16 November 2020

Missed this year’s “bhaiphonta”

Today the “bhaiphonta” ceremony was celebrated at my dad’s place. Three years back, I had surprised everybody at his place by showing up on this day. That was 34 years after the last time I had “bhaiphonta“.

Then last year, I tried surprising everybody again. Except my sister and her family and my brother and his family were elsewhere. (They had no idea I was going to show up). I had spent the whole day with my parents.

This year, thanks to Covid, I have to reconcile myself to seeing the pictures on Whatsapp.

4 November 2020

Jhorna!! (Bengali alert)

This morning mom reported that amidst the continuous pain my dad is going thru (he is having a real rough time), he had a bright spot when my sister came over and talked about his recitations. My dad used to enjoy reciting Bengali poems – mostly Rabindranath Tagore’s poems. (as in any self-respecting reciter born in the early to mid 1900s Bengal would do).

Looks like he gave it a shot at reciting when my sister brought up the topic.
I asked mom “Which poem did he recite?”
“Nirjhorer swapnobhongo”, she said referring to one of his old time favorites.

Just to engage mom, I asked “What does Nirjhor mean?” After a couple of minutes she gave up. And I let her know the meaning of that Bengali word is a “waterfall” (cataract, cascade).

She immediately asked me “Onno jhorna-r kabita ta mon-e aachhey?”. She enquired if I remembered another famous Bengali poem describing a waterfall. I did remember the one she was referring to. My dad used to recite that one too.

Written by Satyendranath Dutta – often referred to as the Wizard of Rhythm – it is an absolute masterpiece. Each and every word is golden. But the cadence/tempo of the words as you recite them is impossible to forget. There is no amount of translation that can do justice to the words. Certainly there is no way of carrying the rhythm in any translation.

I did remember the first paragraph. It has been impossible to forget ever since our Bengali teacher in eighth grade – Mrs. Gita Mitra – had taught this poem. Such lilting and catchy is the tempo.

Later looked up the whole poem. Turns out I had forgotten most of the rest of the poem. Which is a shame. It is an absolute gem of a poetic talent. Here is the whole poem for my Bengali friends…


ঝর্ণা ! ঝর্ণা ! সুন্দরী ঝর্ণা !
তরলিত চন্দ্রিকা ! চন্দন-বর্ণা !
অঞ্চল সিঞ্চিত গৈরিকে স্বর্ণে,
গিরি-মল্লিকা দোলে কুন্তলে কর্ণে,
তনু ভরি’ যৌবন, তাপসী অপর্ণা !
ঝর্ণা !

পাষাণের স্নেহধারা ! তুষারের বিন্দু !
ডাকে তোরে চিত-লোল উতরোল সিন্ধু |
মেঘ হানে জুঁইফুলী বৃষ্টি ও-অঙ্গে,
চুমা-চুম্ কীর হারে চাঁদ ঘেরে রঙ্গে,
ধূলা-ভরা দ্যায় ধরা তোর লাগি ধর্ণা !
ঝর্ণা !

এস তৃষার দেশে এস কলহাস্যে-
গিরি-দরী-বিহীরিনী হরিনীর লাস্যে,
ধূসরের ঊষরের কর তুমি অন্ত,
শ্যামলিয়া ও পরশে কর গো শ্রীমন্ত;
ভরা ঘট এস নিয়ে ভরসায় ভর্ণা;
ঝর্ণা !

শৈলের পৈঠৈয় এস তনুগত্রী !
পাহাড়ে বুক-চেরা এস প্রেমদাত্রী !
পান্নার অঞ্জলি দিতে দিতে আয় গো,
হরিচরণ-চ্যুতা গঙ্গার প্রায় গো,
স্বর্গের সুধা আনো মর্ত্যে সুপর্ণা !
ঝর্ণা !

মঞ্জুল ও-হাসির বেলোয়ারি আওয়াজে
ওলো চঞ্চলা ! তোর পথ হল ছাওয়া যে !
মোতিয়া মোতির কুঁড়ি মূরছে ও-অলকে;
মেখলায়, মরি মরি, রামধনু ঝলকে
তুমি স্বপ্নের সখী বিদ্যুত্পর্ণা
ঝর্ণা !
—-

1
9 October 2020

That is an incredible pencil drawing

The three photos below are that of my first cousin, once removed (at different ages). That is my mom’s brother’s son’s son. You might remember him from some of the stories I wrote about him during my trips to India.

The picture above is a pencil drawing – inspired by those photos – done by another of my first cousin, once removed. This time it is my mom’s brother’s daughter’s daughter. While I am no expert in the arts – it sure takes me a minimum two glasses of wine to appreciate Sharmila’s paintings – three, if it is an abstract – even to the untrained eyes of mine, this seems to be an outstanding piece of art.

I hope she will follow her passion and talent and someday, become a great artist.

2
27 September 2020

That occasional moment of mirth

As listless as his life has become, we have been able to get his pain level down with all sorts of life support around him. That includes dialysis – which means he has to be heaved off to the dialysis center three times a week and then four hours later brought back. There is a fairly large support system of four people my brother has set up for him. That includes domestic help at home to give mom some respite, a couple of able bodied people to lift him and get him in the car and all that…

On his side, he is mostly sleeping and has gone very quiet. Does not talk as much and in those days when there is a 2-day gap between dialysis, he gets very fidgety and restless. But does not complain of any pain. And then, once in a while, when he gets a bout of normalcy, he gets stressed realizing all the support system set up around him. His biggest fear is that all that expenses will dry all our money dry and mom will not be able to buy food. Needless to say, he has no idea how much money he has or how much a kilogram of potato costs for that matter.

