselling by hand expertly and fast along the outline of the lettering.

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The paper was removed and the rough insides were inked. Before the sun could set, because there was no other good light to work by, they placed this expertly on top of the grave. This was just in time for the evening prayer which was said by sometimes us, sometimes someone from Vani’s family or else the Swamis.

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Frangipani, bougainvillea, hibiscus, whatever bloomed in that awfully hot weather was collected and placed with clay lamps around and then we all trooped inside to spend the night with the notorious mosquitoes.

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Every room in the house was occupied. Someone would always be working on the computer, someone making phone calls and setting up meetings with this and that official of land records and other business, someone making lists of things to do, someone remembering something else very vital. We were tearing up heaps of papers, old letters, many of them ours to our parents, copies of photos – there were thousands of photos to sort. We nevertheless had to bring a huge amount here.

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These are valuable to us – many were pictures that we did not even know about. One of them, the only one, is of our living room in Air Force quarters in Delhi in the early Sixties,

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and this one of us four sisters at an airbase in 1965, unlike in the tight security restrictions of the present, being able to show our friends a fighter plane. Many other photos are from our childhood and teenage years – old, old, family photos from which I was able to construct some kind of timeline and generational order for the grandchildren and great grandchildren if, and whenever they get interested in knowing their family stories. My father’s dark room had to be dismantled and the photographic equipment given to owners of a film studio he had known well.

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Left behind was the beautiful model boat my father had made in the early seventies, many paintings, furniture, books, though we chose and brought most of the best ones here.

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The preparations and finalizations over we were ready to move Mummy to our place in Pune. But that’s another story.

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Nomination!

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I have been blogging for nearly a month. Today was a lovely day for me because Searandyellowleaf has been nominated for the Liebster Award by Crowdedearthkitchen. It is a blog worth visiting for getting great food ideas and info from! It is both attractive and has great recipes.

The Liebster Award recognizes and promotes blogs with less than 200 followers who are creating interesting and good content. I have of course, at this point, much less than 200 followers and am honoured to be nominated. Thank you Crowdedearthkitchen.

These are the Leibster Award Rules:

  1. Acknowledge the blogger who nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer eleven questions the blogger gives you.
  3. Give eleven random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate eleven blogs you think are worthy of the award (but they must have less than 200 followers.)
  5. Let the bloggers know you nominated them.
  6. Give them eleven questions to answer.

Questions I Have to Answer:

1.  Where is the most interesting place you have ever traveled? Iraq, in the Middle East

2. Where do you hope to travel next? Hawaii

3. What is one item on your bucket list? To get regular exercise

4. If you had to live on one food only, what would it be? Custard

5.  What is one food you’ve tried, but hope to never try again? Marmite

6.  If you could place one book on a required list for teenagers, what would it be? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon

7. If you could bring one historical figure into the present, who would you pick? Mahatma Gandhi

8. What is your favorite way to relax? Watching a good movie

9. Fifty years from now, what will people remember about this point in time? We were not worried enough about global warming

10.  Fifty years ago, what is one thing people couldn’t predict about today? Definitely the internet

11. Why do you blog? It is a beautifully interactive way of writing and reading

Here are 11 Random Facts about Me:

1. I think I’m too short (5′ 3″)

2. I like comedy films

3. My vocabulary is not great

4. I can only read in bed

5. I can sew

6. Kind people are my favourite people

7. I’m not easily bored

8. My memory for some things is sharp

9. I like Brad Pitt and George Clooney

10. Scrabble is my favourite board game

11. I was a shy kid

I want to nominate these bloggers:

1. Cross Country Reading

2. Looney Babewynie, the jabberwock cook

3. Delicioso y Divertido!

4. She reads she blogs

5. Europe Nomad

6. lady Sarah’s London

7. crowdedearthkitchen

8. I travel, therefore I eat.

9. Around the World in 365

10. Feedbacktoyou

11. Pick Well

I’m putting these eleven questions to you:

1. Who is an inspirational person to you?

2. Do you think Literature is better than Film?

3. Do you love reading other blogs?

4. Is the world a lonely or happy place?

5. Do you like pets?

6. Do you write in longhand ever?

7. Who is your favourite author?

8. Should we worry about global warming?

9. Where in the world is it very cold and very hot?

10. Do you vote or not?

11. Are libraries important?

That’s it guys…..Happy Blogging

Not My Usual Stuff

An Era Passes

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Three days after Mummy’s birthday, in the early hours of the 6th of April, 2011, my phone rang. It was G Swami informing me emotionally that Denis had passed away a short while ago. He isn’t talking, or breathing, he’s gone, said Swami.

