Kashmir

Photo : Rediff.com

Few of our friends questioned our decision to visit Srinagar and spend a few days there. Frankly speaking even though I knew we would be safe there I was uncertain about the ambience. We landed at the Srinagar airport right on Eid.

As we were waiting with our luggage to be picked up I think to myself

this airport looks like any other small airport in India

During the drive from the airport to the hotel there weren’t many vehicles on the road because of Eid. I saw

ooh!  so many policemen. Are those sandbag barricades on the roadside?

As we reached the hotel

this area looks like any upscale neighbourhood of any city in India

We asked the hotel manager to suggest a  place where we could enjoy a leisurely walk. He suggested Dal lake. We  flagged down an auto and asked him to take us to Dal Lake.

Man! I can’t believe the amount of traffic on the road.

Stroll ! Here! In this crowd ! Forget it!

We bypassed the lake and  asked the auto driver to take us to a less crowded place.He took us to Mughal gardens.

More people!

We tried walking in that crowd but it was very frustrating.

Abort walk! Let’s go back to the hotel

Next day we drove to Gulmarg. We were assigned our cottage and a caretaker.The cottage was on a small mount with a rough path leading to it.

Interesting.

After spending some time in the cottage we went on to  pursue our longstanding wish of taking a leisurely walk.

Plenty of People, Horses, Shit, Shit and more Shit everywhere !

No one bothered to clean the horse shit.

Stopped walking and returned to the cottage to find it very cold.

Brrrrrrrr!  Let’s turn on the heater.

We couldn’t  locate the heater or the caretaker, the only warm place was the bed which had an electric blanket.

Thank you electric blanket, our saviour!

Next day we took a shot at Gondola ride.

What a crowd! Such a mess ! looks totally disorganised!

Bypassed Gondola ride. Returned back to the hotel in Srinagar.

The following day we took an auto to Badgam, the local railway station. We were waiting for the train.

many policemen

One of the policemen eagerly chatted with us and was surprised to hear that we had come all the way just to experience the train ride.

Hurray! No tourists!

We entered the train, found three fairly clean seats and sat down.

more policemen with Ak 47 patrolling the train

The train travelled through different stations gathering the local crowd

so many policemen in every little station

We passed through Banihal rail tunnel.

Yeaaaaaaah! 7 miles long super long tunnel     

The train terminated at Banihal.

OMG! look at the rushing crowd

The compartment was jam packed.The train started its journey back to Badgam.

All the local boys in the compartment were staring at us.

Man ! this is awkward , a bit uneasy

Soon a couple of girls and a bunch of boys started quarrelling in Kashmiri.

What the hell is happening? Is it eve teasing?

A policeman with an Ak 47 appeared on the scene to resolve the issue. He humoured them into going their separate ways.

I was so caught up with all that was happening in the train that I had forgotten that we hadn’t dared to get down from the train at Banihal to buy the return tickets.

Will we get caught? Maybe! But man, this was one exhilarating experience!

 

Gracious Moment

Photo : Daily Mail

I was sitting on a bench under a tree waiting opposite the building where my daughter was having her classes.This has become a ritual by now, maybe I’ll call it our Saturday Chaos. Every Saturday my daughter and I take a long ride to our designated school where she attends her contact classes for the five subjects she has chosen while I wait on the bench under the tree. If we are extremely lucky then everything goes as planned and the whole ordeal gets over by little under 4 hours and we are back on our way home.

My daughter rejoices in the flexibility and freedom that homeschooling offers her except for the dozen or so Saturday classes she needs to attend. These Saturday classes are meant to help these kids with their internal assignments, to get them prepared for their practicals and to clear their doubts. Unfortunately the regular schools who support this program have no clue as to how to handle it and we bear the brunt of their ignorance, lack of interest and sloppiness one Saturday after another.

This particular Saturday was disastrous. The announced dates for the practical examinations were saying that we had only 10 days left to prepare which shocked everyone as we were led to believe until then that we had close to two months to do so. I knew from our experience till then that if  we don’t actively chase around and ambush the right people, press the right trigger then nothing would get done. For our luck, that Saturday not only happened to be a working day for regular school but they were celebrating Teacher’s Day. That meant that my access to everyone and everything including my daughter would be severely restricted. I had no option but to wait and watch.

I sat as usual on the bench under the tree, among few other students and parents, completely beaten by the situation I was in. I sat there for a while, lost in my thoughts when I felt someone tap my shoulder. I looked up and heard a voice ask tentatively:

“Kavitha?”

