Thursday, April 21, 2016

Elephants Outside My Window!

After my mother died in Bangalore in 2011, my father Anna, moved for a few years to stay with my sister and brother. He spent a little over 2 years in Westboro, Massachusetts.  My brother, converted the ground floor study into a bedroom for Anna.

Photo Courtesy
The room has floor to ceiling windows that look on to a wide strip of lawn and flower beds before it merges with the original natural forest that was there before the house was built. The road is beyond the copse of trees. It is a beautiful room with lots of sunlight. In summer one can see flowers, green grass, and trees shaded a dull brown under bright green leaves. In winter we can see bare trees and ground covered with sparse powdered-sugar-like snow on a cake, to 24 inch whipped-cream-like snow smothering the earth. 

The winter months were difficult for Anna even tho' he had lived in Westboro in winter when he was younger and well. But with Parkinson's it meant that he was unable to go outside for a walk. That he had to constantly be careful not to slip in the snow the odd times he did go out. His visits were pretty much restricted to travelling from home to Summit Eldercare and back.

Winter was difficult for Anna. The cold. The fewer hours of sunshine. Being restricted to home. Often when my uncle (Krishnakaka) or sister (Mamta) called him in winter, Anna would tell them about the elephants outside his window. This wasn't a hallucination that lasted hours, but occurred many times over weeks. Both Krishnakaka and Mamta have narrated their conversations with him. Here is how they went:

Photo Courtesy Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary 
Anna: There is an elephant outside the window.

Them (disbelievingly): Really?

Anna: Yes. There is an elephant outside my window. Standing in the snow.

Them (catching on): How long has it been standing there?

Anna: I don't know. It is always there.

Them: Is it the same elephant every time?

Anna: There are two of them. Sometimes it is one, sometimes the other.

Them: Are you sure it is an elephant?

Anna (affronted): Of course it is an elephant!

Them: Can you describe the elephant?

Anna (as if talking to a small child): It is grey in colour. Has two big ears and a small tail. 

Photo Courtesy Professions for PEACE
Them: Are they very big? Thinking of their size.

Anna: Yes. Big ears mean they are African elephants.

Them: Anna / Cheenu, you are in Westboro. There can't be any African elephants in the garden.

Anna (not hearing the logic):
Its fascinating that these elephants are walking in the snow.

Them: Anna / Cheenu, what would an elephant be doing outside your window?

Anna (after a long pause): You will have to ask the elephant. It is outside my window standing in the snow.

This conversation could go on for many minutes till one of them would say something like, "Don't worry Anna. The elephants just came to see you. Even if it was snowing."

Anna has not hallucinated about elephants since he has come to Delhi, even though he has often thought he is in Westboro.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Non-Vegetarian Journey

Shri Madhavacharya
Hindu philosopher & chief proponent 
of the Dvaita (dualism) school of
We are Kannadiga Madhwas - a sect of Brahmans who follow the teachings of Shri Madhavacharya.  Madhwas are not just strict vegetarians, many Madhwas don't eat onion and garlic on the ground that these vegetables activate the baser senses.  So we grew up, pretty much, in a strictly vegetarian household. 

In 1967, my father got a great job with UNDP in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad & Tobago.  Anna flew there, ahead of Amma and the 4 kids, to shortlist houses and schools.  The rest of us followed six months later.  My mother travelled overseas  halfway across the world,  with the four of us, aged between 2 and 8.

I think my younger sister and I ate vegetarian baby food on one of the 3 legs of the long journey.  The airline had probably not uploaded enough vegetarian meals and so we had puréed peas and apricot jelly / sauce for a meal.

A Triniburger
On the day we landed in Port-of-Spain, Anna took the kids  out to dinner. To eat burgers. Burgers!! Burgers with Caribbean spicy beef patties!!!! Why? 

Anna says he realised that non-vegetarian food was the norm in our new country of residence. He explained to us that we would be served non-vegetarian food wherever we went and that we had to learn to eat it.  I remember little of that meal. 

Anna was right. Other than at other Indian homes, the staple diet was meat / fish with vegetables and roti / bread.  While my mother remained a staunch vegetarian, she did not object to us eating meat / fish outside our home. We were only allowed to eat eggs at home. She got a special pan for eggs, learned to cook quiche, bought melamine plates to use for our egg based dishes (we were forbidden from using the traditional stainless steel plates when eating anything with eggs as an ingredient!)

Shark Sandwiches at Maracas Bay
On Saturdays, Anna took us to Maracus Bay to swim while Amma, more often than not, relaxed at home, free of 4 active  young children.  After 3 hours of letting the waves propel us back to shore, when we were hungry, a large shark sandwich and fresh cool green coconut water, tasted like the best food in the world.

Chicken and Chickpea Roti
Every Sunday, Anna insisted we keep an ear cocked to hear the call of the Chicken Roti hawker-man. The hawker would pass by our home just before "Land of the Giants" aired on TV. We would each get a paper plate with Chicken Roti, wrapped in wax paper.  This was carried carefully to the cave made by the bent branches of the lemon tree in our garden, and wolfed down. The plates were thrown in the covered dustbin outside and our hands washed in the sink (again outside) before we were allowed back into the house.

Whenever we made our annual trip to India (a benefit of Anna working with the UN), we were warned not to share with our relatives that we ate non-vegetarian food. We were frightened with, " If you tell your grandparents that you eat non-vegetarian food, you will have to participate in a purification ceremony that involves drinking cow-piss!!"  That sure ensured we kept our mouths shut! 

Often, Anna would be asked at gatherings, how he, a Hindu, could eat beef.

 Anna's response? 

"The beef is not from Indian cows, so its fine." 

Great logic dad!! Great logic.

Amma threw away the "egg" pan some years after we all left home.

Anna is still a vegetarian tho' he may try non-vegetarian food if we insist.

Even tho' I have eaten all kinds of creatures that have died to provide me a meal, 
I still do not like the taste and texture  of  most non-vegetarian foods.