Of Susu Pals and Unboy boys and a reading Bean

The Bean has decided she’d like to join the rest of her reading family. The Brat did this too. Made me wait months and years to see him read. And then began to read like it was going out of fashion (it is in some parts of the world!).

To me it was unthinkable that my children should not breathe and live the written word the way I do. Except that you can’t really force a love for the written word, can you?

When we were growing up, there were few alternatives to reading if you weren’t a sporty  kid. And while I loved the outdoors, small town UP in those days wasn’t really the place for a lone girl to be wandering around observing nature and watching birds. Still isn’t.

So I read and read and read, everything I got my hands on. But kids these days have options. Distracting options. Options that don’t require them to exert themselves. iPads, twenty cartoon channels, toys and games, malls (!). I try and restrict everything in that list, except the toys and games. And I read to them. And read. And read.

But more than that, I read to myself and they saw. They saw that mama was transported to another world in her book and could be remarkably grumpy when called away from it. Clearly there was something to it. And then the Brat began to read and wild horses couldn’t drag him out of a book until he was good and ready.

The Bean is a sprite… light on her feet, running up vertical surfaces, gracefully skimming across the tops of things, almost as light as cotton candy. I didn’t think she’d ever  take to reading. It required too much effort and why expend that when she had so much else to do?

Her progress has been slow too. And after the experience I had with the Brat’s slow start I was patient. I’d like to think!  But no dice.

And then she fell really ill a few days ago. Ten days during which she had viral fever, a terrible cough, a boil on her cheek, one in her nostril, a rash around her eye and then to top it all, a gastro infection that had her puking for three hours straight, ending up in the hospital emergency. She was so weak that she didn’t even jerk when they gave her the shot, didn’t shed a tear, just looked up at my face with betrayal and exhaustion writ large on her face.

I cradled her all the way home and wondered why she was being made to suffer so. In no small measure because of her constant playing in mud, climbing trees, petting strays and feeding cats, no doubt.

But she’d been so ill, that I had kept her home from school, refused to allow her TV for the strain on her eyes and had nothing to do but to lie next to her and read to her. And Her Highness had finally deigned to begin reading with me. Oh she could spell the words and read them out, she just hadn’t any desire to go through a book.

But she slowly regained health and chose to spend more and more time reading. Reading aloud first, then to herself as she got more comfortable. And then tonight, sweet revenge I made her read the book she’d made me read over and over again, until I was ready to slit my wrists. Richa Jha’s The Susu Pals is the book she loved enough to finally sit down and read to herself.

The Susu Pals

Don’t let the name put you off. I know there are purists who believe that there is a certain form literature must take. I have nothing to say to them. I’m all for reading everything, anything and having no boundaries on what one can read or write about. The Bean, like all girls, is constantly seeking that one best friend to bond with. We’ve moved thrice in the last four years, making that a little difficult. And then one of her closest friends moved to Colombo, ruining our last effort.

This book, about two best friends, Rhea and Dia, who do everything together. Even do susu together. I can’t tell you how happy this makes me because when I was a child I always envied the way men stood at the urinals and continued a conversation they’d started outside the loo, no sign of embarrassment. So while I’m not sure the Bean and any of her friends will end up sharing a toilet seat, I am blown away by the fact that Richa thought of it and used it. The ultimate test of friendship!

I also love the games the girls play together – robbing banks, slaying dragons, raiding tombs, sailing the seas as pirates. None of the stereotypical waiting for princes and making cups of tea. No sirree. Hear that crash? That’s Richa’s book bringing down the second taboo in as many pages.

And then one day Isha enters the picture and their friendship is not the same. Isha and Dia hook up, leaving Rhea out in the cold. Dia now finds her games silly, her ideas boring, and her company is unwanted.

Do Dia and Rhea get back together? Yes, they do. Read the book to figure out how. And there’s a surprise element towards the end that I won’t give away.

The Unboy Boy, seems to have been written for the Brat and I shook my head in surprise when I read it. It’s almost as though Richa visited our home and chose to write a book to that each of my children could relate to.

