Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Dangers of Airport Shopping

20 Apr 2017:
Anna doing a great impression of Gautama Buddha
Saturday night was a bad night for Anna. He was agitated all night. Trying to get up off the bed by himself. Insisting on walking (shuffling) around the house. Speaking in English. Looking for something or someone. He finally went to sleep at around 4am. I was a little surprised to hear this, for Anna has been sitting with his eyes closed, whole body relaxed, doing a fabulous impersonation of Gautama Buddha.

On Sunday, Anna builds up enthusiasm to go to the mall for coffee and cake. I keep asking him about his dream, to determine why he was agitated. He just tells me that he does not remember.

23 Apr 2017: Anna & Manish
After our mandatory stop at Starbucks, he is wheeled around the mall while I shop. His attendant, Manish, takes a rest stop in front of a camel covered in flowers. Both Anna and Manish find it interesting.

Then on the way home, we have this conversation:

Anna: Were those real flowers on the camel?
Me: Yes Anna. I think so.

Anna: It must have been very expensive.
Me: Probably.

Anna: Last night I had a bad dream.
Me (suddenly realizing that he, now, remembers his dream): Really? What happened in your dream?

Anna: I bought a shirt. It was really expensive.
Me (not understanding how buying a shirt can be a bad dream): Where did you buy the shirt, Anna?

Anna: At the airport.
Me: What were you doing at the airport?

23 Apr 2017: The marigold covered camel
Anna: Going to a wedding.
Ah! Now I understand. There is a definite connection between a marigold decked camel and a wedding.

This conversation goes on the entire journey home - about 40 mins. All in question answer mode.

Anna recounts his dream (hallucination) with a little encouragement from me, like asking "And then what happened?", or "Really?", or simply saying, "Go on".

Here is the hallucination, using most of his original words.

23 Apr 2017:
Anna in front of the marigold camel
Anna is at an airport. He decides to buy a shirt for a wedding. He chooses the older "model" as the latest "model" is very expensive. He unpacks and wears the shirt and then goes to pay for it. It is then that he realizes that he has no "paper money" and no "plastic money" to pay for it. The cashier tells Anna that they will have to detain him overnight while he arranges for money to pay for it.

Anna searches his belongings and finds that he does not have any papers. He also does not remember our names, addresses, or numbers. He is panicking and the cashier keeps taunting Anna saying that all thieves pretend to have lost money and papers, and then claim not to remember their identity.

With superhuman effort, Anna taxes his brain. He remembers his "valet's" name, Manish. The cashier looks up Manish's contact details on the "address-0-gram" and calls Manish to bring money to the airport. Manish says he will take 1hr 56mins precisely and he does.

At the end of this tale, I ask Anna if he is feeling calm now. He says "Of, course! It was just a dream".

I decide not to tell him that he hallucinated the whole airport shopping event last night and was agitated. He says that the worst part of his "dream" was the embarrassment of being called a thief and being threatened with detention. The dream is over. He is calm now, and that is all that matters to us.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Uppittu Episodes

What a hectic few weeks it has been! It started with Anna's household helper going to Ranchi, to arrange his sister's wedding. At first he said he would be gone for a month, which became two months, and now is "will not be returning, please find someone else."

Anna's former household help is from a village near Ranchi, Jharkhand

It is hard to run Anna's home without household help, so we looked for respite homes. Some where he can be taken care of for a month or so. A place where I can go visit him twice a day, so that he does not feel lonely or abandoned. And lo and behold! I found one. Yes, only one!!

Ultimately we decided to keep him at home and divide the chores among us. While the hunt for a reliable housekeeper goes on (with no luck as yet), we are becoming more and more exhausted by the day.

Early in this new arrangement, I made idli uppittu (upma) and oats uppittu (upma) and stored it in Anna's fridge so that breakfast was easy to cater. One evening the attendant tells me that Anna ate a whole bowl of uppittu. That's a lot. Anna's appetite has shrunk (as has his body) over the last few months.
Oats Uppittu. Photo Courtesy: Sanjiv Kapoor

Me: Anna, I heard you liked the oats upma!
Anna: Yes. Was it oats? Really?

Me: Yes, Anna. It was oats. As in Quaker oats.
Anna: It was good.

Me (fishing for a compliment): Of course! Who do you think made it?
Anna (smiling and knowing exactly what I want to hear): You must have!! Pause. You make uppittu like your mother.

Now that is a real compliment! I love compliments! Even if I have to extract them, by force, from my father.
Idli Uppittu. Photo Courtesy: Sanjiv Kapoor

Me: Anna, do you remember the story of Amma and how she made uppittu the first time?
Anna's smile becomes wider.

