11 February 2024

’17 Oct India

  1. The best laid plans of mice and men… Oct 17, 2017

    First of all, please help me in keeping this a secret. Do not let my immediate family in India know of this for another 36 hours.

    Second, let me share with you something that I had not made public for a few weeks. You probably recollect my trip to India to see my parents from mid August. Well, my plan to see them next was Dec end. In fact, the daughters wanted to come too. Excitedly, I started the process of getting all passports renewed and new Indian visas stamped around the end of Sep. (still waiting the daughters’ visas).

    In the middle of all this, my dad decided to have a brain stroke. His right side is paralyzed and he cannot speak!! To cut thru the last four weeks quickly, after a long stay in the hospital in Kolkata, my brother has successfully moved him back to home in Kalyani. He and the entire family supporting him are going thru a very tough adjustment process.

    Thru all this, my brother, who is quarterbacking all the ground level realities there has been actively dissuading me from coming to India right now. He is worried that this might disrupt our December plans (and he would rather we all go to see my dad in December). He also thinks that at this juncture, I might add more work for my mom than actually be helpful. (She is undoubtedly going to worry about what I am going to eat). Finally he thinks, I should preserve money during an “off year”.

    All good points. Except, a week back, Sharmila and I discussed and I decided to override my brother. So, here I am – at the familiar Atlanta airport international terminal again – headed to India to be with my dad hoping he can recognize me and say a couple of words.

    Regarding my brother, while I am sure he is going to be very happy seeing me, I have also prepared my excuse codes…

    (*) I will be landing at my parents place on Diwali day – the biggest festival day in all of India. I have not been with my family for Diwali since 1985.

    (*) Saturday is “bhaiphonta” for us. I am not sure if there is something equivalent in the Western world – but this is where sisters celebrate their brothers with all sorts of ceremonies. (For college goers, this is like an anti-Valentine Day. If the girl tags you as her brother, you have pretty much reached the End Of File on that budding relationship 🙂 ). Anyways, my younger brother always goes to my sister’s house for this celebration every year and sends me pictures. Guess who is showing up this year?

    (*) My brother and I have not had a drink together for way too long 🙂 I have to say thanks to him for the inhuman effort he has put in for the last four weeks.

    I have my doubts if I can achieve much more than be with my dad and more importantly my family who are having a tough adjustment period getting used to a semi-invalid patient. But, if I can, highest on my list is visiting a couple of teachers from my early school days and say Thanks to them before I lose my chance. Most of them, I have not seen for 40 years or more.

    Soooooo…. we have a deal, right? No breathing of this trip to my family in India. In fact, I am blocking them temporarily on Facebook so they cannot read this either…

  2. Amazing change in the last 10 years!! Oct 18, 2017

    If you wanted to get a first hand idea of how the middle class has prospered in India in the last decade or so, all you have to do is go to the domestic airports.

    It is 3:30 AM now in Delhi!! And I am not even in the bigger international (and domestic) airport. I am in the old airport now that is dedicated to cheaper domestic airlines. The boarding gates are teeming with people. Not a single chair is empty. People are standing and even sitting on the staircase. Very orderly though. And I could take a picture of only half the side from the top of the escalator.

    Infrastructure development at the airports have been very impressive too. Most are of international standards now with fairly efficient service and by my experience, very pleasant and helpful staff.

  3. Thanks for not spilling the secret!!! Oct 19, 2017

    That was quite a surprise sprung on everybody. In fact, most had not noticed me even when I walked in straight to the inside room where my dad was. The two assistants were on the bed holding him up and my mom was feeding him. She had her back towards me – she had no idea I was there. And the two assistants had no clue who I was either. I stood there for a couple of minutes or so when my mom looked back and got the shock of her life!!!

    My dad’s condition is pretty much what you would expect from somebody who has had a brain stroke. He was able to recognize me but telling my name was quite an effort. For the next hour or so, I realized that he had lost his ability to lay down or get up by himself (his right side is paralyzed) and quite some of his faculties around memory and speech are gone.

    But most painful is his realization that he has lost complete independence. His deep sense of helplessness – even simple things like he inability to express himself – is visibly driving him to tremendous frustration and anger.

    I finally remembered something that I had learnt while visiting my friend – Samaresh’s dad. He was totally quiet till I had shown him a picture of his granddaughter in Atlanta in my phone.

    As an aside, every December, I make one of those large twelve month Apple calendars – with pictures of Natasha, Nikita, Sharmila, Jay Jay (the dog) and myself (especially of our vacations) from that year and send them to my parents. And my dad, dutifully, puts them on the wall and often asks me about those pictures.

    This morning, I brought down all those calendars and then started showing him one picture after another and asked them to recognize the people. Each picture was an effort. Many times he gave up (his choices were restricted to only five names). He missed me most of the time!! Recognized Sharmila, Natasha in all and then after an initial struggle with Nikita’s pictures, started consistently recognizing them.

    Took us almost an hour to go thru one calendar!!!

    And that was how the first couple of hours with him went…

  4. Meeting his old friends Oct 19, 2017

    Jet lag had gotten the better of me. Plus I had had no sleep last night because of my flight times. Thus, I had inevitably gone off to sleep after lunch having spent some more time with my dad and the nephews.

    When I woke up, daylight had started fading. Walked over to dad’s room and saw that he was surrounded by the domestic helps and my mom. I asked him if he would like to go out. He promptly shook his head signaling he had no interest.

    Well, a good guess would have been that I would have left matters there. But, we are talking about me here. A few minutes later, I had put him in his wheelchair and in about another minute, I was out pushing him in the streets. Behind me were my brother and my nephews.

    First, he kept on admiring the lights. If I had not mentioned before, it was Diwali day. Every house was decorated with colorful lights. Dad just kept saying how beautiful those lights were. What he did not realize was that there was a particular place I was taking him to.

    Before long, we had reached the spot where he used to get together with a few other old people when he was stronger and had the ability to walk. I placed him in that off-the-street-corner location and we all stood around him and started chatting.

    And then a funny thing happened. An innocuous looking old man who was peacefully shuffling along suddenly looked at my dad and with clear surprise in his voice, yelled – “Roy-babu?” Once he realized that it was my dad, he sat down there too.

    And then came along another old gentleman. Slowly there was a small get together of the old folks that started forming there. At one point (you will see my nephew holding a phone to my dad’s ear, one of those elderly person called up another of their old friends and had him talk to my dad!