Within half an hour we were on the road – it was an exhausting drive at any time but this time we were constantly on our phones, talking to the children in the US, our friends and people phoning condolences, and the people in Brahmanpalli. The people there were now made up of the Air Force from a nearby base, people who lived in our compound and the Reddy’s compound, the priest and other local people. These good folks, knowing it would take us time to reach there, had started organizing for the mass and the funeral.

An Air Force doctor had visited and confirmed the death and on our request had given Mummy a mild sedative. My sister Jeanne, travelling by plane reached earliest and was the one to tell Mummy the news.

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My father’s face even in death showed what a peaceful and calm person he had always been. The features of his face at rest appeared as if he could lift the corners of his mouth in a gentle smile. It seemed as if he was satisfied and unafraid to be leaving the world of endless toil though he had always done his work with the best of humour. For months he had been preparing – his will, his bank work, his last wishes and had made phone calls even to an undertaker. After he died we found out how much he had thought of everyone. His bank balance was small but half of that he settled on each one who worked there. We found files with letters of requests for work and letters he wrote to various people to help those looking for work. This was left incomplete because someone in Brahmanpalli phoned and asked about something we were not aware of that may have been in the works.

April is a hot miserable month in the Deccan Plateau. Because of water shortages, the heat, lack of energy and time the beautiful garden was non-existant and the pond stone dry. But in the evening before the sunset and before the mosquitoes could start their pestering we wheeled Mummy out to the grave. She, who liked privacy and did not like crowds was undeterred and had sat in her wheelchair watching the last respects being paid, sat through the mass, and let people condole with her.

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Denis had asked to be buried next to his beloved dog Max who had died saving him from a cobra many years ago.

Mummy said lucidly, I don’t know what to feel, because I can’t believe it.

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It was quiet in the house now. Vani was taking care of her in the bedroom and all of us gathered in the living room – we felt stronger and calmer together, my sister Jeanne had run out of the house as we arrived and hugged me tight. Deborah, undoubtedly the closest to my father, was her usual introspective self. Some of their kids were with us and how much I missed my own two children at that time. We sat talking till 2 a.m.

It was the end of an era for all of us, and more so for my mother. They had married when she was twenty and he was twenty one. We still say, in moments of remembering our younger days that the two stars of our family – our eldest sister Linda who died in 1970 at the age of nineteen, and Denis – are now gone and only we remain. Meanwhile of course, our family membership has expanded to include husbands and children, now grown, and their families. We don’t all live close by and in times of worry or insecurity we miss everyone and especially think of and miss these two, even more.

I went into my parents room. There was Mummy in sleep, how restful I don’t know. I lay down on Denis’ bed and overwhelmed with the events of the day was asleep in no time. As if nothing in the world had changed, the cool of the morning brought the calling and chattering of birds, the kitchen sounds, my mother’s voice, Denis, Denis. We were all up and for a day or two getting into the kitchen to prepare interesting meals, especially for the Nuns who were going to visit – this house had been willed to them to start an orphanage and school for girls of the locality – kept us absorbed till more compelling tasks had to be taken care of.

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It would be more than six months before Mummy would stop calling out his name but even now there is a flicker of interest if we say it but where is the point in causing her any bewilderment. At first she would look away from his photograph as though it caused her some pain, I don’t know really, but then maybe she eased into the fact that she was the survivor of their partnership. In her room in our house there are portraits of both of them.

They had been married for sixty one years.

An Unsentimental Family

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Mummy, who will be eighty four years old this April 3rd, was born in 1930 in a small railway town called Bahawalpur which is now in Pakistan. My grandparents and parents had spent service and growing up years in the towns we only know by name now – Lahore, Rawalpindi (Islamabad now), Karachi, Quetta. People of my mothers generation had attachments to these places because of memories both happy and sad. After partition they grieved for a loss of some part of them that they had an affection for. I first asked my mother about her birthplace when she was quite old. She launched into a story about partition that led to a sudden silence and a bit of keeping back tears. I regret that I had not heard more from her when we were younger though my grandmother never tired of telling us about what was then an important part of their lives.