I jumped up and turned around.  

Me :  Reshma?

Reshma : What are you doing here?

Me :  My daughter is homeschooled and this school is her contact center. And you?

Reshma :  I am teaching music here.

Me (while wondering as to what this ambitious software engineer is doing teaching music in this school):  Wow! What a combination- Maths and Music!

Reshma (hesitantly) : You do know what happened with me, yeah?

My mind gets busy trying to guess what would have possibly gone wrong : divorce, cancer survivor…….

Me (warily) : No

A puzzled expression crosses her face.

Reshma : I lost my first one.

My mind scrambling to make sense of this statement- losing what?? What first one??

Reshma : My daughter.

Me : Oh

I sat back down on the bench and she sat beside me under the tree.

She joked about how my mother herself doesn’t know about my whereabouts. I laughed along with her and we talked  about mundane stuff like where we were staying then……

…my mind had almost come to the conclusion that she would have lost her 12 year daughter to some gruesome accident.

Me: If you don’t mind, can you tell me what happened to her?

Reshma : Brain tumour.

Her husband was a neurosurgeon and it was him who first suspected that his daughter might have something more serious than indigestion. Her daughter was diagnosed with brain tumour. The next big task was finding an expert who was ready to undertake such a risky operation. Her husband managed to rally a team of doctors who were willing to tackle that very difficult task.

Reshma : God! That was a terrifying time. The probability of the operation failing was pretty high with her either losing her memory, or getting paralysed, or going into coma. Thank god! The operation was a mighty successful one, so much so that she became her normal self again.

“She was fine for more than a year and then she slowly started losing her coordination. She would trip while walking. She would stand in front of the wash basin with her brush in her hand looking confused and would ask me,  “Amma, what should I do?””

I fought hard not to break into a sob right in front of her. I was determined not to ruin her peace. She was so composed and calm. She felt relieved that the ordeal of seeing her daughter slowly disintegrate was over. She said with such compassion and grace as to how she took care of her baby girl  in her last days…

…right at that point I was interrupted by our program coordinator regarding the practical schedule. I was soon sucked into the world of our usual Chaos of arranging and organizing dates with different teachers. Till today I am surprised at how efficiently and coherently I handled those tasks at hand.

I didn’t cry till I started narrating  the incident to my daughter and husband. For the next few days, the only thing that I kept asking myself was “how did she do it?”. I selfishly was just thinking about me and my daughter and how lucky I was. Then the Saturdays seemed no longer chaotic but a blessing.

Today I marvel at the coincidence of that meeting. Or was it a coincidence? Was I made to sit there under that tree with my friend to witness the immense strength of humankind, the grace and beauty of understanding death? The trust in life that NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS, I WILL BE OK!                                 

Warning

Can you guess what you are seeing in the photo above? The beach looks as if it has boils on it! Ugh! This is what me and my family saw on the first day of our week-long vacation at the Mobor beach, Goa couple of years back. We took a closer look and my daughter exclaimed, “yuck! I think they’re Jellyfish!”. We were guessing that they were jellyfish from what we had read earlier; that Mangalore beaches were being swarmed by Stingrays and the Bay of Bengal was washing up dead jellyfish onto the shore. We decided to stay away from the water and instead took a little stroll along the beach, shaking our heads in disbelief at what we were witnessing.

The first thing that we did as soon we reached our resort was to google up washed up jellyfish. We soon learned that it happens in south west beaches of UK but that year’s (2015) invasion of jellyfish was said to be unprecedented.The article warned beachgoers not to touch the specimen which despite not being considered dangerous to humans, can leave a sting similar to that of a nettle.The article also mentioned that their numbers have increased that year partly due to the warm spell and the changing chemicals in the sea.

Reading about this phenomenon had very little impact on me but witnessing it first hand shocked me. I began to wonder if this was nature’s way of balancing out the excessive population of jellyfish. Was nature warning us humans that if we make a nuisance of ourselves on this earth it won’t hesitate a moment to wipe us out?

Parents and Children

Statistics of my family

Current generation:                                                                                                                          My daughter

Our generation:                                                                                                                                     My husband, an only child                                                                                                                   Me, one of two children

Previous generation:                                                                                                                             My father-in-law, one of eight                                                                                                             My mother-in-law, one of five                                                                                                             My mother, one of nine                                                                                                                         My father, one of seven

One can see a drastic reduction in the number of children in our generation compared to the previous one.