    At that point, my brother mentioned something. It is then that I realized that my father was saying multiple words together. So far, he had been mostly grunting one or at best two words and then everything else would be a slur.

    As I tried to follow what they were talking about. I realized that I was still not following dad’s words much!! Actually, I was not following very well the other gentlemen’s words either. Turns out all of them had had brain strokes or heart strokes before (even multiple). All of them have difficulty in speech. But among them, they were chatting along – seemingly effortlessly!

    In all this confusion, my sister and niece showed up with some tasty fritters from a street side vendor. We all had some nice snacks standing there and chatting idly.

    Eventually, we all left and I took my dad to a few more streets to see the bright lights before going back home.

  5. Diwali fireworks – 1 Oct 19, 2017

    Taken with my iPhone from dad’s balcony. About 50 yards away from us were the kids on another terrace enjoying their Diwali…

    (Quality of picture not terribly good. Wish I had carried my DSLR this trip)

  6. Diwali firecrackers – 2 Oct 19, 2017

    One more from my dad’s balcony with the iPhone…

  7. Diwali fireworks with my nephews and niece – 1 Oct 19, 2017

    We did not want the kids to miss out on any of the Diwali fun due to their grandfather’s health. So, we had bought our own arsenal of firecrackers for the nephews and niece. Late evening, we took them to the terrace of the building and let them have a errrr… blast? 🙂

    This is what we used to call a “tubri”. Can’t remember the English word.

  8. Diwali fireworks with my nephews and niece – 2 Oct 19, 2017

    And this one we called a “phooljhuri”. There was another Bengali name for it – “Tarabati?”, “Tarabaji?”.

    I know the English word is a sparkler.

  9. This is the best we have seen him after his brain stroke… Oct 19, 2017

    You see my sister looking at dad and laughing her heart out? Well, this has not happened in the last month ever since dad had the medical incident.

    To understand what is going on – and remove any doubts that my dad was feeing much better after the walk – first note my mom. I will write about her a little later. But you will notice that she is absolutely exhausted taking care of dad and having to deal with all the visitors (not to forget, she has been a psychiatric patient herself for six years and she is supposed to be sedated most of the day) – and had fallen asleep in her chair as the rest of us were talking.

    Let’s go back to why my sister was laughing so much.

    My dad – having noticed mom doze off – was imitating how she had slept off in her chair. This, from the guy, who can’t think rationally or speak coherently for more than a few seconds!!!

  10. The lunatic has escaped the asylum!!! Oct 19, 2017

    Dad was sitting in his bed. The nephews were done with their firecrackers. I was wondering what to do. That is when I got a bright idea (and I take a lot of liberty when I call my ideas “bright”) to see if I can handle myself if I were a patient. The idea was to pretend that I could not move my legs and had to get myself everywhere in dad’s wheelchair only using my hands.

    The initial moves within the room was easy. Dad had an incredulous look on his face but he was okay with me trying out different things. (just like in my childhood). Then the obstacles started coming. To get to the balcony, I had to negotiated an inch and a half high separation ridge (which also makes the door way watertight when you close the door). I was just not being able to push myself thru it.

    It became a cerebral problem for me. What the weak forearms could not solve, I had to solve by using my wits. As I was thinking about the problem, I flashed back to our eighth grade physics teacher (we called him “Lambda”) explaining to us why pulling is easier than pushing.

    And that is really how I stumbled onto the solution. I had to back into the ridge and then with a fraction of the energy was able to pull myself up. Over time I also realized that if I could do this one wheel at a time (needed a wide doorway for that), I could make the problem even easier.

    Imagine the scene – totally delighted with myself, I was spinning around from room to room (I was not screaming “Wheeee” though). Then the nephews and niece showed up. That is when it got really interesting. Fortunately, they did not want to try it themselves. I was not in a mood to share my new toy, anyways. But they took a bet with me.

    The bet was that I had to get out of home, get inside the elevator, go downstairs, open the complex gate and go out in to the street. No putting my foot down. Only the wheelchair and my hands.

    The biggest challenge was squeezing myself into the elevator. The wheelchair barely fit in – the door was so narrow. And then I had to back myself in – because there was a difference in the level of the elevator floor and the building floor.

    Long story short – as you can see from the pictures taken by my eldest nephew, the lunatic did escape the asylum. What is more, once on the streets, he put on as high speed roll. Worse, he went “Wheeeee”!!!

  11. That unassuming, oft-forgotten other parent of mine… Oct 19, 2017

    Those smiles and better-than-normal state for my dad did not last long. I had gone to bed at around 12:30am. By 2:30, my dad’s ailment had taken a firm grip and gotten the upper hand. I woke up suddenly to loud yelling. Glanced at my Fitbit to check the time and rushed to my dad’s room.

    Dad was in bed – clearly awake – and was yelling as hard as he could. The assistant lady was helplessly sitting beside him. And my mom was deep asleep next to my dad. My dad was trying to wake up mom with the one arm that is still functioning. But mom is so overcome by exhaustion – and as I have mentioned before, she is a patient herself – her body just could not take any more in spite of all that chaos that was happening a foot away from her.

    I went by my dad’s side and started to calm him down. He was slurring all the time. Completely incoherent in his speech, there was absolutely no way to communicate with him – let alone apply reason or logic. You could sense that he was feeling very helpless and wanted my mom to be with him. As part of his brain damage – he calls my mom “mom” now!!! He does not remember her name. He just calls her “mom”. I will write about a defining moment in my life about my dad and his mom (my grandma) later.

    I tried a lot of things – getting him to sit up, getting him to lie down, giving him water, just talking to him in soft voices…. He kept on going thru a phase of what seemed like a few moments of logical thinking (“Go to your bed! It is too late now!!”) followed by a few minutes of complete insanity (“Call mom! She has borrowed money!! I need to drink milk!! – and those were the words I could actually comprehend). In about 20 minutes he tired himself out and then went off to bed.

    I went to mine to start writing my blog. He woke up in another 10 minutes and we went thru this cycle three times till he finally slept off at around 4am. My mom never woke up at all thru all this.

    Sat in the balcony and made a few birthday calls to US. Checked the emails and realized one of my patients in hospice had “transitioned” this morning. When I went to check on him on Monday before leaving for India, I had met his son-in-law there – it was pretty evident he was not going to make it for too long.

