Renu's Week

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Report of 25 Dec '08

Merry Christmas from Goa!

"The Matrix" is on TV, the loves of my life are all around me and we are considering ourselves pretty lucky at this state of affairs. I am fairly flush with the spirit of Christmas, the peace and serenity, and the music, oh most especially the music. There is a tremendous sense of gratitude and joy at this state of affairs. I do consider myself very fortunate that all of us are here, alive and healthy, knock on wood; that we can afford to go to on holidays like this; and that we have friends such as the one who got us a discounted booking at this resort. It is lush and green, and today we walked down to a German bakery nearby, ate lovely non-Indian food and walked on the beach.

Goa is a state of mind. The state itself is very spread out and it takes so long to get between places here, that one just cannot be in a hurry. Goans are also renowned for knowing how to enjoy life, with partying, drinking alcohol and eating well. The local alcoholic brew, feni, is brewed from the cashew fruit and is known nationwide. The place is teeming with foreigners, all of whom know Goa for its unique way of life, and some for the abundance of drugs and rock and roll here. I enjoy the greenery and the relaxed pace of life in Goa.

The man on the steps of the train station, back in Nungambakkam, Chennai, is better! His cough has improved, he says, and I had asked him to eat a little solid food instead of the numerous cups of tea he drinks - I think affordability of food might be an issue. At the last enquiry, he had bought and eaten idlis (steamed rice cakes) with sambar (dhal curry - high in protein) and had started to feel better. Nutrition does go a long way to help the body prevent and combat illness. The B often has extra food left over, and I asked the staff to please see if they could get some to him; I'll find out next week if that happened.

We were in Madurai last weekend, visiting my parents. It was a nice visit. Scott is a beloved entity there, and my mother enjoyed talking to him. We cooked dinner and breakfast, and that was enjoyed by all. Naren and Navin had a good time experiencing their grandparents' magnificent senses of humor and extraordinarily warm hospitality. We also visited Mrs. Leila Kurien, my friend Nina's mother and also my friend. That was the treat it always is - full of genuine warmth and much goodness.

We hope that you have plenty of good fortune of your own, and are surrounded by loved ones at Christmas. We also hope you have a happy and healthy 2009!

Unw -


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Report of 15 Dec '08

Hello from the Banyan -

Someone else needs the system that I am working on, so I must hurry. Quite a bit of my work is done on the computer, and I used to have the luxury of a machine to myself, but not anymore. :) This is the lot of us, at the B - but the work gets done, and those who have been battered and bruised heal, and their spirits rejuvenate, and these are good things.

The newspaper carried a story that 1 of the 2 girls rescued a few weeks ago was repeatedly raped by the watchman (security person) at the house where they were employed. This has ripped me up, as has the info that the impoverished parents had "sold" the girls to a female pimp. This is fairly routine in India and Nepal: a person known to the struggling family offers to pay them money to send the children to "work" or to "get educated" elsewhere, assures them that the kids would be well taken care of, etc., and then sells them into prostitution. I remain doubly grateful for the spirit of these 2 girls who came to us: ostensibly, they had tried to escape before, been caught and thrashed. This did not faze them, they tried again and succeeded!! Woo hoo! So they are now in an orphanage, and we hope the best possible decision is taken for them - this does not necessarily mean sending them back to their relatives, which is what both girls desperately want. The relatives might choose to send them for employment elsewhere.

I have now started to take public transport (our convenient electric train system) on a couple of days to the B. It is convenient and inexpensive, and the cab service turned out to be unreliable, so the switch was easy. Last week, as I returned from the B and climbed the steps of the Nungambakkam station, I noticed a vendor on the steps grabbing his chest. I had to get home before Navin did, and climbed another step, and looked back, and the man was still grabbing his chest. Ooooh, the dilemma - home in time, or stop and assist. I stopped, went back and took a brief history; the man said his chest hurt from coughing and he was couging up blood. He had gone to the Government Hospital, and they had given him "medicines." He was taking them regularly, he said, and that's a relief. I suspect the diagnosis is tuberculosis, as he looked classic TB (tuberculosis) - ish: gaunt, coughing, ill-appearing. So I wrote him a cough syrup for some relief, said I'd check on him this week, and then bought some safety pins from him as we needed some in the house. The man did not wish to take money for it, and I left, warmed by this thought. I had some trepidation that the man would be worse, or something, by today, but he seemed ok, and I'll check on him on my return today.

Our annual expedition to Little Theatre's Christmas pantomime happened over the weekend. LT stages this show and raises money for educating underprivileged children through college, a cause very dear to my heart. The beneficiaries come back and assist with the production, and are always introduced before the performance, bringing a tear to my eye. Also bringing a tear this year was the excellent performance of "It's a wonderful world," by one of the cast members; it is a wonderful world, isn't it, regardless of whether hate-filled youngsters kill others or not. The "dame" in the show was played by a male, and she came into the audience, caressed Scott's face and called Naren to dance with her; Naren obliged, as Navin shrank into his seat (terrified that he'd be called, too), and danced with rhythm and joy. It was fun. At the end of the show, as one of the cast members talked of the need to wear helmets, we applauded (apparently prematurely) and he said, "That was not the message, our American friends can't seem to understand my accent," and we laughed out loud. It was wonderful to be heckled, all for a good cause.

We went out to breakfast yesterday, and it was great to eat sausages, eggs and fruit. We also went to hear some Christmas music, the best part of the season for me.

