Strength

One of my earliest, traumatic memories is how my parents dropped me off at my aunt’s place to visit a hospital or something like that, when I was four years old, for a couple of hours. I remember bawling and never quite stopping.

My mother used to be afraid of taking me out for sleepovers because it was a known fact that I was my papa’s girl and wouldn’t live without him. I would wail for him in the middle of the night.

My relatives wouldn’t understand this. They used to joke that my mother better start making a statue of my father so I could take it with me when I eventually married and left for my husband’s home.

I was so smart I never got married. The few times I left India which might total to all of eight-nine months in my entire life, I was miserably homesick for my parents, my bed, and my room in that order, no matter how comfortable or exciting my life was.

So. This is life’s way of outsmarting me now.

On Friday, I put my father in a care centre that’s do-able on the pocket (I will still be perpetually poor now), led by people who understand ageing and the progressive nature of dementia. When we visited the place that houses only forty inmates, I was happy about how clean, spacious, and well-staffed it was, including a doctor and geriatric physiotherapist in-house. It was not posh, nor is it a medical facility. But those are the exact type of places I cannot afford. Importantly, it is only between eight to eleven kilometres from my house. I can be there within an hour in case of an emergency.

My mother and I paid a token advance to block the only remaining bed in the facility. But we were far from certain of our decision. The morning of Friday, my mother cried to me in the morning saying we won’t do this. I had spent most of Thursday bawling like a child, first, to my sister in Melbourne, and, then, to my brother in DC. My mother felt that she couldn’t stand to see me so broken. She herself felt she couldn’t see her husband committed at a facility. It was too much.

Yet.

How can something that is right, no, inevitable, the only remaining option, feel so bloody wrong?

I woke up determined to be practical. I came downstairs and one look at my father broke me down again.

In the throes of our confusion, we felt we could manage his ill temper, his confusion, his lack of communication with us, everything.

Yet, thinking that made my heart tremble with fear and stress for my mother who bore the brunt of his bad behaviour.

In two months, my already petite mother lost two kgs. What right did I have to expect her to serve him as he got worse?

But more selfishly (and isn’t that always the bigger concern), what would I do if she also fell ill?

The stress and distress was so acute that I went back to bed and slept. It has never happened to me before. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. My body just shut down. I couldn’t think or cry any more.

I woke up in time for lunch and went downstairs still unsure of what I would do. My mother told me how my father looked dull and subdued and was in bed. He never does that, even when ill. Concerned, I quickly rushed to his room to check on him. He had no fever and no visible inflammation – nothing to worry us. My mom also told me how he started demanding food at eleven am and got angry and snappish when my mom told him that it wasn’t lunch time yet, and that she’d make him tea instead.

She looked so worried and miserable that I felt cruel for indulging in my sentimentality. Neither of us are equipped to live in a high stress environment. It’s a sure shot way of inviting debilitating joint pain and resultant issues for both of us. Two days of crying and stress and I could feel how tight my muscles were and how much my joints hurt. What was I doing thinking about right and wrong as if I could afford such luxurious thoughts!

In that second, I decided that we would put him in the centre and see. It might not be permanent but my mother needed to live a normal, stress-free life for a few days at least.

And as always, I would have to be the one to decide things for my household. I couldn’t expect my mother to parent me. She was in too much pain to be rational or decisive.

Post lunch, as I was packing his toiletries into a bag, he came up to me and said, “Shall I get ready?”

I was shocked. He usually has very little awareness of what’s going on in the house. The past two months, he shows great reluctance to dress up and go out of the house. I usually have to beg, cajole, outright scream at him (which leads to more fighting and stress) to get him to change from his house clothes.

“Where do you want to go?” I asked him instead.

“I don’t know. You want to take me to that place, right? I will go get ready,” he said.

I swallowed the sob and told him to get dressed.

As he dressed, I held his hands, caressed his back, put on his buttons for him and said, “We are going to a treatment facility again. They will look after you well. Ask them for whatever you might need. Tell them if you get hungry. I have paid for everything. So don’t be shy to ask. Talk to people. Listen to them. Have a good break. Once the treatment is done, I will bring you back home.”

“What about my clothes?”

