Friday, December 30, 2016

Singing Elephants (With A Cobra Thrown In!)

Dancing Elephant. Photo Courtesy:
After a long, mentally exhausting day working, I reach Anna's house just after 5pm. That's the normal time he wakes up after his early evening nap. He is still in bed but awake.

Me: Anna! You awake?!

Anna (Looking up at me with a bright face and big smile): Bandiya-amma? (Loosely translated from Kannada it means - "You have come").

Me (smiling back at him): Yes Anna.

Anna: When did you come from Salem?

Me (realizing he is thinking of someone else): I came from Delhi, Anna.

Singing Elephants (c) John Lund
Anna (still smiling): You missed the elephants singing.

Me (deciding to play along): Really? What were they singing?

Anna: They were singing so well! Melodious songs.

Me: Oh good! Where were they, Anna?

Anna (pointing to the roof and high up on the walls): Here in the room.

Me: That's nice.

Anna: They often come and sing for me.

Me: Really Anna? How often do they come and sing for you?

Anna: Every other day. Some days they come and some days they don't.

 Me: Anna, what do they sing?

Anna: Beautiful songs.
Photo Courtesy: Kurt Halsey

Me (by now I am also smiling): Anna, do they trumpet-sing or do they sing like us.

Anna: They sing like us. Beautiful songs. With music.

Me: That is so nice for you Anna.

Anna's eyes move away from me.

Anna (pointing to the corner of the ceiling diagonally opposite from him): Oh see! One of them is there looking at us.

Me (looking up to where he is pointing, looking for an elephant on the ceiling or wall): Yes Anna. Do you think he will sing again?

Anna: I don't know. He is just smiling at us. He is also happy.

Me: That's nice Anna. Pause. Do you want to get up and have coffee.

Anna: Yes.

At the sound of coffee, Anna perks up more - as if that is possible in his happy mood, caused by singing elephants in his room! We lift Anna off his bed and help him shuffle to the dining room.

Anna: I haven't seen the black king cobra for some time.

Me (confused with the move from elephants to cobras): What cobra Anna?

Anna: The one who comes and dances for us sometimes.

Me: Really Anna?

I look at Anna's attendant and housekeeper, confusion writ all over my face.  They nod.

Anna: Yes. Is it because it is raining?

Me: Anna, it is not raining.

Anna: I should ask the elephants why the cobra hasn't come.

Me: Yes Anna. Do that the next time they come to sing for you.

 Photo Courtesy:
Anna's coffee arrives. His bother has sent a big box of jaangiri, laddu and boondi for him and I open it to ask Anna what he wants to eat. Of course, he chooses the jaangiri! And eats it with glee. And forgets the elephants and cobra.

And I? I drink my coffee and feel completely relaxed.

Friday, December 23, 2016

One Foot Up And The Other Down

The evil eye has fallen on Anna - Anna को नज़र लग गया !! Go grab 3 red dry chilies, some rock salt, and mustard seeds. Close your fists and rotate your fists over Anna's imaginary head. The right fist clockwise and then the left fist, anti-clockwise. Repeat to complete three sets. Then burn the contents of both fists on a hot tawa!! Don't tell me if it smokes and stings your eyes or not! I will just assume it worked. 

But jokes apart, let me tell you why I say, "Anna को बुरी नज़र लग गया". Since August this year, I have been unable to take Anna out for coffee every weekend as I used to. Not because Anna or I don't want to. Its because he is lethargic or sleeping on weekends. So 2-3 weeks can pass before I manage to take him out. 

So this December, after a couple of weeks of trying to take Anna out, we finally manage to go to Saket Select Citywalk. I've been prepping him for days. Telling him about our planned coffee outing, reminding him of the cookies and muffins he likes. The attendant spends the morning telling Anna again and again that we are planning to go out. I know this may seem like a lot of planning and enthusiasm for a coffee outing, but it is a big thing.

Anna is bright and awake. We park at our usual place in the P1 handicapped parking area. I ask Anna if he will walk or does he want to be driven in "his BMW"? (Anna affectionately refers to his wheelchair as his BMW). Anna, says he will walk. We shuffle-stop-shuffle-stop-shuffle slowly into the mall. I chatter on about the sights, from the mundane (the trophy case) to the exotic (decorations). I am just trying to keep him involved (and awake).

Anna is very interested and curious. He notices everything. We stop after a few shuffling steps for him to catch his breath and converse. 
Saket Select Citywalk Atrium

Anna: What are those small windows?

Me (looking at the new google phone and tablet display in the atrium): Anna, those are not windows, those are phones on display.

Anna: Very large phones.

Me: Yes, Anna.

Anna: People can build muscles using the phone. Two benefits for the price of one.

What?? We shuffle some more.

Mahatma Gandhi with Manuben and Abha

Anna: This floor is so bright.

Me: Bright Anna? Pause. Yes, it is shining.

Anna: Bright and shining. Means the same thing when we talk about a floor.

Me: Yes Anna.

Anna: I have to be careful. Pause. I may slip.

Me (referring to me and Anna's attendant): Don't worry Anna, you are being supported by two people.

Anna (referring to Mahatma Gandhi and his grandnieces Abha and Manuben): How Gandhi-esque!

What??? I don't want to get into the controversy surrounding Gandhiji and his grandnieces, and hence encourage him to walk (shuffle) some more.