Me: Anna, can you tell me the story?
Anna nods. Opens his mouth to start the story. Then he closes his eyes.
Anna (whispering): You tell it.

And so I do. 

But let me give you some context.

When Amma and Anna got married, Anna knew how to cook (kindof) and Amma didn't really. She learned as much as she could after the wedding was agreed to by both families, and for some reason, didn't write the recipes, but memorized them.

One of the first things she set out to make was uppittu for breakfast. Amma was in the kitchen for half an hour, while Anna waited patiently. Finally, Anna went to the kitchen to see what was taking so long. He found Amma looking perplexed, counting ingredients off her fingers.

Anna asked Amma what was wrong. Amma told him that she remembered that uppittu had 10 ingredients but she couldn't remember the 10th. She rattled the 9 ingredients she remembered - rai, hing, urad dal, channa dal, kadipatta, green chilly, ginger, salt, curd/buttermilk.
The 9 ingredients for uppittu that Amma remembered

Anna then asked her, very quietly he claims, whether the 10th ingredient was sooji! (That's like asking if the missing ingredient in butter chicken is chicken!)

Every time my parents told us this story they would chuckle at the memory. When we were learning to cook, if we ever said that the dish was missing something, Anna would tease us by asking if it was the main ingredient, aka sooji, and we would respond with an "Uff-ho! Annnaaaa!"

Now when I retell the story, I just see a millimeter shift of his lips telling me that he is smiling. But his eyes stay closed. And soon he is breathing deeply, mouth open, fast asleep!

Friday, April 7, 2017

The Importance of Our National Anthem

April 2016: Anna could pick up
a ceramic cup full of coffee and
open the lid of a water bottle.

Now, most days, he can't. 
A few weeks ago, I walked into Anna's house to find a sleepy Anna sitting at the dining table, a hot cup of coffee in front of him, his hands trapped under the table (nowadays, Anna can't seem to work out how to move his hands sideways and up from under the table).

Me: Anna, do you want to drink your coffee?
Anna gives a slight nod of his head.

Me (helping him move his hands sideways and up): Anna, can you hold the cup to drink your coffee?
There is another slight nod but no move to hold the coffee cup.

I bend the index finger of his right hand and curl it around the handle of the cup. That physical cue is enough for the rest of his hand to curl. He lifts the cup. The cup rises a couple of centimeters off the table and is dangerously tilted. He has little strength in his wrist and hand. 

Me (moving his left hand to hold the side opposite the handle): Anna, lift the cup with both your hands.

Anna tries but can't. The alternative is for me to lift the cup to his lips to let him sip his coffee. I've got to be really careful, as the coffee is hot and if I tilt the cup too much, he could burn his lips.

I ask the attendant, Sudama, if Anna had a comfortable night. Sudama tells me that Anna was fine till about 2 am in the  morning. Then he suddenly turned on this back, straightened his legs and spine (almost lying in attention) and sang the Indian National Anthem. Really! The whole national anthem!

Sudama tells me that Anna sang the anthem well. The words were all correct and the tune perfect. I find that hard to believe. Anna is tone-deaf. His Hindi is passable (i.e. it's just about good enough for him to have passed the Government mandated Hindi exam for Central Government jobs in the '50s / '60s).

Over the next week I try to find out what Anna was dreaming of when he sang the National Anthem in the middle of the night. Anna does not recall anything. There is not even a glimmer of a memory. So I try to ferret it out over multiple conversations.

Me: Anna, did you remember the National Anthem from when you sang it?
Anna does not respond.

Me: Anna, did you sing the National Anthem in school?
Anna: Yes.

Really? It can't possibly be. Anna was born in 1928. At Independence in 1947, he would have been 19 years old. From what I remember the anthem was adopted in 1950 when Anna was in college.

Me: Anna, did you sing the anthem in college and not when you were in school?
Anna: Yes.

Me: Anna, we had assembly only in school and not when were in college.
There is no reaction from Anna.

Me: Maybe we should have had assembly in college, Anna.
Still no reaction.

Me: (deciding to go back to familiar territory that had him talking): Anna, didn't you say prayers at assembly? We all said prayers at school assembly. We didn't sing the National Anthem.
Anna: As soon as the National Anthem was declared, we sang the anthem instead of prayers.

Me (surprised): Really Anna? We didn't sing the anthem instead of prayers when we were in school.
Anna: You should have.

Me: Why Anna?
Anna: Because the National Anthem is more important than prayers.