“I have packed them. You won’t need anything. If you miss something, tell me, I will get it for you. I will call you everyday. Be good. Don’t get angry and get a good name for yourself and make friends like you did at the other centre.”

I managed to say this much cheerfully enough and then ran upstairs to my room to dry heave and sob. I felt a panic attack coming on and quickly swallowed my emergency pills to not succumb to the panic attack. I needed to have my wits around me so I could act cheerful and confident. My papa caught vibes easily or so I believe.

We enrolled him at the centre. He looked happy.

As soon as he was out of sight, and I was filling out the forms, I broke down completely. The doctor assured me that I was doing the right thing and I must not think of what other people might say.

I looked at her. It was incomprehensible what she was saying. Then it hit me. I sobbed out how it wasn’t even something I cared about – other people. What the fuck does anyone know or care about my life or my family or my choices?

My heart broke because I was putting my father in a facility knowing how possessive I am of my parents. In all my life, I have felt such possessiveness only for my parents, my sister in Melbourne, and my best friend in Germany who is the love of my life. I am not even possessive of the men I take to my bed.

I couldn’t believe that life had brought me to this point where I would no longer live with my papa and mama together.

I managed to compose myself and we went up to his room. He had made friends with his roommate and just when I thought he knew what was going on, he blabbered nonsense about injections and his roommate being an old neighbour. The doctor handled him with grace and tact and told him to say bye to us. His roommate, a stroke patient with a sound mind, assured us that he would look out for my dad and that we were not to worry, it was a good facility; we were to be strong.

That’s when my father piped up, “My wife and my daughter are very strong women. They are stronger than me. They can handle anything.”

I could feel my knees tremble. Keeping a cheerful face and saying bye to him is the hardest thing I have ever done in my life so far.

It’s been two days. On the phone, he sounds chirpy, excited, and cheerful. The doctor assured me he is eating well and sleeping well too. He has made friends. He watches TV. He explores the house. He is happy. This time he hasn’t asked me to bring him back home. He says he likes the food. He sounds upbeat.

My mother and I are so relieved we don’t know what to do with ourselves. We are trying to get used to the lack of stress. But there’s a gaping hollow instead. Guilt and sorrow and a very real miss eats at us, and threatens to fill that void. If we allow it, it can completely devastate us.

We try not to but we keep talking about him. Now that he’s away, and we no longer feel fear or stress, we remember all the happy times we had together as a family. We remember how wonderful a father and husband he was, before the tumour, before the dementia. If I feel beaten but invincible today, it’s because he brought me up that way. Did he always know that I would be making one difficult decision after another all through my life?

We are desperate to see him. But the centre asked us not to visit for the first fifteen days till he gets used to the place. Even today, my mother said, “Forget the money. Let’s just go and get him back. My stomach hurts when I think of him. I miss him.”

I want to do that more than anything in the world, but I also know that it’s not a solution. Not yet. I cry my eyes out and still pretend to be an iron woman determined to stick by what is currently best for my family. “We’ll bring him home often. We’ll take him out often. It will get better. It is a good thing for all of us.” I say this repeatedly to her and to myself. “And if it’s impossible, we’ll get him back home. He is alive. He is healthy. He sounds happy. Maybe he missed socialising. Maybe he missed resting. At home, he always tried to do chores refusing to rest. If we asked him to rest, you know how angry he got. Let’s wait and watch.” I say this knowing it to be true.

He doesn’t ask to come home nor does he want me to pick him up. In the earlier centre where he was for a week, everyday he wanted to come back home. It broke my heart. Now that he doesn’t ask, it breaks my heart still.

Sometimes I feel that he has moments of lucidity where he is still the papa who loved and respected me and my mom more than anyone in this world. And that man knows and recognises how he must not cause us distress. Trying to make peace with being away from us and this home which is so beloved to him is his way of being good to us still. This is his love for us.

But mostly, his conversations don’t make sense at all. He wears my eye-mask as a face-mask and flies into a rage when I tell him it’s an eye-mask. He doesn’t remember what he ate or when. He makes up stories.

So, does he even know the import of our actions much less his words and responses?But what was that line about strength spoken with such love and pride? And the timing of it!

Only the universe knows.

The universe really has a wicked, fucked-up sense of humour.

P.S. Thank you to all the readers who have been reaching out and sharing their own tales of grief and dealing with dementia of loved ones. I am so sorry that we’ve had to suffer this.