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Anyway, in our most matter of fact family, how many birthdays came and went, sometimes remembered, sometimes not, it was no big deal. Of course we had good times on birthdays when we were small but fuss and nonsense was not our style.

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Somehow making something memorable and festive out of my parents birthdays in the village gave the small population of our compound something to enliven the daily routine. Vani, in particular, loved all kinds of ceremonies. Any excuse to run off to Toopran to get flowers for her hair and garlands and thoughtful small gifts, like a picture of the Tajmahal. She would then round up the Swamis children and her own nephew and niece and they would strip the place of any bloom to make posies to present. One year, the year I took some pictures, she said, don’t go back to Pune, it is fun when there are parties. It felt so nice to hear that.

The cake I made was a disaster, and looks it too. It was fine to taste, very chocolaty, but flat and unbeautiful. However, Aunty Joan, who was always our guest on any occasion, if she was not away in her native Australia, was an enthusiast about cutting the cake and toasting the birthday girl or boy. If there was anything going on and Aunty was away we missed her lively presence. The members of these two households just crossed the railway line to attend each others’ dos.

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That year we had been successful, more or less, in getting Mummy to use the walker. She was brought to the living room and we can see her looking quite well and comfortable and relaxed, sitting in a chair instead of her wheelchair, listening to her favourite Twenties music. Just as she did in earlier days.

Mummy was not, nor ever had been, the type of person to be transported with delight at any birthday enthusiasm from us or to show bursts of wordiness, but her happiness would be manifested in a more unusual peacefulness of countenance, enjoying being a part of whatever it was all of us were doing.

In 2011 we could not go to Barahmanpalli for her birthday. We had just returned from there in March, helping Denis with some paperwork and generally hanging out. Around that time my father was busy preparing for a houseguest whose visit they were looking forward to.

Well, this has been a fairly short post and I expect the next post will be longer.

Christmas in the boondocks

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Going to Brahmanpalli for Christmas was always planned among us and most exciting, more so for the children who loved being with their cousins in their grandparents’ home. 1990 was maybe the first Christmas we all spent there together. Even the Swamis would get caught up in all the excitement of the festivities. We would haul all kinds of things there, from our own homes or that we bought, to fancy up the place but mostly made do, especially that first year, with dry twigs for a tree, festooning it with anything lying around.

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with menaz and kids in B

Then years later we found a moth-eaten old tree from goodness knows when. We tied up the bits that were falling apart. It held itself up rather well but would not take the weight of anything right on top, so it was made to look rather pretty with a star hovering above, from a nail on the wall…a brilliant idea one of the children had.

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Of course Santa came, making tractor wheel marks around the large bonfire lit at night, (to add something breathtaking for the children)….much ho ho hoing going on to the screams and yells of childish appreciation.

The church in Toopran was small inside so midnight mass was also held outdoors with a surprising amount of people making up the congregation. We would shiver out there, nights could be pretty cold, but it was always an event to go to church for.

Of course every few years my parents would make it to Pune to spend the time with us, often meeting a few old friends who had settled down in this city. On their very last Christmas visit  some of the grand children were present, and all three of us sisters.

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We had no grand children as yet. I remember my parents gifts. These came from a very limited budget for festivities, pension funds not allowing much scope for grand gestures of affection. We were gifted still lives painted by my father who had made their subjects from various groupings composed of kitchen utensils and dishes to books from the bookshelves, his spectacles, and some blossoms from the garden.

Mummy got three hefty murder mystery books, her favourite genre of the moment. We were not really a very gallivanting family but we did all go to Manney’s, Pune’s most famous (sadly now closed) bookstore to pick up even more for her to take back to Brahmanpalli. We all liked sitting around talking and listening to whoever was dominating the conversation with thoughtful or funny stories, mostly my father or one of the kids.

That year, 2006, my mother, leafing through a cookbook gifted to my father announced that she was going to start cooking again. I remember those words of hers so well because she had so completely lost interest in cooking, though had taught my father rather well. I thought that if she felt like she wanted to do something that she was so excellent at and that she did with such ease and economy of effort, it was a sign of how settled, happy, and healthy she was.