The Unboy Boy

As the name suggests, Gagan isn’t your average boy. He loves ants, he says good morning to the sun and eschews violence to the extent of not enjoying war stories (here I must digress, the Brat is taking a keen interest in history and wars!). His classmates tease him mercilessly and even his grandfather unkindly calls him a chooha (mouse).

And then one day while at camp, a pet cat disappears and there might just be a ghost around the corner. It’s up to Gagan to save the day now.

The illustrations by Gautam Benegal and Alicia Souza are simply fantastic. I’m sorry to lump the work of individual artists together, but both have a keen eye for detail and the little asides are fantastic.

Please buy. Please gift. And also read Art’s review of the books at Saffron Tree.

 

The Bean turns seven

My darling little menace,

I don’t know what I thought you’d grow into. But I had no idea it would be this. Filthy, fearless, funny. You have a fantastic sense of humour and a belly laugh to rival the best. You have the grace of a mountain goat (you get that from dada) and there’s no tree you haven’t climbed, no hedge you haven’t crawled through, no puddle you haven’t stepped in.

I admit there are days I look at clean little girls in neatly turned up shorts, glossy hair tied back in pigtails and then I look at you mournfully – in your brother’s hand me down tracks, sagging at the knees, your hair escaping it’s dozen clips, your tee shirt covered in paint, and I wonder if you’ll look back at your pictures when you grow up and wonder if I neglected you.

But then you’ll see the thousands of pictures I click – you standing on dada’s shoulders, his hands, hanging from his exercise bar and flipping over, balancing on a beam, swirling a hula hoop, chasing a puppy around a park, and you’ll know why you never looked as shiny as the rest.

You wield your tongue like a rapier. I find it tough to win an argument with you and shamefully often resort to the old – Because I’m your mother card. Your father, poor man, doesn’t know what he did to deserve two like us. On good days he smiles and says – Hah, I can’t wait to see the poor fool that falls for her and discovers her sharp tongue. He insists I didn’t show him the rough edge on mine until we were wed. You know I’m incapable of holding it for that long!

You haven’t met a rule you don’t want to break and I’ve had to pull you out of an empty home (you got in through the gap they’d left to fit an AC) and give you the dressing down of your life. You’ve argued and made me justify every bit of discipline I’ve tried to inculcate. But why? Many a time I’ve changed my mind because I realise that I’m merely trying to force you into a certain way because ‘we did it when we were young’. Barring some good manners, there’s little else I enforce now.

I don’t need to. You have your heart in the right place and are a fiery little creature, always ready to fight for the underdog.

But under the muck and grime and paint, you’re still tiny, like a baby bird. A delicate frame that I worry will snap, when I see you throw yourself off a tree. Long fingers that create wonderful works of art. Ugly little toes that I will never forgive your father for.

You’re unbelievably observant and I often send you to fetch and carry because your brother and father only stare blankly at me if I ask for cello tape, measuring tape, my black shoes or a roll of toilet paper.

You love dogs and I’m giving up all hope of ever having any grandchildren through you. You’re the one that will adopt dogs and refer to them as your kids. A thought that breaks my heart I have to admit!

I love the way you take pride in our home, painting little pots and appointing them in the most unstable corners. I love how you pat the Brat’s curls adoringly and say – ‘My anna is so handsome. Even strangers like to play with his curls.’ All this while your ‘anna’ growls at you in mock anger and very real embarrassment.

Your father’s parents have been won over by you. A fairly conservative couple who voted for a boy the moment they heard I was expecting your brother, they are in awe of your wit, your charm, your way with words, your sunny personality, your quick thinking. This is a huge victory of personality over tradition. It’s amusing too, because these very qualities in your mother, they find abrasive! But that’s a battle for another day. For now, I like how the female, skinny, dark, grubby little underdog took all her grandparents’ preconceived notions and flung them out the window, wrapping the old couple around her little finger. Your paternal grandpa called to wish you this morning, singing happy birthday on the phone and ending with an I love you – a phrase he’s never offered your father.

Your father and I have got used to you waving to the guard, the shopkeepers, the old gentlemen who brings his grandson down to play everyday. They all know us only as your parents. You’re our celebrity.

And just like that, I know someday you will grow up and win over everyone who ever crosses your path. You tire me, frustrate me, drive me nuts – and yet, I’m your biggest fan.