I know my story is unfortunately very common. I am grateful that my words help clarify things for you and also bring you comfort and ease. That, really, is why I write. So thank you, for taking the time to share with me. Thank you for your generosity.

At the end of the day, we do what we can. This is the only lesson. People who truly love you and care for you, will not judge you. So always do you. Love yourself. Be kind to yourself and others.

Much love, hugs, and prayers for all of you. Blessed be.

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Surrender

I surrender myself to the wisdom of older women, and go on a short holiday after finding a good, but expensive respite care facility for my father. (It was worth it. If I were wealthy, I would do it all the time.)

Older women know everything.

Together they have witnessed and borne everything. Abandonment, relationships, miscarriages, children, abortions, surgeries, divorces, deaths, and interminable but magical life that can change or end in a spasm. It makes them cold and loving at the same time.

In many ways, when I teach in a classroom, when I allow lovers to touch me, when I console and counsel friends and students, I am already that woman.

But here, now, in my life, I am still a little girl crying for her papa.

I love daddy play (is that even a surprise?), but this time there is no safe word. Only adult choices. And I no longer know how to play.

My mother who has foresuffered all and borne it all by turning simple cooking into a fine art, puts her foot down and says, “We need a break. From this man, this life, this house. We should reclaim our lives.”

So we go to Munnar.

For what it’s worth, by day 2, I am smiling easily and I am breathing more air. My mother is all giggles and laughter and delight.

This is what we need, I can hear her think.

But my mother is also thinking about the rest of our lives.

For nearly a year, I think, she cared for her aged and dying father along with her siblings. The three youngest were responsible for an old man who did nothing more (it seems to me) than produce child after warring, toxic, narcissistic child. They would be family only in the trauma they cause/caused each other that bound them so irrevocably together. Still. Each one talks as if they were a victim. Still. But in those days, my mother and her two youngest brothers aged between ten and seventeen were victims. They cooked, kept a clean house, and cleaned their father when he soiled himself in bed, even as they went to school or college, tried to keep part time jobs.

That cannot be duty or giving back to our parents. No child asks to be born.

I am determined that neither my mother nor I will do that for my father. We’ve done it once already, rather she has, on our last holiday as a family when my father was so disoriented he lost control of his bowels, his bladder, and even his gait. In those green and wet valleys of Wayanad, I promised myself we’d not do this for his remaining life.

His life seems interminably long.

It’s cruel to live, I think, when the mind starts shrinking and your base nature comes to the fore.

I see him greedily eat (seldom offer to share, so unlike him) food that he likes. His heart is full of distrust and hatred, he could be mirroring today’s political landscape. Our help, without whom, my mother and I would just crumble, is a noted thief; our friends have all stolen money. And his tongue, sometimes his hands, are reserved for the two people he loves the most. Snapping at us all the time, glaring balefully, stumbling about in confusion and discontent.

Yet he wishes to live. He is grasping at life. The fear of death is in every sentence he utters.

“Do you want me to die?”

“Get me some poison; kill me.”

“I will go away somewhere and die, and then you will know.”

These are not the responses to bitter fights. These are responses to banal, transactional things like, ‘here’s your tea’ or ‘why did you close the curtains?’ or ‘go have a bath, why don’t you shave?’

I wonder if it’s only the physically fit people who feel so attached to life.

I know I don’t feel that way. One arthritis flare-up or a migraine and I am happy if it all ends soon.

But when we age, who knows what greed overcomes us?

Aren’t we always grasping at something, all of us?

Does age even matter then?

Friends remind me that I am still young but quickly ageing, and that life is ephemeral. They have seen previous generations elevate sacrifice, duty, and a generous dose of ‘what will people say?’ and lose the best years of their lives.

Sacrifice is a problem. It’s such a hyberbolic action, it’s not a virtue.

What will people say has never ever been a consideration, much less a concern for me.

No. I vacilate between thinking as an adult and feeling like a child.

My mentor, the wisest woman I know, told me that this too is because of the way I was reared by my father.

What is a parent’s duty?

To rear their offspring to the best of their abilities and ensure that they grow up to be functioning, independent, self-sustaining adults.