May there be peace in your hearts and in the world. Unw -


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Report of 10 Dec '08

Hello from the Banyan -

It feels good to sit down and write. Hope all of you are well. The Banyan is limping back to normalcy after getting flooded out of the central office (all employees then proceeded to work out of our transit care facility, Adaikalam, where waters receded fairly quickly), and after collectively grieving the victims of the terror attack. The Theosophical Society held an inter-faith service where members of Zoroastrian, Muslim, Christian, Jain, Hindu (just to name a few) .. faiths came together and prayed. A representative was quoted in the paper as saying they had also prayed for the young terrorists, who were also victims of the system of terror. I found this magnanimous and probably unique to us - I didn't notice any publicised prayers in the U.S. for the perpetrators of 9/11. It is correct that the young terrorists were also victims: brainwashed from a very young age to hate India, recruited from impoverished families with the promise of several thousand rupees going to their parents on their deaths, indoctrinated to kill as a way of gaining salvation - all these are to be bemoaned. As I watch our 2 teenagers, and realise that the terrorists were not much older, I do feel a sense of sadness that young passions, so easily directed towards doing good - a sterling example being Vandana and Vaishnavi founding the Banyan at ages 21 and 22 - were misdirected towards annihilation.

The Banyan continues joyously. Ms. B, the lady who was locked up by her husband for 20 years and was rescued by her niece and brought to the Banyan, started to get an attitude change. She is recovering very well from a broken bone and was in the sick room. One day, she started to say things like "I am not like these people (the other patients), my father is of the artisan class, we don't accept money, blah blah." I felt my ire start to rise and asked her if she was aware of the circumstances from whence she came; I truly don't like to harp on the past, but I absolutely detest holier-than-thou speeches. So, before I blew up, I told the lady that all, including staff, were equal at the Banyan and hastily called our able occupational therapist, Harini, who has been dealing with this patient; Harini also doubles competently as a psychologist and she told the patient similar things. I requested that Ms. B be moved out of the sick room for the good of all concerned and on my next visit, she was not there, having been moved to the dorms.

I also go to Kovalam, our seaside facility. The need for a doctor in that community is acute, and I love practicing with the non-mentally ill. One of my patients was a young, beautiful, Muslim lady complaining of body pain and I enjoyed talking to her. Women in that community work non-stop, carrying water from the neighborhood tap, hoisting babies on to their hips, taking care of parents-in-law, etc. This lady, Ms. S, also mentioned an old childhood injury which had not been tended to, and I would like to get a physiotherapist to Kovalam to help manage such issues. All in good time. I love the senses of humor of the patients, and have a great time tending to the ill and injured - who, amazingly, keep said senses of humor intact through these conditions.

Some magnificent interactions last week. Cynthia Scherr, a friend from Lady Doak days and now in Oregon; her children, Kathryn and Derek; and her husband, Stuart Meyer, spent 3 days in Chennai. Naren and Navin were deputed to show the teenagers around, and Scott and I hung out with Cindy and Stuart. It was great fun, we recharged in the fine fashion that friends yield, and all 4 kids had a blast. Coincidentally, David Gere showed up one evening then, too, to check on his "Make Art, Stop Aids" project. Cindy and David were Oberlin-Shansi reps at Lady Doak and American Colleges respectively, and had much to catch up on. All 4 of us enjoy hanging out with David, whose perspective, love of India and our kids, and senses of mission and humor enliven the time together.

Naren's band, Blue Light Daze, was one of several to play at a Bhopal protest concert last week and all 7 of us (the Oregon guests included) attended. It was fun, and Blue Light Daze's pic was in the paper yesterday. Naren bought 7 copies, and my mother asked for 1. Navin is cramming for exams; we were privileged to get our neighbor Usha's help in teaching him study strategies. Usha is a wonderful sort, and we rely on her for all kinds of assistance. We will see what the grades show. Scott is in Trivandrum this week, and the boys and I have hung out together. Yesterday Naren remarked that it would be wonderful to sire children of 8 different faiths by 8 different women, and asked what I would do if that happened; I told him I would ensure that it did not happen again and there was a lot of banter. No topic is taboo at our table, which I am grateful for. During the course of the conversation, there was some discussion about best days in our lives, and I told the boys that the days they were born were easily at the top of our lists.

Unw -


Monday, December 01, 2008

Report of 2 Dec '08

And before we know it, it's December -

We are well and safe. Thank you for the kind enquiries about our safety, after the horrific attacks in Mumbai (now called India's 9/11). We are safe in Chennai, though as you can imagine, security is heightened. It was easy to be removed from the attacks, especially as we do not have a functional TV, but Susan (my sister-in-law) told me last night that a fellow parishioner had lost his brother in the attacks. Mr. Banja was executive chef at the Taj, the terrorists told them to make sandwiches, they did, then they were lined up at the wall and shot. To a person, eyewitnesses mention the terrorists as being very young - almost young boys. The family and I discussed how easy it was for young people to be swayed by impassioned speeches, especially by clerics.

Chennai reeled under heavy rains last week, for 3 days straight. Schools were closed and I could not get to work. In fact, our Choolaimedu office still has water inside, and the street it's on has about thigh-deep water - mixed with sewage. That is the lot of many neighborhoods here. We needed the rain, but not this constantly. A lot of people lost their homes or possessions, but the city is recovering.

What can one say about taking lives? Nothing. Are we the only species to do this? Probably not. We (Indians) were ill-equipped to resist. Israel, which lost a few citizens in the attack, is here, likely to teach India a few lessons.

The only thing Scott and I can do is put 2 beings on earth who would never be moved to kill another - impassioned speeches or not. I hope that they'd have the good sense to sift wisdom from rhetoric, and would be more inclined to help than hurt.

Unw -