Friday, September 30, 2016

Anna's Reaction To The Surgical Strikes In PoK

The last few weeks have been more challenging than usual.

Then yesterday's surgical strikes in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) shows me a glimmer of my father that I haven't seen in some time.

Anna has been slowly recovering from his 20-day hospital stay. His stamina and humour have not returned to what they were earlier. Incidences of disorientation and hallucinations have increased. As has his slurring and inability to find the right word for things he wants to express.

Then there has been my illness. The hip and leg aches that woke me up in pain in the middle of the night for months, is diagnosed as urinary tract infection (UTI). I have been on medication for over a month now. Most common and effective medications didn't work to reduce the infection, and I ended up being allergic to the medications that did work! Today is day 7 of a 10-day regimen of twice daily shots of Amikacin 500mg. And we are not sure if Amikacin will work either.

When I meet Anna in the evening (after my painful evening shot of Amikacin), I find him looking blankly at the TV as NDTV re-plays the news on the surgical strikes on terrorist launchpads in PoK.

Me: Anna, did you follow the news on the Indian Army's strikes in PoK?

Anna (looking at me, confused and worried): We are at war with Pakistan?

Me: No-No, Anna! We are not in a full-scale war with Pakistan.  

I snap my fingers to get him to focus. And then point to the TV. Look at the TV, Anna.
I pause while he focuses his eyes on the screen. See the Indian Army conducted surgical strikes against terrorist launchpads in PoK, early this morning. It was very successful.

He watches the news for 10 mins, mildly interested. And then falls asleep.
I do some household chores and then wake him.

Me: Anna! Anna!!
I am greeted with a beaming smile

Anna (making a victory sign with his hand): Congratulations!

Me (confused): Congratulations for what, Anna?

Anna: We won the war!

Me (huh?): What war Anna?

Anna (excited): We won World War II !! 

I am still absorbing this when he says, So how are we celebrating? Let's have champagne.

Me: Anna, you can't drink champagne.

Anna: We should celebrate with something.  Pause. Champagne or coffee.

Only my father can equate champagne with coffee!

I then spend many minutes explaining the surgical strikes, restating slowly what has been playing continuously all day on TV.  This time he seems to understand.

Anna: It's good that we are in Bangalore

Me: Why, Anna?

Anna: Pakistan's nuclear warheads can't reach Bangalore.

Me: But Anna, we are in Delhi.

As soon as the sentence leaves my mouth, I Gibbsslap* myself!

Anna (now worried): Pakistan will fire a nuclear weapon at us!

Me: No-No Anna. They won't. It is easier to say that, than to actually fire a nuclear weapon.

Anna: All they have to do is load a 747 with nuclear warheads and bomb Delhi.

Me (not sure it is so easy to load nuclear warheads onto a plane): No Anna. I bet the other nuclear powers are already talking to Pakistan to prevent the use of (nuclear) weapons.

Anna (really worried): They are saying that they will use nuclear weapons!

Me: Anna, that is only sabre-rattling by the Pakistanis. They won't really use nuclear weapons. 

This goes on for some time. I tell him, with a great amount of assumed authority in my voice and tone, that the US, Russia, China, and France are all talking with Pakistan to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. For some reason, he believes me.

I know he has calmed down when he tells me that he wants to sleep. And does. In the blink of an eye. The threat of nuclear war put to rest.

* Gibbsslap - a term used to describe NCIS Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs slapping the members of his team on the back of the head if they're getting off topic or if they're just acting like idiots in general. Watch the video.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Cauvery Water Agitation

12 Sept 2016: NDTV's coverage of the Cauvery Agitation

I walk into the drawing room and see Anna concentrating on NDTV News. He is frowning as he concentrates to hear and read the news simultaneously.

Anna: Sangeeta, a plane crashed and is burning.

Me (confused): What plane Anna?

Anna: There is a massive plane burning.

Me (looking at news playing out on TV): No Anna. That is not a plane. That is buses burning.

Then I spend many minutes explaining (once again!) that people are agitating over the release of Cauvery water to Tamilnadu. Finally, I have to point out the 5-6 burning buses on the screen for him to understand that it is not a plane.

We have been talking about the Cauvery water agitation for some days. But he forgets for long hours of sleep are interspersed by our chats. Not to forget the days that pass by. Our conversations have covered the history of the agitation and even my maternal grandfather's detailed proposal to solve India's dependence on the monsoon for growing crops.

PR Krishnarao (1909-1985)
My maternal grandfather
My earliest memory of the importance of water for agriculture was in conversations with my maternal grandfather, PR Krishnarao, who retired (1965) as Director General of the India Meteorological Department. Pride of place in his home office used to be 3-4 hard bound A2-size books of his proposal and detailed plan to tap and distribute rain and river water across the country. The plan was to use a system of canals and dams to bring water to the remotest of places, to make land arable and fertile throughout the year. This was way back in the late 50s / early 60s. The proposal and detailed plan was rejected as the powers-that-were felt it would take too long to construct these canals. That was over 50 years ago. And the country is still struggling with uneven water distribution, still dependent on the monsoon for adequate water.

