Renu's Week

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Report of 29 May '07

Hello from steaming Chennai -

One child is on the couch in front of me playing a new Game Cube game. It is not an entity I understand well, but has worked as a motivational tool, much as money has with Naren, and I figure I really ought to accommodate the boys' deep desires.

Navin has turned 14 today. His cousins phoned to wish him, and I am grateful for the relationship we have with my sibs, sibs-in-law and their children. Navin's voice has cracked and he has come to need deodorant, which he sprays over his t-shirt, not realising that his clothes might smell great but his bod will continue to reek. We are teaching life's lessons as we go; when Naren hit puberty, we were in the U.S. and it was mighty easy to get updates from his pediatrician. As of now, these boys' doc is me, and they do not comply w/ exams as easily.

We went to Northeast India last week on vacation. It is gorgeous up there, and borders China in some places, thus some areas require special permits for foreigners. We were told by several officials that Manipur, our destination, did not need a permit and off we went; at Imphal (Manipur's capital) airport, we were asked for our permits and we tried to explain that we were told we didn't need 'em. We were summarily deported on the same flight back to Kolkata, and it was all very beautifully and efficiently done. We flew to Assam, and then on to Sikkim, which is also in the Northeast, and is gorgeous. Permits are also necessary for Sikkim, but the government makes these very easy to obtain, and off we went to its lovely capital, Gangtok. The option existed for us to head on to the border w/ China to see a magnificent lake, but that required a special permit also, and we passed. One of our transit points suffered bomb blasts on our return, so we preponed our return and bolted home. The whole trip was lovely, but we were glad to get home. I was saddened that such spectacularly beautiful parts of my country were faced w/ such troubles that tourists could not easily visit.

Our favorite restaurant in Gangtok had a little boy as a waiter. He'd come from Nepal, and was about 15. Our cab driver was also Nepali, and was 17, learned to drive at 14. I was saddened that our 16 and 13 yo's were on vacation w/ their fam, eating out, seeing sights and watching TV at night, and these Nepali boys were working their tails off. We took the waiter a bar of chocolate on our last day there, and overpaid the cab driver, which was fine by me. If my 2 sons were somewhere w/o their parents, I'd surely hope that someone would be kind to them. There is a lot of trafficking of Nepali women and children, and Sikkim is near Nepal; we might have seen evidence of young Nepali women at work, which saddened me considerably. I thank God almost daily that we can afford to keep our children w/ us.

There were patients galore on my return. The tomato lady's husband, who has TB, has perked up and his appetite has returned. She had lots of smiles when I saw her, and was mighty reassured that her husband was on the mend. I like to see smiles on the faces of my patients and their relatives. The fruit man's dad, who also works in the veg market, is complaining of itching, and his eyes are yellow; ostensibly, he drinks alcohol every day and I asked that he back off the booze, and prescribed a multivitamin supplement. He gave me a bunch of cilantro for free; this was what he could pay, and it was more precious to me than a fat cash payment. This really is a wonderful profession to be in.

Navin was teased by some locals in Sikkim, and has emerged wiser from it. Naren quickly circumvented this teasing by speaking a couple of words in Hindi (learned from me) and adopting the famous Indian head wag; he learned the benefits of this from the book "Shantaram," which I recommend to anyone interested in India. Apparently, Johnny Depp (one of Naren's favorite actors) is to play the character in the motion picture.

I'll be in Indianapolis in under 2 weeks and need to rent a dirt-cheap automobile for 2 months. If anyone has suggestions for me, or knows anyone who'd be brave enough to lend me a spare car for that time, please let me know. Thanks.

"Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died." - Erma Bombeck

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Sunday, May 20, 2007

Report of 20 May '07

Hello from happy land!

Naren's results are here. He has done very well, and averaged 81%, which is considered very good in his rigorous course of study (Indian School Certificate Exam). His subjects were English, Second Language - his is Spanish, History/Civics/Geography, Science, Environmental Education, Maths and Art. When I saw him studying 11 hours a day, I hoped for such a result and knew he was capable of it - so we are all very happy, esp Naren!