I love you,

Mama

Edited to add: You’ve been sick for the last 2 weeks now. Fever, cough, cold, gastro-enteritis, boils on your face, in your eye, nostril, and the final injury – urticaria. We had to cancel the party after weeks of running to the hospital every second day.

This morning I oiled your hair and  you sit there with your hair up in a clip, in your pajamas, your skinny limbs gracefully yet carelessly arranged. You’re engrossed in that very rare treat, the iPad, tapping your sock clad feet in time to the music and all of a sudden you’re not 7, you’re 17 and I feel my eyes shining with tears. This is it. It’s over. I had just this much time to be mother to babies. And I’m only 35 and it’s almost over. You’re growing so fast. I spend more and more time with you, clinging to what it is that I seek from motherhood, but it slips through my fingers and rushes on. I have no complaints. I have had more than I imagined and I cannot complain.

K.I.S.S.I.N.G

The Brat will be 9 this May. He doesn’t follow the usual curve of boyhood disdain for the female of the species or physical affection. I still hug him, cuddle him, tousle his curls… while his contemporaries pushed their fussy mothers away long ago. Besides many of them are already being paired up with classmates or friends on the bus, singing the age old song – X and Y, sitting on a tree, K.I.S.S.I.N.G.

Since I try really hard to be a mother who doesn’t push – I periodically check with him  - Can I still kiss you in public? To his credit, his answer was yes, long after I thought he’d say no.

A few months ago he shook his head distinctly – No.

Okay, I said. My heart broke just a little but I consoled myself with the thought that I had got away with it for longer than most. That I could still kiss him at home. His cheeks are still soft. He has some years to go before stubble makes them unkissable.

But then I wouldn’t be the person I am, if I weren’t so idiotic and forgetful. Because a few days ago I forgot all about it and yelled out to him as his friends and he hung around our dining table making some artwork. ‘Give me a kissie, baby.’

His friends sniggered. He glared at me and stomped up to me menacingly. I prepared myself for a set down.

As he came near, I bent down and whispered – I’m so sorry darling. I forgot your friends are here.

He turned his little chubby cheek up to me and said – It’s okay. I’ve come to get a kiss anyway, haven’t I?

I gave him a peck on the cheek and watched him walk back to the table, unconcerned about what the others thought. Interestingly the other kids had gone back to their work and forgotten about us too.

I guess we’re good for a couple of months more.

Here’s an old post about the Brat and his mother and PDAs. 

Of sex and the supernatural

First off, I had the pleasure of reviewing Tarshi’s Yellow Book on their blog. If you are a parent or a teacher, it has all the resources you need to help deal with children and the S word.

In case you haven’t heard of Tarshi before, I quote from their blog -

TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues) believes that all people have the right to sexual well being and to a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality.

TARSHI addresses all people, especially women and young people through various programmes and is one of the few NGOs in India that works on sexuality, without restricting it to a disease-prevention, violence against women or sexual minorities’ framework, but rather from an affirmative and rights – based approach.

General information:

Call the TARSHI phone info-line for free, accurate & concise Information on Sexuality and Reproductive Health Issues @ +91-11-26472229
9:30 am - 5:30 pm (IST), Monday - Friday

For more, see: http://www.tarshi.net/about/about_tarshi.asp

———————-

And now on to the supernatural part of the title. Some months ago I was talking to another parent about how I came to be a work from home mother. I just didn’t find help I was satisfied with. I mean they were good enough to dust, wash, sweep, swab and make hospital corners on the beds, but they just didn’t seem right enough to leave the kids with for extended periods of time. Mostly, because of the way their beliefs influenced the kids.

There were dozens of maids who would react to the kids’ nudity with a Shame, shame, jao kapde pehno (shame, shame, put on your clothes). This, if the kids shot out of the loo, naked after a bath, because the game of Ludo they’d left on the floor just couldn’t wait. There was the maid who in a bid to ensure they didn’t go to the balcony and fall to their death, kept threatening them that Pigeon kaatega (the pigeons will bite you) and so on.