My father ensured that I would always also be the adult he could depend on. Whether he did it consciously or events transcribed to make it so, is something we’ll never know now. Once in the throes of insulin shock, he did ramble smugly to our neighbour who had come to help us lift him and put him back on the bed from where he had fallen, “I brought her up. Now see, she will look after me.” Even at that moment, it was a rude shock. I suddenly felt unseen, depersonalised.

I had the world’s best childhood. Everything given on a platter. Love, attention, affection, praise, lessons, and all material things. If I craved a sweet, I would get it. If I wanted a book, I would get it. I liked to study. So I did well in academics usually. My tenth boards were surprisingly good. That was the only time my father spoke to me about boys. “I will put you in whichever college you want, you study whatever you want. Don’t waste time running behind boys. There’s plenty of time for that.”

He never insisted on me getting married like other parents. Yes, the tumour got in the way of all that, perhaps. If, like most other women, I had children to run behind, I wouldn’t be parenting my parents today.

My mother doesn’t believe that, though. His inaction when it came to planning my future drove an irreparable wedge in their marriage.

So when my mentor said that my upbringing is why I am in so much conflict today, I know it to be true. As a child, I grew up without disappointments, without having to adjust or feeling threatened or having the need to manipulate. I was a princess.

They rear you like a princess but never let on how heavy the crown of queendom is. You are just expected to wear it and rule.

This is the resentment then. That I wasn’t warned. That I couldn’t prepare. That I have to be the adult in my relationship with my parents, and decide what’s best for all of us.

They think I am stressed and unhappy because of love. Yes. But also no. I am resentful at having to take a decision. This decision-making is a burden and I have been doing this since I turned eighteen. I am exhausted.

All the women in my life are counseling me to put him in a facility. This is not a burden worth bearing, they say.

So I sulk like a spoilt child even as I surrender to their wisdom, and my own practicality. But my body tenses; my jaw is clenched all the time; my dentist tells me that I am grinding my teeth; I don’t get my period at all when I am regular like clockwork usually (perhaps the menopause has begun) but suffer from PMS all the same; and I call various dementia care facilities in a tight voice.

A stranger’s sales pitch becomes my undoing for a hot minute. “I can hear it in your voice, Ma’am, how fatigued you sound. Our facility is well-equipped to handle frontotemporal dementia patients. You must be knowing, Ma’am, that it’s the worst kind of dementia one can get. Very difficult for the caregivers, Ma’am. But don’t worry, we will help.”

“I… Thank you.”

I almost cry all over him on the phone at this sudden sympathy and kindness from a stranger. I feel hopeful. All for a quiver.

He continues, confident he has reeled me in. “My pleasure, Ma’am. It will cost you 71,500/- per month for single occupancy, with a refundable deposit of two and a half lakhs, and a non-refundable deposit of thirty thousand only. Also, we charge 3,500 additional for co-morbidities like BP, cholesterol, diabetes, Ma’am. Heart conditions and others will be extra. When would you like to visit us?”

I can visit them only if I surrender my body to the general populace, day and night, week on week, naturally. Even getting back to a corporate job won’t cut it.

Or I can suffer as only a daughter can and make my mother suffer as only a wife can, and we look after what’s left of my father on our own, for however long he or we last.

So it all boils down to Sophie’s choice, really.

Splendid.

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Dharma – the subtle art of giving too many fucks

In the list of well-meaning but tone deaf, insensitive half-witticisms like, ‘Cheer up’ to someone suffering from depression; ‘try to control your panic’ to someone in the middle of a panic attack; ‘you are beautiful and would be more so if you lost weight’; ‘your parents become your children when they age’ ranks number one.

It requires additional breath work, control that I don’t often have, to not snarl or be sharp, and instead just say ‘thanks’ (Of course, not a thank you) when I hear it.

There is a reason I chose not to have kids although I had my share of what I call the ‘baby bhoot’, the haunting, recurring thoughts of desiring to be a parent, through different periods in my twenties and thirties. In my life, it was simply not worth it to become a parent, in all likelihood a single parent at that, and rear another human being. Every day now, I laud myself over this decision. It was a damn fine thing that I chose not to procreate nor adopt in this asinine world.

My ageing, suffering-from-dementia father is not my child.