According to Indian tradition, the son or sons are responsible for taking care of their parents in their old age and also to help their soul rest in peace by performing the last rites. Since the family size has reduced drastically within a generation we now have many families with only daughters and no son.

Have these families grasped the current scenario and come up with a practical solution in taking care of the older members of the family? Or are they turning a blind eye to this issue expecting time, circumstance and family politics to determine the outcome?

We are facing similar issues in families where all the children are working abroad in search of better opportunities for themselves and their kids. In such scenarios do parents and children sit together and chalk out a plan that is satisfactory to all?

Very important:  While strategizing caring plans for the elderly, one has to respect the fact that each one of us are unique and so is our family dynamics. This understanding will lead us to  genuine solutions with some grace and dignity.

 

Chennai Rain Disaster 2015

First hand experience of one of my friends in Chennai rain disaster 2015.

My friend Latha had last heard from her mother the previous day that the ground floor of her house was submerged in water and that she had moved to the first floor. Latha tossed and turned in her bed the entire night waiting for daybreak to jump into action.

Her husband Satish and herself set out with purpose and determination to rescue her mother: they drove in their car for as long as they could and when they couldn’t proceed any further they abandoned the car and started wading through the flood water. The progress was slow and it seemed like they weren’t  getting anywhere. Slowly desperation and helplessness started to take over. It was then that her eyes fell on a beacon of hope – a policeman!

Her first request for help in saving her stranded mother was nonchalantly dismissed. Further pleading him, trying hard to make him understand the helpless situation her mother was in got a sterner “No”. He let her know in no uncertain terms that saving her mother was not his priority. With tears of rage filling her eyes she frantically marched on. After a while she chanced to meet a guy with a bigger vehicle who too was trying to rescue a relative. He was lost as he wasn’t familiar with that area. Latha jumped at the opportunity to help him as she knew the place well and he in turn agreed to help her rescue her mother.  

But to her utter dismay she found herself stranded again as even the bigger vehicle failed to get through after some point. Satish asked her to stay put, while he tried his best to slowly wade through the water but was soon alarmed to find himself, a fairly tall guy, chest deep in water. He felt it would be dangerous and foolish to continue on. So they retreated back to their car.

She rested her head on the dashboard feeling defeated and desolate. Her phone dead for long springs to life! She picked up the phone and as soon as she heard the sound of her best friend Sangeetha from the other end she broke down. She continued to cry as she explained the nightmare she was going through: her father was out of town , her mother was stuck in the flooded house all by herself for two days then! Her rescue mission failed, she couldn’t seem to get in touch with her mother, she absolutely doesn’t know what her mother is going through and that was filling her with dread!

Nothing else could be done that day.

Next day Satish’s friend tried his luck at saving Latha’s mother. He was relieved to find that the water had receded to three feet which let him guide her mother through those murky waters into the safety of an auto rickshaw. The auto rickshaw took her mother to Latha’s house. As soon as Latha sets her eyes on her mother she rushed towards her, hugged her tightly and started sobbing uncontrollably.             

Well-Informed Patient

  • Marginal Osteophytes at multiple levels 
  • Dorso-lumbar vertebrae 
  • Dextroscoliosis Lumbar Spine 
  • Degenerative endplate, irregular margins L-2  I 3-4 with reduced disk spaces
  • Bilateral Facet arthropathic changes at multiple levels

 

My father- in- law (FIL) was told by the doctor that he was suffering from all the above conditions and that surgery would be required to alleviate his pain. The fact that he needed surgery rattled him and he immediately called my husband. My husband noted down the details, researched it and let his dad know that it simply meant arthritis of the spine and most probably he won’t require surgery.

FIL went for second opinion and was relieved to know that he didn’t require surgery. But my husband raised a doubt as to why he was prescribed Rantac, an acid reducer without being prescribed a steroid. He wanted FIL to call up his doctor and clarify the issue but FIL outrightly refused to do so because he thought doing so would insult his doctor.

Why is it that in India we believe being subservient means being respectful? In fact, won’t a well informed and participatory patient be more helpful to the doctor in making an accurate diagnosis and a suitable treatment plan? Wouldn’t it be relieving for the doctor to go from playing God to being a partner in solving the problem? In this age of commercialization one would think that, acting in self interest, people would be very interested in equipping themselves with all the basic facts of life, knowledge of health issues being one of them. But I find that’s not the case.