If you want your child to have some sense of what is a good touch, what constitutes privacy and which adults are trusted, it’s really hard to do it with a new maid every 11 months. It’s also hard to rewire the way a maid thinks and teach her not to say shame shame to a naked child. It’s almost impossible to teach the maids that there is no such thing as a ghost, and to prevent them from telling the kids not to go into dark rooms for fear of them, when the maids themselves are terrified of ghosts.

These pigeons and ghosts are small issues in the larger scheme of things and you can’t go around sacking people unless they’ve stolen the family silver, but I gave the scaring maids their notice and kept up the hunt until I found maids who did their housework and didn’t influence the kids in anyway. We all have our own lines to draw and mine is a dislike of fear. I don’t like my children being scared into bed, into eating, into being good. They are not taught that there is a heaven or a hell. They are taught to eat because their body needs it and to be good because there is no other option.

A few nights ago the siblings were whispering in a corner and the tension was palpable. I don’t interfere unless necessary and love that they have their little secrets and special shared things. So I plumped pillows, shook open quilts and began to herd them to their beds, tucking them in. As I reached to switch off the lights they screamed Noooooo. Don’t switch off the lights.

Why?

Because we want the lights on.

It’s always one thing or the other to squeeze the most out of any day and I knew they were weary, their eyelids drooping. They’d be dead to the world within minutes even with the lights on. So, unwilling to get into a prolonged argument I left the lights on and shut the door. Sure enough, when I checked a few minutes later, they were fast asleep and I switched off the light.

This happened the next night too. The third evening, anticipating it, I asked them why they wanted the lights on when they were not even used to a night light. The Bean answered – You won’t like the answer.

Try me.

Well, S told us, that if you light a candle in the night and say err.. a bad word.

Me: What bad word?

Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary.

Oh. Go on.

Brat: If you light a candle in the night and say Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary, she will come.

She? Who?

Bloody Mary.

Me, tired of this circular argument: Arre, who on earth is Bloody Mary now?

Chorus: Don’t you know? She’s a ghost.

I see.

I called the OA and told him we were going to try an experiment that night. We were going to light candles and invoke Bloody Mary. I had not kept the kids away from ignorant, superstitious maids and blood thirsty pigeons, only to have them terrified by a frickin’ name off a cocktail menu.

The fear of the supernatural, of a vengeful God, these are issues even adults grapple with. Every city has its bhoot bangla and most of us have jumped the school wall to spend time in a cemetery and test a variety of supernatural theories. Clearly this wasn’t something we could erase in a single night, but we had an opportunity to make a start and I didn’t want to bugger it up by teaching them to depend on yet another vague supernatural figure like God or by keeping a knife or a rosary under their beds and so on, shifting their fear from one, to the other. They needed to learn to test theories, to be fearless. To know that courage lies within. Not in the heavens and not in rosaries and knives.

Bedtime came and we settled on their floor with a candle. The Brat shrieked and got under his blanket and stayed huddled there.

The Bean squealed and leapt into the OA’s laps and stayed there.

And we evil, bloody thirsty parents chanted, Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary while the kids moaned and groaned and cried and cowered and waited for Bloody Mary to present herself.

Of course she didn’t and in a while we were thirsty and sick of chanting and tired of harassing the kids. :p

The experiment to prove she didn’t exist backfired and far from being at peace, the kids were terrified into wakefulness. #ParentingFail

The Bean was a soggy mess and the Brat was all wide eyed terror.

So yet again we left the light on and went out, sorry that our plan to face fears head on had failed. Of course there’s a lot to be said for the fun we had sitting there in the dark, around a candle, chanting the name of a cocktail we’d rather be drinking than sitting there!

In a few minutes a combination of the excitement and the exhaustion knocked them out. I slipped in quietly and switched off the light.

Come morning I waited for a reference to the night but they didn’t. Of course the true test lay ahead. Would they let us switch the lights off that night or not? (Cue music and spooky sounds)

Night fell and the twosome went to bed without any Bloody Mary talk and no objection to the light being switched off. The OA and I heaved a sigh of relief. They may not have brought it up with us, but they’d probably had their own little conference and come to the conclusion that Bloody Mary did not exist. At least not within their parents’ powers of summoning.