You know, I am starting to look at time spent w/ the kids (and their academics) as an investment. Had we left Naren to take the consequences of his actions of hanging out w/ non-studying friends and blowing off academics, he likely would not have seen exactly how much he could accomplish grade-wise, would not know the satisfaction of a good job well-done, and would not get the morale-boosting phenomenon of excellent grades and consequent accolades. So, we kept Naren a bit away from his non-studying buddy, arranged for tutors, Scott sat w/ him and set practice tests; in the meantime, nutrition and exercise were routinely seen to, as was the need for regular breaks. All this (parental involvement) is par for the course during exam time in India.

My sister Anu's son, Vikram, has passed his 12th grade exams also. In this moment, I am sorry to report that my brother Manu's son, Sudhir, did not pass 12th grade chemistry. We are looking at other course options for Sudhir, who is easily the sharpest of all the nephews and nieces, but who has been derailed by many influences - not the least of which is the loss of his father.

I am officially on vacation, but have seen patients ad infinitum. Our maid's mother came w/ the complaint of persistent nasal congestion and I saw her at the flat, as I have no nearby clinic to go to. It is very easy for me to rely on the history and physical exam, as my patients simply cannot afford expensive tests. So I prescribed some meds, and explained to the lady what was going on w/ her; as our maid left, her mother explained that she was very worried about her as she is widowed and struggling to raise her 2 kids. Often, with my patients, issues of poverty compound and complicate the illness.

The boys tutor 2 young brothers named Tamilselvan and Vignesh. Their mother, a housekeeping employee in our apt complex, came to me last week and delightedly told me that both boys had passed their exams and qualified to move on to the next grade. On hearing this, another maid in the vicinity (very few conversations here are private) asked if she could send her kids for tutoring as well. But of course. Naren and Navin, and their friends, are accomplishing great things here, including developing the ease of sharing their gifts w/ those much less fortunate than themselves.

We were extremely privileged to get together w/ our dear friend, David Gere, over lunch. As David's brother, Richard, has been in a flap over kissing an actress here, David asked as we hugged if we could kiss in public and I laughed out loud. I like hugs, and in spite of the lack of physical contact between the 2 genders here, I hug visiting friends w/ glee. Naren and Navin joined us as well, and all enjoyed David's company, as usual - replete w/ teasing, much laughing, eating, and David's grand command of the Indian culture. Naren noticed that the waiter's jaw dropped when David ordered in Tamil. David and Peter are wonderful parents, and inspirations to us in more ways than one. We were also fortunate to see our friend, Desmond Nazareth, and all enjoyed his easy presence as well. Des is a brilliant engineer/film-maker/entrepreneur, and a fascinating conversationalist w/ all ages. Today is my nephew Aditya's b'day, and we will get together w/ my sister and family, brother and family, and my brilliant scientist aunt, Indira. It is lovely to see, and get along with, family.

I'd better wind up. Hope all are well. For those who'd like to email Naren, his id is

"When I can do no longer bear to think of the victims of broken homes, I begin to think of the victims of intact ones." - Peter De Vries

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Report of 14 May '07

Hello from very warm Chennai -

There are 3 young men watching "X-Men 3" right in front of me, and they are a treat to observe.

Happy Mother's Day to all of you! I had a splendid day, w/ homemade cards from the boys - the best kind. Naren wrote down the various forms of "Mom" - Amma, Madre, Mum, etc. - and had adjectives against each letter. Against "r," he had "Repeatedly bites" and it was hilarious! (I sometimes pick up an arm, any arm, when watching movies or travelling and pretend to gnaw on it.) Navin had a quick msg on his card, he's more the hugging kind than the writing kind. His voice has started to crack and is novel; Naren's went straight to deep.

We were out of Chennai for a week: spent a few days in Bangalore w/ Scott, went to Coorg to see my late Uncle Thammappa's family and other cousins, to Mysore to see my aunt Kamala, spent the day w/ my sister-in-law, Susan, in Bangalore and then left for Chennai. It is wonderful that these interactions recharge us to such an extent. I was especially delighted to get together w/ Susan and see that she is well and happy; she's a good sort. We have brought my nephew, Sudhir, w/ us from B'lore and he is good company. We stopped for the night in Vellore en route home and that was great fun - my sister, Anu, and her family live there, and there was much eating, good-natured teasing, and lots of laughing. Anu and I couldn't stop talking, and it was oh-so therapeutic. I took clothes for Anu and Susan, and they loved 'em. Anu has 2 sons, Aditya and Vikram, and all the boys romped together in wild testosterone abandon. Susan and Sudhir have not got along of late, and I am hoping that all this unbridled affection will give Sudhir a bit of a bank balance of it, as well as give Susan a break.

