26 January 2020

The face says it all

After visiting my parents for six hours, it is time for me to get back to Kolkata where my brother in law and my nephew are waiting for me. A few hours of sleep and then I will be taking a road trip for four hours to see my mother in law. Couple of hours in Durgapur and then three more hours on the road and I will be back at my parents’. (BTW, I just realized that I spend more time on the road than with the people I try to visit).

In spite of knowing that I will be back the next day, he insisted on coming down again and seeing me off.

The face says it all!!

26 January 2020

Who knew?

After bringing dad back home from his trip around the neighborhood, I had a cup of tea with “DN”. Dad was fast asleep from the exhaustion.

As a background, DN and I go back nearly 23 years. Back in the late nineties, I used to come often to India for work in Bangalore. During the weekends, I used to drop by in Kolkata and stay at the Taj Bengal hotel. My parents used to come from Durgapur and I would spend the weekend with them.

DN was the driver once Taj had assigned to me to take me somewhere in Kolkata – perhaps my brother’s residence. I got to chat with him and made friends with him (Yes, Natasha and Nikita, I was always like this – making friends with strangers). Over time, DN became a necessity for me because he knew how to go to all my relatives’ places and if I got a new driver, I would have to call my relatives and go thru those instructions again. Taj Bengal went into a practice of specifically assigning him to me whenever I came.

Over the last quarter century, DN – whose actual name is Deo Narayan – and I have become fast friends. He is always there to help out my parents or my brother’s family whenever they need something. Over the years, we have been privileged to financially help his family get to a better spot. Sharmila has picked up the tab whenever his daughters get married – of which he has still 3 more to go!! (There is a funny story I will tell you later about my dad yelling at him once for not stopping after having 5 kids – he has 6)

We are family now! For all that, there was a story on his side that I had no idea about!!

Like I said, dad was asleep, exhausted. Mom had made some tea for me and DN. We were talking about what my dad did (going down to the street by himself) and I mentioned to mom that we can get him one of those motorized wheelchairs. That way he will feel more in control of himself and he can go for strolls by himself.

DN mentioned that he had seen one of those motorized wheelchairs some twenty years back.

“In India? Are you sure?”

I was pretty intrigued that there were motorized wheelchairs in Kolkata twenty years back. Surely I would have seen one of them at some point of time.

Turns out it was actually a foreigner who had brought his wheelchair with him. Apparently, the gentleman brought not only his wheelchair but also a retinue of helpers with him. DN was assigned the duty to take care of his and his team’s transit. He had to drive a big vehicle for him.

He went on to explain that the gentleman was physically disabled from birth. It was not like a case of accident or stroke like my dad. Apparently, his legs did not work, his arms did not work and his face was crooked. DN struggled to even remember if he could talk much.

I was not sure what to make of it when he said “Suney the ki bahut bara scientist hai woh”. (Allegedly, he was a very big scientist!”

You are probably thinking what I am thinking. Really? HE? He was in Kolkata? And DN did his duty?

I fished out my phone and Googled “Stephen Hawking” and showed DN an image of his.

“Yeh kaun hai?” (Who is this?”)
“Arrey, yehi to woh hai, sir!” (He recognized his old customer!)

Then he told me the story how he (or rather his team) did not tip him at the end of day. Apparently, the other drivers were getting tipped daily. And get this… DN had rationalized this in his own mind as he was helping a person in great need physically. This was not about money.

On the final day, apparently, after the airport drop off. he was given an envelope with cash. Which amounted to two whole months of salary for him!

That is the Stephen Hawking story he remembers!!

By the way, I was still incredulous. So, I Googled “Stephen Hawking visits India”. Sure enough, he had visited India in Jan 2001 for a few weeks and Kolkata was one of his stops!!

Who knew that my driver was Stephen Hawking’s driver too? I am feeling a little more intelligent right about now!!

26 January 2020

Epilogue to the previous story

We were able to walk a few more feet and settle down on a culvert in our neighborhood. By this time, he was running short of breath already. We chatted for half an hour and then I ran back home with his walker and got the wheelchair back.

Then we went for a ride/walk in the neighborhood.

All’s well that ends well.

26 January 2020

There was panic in the neighborhood!

After lunch yesterday, I asked my sister if she wanted to go out for a walk. I needed some exercise myself and I know my sister loves walking as an exercise. In fact, she goes for a long, brisk walk every morning.

“Can we take the route I take every morning? I need to measure the distance. Can you use your watch to find out?”

“Sure thing!” We waited for dad to snooze off and then we headed out.

Turns out, she walks a little shy of 5 miles every day (7.5 km to be precise). It took us 1 hour 14 minutes. When we came back, instead of going up to my dad’s place, we went to my sister’s place (which is literally downstairs one floor in the same building). First, I did not want to wake up dad. I was going to take him out for a ride on his wheelchair later in the day. Plus, my brother in law had come back from his work. Figured will go chat with him for some time.

About forty five minutes later, a neighborhood girl came storming into my sister’s house and started screaming something very excitedly. After we calmed her down, we figured out that the whole neighborhood is in panic mode. My dad, apparently is out on the streets by himself.

Now you have to understand that my dad can barely get up to go to the bathroom. For him to be in the streets is fairly unbelievable. Plus who was pushing the wheelchair? All these questions were swirling in my mind when my brother in law raised the curtain in one of the windows and there you could see him – in clear eyesight – standing at the street corner looking left and then looking right – with his walker in his hand.

That is a very dangerous sight. He can barely hear. He was bound to get hit by passing traffic. Without even bothering to call the elevator, I ran down four floors and in about a minute was with him.

Trying my best to keep my calm, I asked whim hat did he think he was doing there. Completely ignoring me, he demanded to know what took me so long?