Most people I know would rather spend their time binge-watching cricket matches or junk movies than getting to know their own body and mind. Is it because they are too lazy to learn and think it is too boring and beyond their comprehension? Is it so bothersome that they want the luxury of someone else completely taking charge of all their health issues?

Ultimately, our health is our responsibility and being a well-informed patient has become a necessity in today’s world. 

 

Pleasant Trip

Millions of minutes before this moment had started my mantra No motion-sickness please!!

It was 11.45 pm. What an ungodly hour to be waiting in line to drop off my checked luggage and collect my boarding pass! No motion-sickness please!! Fifteen minutes passed and I hadn’t moved an inch forward. Why are all international flights from India scheduled at such ridiculous hours? Our convenience is not their priority, I guess. No motion-sickness please!! Half an hour went by and I was still standing at the same spot. Thank god! My one year old daughter was fast asleep in her stroller. No motion-sickness please!! An hour passed and I was still stuck at the same place but knew why. The computers were down! No motion-sickness please!!

Passengers were getting impatient and restless. Just before it could have turned into a ruckus, they rushed us through check in No motion-sickness please!!, emigration No motion-sickness please!!, security No motion-sickness please!! boarding No motion-sickness please!!   procedures and we were seated in the plane successfully.

One hour passed by and the plane hadn’t budged. I started feeling stuffy. No motion-sickness please!! Another half an hour passed and now I was sweating but knew why. No motion-sickness please!!  There was a mechanical failure and the air conditioners weren’t working. We sat in there for another half an hour practically melting before the engine was up and running. No motion-sickness please!! They let us know apologetically that we were couple of hours behind schedule and hoped to make it up as much as possible in flying time. What?!

It’s OK, I will still be able to catch my connecting flight. No motion-sickness please!!  

We were midway and so far,  we weren’t making up any of the lost time. No motion-sickness and let me make the connecting flight please!! As time passed let me make the connecting flight please!!

The plane reached late! let me make the connecting flight please!! Did I mention that my daughter’s stroller was checked in because it was considered too bulky? None of the flight attendants would be available to  help me out in transferring to the connecting terminal till the last passenger left! So I had no option but to carry my daughter, the diaper bag and a carry on and sprint from one terminal to the other which were quite far apart. To make the situation worse, we had to go through the security check as well!

Man! There was a huge crowd at the security checkpoint. I panicked! I hesitated for a while but then decided to put on a brave front while pushing my way through the crowd. I hate breaking rules and felt horrible jumping the line. I was yelled at by few people, ”hey lady! where do you think you are going?” “we are waiting too!” I ignored them, reached the security personnel and explained to them my crisis. They took pity on me, checked me and let me through.

Hooray! We reached the gate on time! I sat down on a chair huffing and puffing and setting my daughter free to move around. She was very happy to be the center of attention of a group of  young people sitting beside me. They were cooing and babbling over her in their native tongue and  before I could comprehend the situation and react, the deed was done: one of the them shared his white chocolate with my daughter and in no time it was in her mouth! Gesturing wildly I went “Sorry! no chocolate! she eat no chocolate!” She has never had a chocolate or any sugar based sweet up until then in her life, moreover it was given by a total stranger! I can’t believe even today that instead of immediately prying the chocolate out of her mouth I let her eat that piece so as not to offend the stranger!!

I paid the price for my stupidity. My daughter started shitting once every hour for the first half of our journey; we would dash to the toilet and while I would be changing the diaper she would  get excited seeing herself in the mirror and would break into a jig on the foldable diaper table. I don’t know whether it was the diaper table or the mirror or the overall novelty of a confined toilet space in the plane that held my daughter’s fascination, but we ended up spending most of our travel time there.

We arrived at our destination on time and everything went on smoothly until one of my suitcases was not to be found on the baggage belt. The helper that I had arranged to help me with the luggage grew impatient and I reluctantly let him go to find another customer. I had no choice but to leave the trolley carrying my luggage right next to the baggage area in order to unfold the stroller, place my daughter in it and push her along to the lost baggage claim area. There I was asked to check through few large suitcases that were separately placed near the counter. Thank god!! My suitcase was there!!

As I was standing there wondering helplessly as to what to do next, I spotted the helper who was to help me before and asked him if he could help me now. He agreed.

I was so relieved to see my husband waiting in the visitor’s area! The first thing he asked me was if I was OK or did I get motion sick? It took me a moment to realize that I didn’t get motion sick at all! In a way it was a pleasant trip!