I returned to find the veg market anxious for my return. The tomato lady wept as soon as she saw me, and hastened home to bring her husband, who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB). I looked at the x-ray outside the veg market; I am not an expert in x-rays at all, but the TB was evident even to me. I reassured the couple that this was not a fatal illness, told them about the treatment, advised them on nutrition; the lady said no one had explained it to them, and thus the tremendous fear. I held her hand and tried to assuage all her fears. A 200-buck visit was dispensed for free, but there were riches beyond compare: reassurance of a poor patient, enlightening them about an illness (an educated patient is our best resource), removing a wife's fear, showing my son that poor ("outcaste") patients can also be treated w/ dignity, respect and a shared sense of humor.

The issue w/ money is an odd one. In my 3-year quest for funding, as soon as someone says No to me, I hit the road. I am not adept at selling myself, and in fact, have been lambasted before for whining about this issue in my blog. But 'tis my blog, the lack of money is mildly concerning off and on, and "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to." The patients are going to be seen, regardless, and it is this complacency that exists w/ many funders (and with me :) ). So be it. I am returning to the U.S. in June to work for 2 months in an Indianapolis clinic, had been promised airfare and a rental car last year, the person promising it has left, and the present admin states they cannot honor the commitment. So I said Ok, and am heading there anyway, as I enjoy working in the U.S. and must make some $ to pay off them almighty student loans. Maybe I'll write for a fee someday, maybe I'll continue to speak, which I greatly enjoy.

Our maid's son has flunked his entrance exam into 6th grade, and Naren, Navin and Sudhir will tutor him today and tomorrow for a re-examination. The child must pass this exam and I am grateful for the help. My sons are, all said and done, fairly remarkable sorts - left the affluent land of their birth to live here and work w/ me; treat all people the same (their cousin Sudhir, the maid's son); are very careful how much they whine about India and the U.S.; have robust senses of humor that make me laugh out loud on Mother's Day and every day. There is our legacy.

"There may be some doubt as to who are the best people to have charge of children, but there can be no doubt that parents are the worst." - George Bernard Shaw

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

Report of 6 May '07

Hello from Mango Madras -

Chennai used to be called Madras, and it's mango season now. The luscious fruit sort of make up for the heat.

We are back after a huge breakfast outside - muesli, sausage and eggs, pastry, fruit. We then stopped by my brother's place to hand over stuff brought from the U.S. (diapers, deodorant, chocolate). The diapers are a safeguard for my niece, Ahana. As w/ several other Indian kids, she is potty-trained at age 18 months. Having lived in the U.S. for a while, I was surprised at this milestone, also. We had to put the chocolate in a cooler to take it over, as it would otherwise melt in no time at all.

So, life here is fine. The flight back was great. One of the Lufthansa flight attendants whom I gabbed with (and I do this a lot, to take the tedium off a long flight) told me of looking out her five-star hotel window and seeing a desperately poor family living on the sidewalk in Delhi. She said the mother there cleaned their living space much as the flight attendant ("f.a." from now on) would clean her house. The kids wore threadbare clothes, even in winter, moving the f.a. enough to bring her daughter's outgrown sweaters and leggings on her next trip. I found this to be a very sweet thought, from a great mind.

I am not back at the Banyan yet, as the boys are on summer holiday. One of the perks of working for free is not working for free, and the men and I have watched movies and lazed around. The boys were delighted to receive clothes that I'd brought, which Tori Scott had sent me after her son, Jordan, cleaned out his closet. Tori is a generous soul at all times and is a treat to be around. Sharon Cole-Braxton, a friend of over 20 years, had sent me 2 boxes of her clothes, and they are great! There was enough to pass on to sister and sisters-in-law, too, and Sharon has such good taste that the clothes have been very well-received. I had a great trip up to Chicago (to catch my flight) w/ Colleen Taber, whose company I always enjoy.

The boys are back to their usual fighting selves - so be it. All part of teenage-hood. Naren went to see a movie yesterday, went onwards to another activity from there w/o telling us, and has been grounded, losing cell phone privileges also; his argument for a cell phone was just that, that he could let us know where he was. There is an almighty pout this morning, expectedly.

"Like its politicians and its war, society has the teenagers it deserves." - J. B. Priestley

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