    Shut down my computer, overwhelmed with my thoughts of my dad, my hospice friend who is longer no more and my mom.

    When I go to hospice, it is a volunteering thing. If I want not to deal with a situation or am frustrated by a patient, I can always walk out. Or go to another patient. I have a choice.

    The caregivers in the hospice – they have less of a choice – but at some level this is their profession. They are trained for this and to some extent, they have chosen this as their calling. But still, my heart goes out to them watching them keeping their sanity amidst some of the gut-wrenching scenes. (How do you really deal with a situation when the patient helplessly looks at you and asks – “Can you speed this up?”. Yes, I have seen that happen with one of my patients)

    The assistants we have here at our house – my heart goes out even more. They are not professionally trained at all. These are middle aged women who are doing this because they need a livelihood. I have found, so far, all of them extremely compassionate and incredibly patient. What they do not have in training, they make up in sincerity.

    And then there is my mom. She is having to carry the biggest burden of the care giving. She has refused to sleep anywhere but next to my dad in spite of knowing that she is going to not get much rest. Dad is yelling always for her – without any rhyme or reason. She has not complained yet of her situation even once or has asked any of her kids for any more help than we are giving now.

    Here is the tough reality – she was offered no choice. Life dealt her not the brain stroke itself but the biggest collateral damage it can cause.

    Being a primary caregiver is much tougher than I will ever realize.

    By the way, when I went back to dad’s room, mom was changing his diaper. To give them some privacy, I stepped out and came out to the balcony to enjoy the dawn break – something my dad and I often enjoyed together.

    Went back a few minutes later and saw that the kitchen lights were on. Stepping in, I saw what was going on… My mom, instead of going back to sleep, was in the kitchen making tea for me!!!

    Like I said, being a primary caregiver, is very very tough.
    Being a mom? Much tougher, I suspect.

    Being both? Beyond my level of comprehension…

  12. Day 2: Glimpses of his old self Oct 20, 2017

    The morning was relatively better and then it quickly deteriorated from there. However, on the brighter side, he slept well last night. Which means, we all slept well!!

    In the morning, I had put him in the wheelchair and wanted to take him out. But we got completely stalled by the steady and heavy rains. We were all rained in for the entire day. I had brought him out to the living area and had him sit around with us.

    In a glimpse of his old self, he asked for the newspaper. Between my sister and myself, we folded the newspaper and turned the pages occasionally for him. I could see him intently and slowly read the words. And then he would lift his head up and stare at space like he was thinking something or trying to remember something from the past.

    Eventually, he slept off in his chair with the newspaper in his hand.

  13. I never knew snoring could be that reassuring Oct 20, 2017

    One of the challenging aspects of going down with some of these eventually-life-consuming ailments is that everybody – the patient and others around have to go thru a sharp and excruciating learning curve getting used to the new normal. One usually does not get trained for these kind of phases in life. Sometimes, the best training you might have is what you recollect having seen happening with your grandparents or other elders while growing up.

    Yesterday, most of the day we struggled with that learning curve. Dad was clearly uncomfortable. He was being very restless the whole day. Kept us on our toes trying to figure out how to ease some of his pain. The problem is that patients cannot always describe what their problem is. Of course, with his speech severely debilitated, he had his own challenge even putting words in his mouth

    At around 11 at night, my brother theorized “I think he is having difficulty with his breathing”. Among all other complications, my dad is also a COPD patient. His lungs are very weak and only a fraction of it is functional. My brother then gave him a treatment to boost his lungs – I guess some kind of medication that you inhale thru a nebulizer.

    In about 45 seconds or so, dad went off to sleep From his facial expression, you could see that he was much more comfortable. It seems his challenge was he was not getting enough air, but obviously, a patient like him cannot self-diagnose it. We had to learn it by stumbling upon it.

    At the time of writing this – and it is past 6:45 in the morning, he is still knocked out. In fact, I can hear him snore. No other sound can be as reassuring as that right now.

    Going back to last night, we then finished up dinner, got mom to sleep off and then spent some time knocking ourselves out too 🙂 My brother, sister in law and myself. Finally, we were relaxed enough to open that bottle of vodka that I had gotten after fighting thru the rains last evening 🙂 Whipped up a quick cocktail late at night…

    Stacy Roy Roderman, you had wisely advised in a prior comment that I should remember to take care of myself too. May I submit this picture as Exhibit A in support of that 🙂

  14. “Bhaiphonta”. First time after 1983. Oct 21, 2017

    Last time I had “bhaiphonta” with my sister was when I was 17 years old. (This is a ceremony where sisters celebrate their brothers).

    And today, at 51 years, I am exactly three times as old. After a long time, finally, I was able to keep a request of my sister…

  15. A lighter photobombing moment from the “bhaiphonta” ceremony… Oct 21, 2017

    I am pretty sure this part was not part of the plan… 🙂

  16. “Bhaiphonta” in the Roy family is all about traditions… Oct 21, 2017

    Sisters in bright clothes…
    Brothers in kurta-pajama…
    Myself in shorts…

    It is all about time honored traditions 🙂

  17. Recreated some old memorable momentary for my dad… Oct 21, 2017

    A few Nazrulgeeti songs from my sister and myself on the tabla…

  18. Those princely thrones!! Oct 22, 2017

    After two relatively good days, today has been a tougher day for dad (and everybody else around him). He has been restless since morning. After lunch, again the nebulizer did the magic. Once his lungs got a boost, he immediately relaxed and went off to sleep. I sat next to him for a few more minutes after he had slept off. And the mind wafted away into all the events and incidents we had together – the various things he has taught me – and so many more that I completely disagreed with him.

    One of the topics that he had discussed with me multiple times was money. He had impressed upon me his belief that education was the ticket to financial freedom (and therefore all priorities for a parent is trumped by money spent for their kids’ education). He had explained to me that my financial responsibility was not just to my own family but a far more extended family that had helped him and mother grow up to be who they are.

    One of the more curios topics he had dealt with once was the subject of being rich. It stuck in my mind at that moment sitting next to him today because of an incident that actually happened yesterday.

    Remember, how I talked about the “bhaiphonta” I had from my sister after 34 long years? Well, when I got “bhaiphonta”s during my teenage years, there were a lot of things I (and my brother) looked forward to… you know those sweets, the samosas, the jilebis – all the good food. We got to wear our new clothes from the Durga Puja. And we got to sit on the “ason”s. Well an “ason” is basically a piece of cloth or other fabric (often even made from tree leaves) that you lay on the floor and then sit on it. The idea, was to avoid the dirt from the floor and perhaps take a wee bit of the hardness of the concrete away.

