Thursday, February 3, 2011

The return of the enemy

When the dreaded foe resurfaced

My heart crashed against the ribs

Knocking me down.

But soon I picked myself up

And the ground steadied beneath me,

And I faced the foe.

The apparition which had petrified me

Was now but a shadow of what he was

The first time

He’d been demystified.

His cards were exposed

And my reserves I’d discovered.

I mocked him.

You can kill only me

You can’t touch my spirit

Friday, October 8, 2010

Thou Shall Not Bend!

‘You must not bend”, said my doc. I had gone to him ‘cos of back pain – something a person like me fighting a deadly disease should not ignore.
‘Not even to pick up something from the floor?’, I asked.
‘No’, he said quietly. ‘It’d be nice if you use a walker at home. When you go out, use a walking stick’.

The doc is a soft spoken man of few words and he seemed appalled that the instruction he had given three years back - not to bend - was not taken seriously.

'So it shall be', i told myself. ‘I shall not bend. Nothing to get panicky about’, i said to myself. ‘After all he said i could walk, travel, climb stairs.

But soon i realised that life without bending is not easy. Just imagine you can't bend to scratch your little toe when it itches!

After i got back from the hospital, I was taking the newspaper to my room when i dropped it. I started to bend when a shout stopped me. “Don’t bend, molly” yelled Sunny, my husband who was watching me from the top of the stairs. He came running down and picked up the paper for me and put the walking stick in my hand. ‘Use this’, he said, ‘it’ll remind you that you are not supposed to bend.’

Later in the day, wishing to make myself useful, i decided to help to set the table. The dish in which we served fancy dishes was in the cupboard below the kitchen platform, and leaning on the stick i started to bend down, “Miss, Miss Miss, don’t’, screamed Shiny who looked after me during my treatment. ‘I’ll take it. Don’t bend. Please go and sit at the dining table. I’ll manage on my own’.

Well, so much for my effort to be of help.

The next day I began to feel a little depressed. The implication of not bending at all hit me like a ton of bricks when i dropped my medicine strip and my eighty four year old mother-in-law rushed to pick it up with ‘Molly don’t bend, DONT bend. I’ll pick it up for you’.

Believe me life isn’t easy at all if you have to depend on people to pick up what you drop, to take something out of the lower racks of the fridge, wardrobe and book shelf.

I’ve got to find a way out, i decided. My son said he’d look if robotic hand is available in the US. But then I’ll have to wait till he comes. Till then i didn’t want to keep calling people to help me every time i need something which requires bending.

I looked down at my stick. IDEA! I snatched a chiffon dupatta from the hanger and dropped it on the floor. I then carefully slipped the stick under it and lifted it slowly. Half way through it slipped down. I tried again. It fell when it came almost within reach of my free hand. ‘Damn’, i muttered to myself (I’m not the cursing type – at least not the easily cursing type). i tried again – without success. I didn’t give up but tried again and again and again. I looked around to see if there were any spiders that could inspire me. I should have tried with cotton duppatta first, my common sense admonished me, and i cursed myself for being over ambitious. But by then it became a matter of prestige for me to pick up that colourful chiffon duppatta with my walking stick. i kept trying and trying and trying. And then it happened. It remained on the stick till i raised it high enough for my hand to take it!

Now i can pick up a lot of large and flexible objects with the help of the stick. But things like pencils, pens, spoons still pose a problem. Am sure eventually I’ll be able discover the technique of picking them up from the floor with the walking stick.

I have also found an easy to way to take things out from low shelves. Initially i tried sitting on a low stool but it became a pain going to where the stool was, pushing it with my stick to the site of operation.

Again i sat down and thought. IDEA! Yes, an idea can really change your world. As a kid and a teenager, I had learnt Bharatanatyam. So i was pretty flexible though not exactly anorexic. That day, when it was time for the evening news, I decided to switch on the TV myself instead of calling for help.

The plug point was just a feet above the ground. I could have switched it with my walking stick but i had misplaced it and everyone had been looking for it since morning with no success. So i decided to try out the Bharatanatyam technique. I went close to the switch, bent my knees keeping my body erect like the way Chandrika teacher taught me decades age and yippee! I switched on the TV without anyone’s help, and without the help of even the walking stick ! I felt grateful to my mother who is no more, for bulldozing me into each dance class all those years back.

The time came for me to go home to Trivandrum where Sunny was staying alone during my treatment in kochin. I felt pretty excited as much about going back to the familiar place as about having my husband around to do the bending tasks for me.

