Renu's Week

Monday, March 26, 2007

Report of 25 Mar 2007

Hello from dark Chennai -

It is 26 March, actually, and today, the exams are over for Naren. He is partying w/ his friends as we speak. We will know the results in mid-May.

My patient this week was also Naren. He caught a virus and sneezed up a storm. Now I know how professional athletes' handlers feel: we had to get this kid to exam condition pronto! So some antihistamines (from the U.S. - I am so a U.S.-medicine snob) and tea w/ honey set the boy right, praise be.

Navin started his exams last week, but they are school exams and thus not the whole family endeavor that Board exams are. They still need a ton of work as they are rigorous, but nowhere near the quantity that Boards do. Naren studied for about 10-11 hours a day; the Principal had recommended 14 hours, but I wasn't having any of that. Neither was Naren.

I stayed clear of the veg market as I was on crutches, and so the men went diligently. The fruit man is raising a kitten and it is a tiny thing, a big draw for Navin.

We wound up tutoring for the year w/ a little party. The Cassidy family from Brecksville, Ohio, had sent us some used school supplies and there were some excellent calculators in there which we dished out, along w/ some teeny stuffed animals given by my sister-in-law, Diane. Our students have very few toys, if any, and these goodie bags were welcomed. We are rather privileged in our generous friends and relatives.

Unw -


Sunday, March 18, 2007

Report of 18 Mar 2007

Hello from bright sunny exam country -

We are well, just finished brunch and had some lovely fruit, sapotas included. Navin is studying, he just moved from the living room as we had too many questions for him; Scott has traipsed off to look in on Navin; Naren is at his friend Anshuman's house. Anshuman's sister, Nisha, is their chem and phys tutor. Anshu spent the night here on Friday and Scott did his part to prep them in phys, which they have next week, along w/ chem. I like Anshuman and Nisha a lot; their mother, Kalpana, is separated from her husband, a phenomenon that is still somewhat rare here, and both children are rather considerate of her. Anshu is given to the usual teenage high jinx, but is a true friend to Naren.

After exams are done, then I start preps for my U.S. trip. I need to find out from folks if they know of anyone who can give me a place to stay in San Diego, California, from 17-20th April, while I attend the conference of the American College of Physicians. I simply cannot afford the hotel room, and last year, my friend Olivia and I were extremely privileged to stay w/ Ann and Phil Bagley, whom I will see again this year. The truth is that I can't let a little thing like affordability get in the way of sopping up all that knowledge that is shared at ACP - annually, a very worthwhile show.

Scott and I got to see a movie yesterday, as both boys were occupied. We saw "Water," which is about Indian widows in 1938. It was excellent: a sad depiction of widows' ostracism and their plight, and I wept through much of it, including the joyous scenes (which are so few in a widow's life). The actress Seema Biswas stole the show. Widows here are not expected to dress in bright colors, wear a bindi or flowers in their hair or glass bangles, and are kept away from family functions as they are considered bad luck. The movie had an 8 yo child widow, whose bangles were broken and head shaved. Not all widows are now treated poorly, and I had a revelation about my own parents, who, in the midst of their grief after my brother died, certainly did not even think to insist on my sister-in-law, Susan, removing glass bangles and dressing drably. Susan's mother told her to remove her thali (the necklace that signifies married status, like a wedding ring), and not to come out of the house for 11 days, and Susan told her, somewhat politely, to go jump.

One of my great joys is that Susan knows she can count on all of us for help, and joins us happily with her children for family occasions. We are a weird lot, and she could easily choose not to do so.

No one showed up for tutoring, busy cramming for exams, I think. Naren turned 16 last week and we had pizza and cake, in the midst of exams. He had wanted a Red Hot Chili Peppers CD, which I'd scoured for and is not available here, but settled with good grace to some movies and a book called Shantaram - written by an ex-convict from Australia who gets into Mumbai's underworld. Naren had wanted this book for a while.

"God gives us relatives; thank God we can choose our friends." - A. Mizner

Unw -


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Report of 11 Mar 2007

Sunny, bright, breezy, happy -

Hello from Chennai!

This kid is a treat to be around. He tends to cop an attitude when anyone else enters, like his father, and gets almost nasty to me (I can't figure that out), but solo, he's fine. We've gone through the exam weeks eating and quizzing and gabbing, and it's been fun enough - when he's solo. I guess teenagers go through stress, too, and these exams are gigantic. I think I've mentioned before that Naren's bio portions are those I did in 1st year of med school.

