08 November 2015

Death. Grief. Religion. Destiny.

Last few weeks were the toughest of my life and also the most enlightening ones. As they say, tough times are there to make you stronger and wiser.

I lost my father despite a valiant battle with cancer. It's been a couple of weeks and I can finally bring myself to pen something about the tragedy. This post is not about the poignant memories of my father, or how much he will be missed...those are too personal to share. This post is about sharing my learning from the entire experience.

1) Success cannot come through sheer effort... There IS something called Destiny after all.
The family and my dad fought so hard to get him out of the hospital post his surgery. He had been given 100% chances of survival. He had a couple of major setbacks and had to be in the ICU twice to recover. But he came through and actually got a discharge from the hospital after 4 long weeks. We were all so happy, so were he and the grandkids, who met him after an entire month. But he succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest when his nicotine-saturated lungs finally gave up. Fate had intervened - to what end is still up for grabs....but it just wasn't meant to be.

2) Suffering, illness, treatment all are difficult...yet not without hope. But death is so final. The counter stops at that moment. No matter how much you try you cannot rewind the clock. You cannot take back what you last said or wish you had said something else. Hope is no longer your friend....acceptance is. Yet death is the end of physical suffering.

3) You get acquainted most closely with religion when someone close dies. The funeral, the rites of passage for the body and the soul, the poojas, the shantis, the condolence calls & visits, everything proclaims loudly what religion you belong to. I am not bashing it; infact I learned a lot about Hinduism during this time. It is not only about giving moksha to the dead, but setting the living free of some inauspicious vibes too.

4) The first 13 days are relentless for the living relatives. You are bombarded with calls, messages, visits to condole your loss. There is no time to grieve amongst these and the arrangements for the various rituals - perhaps that is the whole idea. The first 13 days are solely to restore the soul to its rightful destination and the relatives can grieve later. The idea is to accept that the departed is well...gone...and you need to let him/her go with dignity. There is no option but to go with the flow mechanically.

5) Class and character of a person is seen in the way he/she remembers the dead or grieves  or consoles. Some are just so shallow and hypocritical.

6) Your physical being is so transient. Your possessions or investments are not the real legacy, the memories and your protegees(children) are the true legacy you give back to this world. Invest more time in nuturing them than running after career, status, beauty, money....

7) God truly works in mysterious ways. There was a huge disappointment and anger initially. But gradually the acceptance and introspection brought only gratitude. There is nothing that my father had not seen. This last year was filled with happiness for him. He got the best care and most devoted attention from all his loved ones in his last days. He was actually in a happy frame of mind when he passed away. That was God's way of stopping his counter.

24 October 2015

Light after a month of darkness!

The intercom rang at my place. "Mummy, I am missing Aajoba!" wailed my daughter. Alarmed at her obvious distress and tears, I asked hurriedly "What happened?" "I miss grandpa and grandma. When will I get to see them?" sobbed my little one. "You will see them soon", I reassured her. Later I came to know that she got emotional after seeing her friend playing in the park with her grandfather and hence the distress call.

My dad (her Aajoba) has been in the hospital for last 4 weeks recovering from laryngectomy for throat cancer. Out of those 4 weeks he was in the ICU for a good 14 days struggling to draw enough oxygen into his body. Various health complications contributed to his extended stay in the ICU.

Harrowing, dark times for the entire family. During surgery, my dad's voice-box had to be removed due to which he could not speak. As a result, one of the family has been with him everyday of these 4 weeks - my mom, brother, sis-in-law, my hubby or myself. Kids are not allowed in hospital, never mind the ICU, so the kids have not seen their grandparents in a month now. Dad not being able to communicate, or eat/drink, meant there were very few visitors or other helpers.

Keeping up the morale for the kids, and stamina for the daily running of the home and work, was a juggling act for us all. I thought I had gotten away with it since my daughter did not seem overtly disturbed by our constant visits to the hospital or extended phone calls. But yesterday's call brought home the reality that children are sensitive to every minute change in the environment. They absorb everything and keep processing it in the background until one day the dam bursts.

The surgery wound took a long time to heal in my dad's case. The secretions from the wound escaped into his lungs and caused severe breathing complications for him. He had a couple of setbacks while recovering, infact he was on ventilator for a few days. All this almost collapsed my mother's health. However, she has rallied beautifully and has managed to withstand it all stoically.

