Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Aroma Therapy

There is nothing like the delicious aroma of home-cooked food wafting through the rooms of my house. And two days in a row too! (That may sound surprising to many, but I live alone, folks, so getting a cook is a big deal for me!)

Yesterday I was delighted that she came in the morning and cooked my favourite - Bhindi and roti (with ghee, of course). When she left and I went to check what she had made, I was ecstatic and did a leetal jig in the kitchen! The smell of the familiar spices was too good. What a wonderful way to start the day!

Today she's made aloo ki sabzi with tomato and leftover veggies in the house (I didn't get time to go to the market yesterday). And of course, roti (with ghee). I'm in heaven.

Who moved my *cheeeeeeeeese*?

Ever notice how we are torn into minuscule shreds by our guilty consciences for being unable to choose between two equally important priorities that require our attention at the same time?

For example, the other night I was torn between spending time with my ailing boyfriend and also relaxing at home in general, and meeting my cousin sister for a drink to celebrate her passing her exams. Both were equally important, and they tore me apart. My insides exploded and all I could feel in my body was a blank hum (if you could picture that, it would be great). I had a million thoughts buzzing through my head about both situations and how picking one would affect the other. Of course, what with my hyper imagination, I created several hypothetical conflicts, conversation and outcomes - most of which were negative - and began to react emotionally as though these possibilities were actually happening. Not that my sister, in reality, would have reacted as negatively as I had imagined, and neither did my boyfriend (when I told him of my conflict and asked for his help).

Long story short, all ended well - I visited my sister AND got to spend time with me boy. And I realised all the tension I had taken upon my head a few hours before were unnecessary and a frightful waste of a very good guitar class.

Looking back, I realise that I have set certain high standards of 'being' for myself, with relation to others. Now I never thought I would, but, hey, I'm human. And so is everybody else. And I feel like I have to hit a certain high bar of performance in order to gain acceptance from people important to me. But performing is never really 'being'. Performance is something I do. 'Being' is something I am. So performing to make somebody important to me happy isn't really me 'being' me. It's me being the appropriate me.

But how can that make anybody happy? Especially when deep inside, I am not? It's practically impossible to tell what another person is thinking or feeling at any given time. Everybody thinks different, feels different, opines different, based on their experiences and learnages. So how can I decide what makes them happy makes me happy? How can I be so sure that a particular kind of behaviour will truly work and make that person happy?

When did I decide that my happiness lies in somebody else's mind?

The above question was asked to me by a friend. And to me, it's a very powerful one. I needn't have answered it, because it already resolved so many issues and pent-up tensions I had. If I am looking for happiness, then the most dangerous place to find it is in another person's mind, embedded in his/her opinions. And this realisation has released me. In fact, now when I am faced with similar conflicts, the tension is lesser (not completely eradicated yet) and I'm much more rational and objective. And I look at the situation from a distance and am quite calm when doing so. I am hopeful that it will resolve itself and that it will not be the end of me.

Noted Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl once said, "The ultimate freedom lies in the ability to choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances."

I'm beginning to understand that now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

'The Day the Music Died' By Me

Seven days, twenty four hours,
He suffocated me with smelly flowers,
I withered, no matter how much he tried,
The day the music died.

When I think about what I love most,
I think beyond my honey, cheese and toast,
But it all became unbearably fried,
The day the music died.

The crows, they caw, the cars they horn,
The bloody rose has its silver thorn,
A nun she was, but then she lied,
The day the music died.

A rose will always be a rose,
But a coloured man can have no woes,
These shades, they all fled with the tide,
The day the music died.

Dark clouds thundered and lashed with rain,
The weather fought in bloody pain,
The sun conceded and began to hide,
The day the music died.

Braggarts 'joiced' in the name of their 'chords,
She screamed as much as she could afford,
But 'twas all for nothing, and they all sighed,
The day the music died.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Luxury, my friends, is a 'relative' term

A week ago there was much activity in the city. For me, the week began last Sunday, when my friend  was admitted at the Bombay Hospital for a knee surgery and subsequent recovery through the coming week. I kept a check on her throughout. There was a burst of compassion within me and I found myself being a girl friend... to a girl, for a change, like the rest of my kind. It felt great.

