Tag Archives: Mummy

Mummy is in Pune



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.


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.




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




An Unsentimental Family



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.

denis birthday 2010

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.

The Tree of Knowledge



When we were growing up on a junior officers salary, books, cheap then, were plentiful in quality as well. Magazines from abroad did not have heavy taxes. There were few enough publications coming out of Indian presses, books or magazines in English. My parents, particularly Mummy, were instrumental in our creative instincts (though I don’t know who coloured the portrait of Jane Austen in my mother’s copy of Pride and Prejudice), and our pleasure in reading.

However, Mummy stopped reading after she couldn’t walk anymore as if there was a direct relation of one ability to the other. This was a change in her that made an enormous difference to our lives. She did not want communication of one mind with another through a book which benefits people who are alone some of the time. She wanted non-stop communication with physical human beings. especially those in the near family, our nieighbour Aunty Joan, and the Swamis.

What a reader she had been! And a quiet writer. She was inspired to write by reading. I treasure her handwriting found in old notebooks and diaries and her letters to my children. She had a perfectly well-formed script, writing clearly and neatly. I have sheets of paper on which she wrote about her young life in the new India, some stories for children, recipes and other samples of her wide-ranging mind. Then her hands became unsteady, not remaining quite still with a pen.

It was in 2009, I think that I gave her a diary to write her thoughts down in. She wrote a few lines with wide space in between them and then abandoned the effort.

Her favourite literature had been Russian, translated of course. And her most loved author was Dostoevsky…the Brothers Karamazov and The Idiot. Both my parents read literature, novels, magazines and newspapers, but did not get intellectual with us because they were not.
Mummy had an eye for inspirited writing and people drawn into fascinating or eccentric characters. I found it confusing to read about people in Russian literature until she explained one characters many names. No one in the family had gone through these authors as she had, nor read Moliere or Racine and other things French…she taught herself the language. She was too shy to try and speak but she filled notebook pages with French grammar. Both parents had the perseverance to teach themselves something, my father would start projects from scratch and learnt to write Hindi and Telugu, my mother stuck with the Roman script…they had learnt Urdu in their schooling years in the 30s and 40s. My daughter studied French for six or seven years in college so she and Mummy would exchange some phrases and thoughts via letters.

I remember when she was younger she spent a lot of time reading. Besides literature, she was the greatest fan of the Detective genre and did not turn up her nose at romantic novels…they were quite OK with her but we, grown up and ‘knowing stuff’ now, actually chided and kidded her about this. She wasn’t bothered…something educative, something entertaining, something escapist, it was all good.

Presently it is tough to get the peruser of Henry Fielding and Mikhail Sholokhov, and Tolstoy and Pepys himself, to sign a cheque, so much as (to withdraw her pension), and she put away her reading glasses many years ago, never picking them up again. Worse, she barely talks. If I sit near her she will look at me from time to time, a look I can’t comprehend and it makes me upset and sad. In those last years in Brahmanpalli, in the about four years she had with my father after her accident and before his death, she had been quite lucid and would speak the most to him, but she was beginning to close communication down.



In 2007, while staying there I was using the computer a lot while following the rise and rise of Barack Obama. I had also been searching sites and printing poetry for her, introducing her to Maya Angelou and Adrienne Rich. She loved their poems…but it was short lived. She grew to dislike us suggesting anything to divert her. Earlier, when I printed poems for her she clutched the pages while walking from room to room. She enjoyed memorizing and quoting bits of verse.

I don’t forget that this frail ghost of herself had by sheer example, and of course the gift of buying books, taught all her daughters the meaning of engaging one’s mind with someone else’s through the written word. As teens if we went off with Denis where there were books available, she would tell us to get her something. And in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, of all places, in a tiny bookstore we found Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. She couldn’t get over what a treat that was, just loving the ‘something nasty in the woodshed’ line. She would enjoy, (if only she would), the work of the British author Lynn Truss, always delighting in word fun and games and learning good language.


Well that was then. This time while about to write I thought lighten up, cheer up, bear up, she’s not unhappy, her life is quiet and sedate, why do I expect her to prove something more? She possibly has a declined memory of the village we loved a lot, or she wants to say nothing, nor do I think it’s our business to prod her about whether she remembers Denis.



She calls me by my sister’s name, but that’s alright since every few months we take it in turns to have her with us. But who can forget that someone whose enquiring mind influenced us to have curious minds too. My sisters and I find our childhood, though far from idyllic, full of adventure and anecdote as relayed by her and Denis. And this becomes a file choked with memories of a mother who was not exactly the model of maternity, but the very model of do your own thing…if you want to. In the Brahmanpalli house there were shelves and boxes full of things to read, wildly swinging between topics (where did Mao Tse Tung and Che Guevara’s ‘Guerilla Warfare’ go?).

And now some of those books have joined ours.



Incident in Brahmanpalli





Mummy fell by tripping over the living room carpet, in Brahmanpalli, the village in Andhra Pradesh, where my parents had lived for twenty three years, before my father passed away, and she shattered her right hip bone. Tali, my daughter and I, went to Singapore in the first week of January 2007. Mummy had her fall on the 10th of January 2007.  A dire message was waiting for me when we returned to Pune where I live. Tali left for the States where she lives, and I ran and booked myself onto an Indian Airlines flight for Hyderabad. Jeanne, my sister, called from Bombay and decided to change her flight to the same one I was taking. She came down to Pune  and because of all her professional connections we had a car waiting for us at the airport when we landed. But Mummy had already had her hip replacement surgery at the Secunderabad Military Hospital.
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Deborah our youngest sister, was already there. The three of us sat at the dining table, with a sense of  anxiety mixed with the hope that my father had received from the doctors that she would be walking again soon. Mornings in Brahmanpalli were always beautiful with birdsong and coolness.  After breakfast we were setting out for the hospital about 56 kilometers away in the town. Then the phone rang.

Mummy, they told us, had taken a toss while attempting to walk to the bathroom in the middle of the night And had fractured her thigh bone, the same side as the hip injury. That was that, there was nothing to do now but for her to lie in bed and wait for it to heal over a couple of months. This was the start of her bedridden years, till now, February  2014. We stumbled about in those first days and weeks, trying to figure out how to go about caring for her.
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My father, Denis, bought her a wheelchair, a walker to assist her recovery in the future, other things like a portable toilet, clothes that could be put on and removed easily. It wasn’t possible for everyone, but since my husband Uday worked in Nigeria and my children both grown now, lived in the US,  I could, so I stayed on for about four months’

So this blog is going to be about this. How we, individually, or together, worked out how to care for my mother. There have been tremendous changes in these last seven or so years. What do I talk about? Not just her health, her diet, her coping , her temperament, stress, our ideas and abilities. The strain my father went through. How she actually did not, for the longest time, get that this was going to be the rest of her life for the longest time.

Next time some details of things we did and still do, to cope. Longevity, seniority, venerability, so so much. Maybe because I have a living parent my own age doesn’t seem such an issue. Or who am I fooling?
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