    We had two special “ason”s. Those came out from our almirah only for special guests. (we always sat on the floor to eat). Once in a year, my brother and I would be given the respect owed to special guests and we got to sit on those “ason”s. One was red and yellow and the other was red and blue!! They were more decorative and fluffier than our other standard ones that we used everyday.

    Guess what? My mom – in a complete throwback to the late 70s and early 80s, brought out those same two “ason”s from the same almirah for me and my brother before the “bhaiphonta” ceremony started yesterday!! I was stunned beyond belief!!

    “E dutokey ekhono biday koroni?” (You have not gotten rid of these two yet?)

    Mom did not even bother replying.

    All my years I have known my dad and mom, one thing I have never seen them doing is get rid of things. Even when they donate to others, it is always new things. But what they use, they will continue to use till that thing can literally turn into dirt or something. My dad had exactly two shirts all his life. And one pair of shoes – which I am totally convinced that he spent more money on the cobbler in twenty years or so fixing various parts than a second pair of shoe would have cost him to begin with. You might remember that a few trips back, I had found out that they still use my tiffin (lunch) box from elementary school!!!

    But his DNA was wired that way. He never minded helping others. But he hated from the core of his heart the concept of wasting. And avoiding waste to him meant you keep repairing the stuff till you cannot repair any more!!

    Coming back to vthat discussion I had with dad about being rich – it actually had started on a humorous note. I was pulling his leg and had complained that I could have been a rich guy if I had a rich dad and gave him examples of a few people who inherited a lot of money. For a moment, dad was quiet. I thought I had scored a point. Then he came back with a scorcher… “Well, you could not have chosen your father. But you could have chosen your father-in-law”. Implying marrying into riches was totally in my control unlike being born into riches.

    Once I had stopped laughing conceding the point, he had turned serious and philosophically remarked – which translated to English would roughly be – “Being rich is a function of two variables. Never forget that you can control one variable much more than the other”.

    And it was that belief of his that allowed me to sit in the same cherished “ason” after 34 years yesterday!!!

  19. Message received loud and clear. Oct 22, 2017

    More loud than clear.

    It is like they have stopped making general announcements over the PA system inside Kolkata airport.

    Instead, they just scold you.

    Really, it is not my fault that a flight to Delhi is leaving from gate 21. Stop yelling at me with that tone of yours!!

  20. In Bangalore airport… Oct 23, 2017

    On my way to Cochin for a few hours (will write about that later), I found this in the Bangalore airport lounge…

    In an attempt to follow instructions, I picked up the basket of muffins and walked away towards my chair. All the while, holding the basket very close to me, mind you!

    Three lounge attendants came running after me!!!

  21. My first grade class (home room) teacher!!! Oct 25, 2017

    “Thank you for coming all the way from Kolkata to Ernakulam to see me. I feel very special today. Nobody has done that before”.
    “No, no, no, that is not how it works”, I quickly responded. “I am the one who is here to say thanks for every way you influenced me when I was barely a few years old. In many ways I am today who I am due some of those early influences”.
    “Plus”, I admitted, “You had asked me to come and meet you”.
    “I did?”, she asked somewhat confused.
    “Ah! You do not remember, do you? I will tell you that story”

    That is how the conversation began the moment Mrs. George opened the door. She was my class teacher in first grade. Last time I had talked to her face to face was in 1973. This year, I had tracked her down to a place about 1500 miles away from where we used to be and had promised her that I would come and see her. Especially given the great difficulty she has in moving around (both her knees are shot) and the fact that she is valiantly fighting Parkinson’s, I was determined to make that meeting as quickly as I could.

    After she slowly walked to her chair with the help of her cane and I settled next to her, I continued-
    “You lived in Aurobindo Avenue. 5th street, right?
    “Back in the mid eighties, there was a girl on 8th street on your road that I used to be romantically linked with. One day, I was coming back from her house, and I ran into another old schoolmate of mine – Soumitro was his name. He lived on your street. He had mentioned that a year or so back, you had realized that he and I had become classmates after leaving your school. And you had asked him to ask me to come and see you if he met me again”.

    “Not sure why – I believe I had gone back to my college a few days after that or I was feeling too awkward (and I was plenty awkward those days), I never came and saw you”.

    After pausing for a moment, watching her take in the whole story, I finished up:
    “Mrs. George”.
    “I know I took too much time. But I have come today and I have kept your request”.
    “Thank you!”, she smiled.
    “And I brought something for you”

    That is when I fished out a printout of a photograph I was carrying for her in my backpack.
    “Do you remember this?”
    “Looks like a class picture during Christmas party”.
    “Indeed. Mrs. George! December, 1973!! I want you to keep this picture”.
    As you see from the photo below, I spent quite some time naming the students and giving her an update on where they are and what they are doing. Much to my surprise, there were a few names she recognized instantly!!

    The rest of the afternoon went remembering so many of our old teachers and me learning about her early childhood days in the rubber plantations near Kottayam district and her days after she left our school.

    I got introduced to Mr. George. Mrs. George showed me pictures of her daughters and grandkids. I even got to see a picture of her from her wedding day!!!

    If there was one meeting I never wanted to end, it had to be that one. First grade! First class-teacher!! There are still many more memories we did not get a chance to share! But I had two flights to catch before I could get back to my place (there were no direct flights for me). Reluctantly, I took leave.

    “Yes?”, I looked back at the door where she was standing to say Bye to me.
    “What happened to that girl from our road?”. I think she was trying to tease me.
    “Oh! I married her!!”.
    Going by the big laughter she gave, I did not think she was expecting that answer!

    As the Uber guy started our one hour drive back to the airport, I felt a surge of emotional high for being able to see Mrs. George after 44 years to say Thank you. As well as the simultaneous pangs of the inevitable question – Will I be lucky enough to get another chance to finish off a few more stories?

  22. The changing times… Oct 25, 2017

    It used to be that as the sun rose from the far end of dad’s balcony, I would pace up and down waiting for him to wake up. It used to be that we would have the first cup (or two) of tea together sitting in the balcony and watch the morning unfold.