Me: Anna, hasn't the Cauvery dispute been going on for ages?

Anna: Yes, since 1892.

The Cauvery River
I check that fact later and he is right. The Agreement of 1892, allowed the Princely State of Mysore to "proceed with irrigation works" while giving the Principality of Madras "practical security against injury to interests."

Me: Anna, do you think there is a solution to the problem of sharing the Cauvery water?

Anna: There is a solution. People (i.e. politicians) don't want to solve it. If they do then there will be nothing they can use to distract people's focus at will.

Very insightful, dad!

Me (after we watch news clips of people vandalising buses and trucks): Anna, see how goons in "your Karnataka" are destroying public property?

Anna: Not "my Karnataka". Remember I am half Tamil and half Kannada.

Me (amused that he is sitting on the fence): Anna, so how will you decide which half you want to be on this situation.

Anna (giving me a sideways glance): I will choose to be on the side that wins!

Smart man! 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What Caregivers Don't Want To Hear

May 2015: Anna (in yellow),
with his brother K V Krishnamurthy (right),
and his housekeeper and attendant 
As my father's primary caregiver I have been at the receiving end of what I assume, is well-meaning and well-intentioned advice, comments, suggestions, sympathy, etc. Conversations with other caregivers tells me that there are common threads and themes. Here are some comments that caregivers wish they had not heard.

1.  "Caregiving must be so rewarding"
Most family-designated caregivers, like me, will tell you that caregiving sucks most of the time. It is tiring. It consumes me. It is draining. It is exhausting. I have to watch while my parent withers away. That is not a reward.

2. "Caregiving is easy in India. You have servants. It won't take much effort"
I won't presume to know how difficult or easy it is in countries other than India, so why do you? If you think corporate life is VUCA then you have not managed household help, attendants, service providers in India. It is the most VUCA world you will encounter. Employing people to help with caregiving does not solve it.

3. "It's easier for you to be a caregiver, you don't have children"
Caregiving is not easy. With or without children of your own. Just because I don't have children doesn't mean that I am sitting on my hands or twiddling my thumbs. I don't comment on your personal life or choices so why should you presume it is OK for you to comment on mine?

Caregiving - What You See
Is The Tip Of The Iceberg
4. "I've done it too"
Yes, you have. And maybe better than me. But can you not lord it over me? Also, your experience and mine can and will be different. Our parents' illnesses are different. I am different. Can you give me some credit for being the primary caregiver of 3 elderly people and running 2 homes?

5. "Pray - it will get better." / "Have faith" 
If you are my friend, you know that I am an atheist. Why would you ask me to pray? I do not believe that faith will cure a degenerative disease or prevent suffering. My father is not going to get better. I would rather you say, because you have strong faith, "I will pray for you and your father, Sangeeta." It tells me that you are thinking of us. That you care. That your faith helps you.

6.  "Your dad recovered because I prayed / chanted for him"
I understand that you have strong faith, but do also credit his fighting spirit, the skill and care of his medical staff and our family support system.

7.  "You are blessed / you are getting blessings"
I find it hard to understand what these nebulous blessings are. Can you articulate them for me? For me a blessing is an easier life (and a painless death) for my father. And for me, the ability to do meaningful work, travel the world on vacations, read books. None of these are happening.
Helping Hands - Building Trees of Hope Project
8. "Tell me if I can do anything to help you"
I know you mean well, but tell me what can you help me with? Buy groceries? Do hospital stays? Fill pill boxes? Cajole the ill to eat? Help me understand what you can help me with. I don't ask for help because you haven't invested the time to build a relationship with my father, or I think you have too much to do already. Friends who bring Anna treats or who pull me out for a movie or meal are the ones who really help.

9. "Here's an article on Parkinson's / Dementia. Maybe it will help you with your father"
Thanks. Most of what I get are interesting. But ever so often, I will get articles on things that are still in concept stage and hence not applicable to my father's situation, and I wonder if the person read it at all. Also, reading it makes me happy (about medical focus & progress) and sad (that it is too late for my father).

10. "Don't you have a brother?"
Even the most educated person will ask me this. And it pisses me off. So what if I have a brother. I am a daughter, and the caregiver. Why is it so surprising that I take care of my father?  Your question tells me that you have an unconscious bias. You don't think anything amiss when I look after my in-laws, but find it odd / surprising that I look after my father?  

11. "You don't want to hear about my problems. You have so many of your own"
No. That is not true. I want to hear about your problems. I want to be there to support and help you in any way I can. You are my friend. Your problems help me forget mine. They tell me that I am not alone. They bring my coaching brain and solutioning mind to the forefront.