My brother is once again at this bedside this weekend. I look forward to that since that means I can see my dad thru Whatsapp video. He clearly looks like a much-stricken patient. The most painful part for me is when he keeps asking me when will I come to see him. Unlike a month back, he has lost his ability to understand the pandemic and that flights are not possible right now.

In the middle of all that, we did see a streak of his old humor though.

At one point, he asked me what was I up to. This was around 10 at night for me.

“Tomakey taaka pathabaar byabastha korchhi”.
(“Oh! I am fixing the system to send you money.”)

He knew immediately that I was making fun of him. You can see him laughing in the bottom left screen shot. After a good laugh, he sobered down for a second and then with that familiar mischievous countenance (see bottom right picture) shot his comeback..

“Byabastha-ta a-byabastha korle ki korey?”.
(“How did you break the system to begin with?”)

Even my brother was laughing so loud that he could not hold up the phone for me any more!!

3
29 August 2020

The curtains – they are a-closing

It has been a very painful two weeks for him and everybody around. The last three days have been excruciatingly so. His level of pain has become unbearable for his own body. And worse for those around him who is forced to watch him writhe in agony. In the last 24 hours alone, he had three near-transition moments and each time, he pulled back. The organs are still fighting for some last gasps.

For the last two days, my brother has been trying to arrange for a hospital to take him in to see if the pain level can be brought down. And not let others see him suffer.

As of a few hours back, finally, a bed has been found. To try everything to alleviate his pain, we are going to try a Hail Mary and commence a dialysis on him to see if that gives the kidney a boost for some time.

This picture sent to me by my brother from the hospital as he was leaving is a poignant description of the moment. The curtains are closing in on him.

It is one thing to die.
It is another to suffer immeasurably while dying.
And then there is the trail of despair and helplessness watching somebody near and dear die.

20 August 2020

Got some of his humor back

It would appear that dad has stabilized a bit after coming back from the hospital. What seems to have worked wonders is realizing that he is surrounded by his grandkids. Both my nephews from Kolkata are with him and the niece, of course, is downstairs. Especially the elder nephew – who has always been very fond of grandfather – is giving him a lot of company. And the reports say that he has been busy Googling a lot of my dad’s symptoms to weigh in on the discussions that my brother has been having around the path forward.

The grandkids, in their effort to cheer up grandfather, also make video calls to me so he can talk to me.

One of the more humorous stories from today…

We were video conferencing with each other as one of the nephews held up the phone close to him when he asked…
“Kaaney tulo diye rekhechhis keno?” (We have you put cotton plugs in your ears?)
I could hear the nephews whispering “What?”
After I stopped laughing, I told them that grandfather won’t understand bluetooth or Airpods.

And then we could all hear dad continue “Taaka chaibo boley?” (Are you afraid I will ask you for money?)
All I could see is a flash of his face as he started laughing at his own joke.

And then I saw the ceiling.
Apparently, the nephews burst out laughing, were literally rolling and the phone lying somewhere on the floor after bouncing a couple of times – no doubt!

It is then that I realized that at your old age, medicine is not what the doctor really called for. It is being surrounded by your near and dear ones who you can talk to.

In an irony, they still won’t let me visit the hospices here (because of Covid)

15 August 2020

The scene has shifted to the hospital now

In the end, the suffering was too much at home for him as well as the care takers. Brother reached after midnight on Thursday. Yesterday, the situation reached a point that he had to be moved to a hospital.

Right now the situation in India (at least in Bengal) is fairly grim. Due to Covid, getting ICU beds has become very difficult. And nothing can be done before Covid tests – which can take three days, as I understand. Fortunately, since my brother is in the medical line (he sells medical machines in all hospitals in Bengal) and my brother in law is a doctor, they were able to pull enough strings to get one ICU bed in a hospital in Kalyani.

The initial diagnosis is – as was being feared – multiple organs – kidneys, lungs and heart are starting to fail. But apparently the root cause might be the kidneys. The plan is to see if dialysis makes any difference. However, everything has to await the Covid results.

Meanwhile, he seems to be in a stupor. Which is not bad … I assume he is not feeling the pain then.

14 August 2020

Not looking that good

My niece set up the video call on my sister’s phone so I could see dad. He clearly was struggling. It appears that three of his organs – lungs, kidneys and heart are worsening. As a result he is not able to breathe well.

He was laying down there – but was able to hear. When my niece let him know that I am there on the phone, he did open his eyes and even made an effort to get up. Had to be helped a little and was clearly in pain.

Sharmila, Natasha and Nikita gathered around me to see how he is doing (you can see us all in the inset on the top).

Let’s hope his pain subsides – one way or the other.

13 August 2020

It is probably coming down to the short strokes now

The good news is that he was recovering from the smaller stroke fairly fast. However, the problem in breathing has lingered on. And in fact getting worse.

This is not COVID. He was always a COPD patient. I am sure decades of smoking unfiltered Charminars somewhere caught up with him. Last ten days, mom has been increasing the nebulizer frequency steadily to help in his breathing. From once in two days to once a day to twice a day to eventually thrice a day.

Unfortunately, this is not improving the situation much. However, taking him to a hospital is not an option. He will surely catch an irrecoverable infection.

This morning, things have reached what looks like the onset of a point of no return. He just cannot breathe much. Has been getting up and lying down constantly in bed.

One of the greatest blessings I have is that my sister lives downstairs from him and my brother is a couple of hours drive away. My sister and brother in law have arranged for an oxygen cylinder at home (which during these days of ventilator shortages is a feat unto itself).

Mom is reporting that he is being too restless and taking off all the attachments from his face. From other behavioral descriptions (again forgetting names), he might be having a series of very small (ischemic?) strokes.

It will be a miracle and I will be very surprised if he can pull thru this one.