Saturday, October 24, 2015

Walking the Wheelchair

The last 6 days has been exhausting for both Anna and me. Anna has had a bad throat and running nose. I have walked multiple times a day to Anna's flat to see how he is doing only to find that he is asleep. I have had to deal with mild disorientation and mild hallucinations.  And, add to this, absconding attendants.

So I am tired.  Tired with the additional work needed; the regular monitoring of temperature, additional medication, following-up on which attendant will come to look after Anna, ensuring he goes out each day for a wheeled-walk, etc.

As Anna was too tired to walk, I insisted that we wheeled him around in his wheelchair for at least 45 mins every evening. Even though he was knocked-out and half asleep most days, whenever I asked him if he wanted to go out, he would say yes. I believe that even when Anna is half-dead, the answer to the question, "Anna, do you want to go out?" will be a resounding, "Yes."

Today was different.  Anna walked from the sofa, and out of the front door himself.  He then pushed his empty wheelchair towards the colony gates.  As he reached the gate, I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was standing straighter, and lifting his knees while walking.

Me:  "Anna, its so good to see that you are walking well today"

Anna: "You know when we were young, your Tatha used to give the three-of-us-brothers homework to do in the evening. Tatha would sit at one end of the hall and the three of us at the other end, doing our homework."

My heart sinks.  The disorientation seems to be back.  I can't for the life of me understand what walking has to do with homework as a young boy (Anna went to boarding school when he was 12, so this story has to refer to a time when he younger and was at home.)

Anna: "Every now and then we would walk the length of the hall, reciting what we were learning."

I still do not know where this is going.

Anna: "As we approached Tatha, the volume of recitation would go up so that he would notice that we were studying diligently."

At this point, I have got to ask, "Anna, does walking remind you of when you were a boy?"

Anna, looking at me and smiling: "Did you notice that the gate watchman was standing with some of his cronies?" Pause. "I wanted them to see that I was able to walk.  That I am not an old man who needs to be in a wheelchair. I had to walk well for them to take notice."

He did not sit on his wheelchair till we were out of sight of the watchman and his cronies!

I kid you not, this 87 year old, wants to show-off!!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Forgetting the Taste of Muffins

9 Oct 2015:  Can you tear up if your father forgets the taste of muffins? 

I can. And I did. 

I teared up because it is someone like Anna who loves all things sweet. Because it is someone like Anna who often says, "If a dish has milk and sugar, it is bound to be tasty".

A few weeks ago, my husband and I finally managed to go on an 8-day vacation (the first time in 4 years), when my sister came to visit with my father.  

In one of my first few conversations with Anna on my return, he told me that he had not been out. So, I decided to take him with me while I completed chores on a Friday morning.  He walked in Aurobindo Place, while I went from shop to shop and quickly ticked things off my to-do list.
Barista at SDA, Opposite IIT Gate, Delhi
Picture from

When all to-do items were crossed out, I asked, "Anna, do you want to have Badam Milk here or coffee at the Barista opposite IIT gate?"

Anna takes a few minutes to ponder on this very important of choices and decides got!  Off we go to the Barista.

As we sit down at Barista, I ask Anna what he would like to eat with his coffee.  Again, he thinks for a while and when there is no response, I reel out whats on the menu.  He latches on to "muffin" and then tells me that he would like it warmed up.

A muffin quartered
Picture from
I get us all coffee, and a warmed muffin. I cut the muffin into 4 pieces and give him two and his attendant one.  Anna bites into a quarter of muffin and says, "This muffin is good. It is sweet."  The phrase does not strike me as odd. He finishes his muffin with glee, forgetting his coffee.

I ask, "Anna, would you like the last piece of muffin?"

Anna, looking at the quarter piece of muffin longingly, "No-amma.  You have it."

I tell him he can have it and it is gleefully gobbled up.

On the way back home, Anna says, "The muffin was good." Then he pauses and adds, "You know I had forgotten what a muffin tastes like?"

I am perplexed. "Really, Anna?"

Anna responds with, "I thought muffins were savory.  Only when I bit into it did I realize that a muffin is sweet."

I tear up.

Forgetting the taste of something sweet, by a man who could find the best place to have coffee and sugary-sweet pastry, in a new city, within a matter of hours, must be unnerving for him.

I often joke that if we air-dropped Anna into the Sahara desert he would be able to smell out a place that serves coffee and cake!  Him forgetting the taste of muffins is ...... a little bit ...... kind-of devastating......

Friday, October 2, 2015

My Father – The Pro-Independence Rioter

I recall Anna once telling me about how he attended a rally where Mahatma Gandhi spoke to a large crowd.  I didn’t remember all the details, so I thought that 2nd Oct, Gandhi-ji’s birthday, would be a great day to ask him to recall when and how he saw the Mahatma.

It has taken me an entire day, to get the details of the story.  Today, Anna’s memory and speed to respond has been very low, and as I left him this evening, he looked tired and worn out.  Partly, because it was not a “good” day, and partly because I badgered him with questions that taxed his brain.

Anna, 1945-49
When Anna was studying at St Joseph’s college in Tiruchirappalli (Trichy), he and his classmates heard that Mahatma Gandhi would be passing thru Dindigul District.  Also that the villagers of Chinnalappatti were planning to stop the train to seek Gandhi-ji’s blessings. Anna and his classmates decided to travel the ~120kms to Chinnalappatti to get a chance to see the Mahatma and perhaps hear him speak.  It is interesting to note that tho’ my father and his friends did not know Hindi at all, they were willing to travel many kilometers to see and hear the Mahatma. Also, that Chinnalappatti has no railway station, just a railway track, laid on dry brown earth and rock. So pretty much, the middle of nowhere.
Memorial at the spot
where villagers "rioted"
on 2 Feb 1946

The crowd of over 100,000 people to see and halt the train on which Gandhiji was travelling.  Anna says that as the train ground to a halt there was pin drop silence. Then Gandhiji appeared in the doorway of a carriage, lifted his right hand (as if he was blessing people), and said a few words in Hindi.  Anna and his friends heard every word sitting at the back of the crowd of cross-legged people and understood not one word.

The British called the forced-halting of Gandhiji’s train on 2nd Feb 1946, a riot.  A large crowd of people, just sat on the tracks forcing the train taking Gandhi-ji to Madurai, to stop. The crowd just wanted Gandhiji’s blessings. The British wanted them gone.  

What surprised Anna and his friends most was Gandhiji’s stature.  They had heard of the big man, the important man, the man people deferred to, the man who went to jail for independence, the man the British were frightened of, the fierce freedom fighter.  And at the carriage doorway stood a frail man in a white dhoti, when they expected a tall, strapping, warrior-like figure.

And then Gandhi-ji and the train were gone.

Later, the place in Dindigul District where the train stopped was named Gandhigram. As of 2001, the population of Gandhigram is listed as 10,666 people.

As I leave Anna, I ask him if he knew that he was considered a rioter by the British and could have been punished or sent to jail.  He gives me a wan smile. 

And then, he tells me that he once lay down, legs stretched out on a bed that Gandhi-ji slept on!

I have so many questions to ask him, but he is tired, and I will leave that story for another day, another telling.