My grandparents clearly did a number on him, the repercussions of which my mother and I continue to face. I like to believe I would bring up boys to be open, communicative, respectful, and less entitled.

Bullshit.

My father, like so many people (especially men of his generation), is incapable of self-reflection and so there is no scope of correction or commiseration. This has always been the case.

In his good times, my father was a social performer. I think back to my childhood and it’s so full of parties at home, meeting people outside, entertaining nearly all the time. He was clever, fun, seductive. Even as a child, I could feel how much fun everyone had and how popular he was. My mother says that was the only time he spoke that way or shared his thoughts. She was never privy to his thoughts, plans, or ideas. Unlike other couples, they never discussed the future. He wouldn’t allow it nor communicate. She wouldn’t dare disturb the peace (and I am glad she chose to do that, the hardest of things to do) for my sake.

I remember the no-communication from the time of his tumour. The silence continues to this day. I have to be attentive to body language and moods to figure out if he is doing OK. My father views illness, like I view religion, as a weakness to be kept entirely private and not shared with anyone.

The past couple of weeks, he hasn’t been doing OK. He flies into a rage over the smallest of things. My mother might tell him to close the door to keep the mosquitoes out and he snarls and fumes. When I say, here’s your cup of tea, he gets angry. Twice in the past week he tried to hit us again. He got incensed with my mother over something she said and pulled her hair out of her bun and tried to shove at her and hit her. I was there, so I could push him away.

Yesterday, I angered him when I told him that he had already had tea and the cup he was trying to drink from was our help’s. He flew into a rage and told me he would hit me. I am PMSing, also someone saying they will hit me or try to hit me is a trigger, so I said, ‘come and try it.’ So he did. He rushed at me with fists and it would have been really ugly if my mother hadn’t used all her strength to pull him off. So instead he called me horrible names and said I would suffer and die in a vile way. The insane violence ended only when, after he rushed to spit and beat me again, I ran out and armed myself with the mops outside our house and took the fight outside. He immediately went in because the conditioning of ‘what will people think?’ is not easily overcome.

To my mother and me, these episodes and the atmosphere at home are things we’ve lived through twelve years ago.

Rationally, we know it’s the disease. But when we see how kindly he speaks to outsiders still, emotionally, it feels like a betrayal. His behaviour towards us seems deliberate.

We live in fear. We are terrified of his physical strength, especially when he has his rage episodes. His hands and fists still feel like iron. He is currently incapable of empathy so he doesn’t worry about causing us any injury. The truth is neither my mother nor I might survive such a beating given our poor health. I worry about leaving my mother alone with him, even when I go for my classes. My mother never leaves me alone with him. We have pretty nearly stopped socialising unless it’s at home.

While I am taking him to the psychiatrist and getting him newer medication or doing whatever else that the doctor might suggest for us, I think what became clear yesterday was that I need to admit him to a rehabilitation centre.

The thought brings little relief, not just because of the cost and risks involved. It feels like we are abandoning him. I keep trying to visualise leaving him at a place and it’s heart-wrenching. This is not what you do to a parent as a child, a primary caregiver. Is this how parents feel about dropping off their kids at a boarding house? Such well-intentioned, sentimental stuff is pointless, though.

My T S Eliot/Upanishad tattoo keeps reminding me to be kind and sympathetic, to have empathy, to have control – da. The one da that has always proven to be the most difficult to follow.

Living in fear and apprehension in one’s own home should never be OK. It’s also deplorable (if entirely natural) to wish helplessly for the death of another human being, especially a strong, violent parent, or worry that you might be maimed or killed by someone else, especially a strong, violent parent.

I keep thinking about dharma – duty.

What is the right thing to do?

The subtle art of dharma has never felt more complex nor more difficult.

Dharma is caring and thinking too much. How many of us have that privilege?

The only thing to do is whatever we can do.

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Small Celebrations

It is not an easy relationship.

In a lot of ways, I have already lost my father.

I think it was over two decades ago when he decided to retire early from his job. That in itself would not have been bad, but after his retirement, as his best plans (if ever that was a plan) succumbed to recession and a company undergoing loss, all his decisions began to smell, first, like confusion, and very quickly, a loss of respect. He saw that most starkly in his wife. The wife who chose to follow him everywhere, any how, whose questions he had silenced with, “What do you know of such matters? Don’t bother me about all this now. Maybe later.”