The Nursery Rhymes of England:
Obtained Principally from Oral Tradition
By James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps
Me: Anna, you are walking a lot today. Aren't you tired?

Anna: No. I can walk more.

Me (impressed by his stamina): What did you eat for breakfast today?

Anna is confused by this statement. 

Me: Anna, if you talk a lot, then people ask if you had alphabet soup for breakfast. So if you walk a lot, I ask what you ate for breakfast.

I think this is too convoluted for Anna. It is. He just quotes a poem he and his brothers were purportedly taught for an entire semester in junior school.

Me (not even thinking of the dichotomy of London Town referring to an US Company's brand!): That's right Anna. One foot up and the other down.  

By now we are nearing Starbucks. What a feat!!! For a man who walks barely 100m on any given day.

Me: Anna, can you see Starbucks?

Anna (tilting his head a bit): No. Where?

Me (pointing to Starbucks, which is just ahead): Anna, can't you see the green logo?

Anna decimates an oatmeal and raisin cookie at Starbucks

Anna (squinting a little): Hmm! It doesn't matter if I can see the logo. I can smell the coffee. That is most important.

It sure is!!

The smell of coffee propels him to Starbucks and a table (they still do not have tables that are wheelchair friendly). He sits with a loud sigh. And then goes on to demolish a oatmeal and raisin cookie after drinking a cappuccino.

Caregiving sure feels like endless days of "one foot up and the other foot down"!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

My Father, The Feminist

Diversity Dialogs' Logo
I continue to chat with my father on gender and gender diversity.

A little more background on my father, Anna. He was born into a family that was not well off, with 10 children (7 of them girls). His mother was a strong woman. As were many of his sisters. He saw and lived thru' the struggles of his mother and his sisters (and there were many). I think his perspective on equal rights for women came from some of those experiences.

Anna insisted that we all study what we want and for however long we want. That we ask questions. That we experience the different. And that we work and became financially independent. Tho' Amma, my mother did not work, Anna and Amma would always say to us, "Do whatever you want. Just ensure you earn enough to support yourself."

Here are some more snippets of our dialogs.

Snippet 4 - The right to worship

Anna and I watch the news of women entering Haji Ali after 5 years.

Anna: What is happening?

Me: Anna for many years, women have been fighting legal battles and protesting to get equal access to places of worship. Like to Sabarimala, Haji Ali, Shani Shingnapur.

Anna: Why?

Me: Anna, women believe that they have as much right to worship their Gods as men do. And that religious institutions can not restrict them based on gender.

Anna: But every religion has the right to manage its religious affairs.  How did this change? Was it the court?

Me: Anna, I understand that the Dargah Trustees listened to the Supreme Court and made provisions to enable women and men to worship at Haji Ali.

Anna: It is a good start. I hope that other religions and shrines learn from this and make worship equal for all.

Snippet 5 - The Treatment of Widows

A child widow. From the movie "Water"
Anna: Only in Hinduism do we uglify our widows.

I am sure there is no such word as "uglify" in the English language, but I let it pass. I am sure that the conversation will be more interesting than correct English.

Me: Anna, why do you think that widows are treated so badly?

Anna: It was a way to subdue widows. Their heads were shaved. They were made to wear drab white. They were starved. Kept hidden away from people. All this was to make sure that no one would find her attractive and marry her. It was a way to keep wealth and property in the family.

Long Pause.

Anna: How could we forget that she was a daughter and sister first, and then a wife and mother. Treating your daughter, sister, or mother so badly is against humanity.

Long Pause.

Anna: Relationships are more important that state of a person.

Snippet 6 - One Child Can Make A Change 

My maternal grandfather, PR Krishnarao
Me: Anna, you remember the story about Daddy and his mother?

Daddy was what we called our maternal grandfather.

Anna nods his head. I get the feeling that recalling the story is too much of a strain for him.  So I retell him the story.

Anna, remember Daddy lost his father when he was very young. He was brought up by his widowed mother in his uncle's house. Daddy was sent to a nearby school to study.

When he was 8 or so, he had his first "exam". Being a studious boy, Daddy studied hard for his first examination test.

On the day of the exam, as he was leaving the house, Daddy looked everywhere for his mother. He wanted to see her face and get her blessings, but she was nowhere to be found. Finally, he heard her sobbing behind a locked door. When he asked her to come out so that he could see her face before he went for his exam, Daddy was told by his uncle that he could not see his mother. After all Daddy's first real exam was an auspicious occasion and it could not be cursed by even the shadow of a widow. His mother was considered the widow who had brought bad luck to the family and hence she would bring Daddy bad luck.

However, that 8 year old boy did not listen to the "curse of the widow". Stubbornly he told his uncle that he would not go to school for his exam if he could not see his mother's face and get her blessings. Threats were made, doomsday tales of perpetual ill luck were told but Daddy would not be swayed. He sat outside the locked door and would not budge. Till finally his uncle relented and opened the door. Daddy saw his widowed mother's face, asked for her blessings, and ran all the way to school, reaching just in time for the test. And he did extremely well.

As the story goes, after that day, no one in the house could ever claim that his widowed mother was the harbinger of bad luck.

Anna is slowly nodding his head as I recount this story and smiling a little. He has probably heard this story a thousand times.

Anna: See, even an 8 year old child can cause change. That is what we need. One child, one change, one family at time.

.... Watch this space for more snippets as our dialoging continues