Last week, I was dispatched to Delhi as Vandana could not go - she'd been invited to speak at a national conf on Mental Illness. So I went and spoke. The 1st day was the inauguration attended by our President, Dr. Abdul Kalam; he spoke so eloquently and favorably on the Banyan that an option existed to meet him. However, in the earlier course of the evening, I'd twisted my ankle severely on the uneven floor of the auditorium and there was no option of scampering down to shake the man's hand before he was whisked off by Security. I spoke on the 2nd day and it went fine; as I told my sister, Anu, the B speaks for itself. In the group discussion that followed, several questions were raised about how to rescue mentally ill women from the streets, how to rehab them, etc., and the B had solutions for all of this. It was wonderful. Public speaking does not scare me as much as it used to - esp when I have Powerpoint in front of me!

The veg market was fine; I've minimised contact elsewhere as the focus is Naren now, and he seems to appreciate it. When I mentioned to a friend that we were punting the B's annual fundraiser concert, always a lovely show, Naren beamed. Navin has helped w/ quizzing Naren. This whole endeavor has become a family project. In 2 years' time, Naren will write 12th exams and Navin 10th, and then our fun will only double, or triple.

We got a huge box of People magazines from my mother-in-law. The men have fallen on it. We like the pics and knowing what's up w/ the movie scene there. Having lived here for 4 years, though, I'm always tempted to tell some of the picture subjects to put some clothes on. Puritanical, Victorian .... hmmm, that must be me.

Scott has held up masterfully and is a treat to have around. All of us are waiting for summer vacn. I will be in the U.S. for about 3 weeks, starting 9 April. I have 6 speaking engagements there and look forward to all of them. I also look forward to seeing my warm, rambunctious, sense-of-humor-as-large-as-Texas in-laws and a bunch of friends scattered around the country.

Unw -


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Report of 4 Mar 2007

Hello from sunny Chennai -

Our floor mats have been washed and are drying on the balcony, Scott is taking a nap on the couch, Navin is quizzing Naren in history (his exam tomorrow) and we have returned after a big b'fast outside. Sausages and eggs and fruit and juice - yummy. Staggeringly expensive, but you know, ek din ka sultan (king for a day), as my mother would say. It's an all-you-can-eat buffet and the men are fiscally responsible in their gorging - omelettes, donuts, meat. I eat muesli and yogurt and fruit, and am hungry an hour later.

The patience of the boiling tea kettle strikes again. The blog site is taking forever to come up and I can't sit there and wait.

I had to go the B briefly yesterday and welcomed it. We are hiring a new doctor, as one of our prior ones has quit - mutually agreed-upon decision. I did stay and see some patients at our new facility, which has high-functioning residents. It was a pretty quick affair w/ referrals to dentists and OB's, and I then stayed for a massage. I was happy to hear that Ms. M reached her relatives in Kolkata: sometimes the address given to us is a bus route or "a house near a lamppost in X town." This time, the address panned out and Poornima, one of the social workers who went on the "Rehab" (sending patients home) trip, said that there were copious tears all around at the reunion w/ Ms. M. On my way home in the B's transport, we saw a destitute man having a seizure on the road; there is little to do for a seizure (first-aid wise) other than wait it out, and I called our Helpline to go pick him up. Male patients are then taken to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), and evaluated to see if they have a mental illness. Our team couldn't locate the man by the time they reached, so apparently he got better.

Vandana is sending me to Delhi to be a resource person at a conference organised by the National Human Rights Commission, to run a session on "Homeless mentally ill women." It is amusing to be chosen, as I have always been convinced I have ADD, and to sit and listen to someone else speak always causes me to switch off, and my thoughts head homewards. This time, I am to speak, listen to comments from an expert panel, and then summarise. Yikes. All suggestions welcome, including the most important - how to stay attentive and not wonder about whether Navin took sathukudi (an orange-like fruit) w/ lunch and if Naren ate his pasta.

The veg market had some cases of gastroenteritis today, including the Tomato Lady's husband. I prescribed a tablet for amoebiasis, and told them about the importance of washing hands w/ soap. They looked like it was a novel idea, telling me clearly why our disease levels (esp w/ restaurant food and water) are where they are in my beloved country. The tomato lady was extremely upset at the fact that her husband was ill, and I assured her it would pass.

Tutoring went fine and we were not as short-handed. My poor student had to finish washing dishes at home before she could come and came running in at 5.37 PM (the session goes from 5 to 6 PM). This is the bane of many a girl child in India - she must do chores first before she has a prayer at lessons. Poor things. How fortunate was I to grow up in a house where I could study when/if I wanted.

Naren's exams are in full swing and they appear to have gone ok. Thank you all for the good wishes. His best ones are done - Art and English. He finishes on 26 March and is counting the days, and his money, making plans for later merriment.

Unw -