Not being able to eat solids had made dad weak and he could barely sit up most of the days. It's been painful to watch one's parent so helpless and in pain. He kept asking for water and his beloved tea. Of course, he cannot ingest anything orally yet, but they kept him hydrated and fed though a pipe that goes through his nose into his oesophagus. I've had him shaved, rubbed his back which ached from all the lying down, wet his parched lips to give him the satisfaction of tasting water, wiped perspiration from his brow as he struggled to sit or walk, held his hand when he wrote on the slate (his way of communicating these last few weeks) that he is scared. I have gone over his daily vital stats with a fine tooth comb and grilled the doctors on his condition. Reminded me of all he had done for me when I was a child. How life comes a full circle!

Testing times test your mettle, they test the limits of your faith and strength of your relationships. Relationships are so fragile yet so resilient. A small diagnosis in a family member's life has such a cascading effect on all people connected to the family. Both my daughter and nephew's other grandmothers had to pitch in for babysitting so we could focus on the hospital duty. Colleagues at work had to take a share of our responsibilities, maids at home were diligent enough to never miss a day so we are not inconvenienced and neighbours took my daughter to her weekend class. But the most support and humanity came from the hospital staff - the nurses, mamas and mavshis who clean and provide for the patient day after day despite their rants and crankiness and still spare a kind word for the hapless relatives.

My dad gets discharged today. For him the wanvaas finally ends today. He will be able to take things orally soon and even speak with a device! These have been times of learning, introspection and gratitude.....

26 June 2015

Are you strong and independent? That's why you are not pampered!

Came across a cartoon that had a girl/woman saying to herself "Wish there was someone to pamper me!" and in the other panel, she suddenly has an epiphany and says "It doesn't matter as I am a strong and independent woman."

It got me to think that there are always people who we think are blessed or lucky as they always get taken care of in life by someone or the other - be it by parents, spouse, relatives, children, employees etc. And then there are others (like me) who have to work for every little thing in life- nothing happens on its own or by luck or someone's favors. There is a saying - if you want something, ask or demand. But people who are strong are so used to being the one who is asked for help, support etc. that they forget to ask others around them for help. They are habituated to reach inside their reserves of strength and resilience to always find a way out of a difficulty.

In order to be pampered, you have to be weak or show weakness or seek support. That is why infants, toddlers and kids are pampered so much. They lack independence. Though some children have this quality right from childhood and they are burdened with taking care of others around them all their lives.

Both - being pampered, and being strong & independent, have their pros and cons. With the former, you get taken care of but then there is always an obligation. Sooner or later there comes a payback time as there are no free lunches in this world. There is a lot of maintenance of relationships to be done as you need to ensure that people around you are committed to taking care of you! With the latter, you trudge through most of your life carrying the burdens of others and not having anyone to vent out to. There is less fun and more discipline and frugality. A strong person never gets asked "How are you coping?" even though their challenge is very much visible to others. Its automatically assumed that he/she will cope well(so unfair!) No fuss is ever made of their plight, whereas a weaker one's plight is a source of much concern of all. But the benefits are you never have to depend on anyone, you are not obligated to anyone and are master of your life. Also, there is so much gratitude around you that you feel blessed eventually.

So do I still miss being pampered?! Oh yes, who doesn't?! So I act the weakling sometimes and get my share of pampering :-)

Health is wealth

Last two years were tough for me health-wise. Without going into details, there was degradation in overall vitality, lot of pain, a battery of tests and innumerable visits to the doctor. However, the good part is that health became such a focus that I completely revamped my lifestyle.

Swimming, walking, gym-cycling became my fitness regimen. All kind of sweets, oily and processed food left my diet and salads and fruits entered with a bang. The outcome is now, after little more than a year, I have renewed vigor for life in general and am 9 kgs lighter to boot! Not only this, but my temperament in general has undergone a drastic change. No more mood swings, no more outbursts and good involvement in all activities again. So much so, that my daughter says "How come you are never angry now, Mummy?"

Work-wise too the effects are felt. I have a sharpened focus to excel and perform better now. It's not that I lacked the will to excel earlier, it's just that I have much more reserves of mental and physical stamina to deal with challenges. Getting through the day with some energy reserved for latter part of the day is no more a criteria.  Needless to say, shedding the kilos make the clothes fit better and get me noticed as never before. That helps at work as well as social situations and does wonders to one's confidence!