A couple of days later I found them playing with a couple of Lego toys, one named Bloody Mary and the other something else. Clearly Bloody Mary was no longer a name to be feared, but one to be tossed around in play.

We spoke about the inappropriateness of a child using the word Bloody and came to a compromise. It would be referred to as BM, not Bloody Mary. At which point it struck me that BM could also be bowel movement. A thought I shared with them and had them in splits. Thereafter they forgot about Bloody Mary. BM was bowel movement and potty jokes appeal to them far more than anything else at this age.

For the moment at least, we have this ghost under control.

35

So my 35th came in (25.09) without the bang I’d hoped for. You’re probably wondering why I didn’t post about it as I usually do.

You read in the papers about this family that was going for a funeral or a wedding and  everyone was together and they crashed up and you say – damn… all of them injured? How tragic. *shudder*
Yes, well, that was our family. A tragedy to crown a tragedy.

We had a death in the family on the 31st of August and those who could, set out for the funeral immediately. A car carrying 8 family members crashed up – and 5 ended up in hospital with serious injuries. Little cousin J, my baby, the one I still hold in my arms and rock even though she is 20, was the one who pushed open a door, crawled out, and hailed truck drivers on the highway to help them turn the car around and get the rest of the family out. The Scorpio, if you see the pictures, looks like scrap metal. Truck drivers tore it open to inexpertly pull out some of the people who were crushed into it and caused a lot more damage to their limbs. They then rushed them to a small road side dispensary. Calls were made. Cousin J called me first and all I could hear was her sobbing, while others in the background screamed in terror and in pain. It was almost like being thrown on to the sets of a rather scary film. I kept asking, What’s wrong, baby? And she couldn’t explain, just kept crying, ‘accident, accident.’ I didn’t know where they were or what I could do to help. I quickly made the rest of the calls to my parents, to family friends, others who were close enough to help. I joined within the day, leaving the kids with the OA.

I’ve spent the last month in and out of various cities and it’s not been easy. We’ve all had a sick kid, sick parent, ailing elderly members – but having five family members in hospital is not easy. Nursing them in a strange city? A nightmare.They were all in different rooms, had different needs and now I am an expert at sponging, feeding and so on. With just three caregivers we were stretched beyond belief and sleepless, tired and worried.  All the patients had different needs, and were soon split up across 3 specialty hospitals. We went mad keeping track of them but it was worth it to get them the best treatment.

We had to stay in a hotel right by the hospital, often got back too late to get a meal, skipped meals by the dozen, survived days on roadside tea and buns because no homecooked food was to be had, slept on the floor outside the ICU, ran up astronomical hotel and phone bills, called everyone on earth to get doctor recommendations, had to buy essentials like clothes and underwear, and pillows (silly things, but things you don’t realise until you are in that position) and just kept going. Tambi flew down from the US immediately and my Uncle (Chhote Nana) took one look at him and said – Am I so seriously ill that you flew him down to say his final goodbye? No, he was not on his way out. But that’s what a lifetime of love and goodwill gets you. Your entire family around you in a moment of crisis.

Getting blood, has my God, been a nightmare (and all our friends abroad were shocked that hospitals don’t organise this). We’ve always been blood donors, which is why we took it for granted that there’d always be enough blood if you needed it. But there wasn’t at first. We mobilised blood donation on a war footing. Calling friends, who called other friends, who called other friends and found us blood in Lucknow. A miracle. A blessing. True friends. At one point I was flopped on the hospital floor, my knees aching from the stairs, when I looked up and realised that every single person in the blood bank right then, was there to give blood for my uncle – and not a single one of them was a familiar face. Forty or so strangers, all giving something as precious as blood.

I learnt something that day, that wasn’t a part of my culture – I learnt to fold my hands and say thank you. I saw my mother fall at the doctor’s feet when he came out of the OT and said that my Uncle was alive and breathing. Another thing that is not part of our culture, but comes so naturally when someone gives you back a piece of your life.