Then of course, not even two weeks later, her life changed. Christmas changed. If Denis was alone with her in the village he would not leave her for midnight mass. He started attending church more regularly than once a year, even though he had been the person who in our younger days had said he did not like organized religion. My parents did not have pictures of the Sacred Heart or an altar in the home like other Catholic families. But as Mummy’s health deteriorated, her memory started stumbling, times were harder than before, and he felt increasingly lonesome, he found some calm and strength from Sunday mass.

The Christmas of 2010 was the final one for them together in Brahmanpalli. That year none of us could go. On the 25th evening I phoned to ask about how things were. He told me on the phone that he had gone into town some days earlier, and bought a homemade cake and some wine and the very nice lady had added as her own gift, some sweets made by her. It was really good fare, he said, and just as well because on Christmas Eve, the parish priest and some parishioners turned up with a guitar, their own goodies to share and with jolly good natured smiles went into their room and surrounded Mummy’s bed, carolling loudly. He said, with a laugh in his voice, your mother lay there beaming back at them, quite pleased to be the audience for this terrific show of goodwill, silently mouthing the words to some of the carols. She who was always fond of music, had found something flooding back when this joysome noise ensued.

All morning we had been thinking how forlorn and alone they would be feeling on this day of days when people liked to have company. I could hear the delight in my father’s voice as he recounted this Christmas experience. Your mother, he said, has never looked like she had a more generous Christmas present.

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Just Thoughts

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Sometimes there is a deep sense that I am not being entirely honest in expressing my feelings about handling the care of my elderly parent. To be quite matter of fact and accurate is not easy when, frankly, conflicting emotions have a battle, often, within my mind.

While the necessity of doing the everyday, practical tasks can keep us occupied there are, well, thoughts like resentment, anger, even reluctance and over-sensitivity to remarks from a mother who (at least in earlier days) does not configure how much effort of will and sheer sense of duty keeps things ticking, keeps the day organized, the logistics worked out, the planning carried on day after day.

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Resentment creeps in when there is a realization that the day is not entirely one’s own, that going out for some recreation means not just running off spontaneously, but requires getting meals ready, laid out, and warm (where really is the ‘hardship’ in that? But still). Resentment comes roiling up also because churning in the brain is a childish thought that why do I have to do all this – what did SHE do for ME all my life, as if I can remember down to the time I was born and thereafter every single detail of HER responsibility as a mother to me? There is immense injustice in that towards her, and yet there are more amorphous feelings that swirl about making me dissatisfied and at the same time guilty but are even harder to pin down into expression. Better to acknowledge them and get them to ease off sometimes.

These thoughts, strangely, get counteracted by a sense of responsibility, compassion, and plain common-sense, that this thing has to be done, dear girl.

What gets addressed by this sense of responsibility is that we don’t only do something for someone else as a balance for how much we feel has been done for us. Someone needs you, that’s it, because otherwise that means looking back at life and remembering unambiguously all the negative things that lurk around in goodness knows what corners of the mind, that come out and trouble us at opportune moments when we are feeling lazy, uninspired, fed up with the whole dreary routine. And as if there is only something unflattering to recall. Common sense helps – this is life and we have to deal with it. More importantly, compassion and humanity matter if one is not to turn the caring for my elderly mother into a power relationship. After all, we are younger, fitter, abler, we are mobile, able to read, to write, to speak and most of all, NOT YET inflicted with the troubles that will creep up or crash down on us when WE reach an advanced age. So better forget that notion of having somehow an ascendency over the parents just because we are still so many years from their helplessness.

We have the power to make the elderly invalid feel more secure and unafraid. That someone is always there, that body, mind and soul are taken care of. All that yelling and anger belted out at us from the early days of looking after my mother, which we acknowledge came from the sense of loss of power and dignity within her, have dissipated. There is peace but at the same time her life seems so devoid of quality even if we are doing our very best. People tell us carers also feel stress (you’re telling me!). But in fact we are lucky. We work in tandem, Mummy’s daughters, the  women who work as day and night carers for her now and the compassionate man that Uday is, helps even more. Uday does not give in, ever, to feelings of being saddled with an old person who uncharitably could be considered a dead weight, when for instance, I might get fed up and throw up my hands in frustration.

As sentient beings it’s fine for us to feel such ‘wrong’ emotions and we are not duty bound, but how does one lead a decent life if not listening to one’s conscience?

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