    Not any more…

    Now I just want him to sleep peacefully as long as he can.

    Perhaps, sensing the void this morning, my mom came and sat down quietly beside me to have our morning tea.

    The new normal!!

  23. How I met my new Facebook friend but never talked to him Oct 26, 2017

    This is an interesting “intersection point” where a friendship was established. But no words were spoken. I am not even sure how to write about somebody that you have not talked to. But here it goes…

    I had made a quick dash to Ahmedabad to meet a friend about some work related stuff. In between our meetings, we had strolled over to the Crowne Plaza next door to catch up on some food. We were sitting at our table in some deep discussions, when I realized that the waiter was standing next to me. Instinctively, I told him “Just a glass of water”.

    I had almost turned my head away to continue with the discussions when I realized that the reaction from the waiter was not exactly what I was expecting. I turned back and saw him pointing to something hanging from a lanyard around his neck.

    That is when I realized that he had no ability to hear or speak.

    That is not an everyday experience I go thru. It took me a few seconds for the whole thing to sink in. Meanwhile, he fished out a small diary. Presumably for me to write on. I smiled at him and pointed to my glass. He got the message and went away.

    But I was totally distracted the whole time. Multiple times, I saw him helping other guests so seamlessly. Did not betray any signs of shyness. He would interact with every guest with the same level of sincerity and proactivity as he would if he could hear and speak. Except of course, it was happening thru notes on a notepad and finger gesturing.

    Finally, I told my friend that I had to meet Hardik again. I signaled him to come to our table. Which he did. And then I was stuck again. How do I ask him questions? How do I tell him that I was totally moved by his courage?

    Presuming that I was ready to order, he brought out his notebook again and pointed out to some blank space below what I assume the previous customer had written – “Black Coffee”. Not knowing any better, I drew a long line and wrote “I am very impressed by what you have achieved!” and gave it to him. He read it and looked at me. There was obvious delight in his eyes. He did his namaste thing.

    I turned the page and wrote further that if he wanted to be friends with me and chat, he could email me. And gave him my email address. He scribbled something over it. I turned the notebook around to read it.

    Want to take a guess what wrote? He wrote – FB?

    I am an idiot. What was I thinking giving my email address to a millennial? Facebook it was!!

    He himself located his FB profile on my phone and sent himself a friend request!!!

    That is how I had a memorable “intersection point” without ever talking!!

    This story will not be complete without a shout out for Crowne Plaza, Ahmedabad. I am not sure whether this is a global practice for them or just in India or just in Ahmedabad. In any case, hats off for stepping up to the plate to make this a better and caring society. May your tribe increase.

  24. Yesterday was a good day Oct 26, 2017

    Dad continues to have some good days and some bad days. Last night was just terrible for him. He kept both mom and me awake with his discomfort. The trick, we have realized, is how much sleep he is able to get. We have not been able to narrow down yet how to get him to sleep (including prescribed medicines).

    But before last night, the whole day was a great day. In fact, the best day, in my trip so far. When he woke up at 1PM after a marathon 14 hour sleep, his brain was very active. Surprisingly, he could remember things he had forgotten and could speak coherently more words than normal before petering off into a drawl.

    You know how we knew he was in good spirits? The three tell-tale signs were:

    (*) He has started worrying about costs!! “How much money did we have to spend?”, “How much insurance will give back?”, you know the typical questions that used to consume him during normal times 🙂

    (*) He started cracking jokes!! Somehow, thru this illness, he is obsessed with my shaved head – “Why do you shave your head?”, “Do you do it yourself?” and all that. Yesterday he kept telling the attendants “Matha aachhey chool thaakbey na?” and then followed up with a humorous analogy “Pa aachey aangul thaakbey na?”. (His point being if you have a head, you will have to have hair just like if you have a leg, you are going to have toes!) Go figure!!

    (*) He wanted to go our for a stroll in the evening in his wheelchair!! Last few times, I had to coax and cojole him to get out of home. Yesterday, he asked for it!!

    We will take as many of these days as we can possibly grab…

  25. Rolling thru the streets… Oct 26, 2017

    As I mentioned in the last post, yesterday was a good day. He had asked for the first time to be taken out in his wheelchair. Normally, I have to coax him to agree to it.

    We spent about an hour thru the streets of Kalyani in the evening hours. Because he was more alert, he and I spent a long time talking about small things and me trying to ask him questions about the past and see if his neurons, dendrons and synapses can start re-firing (or whatever it is that they do for a normal person). Surprisingly, he could recollect the addresses of all the residences we had lived in (each took about a couple of minutes and you could almost sense his brain cells churning thru). But he still cannot remember my brother’s house in Kolkata.

    Numerous times, we had people go past us (mostly in bicycles) and then on second thoughts, they would stop. Invariably, it was somebody who realized it was my dad as they went past us and got down from their bikes to come back and talk to us. Many of them were not aware of what dad has gone thru. My dad explained “Porey gechhilam” (“I had fallen down”).

    That gave me a chance during my one on one time to explain to him that he had a brain stroke. We found five different spots. And that is why he fell down. And why he is not being able to remember things.

    He seemed to be very surprised at this revelation.
    “I had a brain stroke?”

    A couple of minutes of silence later…
    “Which hospital was I in?”
    “2 nights in Kalyani nursing home and then 2 weeks in Peerless Hospital in Kolkata”
    “I was in Kolkata?”
    “How did I get there?”
    “Pinku brought an ambulance from Kolkata” (Pinku is my younger brother)

    A few minutes of silence again.
    “Eto shoto hoye gechhey aami jaantam na” (I did not realize so much has happened)
    “I know”

    A minute later, I realized he was trying to raise his neck and look back towards me. Sensing he wanted to ask me something, I lowered my head as I kept pushing him along. Fully expecting the next question “Kobey bhalo hobo baba?” (When will I get better?)

    Instead he said “Tor onek poisa khoroch korey fellam na?” Not sure whether I was more irritated or found it to be too funny or something else that at this juncture, he first reaction would be to be apologetic that his illness cost his son a lot of money. But I knew that was the clear marker, the “old” him was trying to come thru and that was a great thing.

    I lied thru my teeth. “Insurance is giving all the money back”.

    For half a minute he shook his head very satisfactorily.

    The evening, much like the wheelchair, rolled on…

  26. A few birds with one stone Oct 27, 2017

    After keeping all of us awake thru the night, dad finally settled down and went off to sleep around 6 in the morning.