Then disaster struck, though of a temporary nature. Sunny sprained his back and was absolutely bedridden. Sitting helplessly in kochin, i looked up at the Almighty and asked, ‘Hey mister, what have you against me?’
‘Nothing dear lady’, he seemed to say. ‘Just leave it to me. I’m here to take care of things’
‘Ok, sir”, i said shrugging my shoulder resignedly. But it made me feel better.

When we reached my apartment in Trivandrum, Sunny was waiting supported by a walking stick! I looked at him and burst out laughing.

“Am much better now’, he said. ‘Can move about, but cannot bend. Bending causes excruciating pain”.
‘So ‘m better off than you. I have no pain’
That doesn’t mean you should bend”, he said rather sternly.

Later in the day, we wanted to watch TV. The switch point was again a feet above the ground. I had started walking towards it with my walking stick poised to press the switch with it when i saw sunny bending his knee in that classic Bharathanatyam pose till he could comfortably switch on the TV!

Now i think i know how the basic pose of Bharatanatyam originated! An ancient Indian method of dealing with sprained back must have caught the aesthetic eye of some innovative artist who saw the beauty and the possibilities of the human body as it lowered itself at the knee keeping the torso erect.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Post 11 - The Failed Stoic

When you sit across the table staring at the face of death, how does your mind work?

It’s not very different from the usual human thought process in that it follows no logic or sequence. It’s, as always, a stream of consciousness, except that with the menacing presence eyeing you from across the table, there appears , in the substratum of your consciousness, a novel and composite feeling comprising fear, sadness, panic, loneliness, and perplexity born of ignorance of the “shores from which no traveler returns”.

It was a long wait in the lobby of Madras Medical Mission Hospital. Waiting for eight hours for confirmation of the deadly news is no fun. Among the thoughts that hobnobbed with each other during those long tense hours, were those related to a few Ph Ds!

Susheela was doing research with me. She is a brilliant person whose research got delayed because of her health problem, which she overcame determinedly and got back to business as soon as she could. She was in the process of submitting her draft, chapter by chapter. Sitting there in the lobby of MMM Hospital, I panicked thinking about her. Oh God! What will she do if I cease to be? Not that I am indispensable to her work, but the formalities of finding a new guide and getting registered could prove to be an endless and time consuming task. Poor girl, she didn’t deserve this delay for no fault of hers. I prayed hard and earnest that I could hang around till she submitted her work. The road ahead of me was certainly not the best for a research guide. I was well aware of the fall out of surgery, chemo and radiation. Yet I hoped and prayed with great pain and anxiety that Susheela could finish her work while I was still around to put my final signature on her thesis.

And then there were my children, both working on their PhDs in the US. There was nothing I was looking forward to more than seeing them complete their work and fulfill the dream they were pursuing, much against the common practice among young people of their age group who who had chosen the much traveled and therefore the safer path of professional education and were already in full employment. As a parent I needed to validate our support given to their choice of academics as their career. I also rather badly wanted to see them vindicate themselves in the choice they had made. Also, there was always that anxiety at the bottom of my heart to see the successful completion of the first imperative milestone in a career in academics.

Thinking about them, wondering if I’ll be around to see the D day was a terribly agonizing experience for me. Sitting in the lobby there, I prayed hard. God, please give me an extension till these three Ph Ds reach the finish mark.

This year, between April and August, all three got their Doctorates. And it looks like I’ll still go on for some more time.

God has been good to me.

But I keep wondering. Why do we think we are indispensable? Why do we pin so much happiness around ourselves and our dear ones?

Why do we humans want to cling on to responsibilities when it is none other than God himself who decides to relieve us of them? Why is it that we are so reluctant to let go of life?

I remember putting these questions to myself sitting there in MMM Hospital, waiting for my death warrant. I remember sighing to myself at the thought of the futility of all the training I had put myself through in developing a stoic attitude to life. Stoicism, I concluded, comes with some ease when the problems that confront us lie within the jurisdiction of life. But when they transgress into eternity, into the to be or not to be question where the choice, unlike in Hamlet’s case, is not in our hands, all the philosophical wisdom that we ever tried to convince ourselves and others of, returns to mock at our inability to walk the talk.

'Cos Life is too beautiful!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Post - 10 No Small Step

The decision to travel by train which leaves at 6.35 am was taken late in the evening. The car was at the garage for service. So my husband Sunny and I left for the railway station early morning by 5.30.