Later never came.

Now was always early in the morning still, or mid afternoon, or too late in the evening or night for talk about the future or money or investments. She taught herself to value peace and security and love over conflict and fear because he had a temper. They had been together many years, but a part of her was always afraid because she had left her family behind to follow this man. She couldn’t upset the status-quo. She wouldn’t.

And at the time, still, there was trust. Then he saw that trust disappear from her eyes. He saw her joints swell up, and how she aged in a span of months. But she wouldn’t let up about using the little funds they were left with after they lost everything, to build a house.

So he did.

He travelled sixteen kilometers everyday, ate with the labourers, smoked copious cigarettes, slept often in a makeshift shed, burnt himself in the sun but he built that house.

Was that when the rage built?

After the house was completed, he looked worn-out. At the housewarming, his skin was blackened and spotty, his feet were cracked, and the silk dhoti barely masked anything as his callused hands shook those of his guests. He didn’t laugh as much nor entertain as he used to do. He was simply burnt out.

In the new house, he took to sleeping and resting to catch up on all the comforts he had missed for those six months it had taken him to build it. Little things had him flying into a rage against the wife. And me. Soon they were no longer even verbal. He used hands and shoves. Years of weight training, body building, and cross country running made his body strong. It was like being slapped by a sheet of iron.

One of the lines that struck me and has stayed with me about Elizabeth 1, the movie, was how she said, “I am my father’s daughter.” I am. When someone hits me, I fight back. He had taught me that even as I was a baby. “Don’t start a fight ever. If someone does, fight for your rights.” Now, in hindsight, it’s a bizzare thing to teach a six year old daughter. But I am grateful for that lesson, that spirit. This is who I am. I am my father’s daughter. And unlike my mother who always chose peace, tears, and pacification, I exploded with equal violence, blood curdling screams, and language.

I was working in a new organisation. Infosys. It was the most middle class, conservative workplace one could work at, but I made friends with people who were all outliers. But even with them, I couldn’t share the secrets of my family life, the horror and shame of it. But I knew enough to take him to a psychiatrist. We even did an MRI and collected the reports. But what a row we had on returning home! We never went back to the hospital.

The rage continued. The sleep continued. It was always volatile at home. I never learnt to give in nor give up on a fight. He accused me of sleeping around with all my male friends. I fought back like the wildcat he himself had raised.

I left Infosys, joined Yahoo! simply because they paid so well. My father never seemed to care about any of my decisions. He had always encouraged me to think independently for myself but this was just callous. My heart, my people, my most favourite tasks were still at Infy. Yahoo! was a dream employer but I couldn’t appreciate it as much as I should have. I was miserable. Then the man I was hoping to marry, broke up with me, saying most unscientifically that I would never have kids because I had PCOD and was overweight, and he wanted to have kids immediately. The marriage had been his idea.

Seething, indignant, thoroughly helpless, I became my mother’s daughter. My joints swelled up; I couldn’t open doors or Bisleri bottles, or tear chapatis. It was visible to everyone how much pain I was in. My manager asked me to work from home. And that’s when things got worse.

My father slept all day, flew into rages, refused to follow basic hygiene, flew into more rages when we asked him to shower or shave. I also noticed the indiscreet masturbation. After many weeks, I mustered the courage to share that with my mother. When she finally confronted him on it, there was an epic battle. This time when he charged towards me to beat me, I picked up a steel chair to kill him. The screaming and the ruckus brought in a kind neighbour, a four year old child, who rushed to get his mother. She hurried in and tried to calm us down. I decided that he needs to go to a home or a centre. I decided to break my silence about the situation at home and talk about it to my friends. The support and love helped. But the stress never went away. There was no apology. There was no change in behaviour. My father who had always treated me like I were the best person in the universe would spit at me and slap me every instance he got. And I would fight back each time.

My mother weakened, lost weight, lived in pain, and began to resemble a bird.

I developed a neurological condition. My right arm would fold up and twitch painfully all on its own at random times. The neurologist made me undergo all sorts of tests, but besides the rheumatoid arthritis and the thyroid, there was nothing new in the blood work. Then he asked me, “Are you stressed?”