    That left me with an window of opportunity to get a few things done. I needed to check on a few folks and also finish off my run. Needed 6 more miles to get to the 100 mile mark for the month.

    So, basically I kept running in the streets of Kalyani going from one house to the other. The icing on the cake was when I went to check on a gentleman who I had fortuitously met a year back and lately has been fighting back cancer, I ran into his son and daughter in law there too! They would be none other than our own Partha and Sreyashi – erstwhile denizens of Atlanta who live in St. Louis now.

    I even got their two year old daughter to come out for a walk in the streets with the promise of the one incredible allure Indian streets have for all two year kid visiting from USA – street dogs!!!

  27. Passing Time Oct 27, 2017

    Your skin like dawn
    Mine like musk

    One paints the beginning
    of a certain end.

    The other, the end of a
    sure beginning.

    -Maya Angelou

  28. Lighter side of India trip: Technology Advancement Oct 27, 2017

    In US, I had heard about wearable teachnology that is always connected to the internet and social media …

    In India, I found it!!

  29. Lighter side of India trip: Phylum and Species be danged Oct 27, 2017

    Found this sign near the entrance of a restaurant in Kalyani where I had gone with my siblings and their families for dinner.

    It says “Don’t pluck any flower, fruit or leaf”.

    It is a pine tree!!

    Would like to see somebody picking the flowers and fruits… 🙂

  30. Reflections… Oct 28, 2017

    Watching how dependent my dad’s fragile health is on my mom’s efforts and attention… how my mom’s timely actions is the difference between his ability to breathe or not, spend endless hours in his own soiled clothes or clean ones, be able to sit up or just lay there…

    … I am moved to a very emotional yet sobering conclusion …

    … I better be nice to Sharmila from now on 🙂 🙂

  31. “You will get a cigarette” !!! Oct 28, 2017

    Circa: Jan, 1977.
    I had just walked into a new school in my fifth grade. I knew nobody in my class. I had gone and sat down in class 5B – that is where my name had showed up in the long list in front of the headmaster’s room.

    Soon, our home room teacher (class teacher) walked in. She seemed jovial and strict at the same time. I was just a scaredy cat. Everything was new – new school, new building, new uniform, new faces, new teacher…

    Knew nothing!!

    As the teacher settled down after our rather disunited “Good morning, miss”, one of the first question she asked was “Who is the first boy?”. Well, I was a “first boy” but from a different school. So, that did not count. Shounak raised his hand.

    “Well, you will be the class monitor. You will report to me any misbehavior in our class and I will give that student a cigarette”.

    The new school, new building, new uniform, new faces, new teacher was scary enough. I did not need a teacher giving out cigarettes. And what kind of school did my dad get me in to? Why would the teacher give a cigarette? And how is that even a penalty?

    Much later I learnt that all of us were to get a “conduct” report card every other week that we had to get our parents to sign off on. And if we did not behave, we would be awarded a “C-grade”. Apparently, not a “cigarette”!!

    That teacher was Miss Lakshmi Dutta. She was our math teacher in fifth grade. She taught chemistry when we were in higher grades. And then she left the school. In 1979!!

    About four decades later, this year, I had discovered that she lived very close to my brother. My previous attempt to meet her was futile since she was unwell. I almost had the same bad luck this time. Today, she was unwell too and the only reason we did not have a longer meeting is that she had to go to the doctor. But we did meet! After almost four decades!!

    You would think that by now, I should be used to meeting my home room teachers after decades. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meeting Miss Dutta was as exhilarating as it could be.

    Anybody who was her teacher would probably remember her for a few things – she giving a lot of students some unique names – “Kaan Khaara”, “Morobba” (for most of them those names have stuck for a life time) – and those trips to the chemistry lab where she would make the fire in the bunsen burner turn into different colors …

    Today, I got to know about her original birthplace, her life journey, her granddad, her dad, her own schooling, her siblings, her selfless support for her dad and mom during their last years in life…

    This meeting was no less humbling than that first day I had met her in 1977!! I hope to see her a few more times since she is so close to where my brother lives…

  32. The mix master!! Oct 28, 2017

    Mathew Lepcha from ITC Sonar in Kolkata is undoubtedly one of my most favorite mixologist. Will definitely feature in my Top 3. Anytime I am near Kolkata, I have to drop by at his bar to pick up a few more lessons in organic chemistry.

    Today, I learnt a new trick of making some very interesting looking cocktails that includes baloons, isopropyl alchohol, syringe and dry ice!!! We exchanged a lot of notes today about cocktails.

    In the end, he made a special drink for me and I had to guess the ingredients – I got 2 out of 4 right. The base of green cocounut water and the rose essence – although I missed the lack of pink color and went with rose syrup. I could not decide between rum or vodka – it weas rum – I am a gin guy and not a rum guy – and I could not name the khus. Khus is not something I use much in my drinks. I liked it. Especially for the hot Atlanta summers, it would be a good substitute for mints.

    Very few people are as knowledgeable and as passionate about mixology as Mathew is. The guy is an absolutely delightful person to know. If you like cocktails, he is totally the guy you have to know!!!

  33. Radhachura Oct 29, 2017

    Drove to my in laws’ place in Durgapur yesterday and spent an hour with them. Most of the discussions there were around physical ailments and doctors and medicines. Decided I was eminently too young to be involved in those discussions 🙂 Letting my brother hold fort with them, I ventured out in their garden (my father in law has great green thumbs) to see if I could take some pictures of flowers with my iPhone.

    This one, I believe is a Radhachura. Not sure of the English name. We grew up in Durgapur with this flower and its close relative Krishnachura (which was entirely yellow in color).

    Anybody knows the English names?

  34. Anybody recognize this flower? Oct 29, 2017

    Found this in my father in law’s garden. Incredibly red (absolutely velvety red) in color, they seem to bloom in a pair together. And it appeared that each flower had 2 petals. Pretty small in size. The red color looked great against the lush green. But I do not know the name of the flower.

    Any help?

  35. Interesting toll booth receipt! Oct 29, 2017

    I was browsing idly the toll receipt that my brother received at the Palsit Toll Booth on the expressway to Durgapur. I had almost thrown it into the glove compartment when something caught my eye. You can see it for yourself the line that caught my eye.