[She was in a lot of pain, and at first tried to hide the tears and whines, but eventually let go. I was relieved that she was comfortable enough to do so. I pampered her with chocolate, soft toys and jokes - not usual for me, but it was growing on me, her smile.]

That Monday, I planned to visit her after Bainganwadi. That morning, I touched base with my grandmother and found that my grandfather (who is quite old and long-time ailing) had had a rough night and wasn't too well. So I decided that post my friend's visit I would drop by home and surprise them for dinner. By the time I reached Bombay Hospital, my grandmother messaged saying my grandfather had been admitted that afternoon to the hospital due to breathing problems. I felt terrible, and right after visiting my friend went over to Breach Candy to meet him.

And two days later - there were bomb blasts in three separate areas of South Mumbai. Bodies strewn across the road, blood and limbs scattered. Surviving injured stuffed in cabs and hurried away to neighbouring hospitals. And the rest is... on the news.

So now that you have the background of the week that past, I'll zoom in on a specific part that I want to talk about.

My friend was admitted in a room-sharing facility. That meant that she would share her hospital room with four other women - the room was divided into 4 wards, separated by curtains. It wasn't flashy, but it wasn't too bad either. It was manageable initially. But the service was far from preferable. The nurses were rough, rude and less concerned about the patient's personal needs. I guess they were doing their jobs - which they did efficiently - but at this level, they needn't be extra caring or attentive - which they also made apparent enough for my friend to feel quite miserable. The room became hot and stuffy after a while - what with the fan fanning all the patients and little ventilation. The toilet facilities (a bedpan with the nurse helping my post-op bedridden friend) were not so sanitary. The IV was painful for her ( I went through the same pain, too) and the nurse wasn't too sensitive about it - she was a bit rough when giving her the drip. I remembered my time in the hospital and how the nurse was patiently giving me meds through my drip slowly so I could bear the pain. The doctor visits were scarce and the physiotherapy a nightmare. She couldn't afford to shift to a private room. There was no special treatment here. She was literally asked to stop fussing around or go home. In all of this, she had her old-fashioned father (inept at public displays of affection), who had to sleep on the ground next to her bed at nights, because he couldn't bear to leave her alone and her younger angry-young-man brother (who was around as much as his job permitted but tried his level best to be around her) [both are quite hilarious and fun when you get to know them better]. Her mother (and this is quite rich, really) who is a Parsi (divorced and remarried), couldn't make it for her daughter's surgery and post-op recovery period at the hospital, because she had to fly urgently to Delhi during the same week for... ahem... Guru Poornima. Butshefeltterribleleavingherchildforunavoidableengagementandprayedforherdaily. Of course. Sometimes I just don't get how religion helps. I'm glad I was around.

Over at the Breach Candy Hospital, the scene was quite different. As I entered the fourth floor lobby, there was air-conditioned silence and only whispering and murmuring between floor nurses. There was a set of crisp flower bouquets in the waiting area by the lift, and spotless floors. I went to my grandfather's private room, where I found him lying on his bed, surrounded by his I-Phone, I-Pad, I-Pod and his Blackberry. I bet if there was any other gadget with an 'I' prefixing it, it was on that table by his bedside. And the remote(s) to the flat-screen TV facing him. My grandmother was sitting with my mother on the couch, reading a magazine, I think. My mother was playing the Angry Bird game on the other I-Pad. His Private Nurse was by his side, making him comfortable by adjusting one of his many pillows or dabbing the ice pack on his blood-clotted arm. Other nurses came in periodically and politely asked about his daily progress and prescriptions. The male nurse politely entered and with impeccable Hindi and dentist-approved perfect-teeth smile asked when my grandfather would like to have his dinner, which arrived neatly at sharp 9:00 p.m. and was fed to him by my grandmother. My father and aunt joined later and there was a jolly group of family members chattering amongst each other about old songs, gossip and other mindless randomage. I was with my grandfather the whole time, making him laugh, sharing silent moments with him, even if it meant our fingertips touching or fingers twined within one another. And while the rest were babbling away, he sang to me and pulled my heartstrings so close to him that the world around me dulled and the only sounds that left me were the small cry from my heart and the trickle of tears behind my thick brown glasses.