The whole story came tumbling out. He immediately asked to see the MRI. We rushed back with the six year old MRI report the same day and there it was, clear as filtered water, when he showed us the frontal lobe.

That was the tumour. Everything my father had become was the tumour. My Papa was not a terrible person. He really was the loving, respectable, clean, enabling dad he had always been. He was lost under the tumour. The relief was short-lived. The doctor said, “How is he still alive? He must be in excruciating pain. We have to operate immediately. Even if we do, I can’t guarantee the outcome.”

We lied to my father. We told him we were to go to the hospital for me so he wouldn’t get violent. He grudgingly agreed. Once there, with burly attendants around, I told him that we were going to do a complete examination of him. To my surprise, he looked relieved.

“How will you afford all this?” that was his first question. I assured him about insurance. He became super cooperative, even friendly after that. He confessed to debilitating headaches to the doctor thinking he was alone with him. It was the fear of hospital costs that had kept him quiet. He didn’t want to burden me so he had suffered his pain in silence for all those years. I stood outside the door and sobbed with my mother and hoped I would get to forgive and love my father again.

The change immediately after the surgery was palpable. He called out to my mom and me at the ICU. His voice was drenched in love and concern. We hadn’t felt that from him for over eight years.

For nearly ten years after, he was his old self but slightly slower at functioning. He is a clever man so you could see the slowness only if you looked very closely. He shaved and showered everyday, cleaned the house, socialised with people, spent the remaining of his meagre savings in more poor investments. He never hit us again even if we fought.

Then the forgetting began along with apathy. Early onset of dementia in the frontal lobe, perhaps owing to the tumour, we were told.

Now he gets scared easily. He fidgets with things. He rarely likes to talk. When he does, nothing he says makes much sense. He lacks empathy. He gets angry very often. He still doesn’t hit us though sometimes he acts as if he would. But even with all this, he tries to help my mother and me around the house. He never gets off the car without asking me which of my many bags he can carry for me. This when his own walk isn’t stable any more. At the dining table, he always tries to force more food on me. He tries to help my mother in the kitchen often doubling the work for her in the process because he really can’t do most tasks. When we are out of sight for long, he gets extremely anxious.

But sometimes, I see the glimmers of who he was all those years ago before his tumour ruined our family.

A sharp dresser who loved expensive perfume, a man who was always the heart of the parties, his stories and goodness delighting and thrilling his audience, a man who would always put himself at a disadvantage to ensure the wellness of others. He was a righteous fighter, full of strong beliefs, at once kind, powerful, and intimidating.

I remember what a fantastic father he was – the reason I had the most spectacular childhood.

He always spoke to me as if I were his equal, even when I was little more than six years old. He respected what I said. It was my decision when I was all of twelve, that we should build our house where we currently live and not in Vijayanagar where we also had property then. Back then, this area was nothing but fields. There was no Outer Ring Road. ITPL wasn’t even being talked about. But he promised me that’s what he would do because I fell in love with this land; it was an instinct. He kept this promise.

Unlike my mother who often punished me for arguing with my mean relatives, he heard me out. He scolded me when I was wrong but if I were right, and I often was because my relatives are shudder-inducing, he would applaud me. “Fight for your rights,” he would say and kiss me.

He was the nurse in our house when we fell sick. His hands warm, gentle, and reassuring would caress my body and it was enough. I still get him to massage my aches away sometimes. It’s not the same.

We both shared a smoke while on holiday last month. I knew it would be the last holiday we would ever take together as a family. But I wasn’t prepared for his deterioration outside his routine. He was severely stressed and disoriented throughout our trip. We cut it short by days and returned early. As we waited to leave Wayanad, we stood together watching the rain from our Airbnb balcony. He had no idea where we were. He kept telling me that the house was lucky. His voice was full of love for me. I thought he would dislike the fact that I was out smoking. Instead he joined me. I could tell that he was happy to smoke with me, and he regaled me with a story of his father, an excellent swimmer, swimming in Mangalore. It’s the first time in my life that I had heard a story about my grandfather. For those few seconds, we spoke again like equals.

Three weeks later, and his brain doesn’t even miss tobacco any more. On his own, without even realising it, he gave up smoking, thanks to the dementia. Such is the wonder of this disease.