We walked slowly to the junction hoping to hail a passing auto. None came and we reached the junction. There was a bus shed and we waited there ‘cos it was a convenient spot for autos to stop to pick us up. Another ten minutes passed and I began to get nervous. True it’d take less than 10 minutes to the station at that time of the day. But still I was jittery.

“Let’s walk up to the museum", I ventured “We’re sure to get one there.”
“No”, said Sunny. “It is a gradient. You’ll find the climb difficult.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll manage.” I was really nervous. It was nearly six. “We’re getting late.”
“Relax Molly.” Cool as usual, was my husband.
So I tried to relax.
Just then a KSRTC city bus appeared and was drawing up to the bus shelter where we were waiting.

A strange excitement gripped me.
“Let’s take the bus”, said I, unable to keep the enthusiasm from my voice.
My cool as a cucumber husband turned towards me with unbelieving eyes and said “You can’t be serious?”
“I’ve never been more serious in my life. Let’s go.”
I grabbed his hand and started rushing towards the bus which had by then stopped for the passengers to board.

“This is the last landmark on my road to normalcy after my illness.” I explained. "You won’t let me go by bus alone. You won’t even let me go with anyone else. But surely I can go with you.”

Negotiating the high steps of the bus was not easy, I must admit. I could feel Sunny waiting behind, ready, I’m sure, to jump into action in case of a mishap. But I got in all right and he followed suit.

The bus was full. So I held on to the iron frame at the back a seat and stood in the aisle. I could see that Sunny had an eye on me, and was standing protectively close – without making it look obvious. The bus started. A couple of minutes later a lady, bless her, who’d been sitting in the centre of the last seat which had no aisle in between, got up and offered her seat.

I sat down facing the empty space of the aisle. Sunny looked at me with a beautifully pleasant and affectionate expression on his face and said something which I didn’t hear. I was sure he said something to the effect that I looked beautiful that day – such was the expression on his face.

"What did you say?" I asked eagerly.
He spoke louder but the expression remained the same. "Pidichurunno" (Hold on to something).

Why waste such a beatific expression for that boring instruction, I wondered glumly. Of course I knew the answer. He’s being protective without making it appear so, I thought as I held the headrest firmly.

I saw him look back a couple of times to see if I was safe and secure. Soon he got a seat a few rows ahead. Making sure I still had that firm grip on the headrest, he went forward.

The minute he sat down, I let go of the headrest and put my hand down on my lap, cos that posture was getting to be a little uncomfortable.

The bus hurtled towards the destination and I was looking out lost in thought when someone tapped me on the shoulder.

It was a lady, apparently a fish vendor. She looked at me seriously and said "Pidichurunno"!

A small incident, too insignificant to be blogworthy, you might think.

But for me, it was a giant leap. Getting into the KSRTC like I did today, once again being able to do something that I used to do with the greatest ease till a couple of years back, was indeed no small step.

It has been a long and arduous journey, but I’m finally back home.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Post - 9 thank you for the music

talat, denver, rafi
alliyaambal and eleanor rigby
silk route and sindu bhairavi
among others
waft in
flutter in
one after the other - -
as I sit here and now

the mind plays truant
strays, despite itself.
visits memories
buried under heaps of sunshine and life

the pain of no more music!
what sort of heaven can it be?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Post 8 - Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday and my maid on leave! I have always loved the indriappam (Kerala version of unleavened bread) and the pesaha palu (milk) but the laborious process of making them have always been slightly intimidating. But I’ve always been very fortunate to have good domestic helps who, without grumbling would grate three to four coconuts, extract the milk (something I hate doing-messy, time consuming,tedious and boring) and all the cleaning of onions, garlic for the appam.

For this pasaha, my maid was on leave. I know many Nazarane families have given up this practice of making appam and palu – but not for a moment did I think of not making it. My eighty plus ammachi (mother-in-law) with poor eyesight and a weak heart and I, still treated like cut-glass after my brush with cancer, decided that maid or no maid, appam and palu we shall make. How can you think of Maundy Thursday without them?

We got the neighbours maid to grate coconuts. The rest of the process, the two of us managed.

By one thirty everything was ready, and now I am waiting for Sunny and ammachi to come back from the Church. I didn’t go for the service as we cannot leave achachan ( my father-in-law) who is ninety plus alone in the house. When they return he will cut the appam ie break the bread. Unleavened on this day.

Why do I post this in the ragtobe blog? Because, at this moment I feel so grateful to be back to my old normal self - to be healthy enough to make Indriyappam and palu without a domestic help.

The Maundy Thursday of 2007 had me wondering if I’d be around for another one. In 2008, I was grateful that I was still around to be part of the rituals.