One day, he was excessively grumpy and agitated. Also, in general, his breathing had improved with the meds, so he could talk more. And while he did, whenever my grandmother interjected or talked to me or anyone else, he kept shutting her up or making snide remarks about her constantly interrupting him and making him lose his train of thought. It was the last straw when he did it to her in front of the nurse. So when the nurse left, my grandmother asked him to refrain from doing so, especially in front of the nurse. He was angry because she didn't understand him and couldn't take his humour. She held her ground and after much shouting they decided to not talk to one another. The cold war remained for a while, until dinner time when she eventually came around and fed him some of his dinner. I fed him the rest. She left but they made up before she said bye. It was amazing to see how fast they became friends again. I stayed till later.

We talked about what had happened. I wanted him to understand that she was doing her best. He barked, why is she here? I said, because she cares and loves him. I told him the scene at my friend's side of the world. I told him he should be thankful he has so many more facilities at his beck-and-call and so many more people caring for him. What care? he asked. I said, look at how many people visit you. To which he replied, 'They don't come for me, all they do is talk to each other. I go to sleep listening to my wife and daughter chatter away, and five hours later, when I wake, they're still talking!' Then he compared them to me. He asked me why I come and talk to him? How we sit and have long conversations and have a good time together. I said, because that's how I do it. I came here for him, so I will be with him. To which he said, 'If they are coming for me, then talk to me! I'm a lonely man. Be with me. I also want someone to talk to.'

I realised something here. It didn't matter making that comparison between hospital facilities and service from the staff. It didn't matter having more money to spend on I-Pads and whatnot for occupation. At the end of the day, at two very different hospitals, two very different wards, two individuals with a common fiery spirit for life were hurting. And they were both lonely and aching for love and caring attention. They both wanted someone to share that experience with. And not play host to a bunch of chattering ninnies who come for the sake of visiting. Many people knew my friend was in hospital and having surgery. Some messaged to check on her. Barely anyone came all the way to see her. Her own mother felt a pooja in another city was more important than being by her daughter's side when she needed it the most. And being the formal and put-on-a-brave-front type that she is, my friend didn't complain even once. But she was ecstatic that I came almost everyday, with one small thing or the other to cheer her up with. Her face lit up at the sight of any one who would spend some time with her, put all their attention on her and distract her from her pain. And on this side, I suppose my family has been through the rigmarole of hospital visits since forever, given my grandfather's track record. But to him, each time is painful and worse than the previous one. While we have resigned ourselves to the reality that this is how it will be and fit it into a routine, we never took into account how it actually will be for the person experiencing it. To him, this is far from a routine. To him, this is not living. This is dying. And he's scared out of his wits. The gadgets are a fake blanket. The real blankets are tucked away in couches, behind magazines and games.

And when I saw this, I realised why my friend and my grandfather both thoroughly enjoyed my company. They drew energy, spirit, happiness and hope from me. From my words, from my outrageous stories and silliness. They drew comfort from my pampering them, whether it was buying Tom and Jerry presents for my friend to make her laugh, or tenderly feed my grandfather dinner such that he ate more than he ever has in the past few weeks. They had a window to the outside world - the same world the other people lived in and talked about, but only with each other. I shared my world with them both, and that made their stay in their respective hospital hells somewhat bearable.

I feel I have so much more to say about this - my heart is heavy with emotion as I relive the past week and try to put it in words. But I can't.

Money buys us many luxuries. A comfortable bed. Weather we can control to our liking. Better food, service and entertainment. And possibly good medical care for a speedy recovery.

I send a prayer and all the goodness in my heart to all those people who don't have the luxury of company.