This is also that time when you realise, you are THAT generation, the one whose time has come to step up to the plate.  There is no one else to come here and handle it. The younger ones are too young, the older ones, too old. You are the one that needs to care for your children, and also tell your father that it isn’t his place to stand outside the OT and wait. To go back to the hotel and rest and that you will call him and your mother after the surgery. To tell them to put their feet in your lap and give them a foot rub after a day of standing in various queues. I also learned that you don’t have to give birth to someone to feel a fierce love, to want to protect them with every fibre.

We have a neat little divide in our family where everyone openly picks a favourite. My dad’s pet is Cousin J and after the accident, she pulled him into her hospital bed, broken arm and all and slept curled up against her beloved Uncle. Cousin K is my mother’s precious brat – and through the last month, she has been his strength as he is the only one unharmed in the family of four. My aunt, chhoti nani, thinks the sun rises and sets with my brother, Tambi and when he walked into her room, jetlagged and tired, she took one look at him and pain disappeared for a while. I am my uncle’s pet – with my sharp tongue and ready smile and impetuous nature, I’m everything he likes in a person. And so it was that I fell naturally into the role of caregiver for him while others organised blood, hotels, medicines, ambulances, organised our homes over the phone and fought the endless battle over insurance.

As I wiped my uncle’s mouth after a sip of  water, pressed his forehead until he fell asleep, I realised there was no way I could ever do for him what he did for me when I was a child. Everyone gets their turn to repay family debt – you just don’t get to do enough. Who is he to you, the nurses ask, because at 47 he doesn’t look much older than I probably did at that time, careworn, sleep deprived and unwashed. I looked old enough to be a wife, too old to be a daughter. I’m his niece, I’d say and they’d frown, unsure of why a niece should be so frazzled and devoted. They believed it on the days I went wearing jeans. On salwar kameez days they looked doubtful. People are uncomfortable if they’re unable to slot you. And with our varying age gaps, early marriages, early kids, its hard to put us together for a family photograph and be able to identify who the couples are and which kids belong to them. After being asked how I was related to my uncle, for the nth time, my tired retort was – He’s everything. Everything to me. Uncle, father, brother, son. As you can imagine, that answer didn’t go down too well. We’re a convoluted, complicated family and I’m unable to decipher today, what a niece’s love is meant to feel like. I just feel what I feel.

We’ve finally shifted the patients back to our hometown and I’ve had to have the kids miss school – it’s interesting how many people are so shocked that the kids are MISSING SCHOOL. I have to keep reminding people that the kids are in Class 1 and 3, not taking entrances to medical college. That a seriously injured family is a little more important than missed sessions in the sandpit. That this is an early lesson in what it means to be family. They are hanging around with me at my parents’ place while we care for all our patients. It’s been a good experience for them too, to learn consideration, to have a meal delayed, to get no attention, to fetch and carry, to know pain and sorrow up close and to be strengthened by it, to know a missing limb and not be repulsed by it. They’re doing fairly well, my little stalwarts, bringing cheer and happiness and occasionally getting away with too much TV.

Most of our other patients are healing well, but my Uncle got the worst of it and will need many more surgeries and many months before he walks again.

If I had to pick out the worst moment, it would be the one where we shifted him from one hospital to another in an ambulance that had no air conditioning. To begin with, it couldn’t leave the parking lot because of the number of vehicles parked in front of it. Cousin K sat holding his father on to the bed and I sat holding his hand and stroking the sweat off his head – unable to do much more than beg for them to start moving. At some point my parents, Cousin K, all hopped out and began to scream at people to move their bloody bikes and cycles out of the way and the frustration was palpable. As we drove down the streets of Lucknow, the siren blaring, people chatted on phones and with loved ones on the seat beside them, callously and stubbornly refusing to move out of the way. All the while my uncle was losing his life, and we were talking to him to keep him awake, conscious, alive. My parents drove along the side, my dad and mum sticking their heads out and screaming at people to move. At some point Cousin K and I dropped uncle’s hands and leaned out of the ambulance, pleading, begging, abusing people and asking them to move out of the damn way. The ambulance driver nodded casually and said – If this were a heart patient, he’d be dead by now.  Right. Good to know.

But perhaps the best lesson I learnt in all this is to be a better friend. I’ve always been the one who felt awkward to call in friends in illness and death. I’ve wanted to help but not known how. I’ve said – Let me know if I can help, and then wondered why no help was demanded. Well, I’ve learnt how to offer help now. By not offering, just doing.