    Note that some of the letters had gotten wiped out. But as it stood then, it read

    One can guess that the second part is to read “Safe sex is THE key”. The first part was probably “STD” or “HIV” or something like that being fatal.

    Once you have gotten past that, you have to ask yourself the question – What the heck is that message doing on a toll booth receipt on the highway? If it is meant for some of the long distance truck drivers (who if I recollect from a research is a segment with high propensity of unsafe sex), I assure you they cannot read English. They cannot even follow far simpler English like “Keep safe distance”, “Stay in your lane” or “No overtaking”.

    And you know what was my observation looking at the vehicles on the highway? SPEEDING is fatal. Driving without helmet is fatal. That would be more appropriate message! And safe sex would not help in any of those…

    Any opinion why this placement of the message?

  36. The choice was clear.. Oct 29, 2017

    The risk was that if I missed my flight back, I would surely miss my long haul back home to US. The opportunity was that my eighth grade class teacher had just moved to Siliguri and if I could align all my flights, I had a window of opportunity of about an hour and a half to see her. After 1980. That is almost 38 years if you are keeping count.

    After much dilly dallying, I decided to take the risk. How cool would it be for me to say that in one single calendar year, I met 9 out of 10 of my home room teachers of my life? (The tenth one is a very different equation; more on her later). Plus my goal for this trip to India was to take care of my dad and with any extra time, I was to meet my old teachers.

    That decision took me to a flight to Bagdogra and then a pre-paid taxi later. I was standing face to face with the lady who was my class room teacher of eighth grade. It was instant magic. It was almost half an hour of just running thru our old teachers and students from our school, that I remembered to ask her if I could wash my face. (It was a hot day here and the pre paid taxi was non AC).

    We were the second batch in Miss Nandita Gurung’s long teaching career. Obviously, we had a lot of fond memories of other teachers, our school, our head master and some of the students. But the best part was me learning Miss Gurung’s personal background.

    A highlight of the day was meeting her husband – Mr. Uday Gurung. We talked about a lot of things and we had a lot of connections – from motorcycle riding to mixology. (I am now intrigued about the motorcycle ride from Leh to Ladakh). What was most impressive to me was how Mr. Gurung had fought back cancer successfully.

    Siliguri is my sister’s town. After getting married, she moved to Siliguri. I have come here many times. I even have pictures of goats waiting to cross the runway after the plane cleared from over 20 years back. My sister moved out about 10 years back.

    It was just great to visit to a town that I had some familiarity with. With a teacher that have a lot to be thankful for.

    Picked up quite a few tips about the mountain areas from Mr.and Mrs. Gurung. Natasha is the mountain person at home. Maybe, I can entice her to visit this part of the world soon!!

  37. Small enigmas all around you in India Oct 29, 2017

    Saw this in a mall yesterday. The obvious question that pops to mind – “Which one?” Followed by the inevitable “Why bother putting the buttons there to call the elevator?”.

    Love these small anomalies in India that seem to surround you…

  38. Some random fun with my new best friend from last evening… Oct 30, 2017

    Technically, he is my mother-in-law’s sister’s grandson. Or so I think. I get very confused on my wife’s side of the family…

  39. Very successful year in meeting my old class (home room) teachers Oct 30, 2017

    This year, I have been able to locate and visit 9 out of 10 of my home room teachers. They are strewn all over India. Each search was very satisfying (of course after the frustration of numerous false leads). In the end, being able to say “Thank you” to each and every one of them face to face has been an unforgettable experience! As I have maintained before, they were crucial influences in my formative years. I have no doubt that without their combined influence, I would not be who I am.

    I am left with only one teacher from seventh grade – Mrs. Srinivasan. This one is going to be very tough. She was there only for a very short duration. I remember many of the events from her class. But so far, I have found only two persons (both teachers) who even remember that there was such a person. Will keep searching…

    Meanwhile, time to move on to the subject teachers then!!

  40. Is there such a word? What do you think? Oct 30, 2017

    Back in 1977, Kelvin Donegan was our English teacher. With his blonde hair, fair skin, smart dress, sharp goatee and a motorcycle to boot – we, the fifth graders, were in awe of him.

    When he said something, we listened. And remembered.

    One day that year, one of my classmates (I forget who it was) had used the phrase “bus stoppage” in one of those “make sentence” exercises. “Bus stoppage” was (and I suspect still is) very commonly used in Bengal. Not sure of outside Bengal.

    In any case, Sir Donegan had firmly told us that there was no such thing as “Bus Stoppage”. That is a made up word by Bengalis. Ever since, I got used to saying and writing “Bus Stop”.

    While being driven to the airport a couple of days back, I noticed this sign along EM Bypass (these have been put up for the FIFA Under 17 World Cup being held in Kolkata).

    I realized that “Bus Stoppage” is still alive and kicking in Bengal.

    Just to be sure, quickly checked Google. Apparently, “stoppage” is a perfectly good word. But looks like “Bus Stoppage” may not be.

    Any opinions out there?

  41. Have you seen this before? Oct 30, 2017

    If you have, just write that you have seen it. But if you have not seen this before (in India), take a guess what this sign of a mail man looking icon seemingly hitting on the head of a woman looking icon with a drumstick or something stands for…

  42. These goodbyes are not getting any easier…. Oct 30, 2017

    Every three months for the last five years, we have gone thru the same routine. He would have sadness writ all over his face but mom would still brave a smile as they waved me good bye from the gate downstairs and I headed out to the airport to my family in Atlanta. As routine as it was, it never ceased to give me a lump in my throat. My brother (always the chauffeur) would keep quiet for 10 minutes and give me the space to get used to the moment.

    Then my dad lost ability to move much. But he would come downstairs and sit in a chair way ahead of time and wait for me so as to not lose a chance to wave me goodbye. I would again choke up.

    Next, he stopped coming down. (The last trip was that way to) He would simply lie in his bed and nod his head. Holding back tears was incredibly tough. I knew he wanted to come down but physically he could not. I used to squeeze his hand just to let him know that I understood.

    Now, we are in the phase, where he has no idea that I already left. He got up for ten minutes in the morning, spoke to me incoherently and then went back to sleep. I took a lot of pictures of him. All of them look exactly the same. At the back of my mind, I am aware that this might well be the last time and I wanted to capture ever micro second if I could. Even if they are repeats.

    First time ever, my mom is not smiling as she bade adieu all by herself.