So today, when I saw all the father-child pictures on WhatsApp and Facebook I told him cheerily that it’s Father’s Day. “Happy Father’s Day, papa,” I said not really expecting him to register or recognise.

“Oh. Thank you, putta,” he said surprising me. He looked pleased.

So today was a good day in the Anand household. Our relationship for those few seconds today became light, loving, easy, and happy again.

Posted in Blue Funk, Happy Days, Idle Thoughts, In Sickness and In Health | 3 Comments

A Birthday Message

I disliked her on sight. No. That’s not true. When I sent her an email (warm, friendly, inclusive) in response to her introductory one, she had replied ‘Thanks’ not even a ‘Thank you’. I was disappointed because her email made her out to be fun and friendly.

This was at Infosys Technologies. I had already put in my papers and was serving a notice period of one month because I didn’t have the heart to leave the company earlier. I had two more weeks left and that’s when she joined. And this email exchange happened.

Two days later, a common friend brought her for coffee when we were all hanging out. He didn’t check with us if it was Okay. To this day, I blame him and bless him for forcing the people on me who would go on to become my family. Back then, I was super resentful and mad. Not least because she seemed to look down her nose at everything.

We were young, all of us in our early 20s, though we felt very old and worldly, full of maniacal energy, loud, wild, attention-seekers (We didn’t ask for it; it came our way because we were so loud and brazen) and disgustingly clique-y.

One of us, the one most impressed with outward beauty, gushed over her jewellery. Beads. They were just beads. I looked at him incredulously. She cemented my dislike by saying, “A friend of mine got it for me from Tibet/Bhutan/scenic Himalayan place after drinking Yak’s milk and sacrificing five goats.” I exaggerated. What I heard: Exclusive.

‘Oho’, I thought, ‘Let us avoid this wannabe Kannadiga type person.’

Everyone was friendly with her. The traitors. She was new. She was utterly beautiful. She was a Classical Indian beauty in her navy salwar and her big (Gigantic) eyes rimmed smokily with kaajal. She looked like she would make any man swoon. She seemed like she was everybody’s type. Hell, if she were less show-offy and stuck up, she would be my type.

But maybe I was judging her too hastily. I always make snap judgments, often unfavourable, only to change them later. It’s a skill and one of the worst things about me. So we were all going drinking to Purple Haze that Friday. We would even be dressed in purple. All seven of us. So fun. Yes!

“Why don’t you join us?” I threw it at her knowing that I would regret it if she accepted, if she really were stuck-up.

But the hate was sealed when she said, “I don’t go to places like that. I don’t like hard rock and heavy metal. You guys have a great time.”

Such blasphemy. She would never have a place in my heart or life, I decided.

That same friend who was taken in by her told me later that day, “No. Didn’t you see her eyes? She had so much sadness. She’s probably going through a lot. We must take her into the group. We must show her a good time. I am telling you she’s dealing with some tragedy.”

And like the susceptible-to-stormy-emotion-fool I used to be, I forgave her high-handedness, ignored that she chatted using shortforms on messenger (she used to then), made a date to meet her for coffee on Sunday to hear her story and figure out the reason for the sad eyes.

That coffee date at the Leela Palace led to dinner invites, to a forced sleepover at her place where I chewed her ear off with my opinions and stories, divorce, heartbreak, death of a parent, dating woes, a wedding, outings, holidays, festivals, hospitals, fights, drunken episodes (we are both melancholic drunks), international holidays, workshops, exhibitions, museums, beaches, shopping…

She wormed her way into my life most forcefully and never left, no matter how badly I behaved. I have never had a sibling but she is it. She’s the voice of my conscience and comfort.

Nearly fifteen years later, I got rid of her somewhat. She went off to Melbourne, Australia, and so I write public love notes to celebrate her birthday and to thank her for being my sister, my family, my friend all these years.

A year ago, when I had a surgery, I had a panic attack coming out of the anaesthesia. It’s apparently expected when one has panic disorder. When the doctors got me to breathe somewhat and when I could mumble (I was still woozy and barely breathing), I prescribed the medication they were to give me. The doctor laughed and said that she would give me something else. In that haze, frustrated, unable to gain control, feeling like I wasn’t getting through to the doctors, I said, “Call my sister. Call Manasee. She will know what to do.”

So. Like that.

MonTs, we will always have Dubai.

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