Today, I feel infinitely grateful to my God that I can do all I could before the disease hit me like a ton of bricks.

And then I wonder, what was it all about? Why did I get the disease in the first place and why did He heal me?

What is it that He wants from me?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Post -7. Unless the Lord Keepeth the City - - -

I’ve heard those words ever since I remember. My mother often articulated them. I’ve heard them from the pulpit; I have heard them on many occasions, all my life, from so many people. But they hardly had any impact on me. But when Dr. Joe uttered them on that terrible day, they didn’t bounce off me as they always did. Instead, they pierced through the armour of despair and fear which had gripped me ; they pierced and made a slow but steady entry into my very thought process, and eventually doused that smouldering fear which had been showing signs of flaring up into an all consumig flame.

It was a Monday, I remember. Dr. Saji came into my room with Sunny. One look at their faces and I knew all was not well. Saji came up to me and said that he had to be away for a few days but had made arrangements for further investigation. He then bade me good bye and turned to go.

I stretched out my hand and caught him by the wrist. “I prefer to know”, I said. “Don’t keep me in the dark”.

He explained. He tried to sound as positive as he could. And then he left. Stunned and distressed by the news that the tumour in the iliac bone was a secondary growth, I lay in the hospital bed with my eyes closed. I didn’t want Sunny and Annu to see the misery in them. Soon, I began to feel drowsy. The hangover of anasthesia.

So the primary culprit is lurking somewhere, I remember thinking before drifting off to sleep.

I woke up an hour later. It was then that the full implication of the pathogy report hit me – like a ton of bricks. Where is the primary growth, I wondered in a panic. In those dreadful moments, I realized that fear is not just a mental state. It is a very physical experience. From somewhere in the pit of my stomach, it rose like a burning sensation which spread rapidly through my whole being, making me feel weak and listless. I was in this terrible state when Dr. Joe came to visit me. His wife was my relative. Joe himself was my colleague’s son.

“What have I done to deserve this?” I asked him. I don’t as a rule indulge in such sentiments, but Dr. Joe had come in before I could regain my equilibrium after the blow.

“It has nothing to do with deserving, aunty”, he said. “It’s all part of God’s Plan”.

I looked at him with all the resentment I felt against the Almighty in my eyes.

Seeing my expression he said gently but earnestly, “ Nothing happens without HIS knowledge”.

To date, I believe that is the precise moment that my recovery began. That clichéd quotation, all on a sudden, ceased to be a cliché, and became so loaded with meaning that it became my refuge and protection, and kept my spirits from sagging when assailed by dark fears and doubts.

I honestly do not know what I would have done without my God beside me. He was there all the time. There were times during the period of treatment when I was unspeakably tired and listless, and used to move in and out of disturbed sleep which gave no rest to the mind or body. On many such occasions, He came in different forms to revive my spirits. Sometimes it was in the form of my sisters-in-law Maye, Mini or Lee whom, in my dazed condition, I used to find sitting by me reading out prayers or novenas, or reciting the Rosary.

On another occasion, His healing touch came through the person of my eldest brother who had come to spend some time with me. I was grappling with nausea and intense fatigue. “I can’t even pray ”, I confided in him.
“Be still and know I am your God”, he quoted from the Psalm 46. It is strange and amazing how that oft quoted words had such a recuperative effect on me. I turned those words over and over in my mind and drifted off to a very peaceful slumber from which I woke up feeling fresh!

Now I know why most of the miracles of Christ were in the form of healing. For it is sickness that sends man knocking at heaven’s gate. It is sickness that makes man feel that he is dealing with something that is not within his control. All other human problems fade into insignificance when placed beside a disease that can kill. That’s when the atheist and the agnostic decide to turn to God as a last resort.

That’s when a believer experiences the steadying hands of her Faith in a power superior to anything humans can aspire to become. Faith kindles hope, which in turn, translates itself into strength, courage, and the determination to fight the killer disease.

As I lay on the hospital bed during the three hour chemo infusion, quotes that were stored in my mind de frosted themselves and kept reverberating in my mind, keeping me cheerful and “chirpy” (a la sunny). Of course the quotes were usually not correct, word for word, but many combined to convey the same truth. “Neither poultice nor physicians My Lord, but your word alone can heal me”. “If I should walk in the darkness, I shall not fear, for you are with me, Lord”, I silently repeated to myself before each surgery till I slipped into the unconscious state.

Deep inside me was a confidence that my God will heal me. Believe it or not, this gives birth to a new faith in the regenerative power of one’s own body, of its power to heal itself.