Finally, I put the picture together. Looks like he had woken up – perhaps right after my sister and I left and my mom let him know that we had gone for a walk to exercise. He dozed off again and then when he woke up the next time, we were still not back. Apparently, mom had gone off to sleep (she takes sedatives for her psychiatric condition). Totally helpless, he grabbed his walker and shuffled his way down the elevator to the streets!

“Raastay amaakey kothay khunje paabey?” (I asked him where was he going to find me in the streets?)

“Na, bhoy hochhilo gaaritey dhakka merechhe kina tokey”. (He was afraid that I might have gotten hit by a car or something).

The hilarity of the situation beggars description. He – who does not get up from bed and has not used the walker for over six months and cannot hear well is out there on the streets walking at about three feet a minute completely unaware of vehicles behind him worried that I AM THE ONE who might get hit by traffic.

The thought behind his action was overwhelming enough that I did not bother even gently holding him.

“Let’s go sit at that culvert”, I told him and we walked to a nearby sitting spot.

25 January 2020

The unseen hand of the caregiver

The biggest fear I have in life? For all the attention I have paid to my dad, what have I done for my mom? It is so easy to take the role of the caregiver for granted. I try to even bring up the topic of “what if mom dies before dad?” and I am summarily dismissed by everybody. My dad’s response is simply “I will die the next day”.

I have started getting a renewed feeling for my mom – not just as my mom- but also as my dad’s caregiver. My dad will not take any help from anybody else than my mom. There was a day when my mom said – I do not think she meant it the way I took it – “I am having to do a maid’s job”. As a son, you cannot imagine, how little I felt. One of my lowest moment in life. For all the things I can do, this is what my mom is reduced to do. That is how I felt.

And yet, thru this, she has complained very little. I have asked her to get all the help money can buy but she just would not do anything my dad would approve of. And my dad will not approve of anything that costs money on his accord.

This trip, I started following my mom’s footsteps a little closer. Here is a picture I never thought I would capture otherwise.

I watched my mom feed my dad (he does not have enough locomotory powers). Funnily enough, she was opening up her own mouth and sticking her tongue out ever so lightly – to prop him to do what she wanted him to do. Like he was a kid.

What a relationship between two life long partners! Captured right there!!

Here’s wishing to what she wants in her life after all those sacrifices has made.

And here’s a reminder to me why I need to be nice to Sharmila 🙂

25 January 2020

What a difference two countries make…

My previous post was a great example of what a difference two countries make. Having made it to America (Citibank transferred me and my wife to the USA back in 1993), we have been able to settle there and create a platform of financial security not only for our own family but also for our extended family in India. We have a great sense of gratitude for what USA, my previous company and sheer luck has done for us.

Today was another powerful example of what a different two countries can make.

My sister has a house help at her place. That help recently had a granddaughter. That grand daughter has Downs Syndrome and is a constant feature at my sister’s place. My sister pretty much bathes her, feeds her and takes care of the kid all the time. It is like she has adopted her full time. (BTW, my niece – sister’s daughter – is actually adopted). And yet, for all the love the kid gets, it is a little jarring what little access to medical services she has. I cannot say with authority how much of it is sheer money versus advancement of medical technology here. But I can certainly say that another kid back in my neighborhood in Atlanta – born to none other than to a close friend of Sharmila and me from Durgapur is being brought up just like any other kid. Of course, at certain times special services are required – but then again, which kid does not?. They are no different than any other kid – deserving of all the love and attention from all adults.

Had a great time with Shristi – the constant feature at my sister’s place this afternoon…

25 January 2020

Mom said he has not laughed like this in three months!!

Walked into our house this morning. Dad – who apparently does not get out of his bed these days, was sitting upright, waiting for me. After the usual “What took so much time?” “Have you eaten anything” and all those father-like questions that really are not important (Natasha, I think, I now know how you feel – but in our defense, dads can’t help being dads and in further defense, nobody else can help being dads), we settled down.

It did not take too long for him to get to one of his pet things… “I am afraid we are going to run out of money. You need to help me.” Now, for a background, he is nowhere close to running out of money. None of this three children are going to let him get even remotely close to that situation. But one of the remnant effects from the brain stroke two and a half years back is that he has no recollection of his wealth and has no idea how things are being paid for.

Unlike any body else in my family – including Sharmila – I do not deal with him with reason (that part of his brain is fried, no point) instead, I take the route of an asymmetrical attack with humor.

So, I talked about Natasha. Which always perks up his interests. He cannot believe that his granddaughter’s writings is published for the world to see. In about two minutes, he asked – “How much are you having to pay for her college?”. I gave him the number in dollars. In fact gave it for four years, for all it is worth.

“What does that mean in Indian rupees?”
I dutifully multiplied it by 70 and told him.

“Ei morecchey! Eto taaka kothay paabi?” He was concerned how was I going to pay for her college.

“I do not know. Can you lend me some money?”

That is when he laughed out aloud – monkey cap and all – and even narrated some great lines from a Bengali poet…
“Aajkey je raajadhiraaj / Kaal se bhikhey chai”

(The emperor today will be left to reducing to begging… such is the cycle of time)

He did get the import of the humor though. “Sob i to theek choley jaachhey. Aami-i bodh hoi bhool korchhi” (Seems like everything is working out fine. I think I am the one misunderstanding)

Another cup of tea, anyone?

24 January 2020

Pretty amazing mountainscapes

Apologize for the quality of the picture. I am still on iPhone7 and we are 35,000 feet up in the air. Check out how vertical the mountain faces are. You can see the range on the right bottom part of the picture. That almost looks like a wall from the top.
If you zoom in on the mountains to the left, you will notice that it has very distinct – almost stairstep like – build up to the top….

We are just north of Shiraz in Iran right now.