Each time we ask if he is ready to inhale steam he says that he wants to have a nap or that he will do it later. When we finally manage to get him under the 'towel tent' over a steaming pot of water, there are wails of “Ayyo-Amma” or “I am burning" or "This is called cruelty to father” or “Now I know what a boiled chicken feels like!”
Keeping my sense of humour takes real effort! I am running out of smart things to say. Just to give you an idea, here are some responses to his wails:
“Anna, your mother can’t hear you.” Really lame! I am latching onto the literal meaning of “Ayyo-Amma” other than the figurative call-out to a mother when a child is unwell or in pain.
“You feel sooo much better after inhaling steam. Why are you making a fuss?” As if feeling better makes a difference – it’s all about the here and now with him.
“Anna, you are acting like a child! What would you have said to us if the roles we reversed?” This is completely ignored by him. A few seconds of silence and then the lament starts up again.
“Anna, count to 30 and then we will stop.” This is a mean one. I know that when he counts he will forget some numbers, as his Dementia makes its presence felt, and I can take my time to prompt him.
“Anna, count backwards from 30 and then we will stop.” Even meaner, as I know that his Dementia will prevent him from being able to do so, and I will have to prompt him even more.
“Anna, your skin is glowing with all this steam and cream!” As if glowing skin has much value to this 87 year-old steamed chicken-man!
So after 60 days of this, he comes up with a gem!
His face glowing with steamed-sweat, he recounts a story of my mother.
“Remember how your Amma used to feel boiling hot in winter?”, he asks me. Of course, I remember. But why spoil his fun.
“Tell me the story Anna”, I ask.
Anna tells me the story, slurring and stumbling over words, and completely forgetting some. I fill in phrases and thoughts when they are lost. Here's the story.
One cold Delhi winter night, my mother tossed and turned so much that she woke up my father. When Anna asked her what the matter was, she said that she was boiling hot.
At first, Anna could not understand how she could be hot when he was cosy under a blanket and 3kg razai. She was under 2 blankets and a 3kg razai as she felt colder than Anna. We used to call Amma, “Thand-maru” i.e. someone who is perpetually cold / dying of cold.
Anna then asked her, “Sarala, what are you wearing?”
Amma responded with, “Just a woolen petticoat, saree, cots-wool blouse, knitted woolen blouse, 2 sweaters, a muffler, and 2 pairs of socks.”
Holding back his laughter, Anna meekly suggested that she may want to take off a sweater!! She did. And slept well the rest of the night.
Anna regaled us with the story the next morning. And multiple times every winter. My mother could never say she was feeling warm in winter, poor soul, for we would promptly ask her if she was boiling hot and how many woolen clothes she was wearing!!!