    A new era is dawning upon us…

  43. That is nuts. Errr… I mean coconuts… Oct 31, 2017

    Walked up to the empty Lufthansa counter to check in for my flight back and did my usual small talk with the young lady at the counter – you know “How long have you been with Lufthansa?”, “Are you from Delhi” and all that. And in the middle of that I yelled “Whoa!”.

    She looked at me inquisitively.

    I was still staring at the memo listing the stuff I cannot have in my checked in luggage!! After glancing thru the usual list of dangerous things, I came to a screeching halt when I saw the picture of a coconut!



    Why is the coconut in the list?

    What did the poor coconut do? When is the last time a terrorist threatened national security with a errrrr…. coconut?

    On an aside, WHO is carrying coconuts in their carry on luggage?

    P.S. I am no expert, but I assume the shape of a grenade and the water inside has something to do with triggering the alarm system? But why ban even the half-coconut? (Look at the picture). Again, I do not know why anybody would want to carry half coconuts in their checked in luggage either…

  44. That was an uncommon name in the list… Oct 31, 2017

    Upon entering Delhi airport last night, I was glancing thru the list of flights on the boards to see where I was supposed to go and finish my check in for the Lufthansa flights. Somehow, among all those flights listed in three big boards, my eyes got arrested on one line.

    “Durgapur”!!! My small old town has flights going from Delhi!! I was aware of a new airport and I think there are very limited number of flights going there (one? two?) but I had never seen Durgapur’s name up their on those flight boards.

    That was a random moment from this trip – but one of somehow great satisfaction. Not sure why?

    Maybe a throw back to those good old days when we – the three siblings- were all below 10 and used to play imaginary airplane games in our backyard?

    Like I said – felt good though!!

  45. Family time in India Oct 31, 2017

    This restaurant had a strict policy of kids sit on side of the table and adults on the other 🙂

    Can you spot the two brothers moonlighting as body guards in the lower picture? 🙂

  46. Some new… some not so new… Oct 31, 2017

    Sometimes journeys are memorable due to the newness of things – new places seen, new people met, new experiences undergone. And sometimes journeys are memorable due to the constancy of a few things. It is like those are the things you actually look forward to for every such trip.

    My trips to India have a few similar things that repeat that I absolutely wait for. In fact, they often define what my trips are all about… being with parents, sitting out with my dad in the morning, having drinks and “namkeens” with the siblings late evening, “golgappas” with the nephews and niece in the late afternoon, taking my inlaws out for a lunch or dinner one day …

    Not to forget hitting the road with my brother. Every trip entails meeting some new people after a few decades. And that means driving to new cities and towns and testing the limits of Google maps in the Indian context (it does amazingly well, by the way). My brother insists on driving always and we spend quite some time together on the roads. We have some incredible experiences on the road.

    Which brings me to one more of those “constant things” – having tea with him at various tea stalls along all the highways and village roads. We usually choose those tea stalls that do not have a lot of customers – which allows us to make friends with the tea stall owner and find out more about the neighborhood.

    This particular one was taken somewhere on Durgapur Expressway near Saktigarh (for the ones familiar with the area – this is NOT one of those thousands of places selling “langchas”).

  47. The defining image of this trip… Oct 31, 2017

    Undoubtedly, this trip was all about my dad. Watching him go thru the transitions and helping him phase into a new stage of life is what I was there for. What I had not counted on is the level of transition this meant for my mom.

    In an earlier post, I had written about the challenges of being a caregiver of a elderly patient with limited ability to move or make himself understood. I had further mentioned that on top of that, being a mother is totally incomprehensible to me in terms about effort and sacrifice.

    As the days went by, I realized another thing. My mom is realizing that, in addition to all those, she is now going to be the head of the household. She brought out a couple of big files from the almirah and asked my brother and I if we could explain to her the house finances. (Dad has no ability to explain anything). We sifted thru a lot of papers and bank passbooks and armed with some prior knowledge we had, we helped her understand her monthly expenses, sources of income and current assets in bank.

    In fact, my brother and I went to a couple of banks a few times (I went to an Indian bank after about 25 years!!) to set up a few things for her.

    In my previous visits, mom would either be cooking or sitting with us or be sleeping (remember, she is a psychiatric patients and those medicines have a strong sedative effect). This time, for the first time, I saw her often sitting by herself and in very pensive mood. She seemed to get very deep in her thoughts.

    I always wondered whether to interrupt her thoughts. One time, I managed to take a picture of her and then I did break down and asked her what was going thru her mind.

    “Eka songshar ki korey chaalabo tai bhaabchi”.

    She was thinking thru how she was going to manage all the family affairs by herself.

    That is when I realized that on top of her normal role and the added role of being the primary caregiver, she now has to be the head of the household too. Forget her. I myself became too confused how was one person going to deal with all of these.

    I have mentioned this before – For all the things my dad and mom are going thru, we have one of the best support systems you could think of. My sister lives next door to my parents. My brother lives couple of hours away and regularly visits them to get my dad’s medicines (those are available only in Kolkata). And I get to see them every three months. Between the three siblings, till date, we have been fortunate enough to financially support them on any care or services they might need. I know none of these are constants and things can change on any front dramatically quickly but that said, till date, we have been incredibly lucky in our support system for parents.

    Even then, watching my mom, the thought came across my mind – may be I should just go and stay with them for the last few years of their lives.

    That pensive picture of my mom has been permanently seared in my mind now…

  48. A little something for me too… Oct 31, 2017

    A lot of things were accomplished this trip – the top two missions were to be with dad and mom and also try to meet some old teachers. Could not meet many – actually any – of my old classmates, friends from neighborhood and all that. Although, did get “bhaiphnota” after three and a half decades from my sister.

    Finally, it was time to do something just for myself.

    After alighting at Frankfurt airport, went to the biggest Duty Free shop and got hold of one of those helpful young gentleman from the store. They had a huge wine and liquor section.

    I am nothing if not a bunch of quixotic passions put together. Since gin is my major area of focus this year on the cocktails front (and looking at my inventory, it is promising to go well into next year), I asked him if he could show me some German gin. He got me a bottle of Monkey 47. But I have already gone thru that. He had none other.

    Changed my tack – showed him the list of 11 countries that I have gins from.

    “If you can get me gins from any country other than these 11, I will buy them”.

    We settled for Norway and Japan!!

    What can I say? Apparently, I have more “research” in front of me 🙂