Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Staccato Saree Conversation

Staccato Marks
Photo Courtesy: www.
My conversations with my father have changed. Changed in content and context. Changed in tone and tenor. Mostly, ebbing away with no warning. Our conversations have been impacted by the degradation of Anna's physical and mental abilities. His speech mimics his shuffle-walk of fits and starts, leading to conversations in short bursts. A meaningful conversation can take hours or days. I call these "staccato conversations".

Here is a conversation I had on Monday.

I get to Anna's place after spending a day Ubering from one end of Gurgaon to the other in 37°C temperature. I find Anna sitting on a single-seat sofa sipping tea from a cup held to his mouth by his attendant (nowadays Anna is finding it hard to pick up a mug). On a plate in front of him is a half eaten  kodubale (lovingly made by my first cousin and sent specially for him).

I ask him how he is and get a one word response, "Fine". I try starting conversations by asking if he had a good nap, or dreamed anything interesting, or what he had for breakfast. Nothing really works. At best, I get a one-word answer and at worst, none. This is not a conversation!

In an attempt to start-up a conversation, I decide to tell him about my saree. But first let me give you a little context. For many years, I haven't bought new clothes unless I have given away / retired something similar. I am proud that I have often not replaced old clothes, shrinking my wardrobe. Earlier this year when I went to Jaipur, I had just given away 4 sarees and so did not feel guilty buying a couple more. Printed cotton sarees. One of which I was wearing on Monday.

In an attempt to get Anna to talk with me a little, I get up and stand in his direct-line-of-sight and model my saree.

The saree I modeled for Anna
Me: Anna, do you like my saree?

No answer, so I wait for a bit and repeat the question.

I continue to wait and twirl around.

Me: Anna, do you like my saree?

Anna: Yes

Me: Anna, do you know how much I paid for this saree?

No answer, so I wait for a bit.

Me (feeling proud): Anna, I paid less than Rs. 500/- for this saree.

No reaction.

Me (holding the pallu out so that he can see the design and colors): Anna, isn't this saree pretty? Red and ocher on beige?

Anna (smiling a little): It's nice 

Me: Anna, I bought this saree when I went to Jaipur earlier this year.

He does not recollect my trip to Jaipur and hence there is no response.

Me: Anna, you remember I went to Jaipur in January this year?

There is no memory, no reaction.

Me: Anna, do you know - this is the first saree I have bought in 3 years.

No response.

Me (exaggerating my frugality to see if I can get a response): Anna, I haven't bought anything new in 7 years!

Photo Courtesy: BIGLAWNewsLine!
Long Pause.

Anna (face changing from bored to incredulous): You really think I would believe that?

Bam! A bullet shoots out of Anna's brain! Straight and sure.

Me: Of course, Anna! It's true!! 

Anna (looking at me as if I just told him that unicorns are real!): I haven't seen you repeat a saree in the 2 years I have been here.

Not true. I don't have that many sarees and do repeat them often. And he has been in Delhi with me for nearly 3 years, but I am not going to correct him. I want to have a conversation.

Me: Anna, the second saree is like this one. 

No reaction.

Me: It is prettier, and green and ocher in color.

Still no reaction.

I see his eyes glaze over and know his brain is fogging up. His eyes close slowly and he falls asleep sitting up on his sofa chair.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Little Boy

Anna fast asleep in front of the TV

Anna is slowing down. He is sleeping more and walking less. Most days when I go to his apartment in the morning (before work) and in the evening (after work), I am never sure if he is going to be awake or asleep. A couple of weeks ago, I reached his apartment at 7am after my morning walk. My signature double-tap doorbell ring normally announces to Anna that I have arrived, so I am not surprised to see his eyes are open when I lean over his bed.

Me: Anna? Are you awake?

Anna (looking at me, but not really looking at me): mumble...gurgle....mumble

Me: Good morning!

Anna (still just looking straight at me without seeing me): mumble...mumble....mumble

Me: Anna, I can't understand you. Wait a minute. Let's get you up so that you can drink some hot water.

We lift Anna so that he is sitting up in bed and he drinks a full glass of hot water.

Me: Anna, did you sleep well?
Anna says something to me in Tamil. I don't understand.

Me: Anna, I can't understand Tamil. Say it in Kannada.
Anna continues to talk in Tamil. I understand only a few words. Something about boys and playing and football and thirst.

Me: Anna, what happened? Tell me in English.
Anna (in a complaining whiny voice): He hit me!

I am instantly worried.  It is almost a physical reaction. I have always feared that I would be unable to prevent Anna from getting hurt or worse still not even know about it, as I am not physically present in his flat all the time.

Me (concerned): Who hit you, Anna?
Anna (still looking at me, straight through me): He did.

Me (thinking it is best to wake him up with coffee to get a more cogent response): Anna, do you want to get up and have coffee and tell me about it?
Anna (in a voice that should be accompanied with a pout): I don't want coffee. I want milk.

Whoa! My father does not want coffee? Now that's a first! I am really surprised.

Tairas (his housekeeper) gets him a warm glass of milk with Ensure. I hold the glass to his lips for him to drink and he gulps it down thirstily.

Me (after he finishes): Anna, you sure liked the milk. You were telling me about getting hit. What happened?
Anna (singing): Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you!

Me: (laughing): Whose birthday is it Anna?
Anna: mumble....mumble. His eyes start to close.

I tuck Anna back into bed and wait till he closes his eyes. I finish the chores in the house and walk home letting the morning's events run thru my mind.

Half way home I realize that I don't hear Anna's voice. I hear a little boy's voice. Maybe the little boy he was.