12. "Lets not talk about our vacation. It'll only make you jealous"
Do you really think I am so shallow? Let's please talk about your vacation. Let me hear about the places and experiences you have had. Let me live it vicariously. It's definitely better than what I have been doing or can imagine doing in the near future.

13. "We stopped calling you to go out. You are never ready to meet-up"
What's left unsaid is "at the drop of a hat!" I am no longer the spontaneous person I was. I cannot drop everything and head out to meet friends at a couple of hours' notice. There are so many moving parts that I need to plan for and arrange, before I go out. As friends that I miss meeting, can you please plan at least 24 hours in advance. I do want to meet up with y'all.

14. "Lets meet in Gurgaon"
There are other places that we can meet that are convenient for you and me. I can't understand why people who live in Gurgaon don't want to travel to Delhi to meet up, but expect me to trudge to Gurgaon. Gurgaon is not the center of the universe. Can you please travel a wee bit to meet me half way?
15.  "You never call" / "You have become unsocial"
All my life I have been the person to call people to chat. To stay in touch. And now, when I am occupied, I am asked why I don't call them anymore. Huh? Friendship is a two-way street, buddy. Call me when you want to chat. Or call me because you want to hear my voice or react to something I have written. Make the effort. I am worth it.

16. "I don't know how you do it"
I don't either. I just do what has to be done. Early in the caregiving journey, I realised that I could not do everything perfectly all the time. So there are a number of things that fall thru the cracks. I let them. The critical things get done and so there is the illusion that everything is shipshape.

And finally, dear fellow caregiver or caregiver's friend, if there are other comments that we should add to this list, I'd love to hear from you.

----- Coming soon: What Caregivers Would Love To Hear

Friday, September 2, 2016

On Dancing to Rock 'n Roll and Pop

Our radio looked exactly like this!
Music came into our home, as the song goes, "On The Radio". The radio had pride of place in the kitchen where my mother would listen to Bollywood songs. Songs that brought a slice of magic into her life.

We heard non-Bollywood music only when my elder sister would steal the radio to listen to "American Top 40" every week.

Not to mention the oh-too-brief life of another radio that lasted less than a day, perishing gallantly to scientific experimentation. My younger sister, Mamta, not yet 5 years old, won a radio in a lottery. We were thrilled. Amma's radio no longer had to be whacked. We were radio independent! On our insistence, Anna put in the batteries, and tuned the radio immediately. A few hours later, the radio was  destroyed. Mamta, wanting to know if music can be heard under water, had filled the bathtub with water, and submerged herself and the radio!

I must have been 7 or 8 years old when Anna bought a gramophone player and some LPs. I graduated to listening to Mozart and Beethoven. I learned to use the player by myself and often Anna would come home to find me staring out of the window listening to music, in a world of my own.

Spool player, cassette player, walkman, CD player, discman and iPod have all found places of honor in my life. They are my safe haven, escape route, chill time. My space creators. I can spend hours listening to my iPod, visualizing myself dancing to the songs I hear. Not that I can do any of the dance moves that my imagination conjures up, but I don't care, I am in my personal world of dance excellence.

I learned to dance when I was 11 years old. We were invited to a "dance party" at our friends' place. Not knowing what a dance party really was, my brother went and got as many details as he could. He came back with what was touted as a surefire way to show that we were great dancers. It went like this, "pretend to rub your back with a towel while stubbing a cigarette with your toe. Do this to the beat of the music. Change the direction of back rubbing and the foot cigarette-stubbing at will."

So we practiced in the living room to the music of the Beatles and Paul Simon LPs that my aunt had brought us as gifts. One afternoon, before this famous "dance party", the 3 elder siblings were vigorously practicing "drying our backs with towels and stubbing cigarettes with our toes" when Anna came home. We didn't see him for we were concentrating on "back rubbing and cigarette stubbing". It was only at dinner we realised that Anna had seen us practicing when he asked us, "Why were you three pretending to have epileptic fits with music playing so loud?"

Shaking a leg at Studio 54
We explained to him that this was called dancing! And that it was done in sync with music that was called rock 'n roll or pop. Anna could not fathom how such uncoordinated movements could be termed as a dance and such loud sounds could be called music. We just told him that he was too old to understand. After all, the man was in his 40s!

For years, when we were going out to a "dance party" (of course, only after Amma gave us permission and set our curfew time), he would ask, "Are you going to one of those party's where everyone pretends to have an epileptic fit?" We'd roll our eyes at this and say yes.

Finally, unable to change his view of dancing to rock 'n roll and pop, we gave in and just told him, "Anna, this Friday night we are going out for an epileptic fit party".

He understood perfectly. And we danced at many, many parties.