A friend collected and gave me her air miles since I’m travelling back and forth. Now this is a blessing when time is of essence and trains not available and travel plenty. Another just came and stayed with the kids at our place on a day the OA had a meeting post their school hours and needed to leave them. She figured they’d be most comfortable in their own environment when their mother was away. A third picked them up straight from school and kept them at her place until the OA got back from another meeting on yet another day. A lot of others offered to keep the kids but needed the OA to drop and pick them – something that made no sense in a city as big as Delhi. Someone else offered to bring in dinner to my uncle every evening. This helps even now on days that there is no cook and we’re all madly rushing round. Another just comes and sits for 2 hours each evening so that all caregivers can go home and bathe, rest, just do whatever else constitutes their life and is on hold. A friend who is in the army got us a whole lot of jawans to donate blood. Another found out rates of helicopters to fly back our patients. We didn’t use it, but it was amazing to see how their brains were working overtime to help us. Yet another called a friend to call his brother who is a senior police official in the area and see if strings could be pulled in anyway. We didn’t need it, but the thought counted. Yet another bought a new bed pan (ha!) because they said the hospital ones have been used by so many people. I could go on. Someone else brought disposable glasses and plates for the attendants/caregivers/us to eat in. Another sent us aromatherapy for sleep, because most trauma patients have trouble sleeping – did you know that? Yet others offered to show the medical reports and x-rays to well known physicians they knew. Another got us a discount on the ambulance that takes one of the injured people for dressing everyday. Some have offered us a wheelchair, another has given us two hospital beds that can be cranked up and down. Others called up friends in the hospital administration – from the head of security to a low down accountant to the CEO of hospital, we had friends call each one of them and ask them to look out for us. And they did. We were the ones who got offered a little stool in ICU. So many of them offered to call up friends who worked with the insurance agency and speed up our paperwork. It goes on.
Many messaged saying, let us know if we can help. Well, here’s something I’ve learnt in the last month – I don’t know what you can do for me, so YOU let me know how you can help. And in future, that is what I will offer. Concrete help. Be it a box of pastries that the attendants can take a break with or a flask of homemade cold coffee. A care package with wet wipes and some tetrapacks of cool juice are a blessing. Every bit helps. Every bit gets them across that difficult patch. What doesn’t help is the endless text messages and long phone calls – we just don’t have the time or energy to respond, and yet we’re forced to out of civility.

I had wanted another tattoo to commemorate 35 years on this earth. I didn’t get a chance since I haven’t really been back to Delhi yet. And I’m wondering if I need it – this experience has left a mark on me that no tattoo could match.

And so on this year’s birthday post  (if you can call it that), I’m sharing a few Facebook statuses I’d put up through the last month.

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Lessons learnt in a hospital.
1. Superheroes don’t always wear capes. Sometimes they wear surgical masks and disposable gowns.
2. Call the nurse Chechi, smile at the ward boy and flirt with the plastic surgeon even if your heart is breaking and your mind with your loved one. Makes them take special care of your patient, give you extra minutes in the ICU and brightens their day. They too are sick of people crying and snapping.
3. Leaning out of an ambulance and screaming at people is more effective than a siren. Abusing them might be undignified but it is effective.
4. There is no adequate thanks for a blood donor. Folding your hands and thanking them is all you can do when you’re tired and worried but grateful.
5. College students are the happiest and most generous donors.
6. A blood bank spilling over with donors for your family says something.
7. Nothing brings a family close like an accident and a shared hospital thaali.

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A crumpled car, crow bars and truck drivers pulling him out, bleeding for 12 hours, a dirty little highway hospital. He went through it all and after 5 hours of surgery has come out alive and well… my stubborn mule of an uncle didn’t give up. Thank you all for your prayers, wishes and help.

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May those who don’t heed the siren of an ambulance, never know what it is to sit in one, hanging on to a loved one’s hand, watching in despair as traffic stubbornly refuses to give way.