So what is the lesson here? No, I don't want to boast about my will-power to turn things around:-) The learning was that people are sometimes different, difficult or easy-going, based on physical factors impacting their health in some way or other. If only they themselves, or someone close to them, take the trouble to delve deeper into health issues- could be mental or physical. That is why some old people are so cranky, some menopausal or pregnant  women are impossible to be around and over-worked husbands are like grizzly bears.

Every single person wants to be happy. But the fact is you can never be happy or successful if you are not supported by your body and lack confidence. Confidence is key to all achievement in life. And unless you are sure that your body, mind and emotions will pull you through any situation, you will fail at every hurdle life throws at you. Our body is the most precious gift to us from God, but so many of us are busy in mindless pursuits of wealth, status, luxury or experiences.

Whoever said that health is wealth was a genius. Wealth can still be rebuilt once lost but it's very, very tough to rebuild our health. Mind you, it's not impossible. But sometimes dwindling health can be a vicious cycle that recursively increases complications. 

26 March 2015


Recently, I was hooked onto a TV series called "House M.D.". In that, Dr. House leads a team of diagnosticians who take up complicated cases and try to arrive at the correct diagnosis to treat the patients. Dr. House is a cynic, though an excellent doctor, and his favorite line is "Everyone lies". He always questions everything the patient tells and even stoops to snooping in the patient's living quarters to get clues for "environmental causes" for disease. And truly enough, almost every episode outlines the fact that patient(or someone close) had lied about something which misled the doctors into mis-diagnosing.

Another protagonist, this time from a book - Hercule Poirot (a detective), also always said that "Keep talking to people (suspects). Someone or other lies or hides something. Once you know what that is, its easy to solve the case."

So what makes people tell lies? Some say its in good cause- to save embarrassment or pain to another. Those are the well-intentioned "white" lies. And those that are said to save the same for self - those are the black or unforgivable lies.

I came across this beautiful article on FB. It gives a good analysis on why people lie and what can be the repercussions. So then, should we always be telling the truth, which can be really brutal, harsh and bitter sometimes? Even the great Yudhishtir of Mahabharat, succumbed to the pressure of winning the war by lying about the death of "Ashwaththama" (the elephant). For this, he suffered by having the wheels of his chariot touch the ground where they were 4 inches above before.

There are so many messages on truth : "Satyamev Jayate", "Truth shall set you free" etc. But is it really possible to follow the path of truth always? The right answer is no. So what is the right course? Some people camouflage truth in a sense of humor. Some are like bulldozers who just ladle huge dollops of bitter truth down your throat. Then there are others who take the path of tact in doling out dozes of truth. But not everyone is savvy on tact and diplomacy. Also, neither are they regarded as having a lot of integrity (viz. politicians).

My policy - speak the truth always. Sometimes, temper it with tact, and at other times, serve it unadulterated. The real trick is to know with whom, or in what circumstances, to use which tactic. Most people are tactful with near and dear ones and blunt with others. I feel its important to be frank with near and dear ones. They need to hear what you feel, how they can improve or even how much they matter to you. And sometimes, in order to build new relationships, its important to proceed with tact until we are close enough to handle truth. As always, experience is the best teacher - one will usually arrive at the right formula after a few experiments with truth :-)

28 February 2015

What is life?

A purpose, a goal;
A hobby, a passion;
A series of events: some gay, some tragic;
Of births, celebrations and deaths;
An orderly routine, a plan for some;
Drudgery or punishment for others;
An endless party for the intoxicated few.
A journey, a destination or a beginning;
A quest for happiness;
A thirst for love;
An odyssey of wisdom;
A hunt for the elusive knowledge.

Life has so many reasons and definitions,
But who knows which one applies to ours.
Our life is not a noun but an action;
It's meaning is to be unravelled by others;
The legacy we leave behind;
The historians who witnessed it and
Will pass on what it was to others.
Why then are there so many rules;
So many better ways to live life?
When we can never know how we fared;
For the results are announced only after we're dead.

Why the righteousness, the moral high ground;
Toward those struggling to find their way?
When will we learn that we are all on different paths,
We walk together with some at one time,
And with others at another time;
But mostly we travel alone.
By this measure, to live life, 
Its imperative to be comfortable with oneself;
To love, accept and even question ourselves.
Know thyself and you know the universe.
Unfortunate that this truth is disclosed;
In the twilight of life for most of us, if at all. 
Since we cannot apply the truth;
To our life by then, we try to help others;
Forgetting that their journey
Was about themselves and not us.

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