’20 Jan India
- First of six international flights… Jan 23, 2020
Starting from dreary skies, snow-covered Chicago. In 8 days, I need to cover 4 countries and be back in Atlanta.
Somewhere in between I will be with my parents for two days, take a 8 hour round trip by car to see my mother in law for an hour, possibly – only if his flights are on time – have a glass of wine with my brother, get dressed up to be on the stage in a country that I cannot pinpoint in the world map (and I just realized I did not pack any ties… so much so the better… I hate ties), try to put in runs in two different countries and try to do a sight seeing trip for half a day.
Right now though, I am getting mentally ready for a 13 hour flight!!!
- That is a first for me at an airport… Jan 23, 2020
- Woke up to this sight Jan 24, 2020
- Pretty amazing mountainscapes Jan 24, 2020
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.
- The sun setting in the desert Jan 24, 2020
- Mom said he has not laughed like this in three months!! Jan 25, 2020
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?
- What a difference two countries make… Jan 25, 2020
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…
- The unseen hand of the caregiver Jan 25, 2020
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 🙂
- There was panic in the neighborhood! Jan 26, 2020
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.
- Epilogue to the previous story Jan 26, 2020
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.
- Who knew? Jan 26, 2020
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!!
- The face says it all Jan 26, 2020
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!!
- Of palindromes, death and girlfriends!! Jan 26, 2020
Back in Kolkata after a few hours of visiting my parents. My brother in law and nephew were already waiting for me. We went up to the lounge and had a great time catching up. Usually my nephew does not talk much. I think I was able to get him to open his mouth by first giving him a math puzzle. (Like his dad, he is a nerd). He felt comfortable enough to ask me how to manage his time. Apparently, he is not being able to cope with all his studies and all that.
Wrong move!! You do not ask your soon-to-be-54 uncle about time. Not this uncle, at any rate. I don’t think he knew what hit him when I started with the old Latin phrase “Memento Mori” (Remember, you will die). Certainly, my brother in law started downing his wine much faster!!
Long story short, by the time I was done with our chat, my famously reticent nephew and I were discussing how he could ask a girl from his class out!! My brother in law was drinking up faster than you could cry “Uncle”!!!
So much so, by the time the evening was done and it was picture time, my brother in law sat on the sofa hand rest instead of in the sofa!! 🙂
BTW, Sous Chef Susanta Dey and visiting chef Shabbir had cooked up an impressive Hyderabadi dinner for us!
- Durgapur. First stop. Jan 26, 2020
Four hours of drive from Kolkata (we got stuck a couple of times) and we were in Durgapur. When in Durgapur, the three mandatory stops are at my mother in law’s, my maternal uncle’s and a dash to check on my friend Baisakhi’s son. This time I was in Durgapur for all of one hour and fifty minutes and managed to knock off the first two.
While I go to my uncle’s place every trip, this was different. First, I saw my cousin after a long long time. He is always busy with his work and business and in spite of my quarterly visits, I never manage to catch him. Today, I was able to nail him before he could escape. Had a great time catching up one on one with him.
Second, his son was there too. Last couple of times, I had missed him since he was in school. Usually, with him around, nobody else does the talking.
Finally, it so happened that my niece (daughter of my uncle’s first daughter) was visiting her grandparents at the same time!! So, that was a full family!
We pulled chairs outside in the sun and then when we ran short of chairs, simply sat at the doorstep and made a quick hash of a 45 minute trip. With a cup of tea and some very funny stories from the past!!!
- That be my mother in law Jan 26, 2020
Hearteningly enough, she is doing great by herself. After my father in law passed away one and a half years back, she has settled down in her own routine and seems to be very happy with herself.
After the previous time’s challenge of getting her to look at the phone and not my Apple watch, I took no chances. Got DN to take our pictures!
- Back in Kalyani! Jan 26, 2020
- 5K run in Kalyani Jan 27, 2020
- The last ride/walk for this trip. Jan 27, 2020
- Guess who I met in Kolkata airport? Jan 27, 2020
I got to know Anzee when she worked in ITC Hotel (I used to be a regular there before they built the Westin close to the airport). Anzee eventually left the job and moved on.
I know the particular place she worked in the international terminal. I check in that shop every time I am here. Most of the time she works during the day and I am here for an early morning flight and therefore miss her.
There was the one time that Sharmila and I were traveling with the family and we managed to meet her.
Today, I lucked out. She was working at night instead of day shift. It was great seeing her after such a long time and got a chance to catch up with her and her family.
(She, by the way, is from Darjeeling – which is famous for tea and also where my sister spent early part of her married life)