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There’s a 6 year old on the next bed in the ICU. She was out on the bike with her parents when they had an accident. She hit her head – and then a bus ran over her arm. It is now in 3 separate pieces and will take a year or so to reconstruct over many surgeries. Her parents say they will have to sell their house and land to pay for it.
She screams in pain each time they give her a shot and her little body is swollen with the IVs she’s had in for days.
Even being witness to it is a nightmare. Right now if anyone who tries to give me gyaan or tell me this is God’s way of testing us or pichchle janam ka karma or paap or tries to explain or rationalise her agony in any way, I will bite their head off. This world makes no sense.
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Okay, so we’re managing, somewhat, to take care of our various patients. Just help us to get by, without asking us how we’re ‘coping up’. We’re not coping up, we’re coping. Not cope up, simply cope.

We’re going through enough trauma without having to deal with shitty grammar. Thank you.

I am now going back to the ICU and regular programming shall resume when my shift ends.
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Interesting how many people thank the OA for ‘sending/letting me come home to care for my family’. I wonder how many cows he gave my family in exchange for me.
Also, how come no one thanks a wife for letting her husband go home and help his family in times of need? Morons.

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Hospital learnings:

1.When you have a loved one undergoing surgery, an hour measures 120 minutes instead of 60.
2. Even if you’ve been married 10 years and are worried sick about said surgery, you can still have plenty to talk about with your spouse, sitting outside the OT on the floor.
3. The midnight shift is when you really need to befriend hospital staff.
4. When the staff ask you how you’re related to the man on the ICU bed, saying that you’re his niece just doesn’t seem adequate.
5. Everybody hurts. Including those who were not in the accident.
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After a long day of attempting to work from home (something I’ve done for 8 years now :-/) while the kids go on with their various activities, back from school, lunch, nap, swimming, homework, playtime, the OA collapses in exhaustion and observes – Raising children builds character.

Absolutely. That is why I am so character-ful.

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She was an elderly lady with chubby red cheeks and the cutest little jet black top-knot, wobbling in outrage on the top of her head. And she was driving my uncle nuts. He was in the bed next to hers and just as he drifted off to sleep hooked up to various tubes, his exhaustion overcoming his pain, she’d let out a loud cry of Hai Allah and wake up the entire ICU. All in various stages of sleep and pain, the other patients would yell for her to shut up.

She had only two men (about my age) to attend to her and they stood at a safe distance, looking helpless. She’d yank off her oxygen mask and push it up on her head like a party hat and say – ‘Look, this little trickle? It’s getting to my nose. This is where I will wear it.’
Every day I’d flirt, smile, beg, plead, charm my way through doctors and nurses and ward boys, into the ICU to feed my uncle (against the rules) who was being troublesome in his own way and refusing to eat.

We approached her out of sheer selfishness. To get her to BE QUIET for a while, so that my battered, bruised, weak uncle could get some sleep. I know Ma had a little more love than I did – she feels strongly for all old people after she lost both her parents.

We acted chatty and held her hands in a friendly way, to keep her distracted so that she didn’t pull off her oxygen mask, we rubbed her arms that were sore and red from days of IVs, I gave the nurses a break and fed her after I’d fed my uncle, I chatted with her while they changed her diapers. I’d tell her that she must have been prettier than Mumtaz Mahal in her youth. And she’d say, Get me off this bed and I’ll take you shopping for the best chikankari in Lucknow.

She began to look out for us and we grew attached to her.

I’d pass her sons in the corridor and waiting areas and glare at them until one day I couldn’t take it anymore – Can’t you be a little more helpful? Why do you just stand and stare when she’s yanking out tubes and pulling off oxygen masks?
They shrugged helplessly- She’s a ladiss. We don’t know what to do with her.
I never berated them again.
For a few days after I left the Lucknow hospital she kept asking for me.
She died on the 14th.My mother sobbed. I was too tired of death and pain to cry.

Her son calls my mum every few days, offering to come down from Rae Bareilly, arrange for blood, give us money if we need – says he will now help us get my uncle back on his feet since he has no one else. We need nothing, but it’s good to hear from him. He refers to my mother as Ammi too.
Everyday there is a little hospital story to tell.
Moral of this story? Hospitals are not the place to get attached to people.