Renu's Week

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Report of 26 Feb '09

Hello from the country of Slumdog Millionaire!

Wooo! There's much euphoria over the Oscars. I'm so glad A. R. Rahman won, and he spoke some Tamil in his acceptance speech - "Ella pugazhum iraivanukke," which means all glory goes to God. He is a devout Muslim, his mother converted the whole family from Hinduism to Islam after his father died and she found solace in the teachings of a Muslim cleric. The family was in abject poverty for a long time, and they certainly are not now - hooray!

There is as much complaining over Slumdog Millionaire's portrayal of poverty in India; however, those of us who work with the abysmally poor know there is plenty of truth in the flick. Enough said.

Life is okay here. I am on leave, but there is still opportunity to use my skills. A much older neighbor needed his blood pressure and lungs checked, and I had not been able to go earlier, when called. So Scott and I went over the weekend and checked him over. He is doing well. He is actually a prominent nationally-renowned economist, and was instrumental in developing some of our policies. As my schedule gets more frenetic, I thought I would beg off such visits, but as I sat there in the home of this older couple, and looked at the wife getting around slowly, the husband fairly immobile in his chair, and no one else in sight, I thought to myself that I couldn't not go. The visit appeared to cheer both of them up and indeed, Scott's gentle presence was tremendously therapeutic. I didn't have to do very much at all.

The young lady I tutor was late last weekend, and she came hesitantly an hour later, and asked if I could still tutor her. I said ok, and we started the session. During its course, I asked why she was late, and she stated that she had been late for her bath, the common bathroom near their living quarters had been occupied. There are about 13 dwellings (a room and a kitchen likely) near a common bathroom and 2 restrooms and all occupants need to plan usage accordingly. As we sat in my bedroom, outside my bathroom intended only for Scott and me, I thought to myself that there were many, many things I was yet to learn about the world of the impoverished, and that even a bath, which I took for granted daily, was sometimes an activity fraught with suspense and anguish in their world. Through all of this, Ms. E remains resolute in her desire to study English and pass her exams, and that steely resolve is so fantastic.

We had the pleasure of seeing my cousin, Nandu, his wife Vandana and their son Ashwin this week. Ashwin has cerebral palsy, cannot speak or walk, but understands everything said, especially jokes. We had a good time seeing them, and the boys enjoyed hanging out with Ashwin. The last time he came, he squealed to communicate and all 3 boys hung out in the back room, squealing. Ashwin tries to grunt in communication now and the boys tried to keep him smiling, which was wonderful. Ashwin is a cool sort. Nandu is a multi-millionaire, being a very successful, self-made entrepreneur; this generates much envy in our narrow world but I am very happy for him. As I looked at my sons at home, dancing, singing and mouthing off to me, or saying extremely funny things, I thought that it was good that Nandu had his riches, just as I had mine.

Unw -


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Report of 18 Feb '09

Hello from our living room -

Navin's math tutor is due any minute, and I have to rush. Naren's exams have started - practicals alone, theory is next month.

We are well and in the freneticism of exams. It's not clear to me where the hours go, perhaps in feeding and eating and studying and ferrying. This seems excessive to many of you, but is de rigeur for here and education is highly valued.

I stopped and had a coconut the other day. The coconut lady had her friend lying next to her, and I nearly left after eating the coconut, but the prone lady looked unwell and I asked. She had had fever, and had gone to the doctor; the doc had prescribed strong antibiotics and something for cold and cough, and the lady had an upset stomach after these meds. I explained the need to eat something before meds, a challenge in the impoverished who might not have said food, and told her to drink plenty of fluids, including the tender coconut water her friend was dispensing. A couple of days later, I swung by there again and the coconut lady said her friend had gone out of town (to her "native place") to recover, as she had not felt well yet. Malaria, dengue and chikungunya are on the rise here.

A Banyan patient and an employee, also recovered from mental illness, are tying the knot tomorrow. This is great news for us and we plan to attend. When one of our residents wants to marry, the social workers do a fine job of telling the fiance and his family all about mental illness and the couple's responsibilities; at no time is the option of marrying precluded, and this is wonderful.

Vandana and her husband, Senthil, came for dinner on Sunday and it was a lovely evening. Vandana is charismatic and funny, making for a great combination in a dinner guest or in a founder of a non-governmental organisation serving the destitute. The boys enjoyed interacting with her, too, and with Senthil.

I could not tutor my young student last week as I was unwell. I am impressed with her, for wanting to learn and for letting nothing stop her, including poverty.

Unw -


Friday, February 13, 2009

Report of 13 Feb '09

Hello from our living room -

The sunshine is streaming through, our clothes on the balcony have dried and another set of clothes is ready to go on. There is something wonderful about non-stop sunshine. Just before I left for the U.S. for the very first time (Jan 1983), my father and I were running an errand in the car, and he said, "Take a good look at the sunshine, because you will be without it for about 6 months."

I am back from the memorial service for my maternal uncle, Bollu. We (my brother, Vinu, and I) were indeed welcomed in, and traipsed merrily about a house where we had been reviled for some years. The person initiating the rituals was, ironically, my mother's sister who had also married outside the community, and had also (like my mother) been subjected to non-communication from my uncle. My cousin and Bollu's daughter, Sheila, is a wonderful sort and had been unwell for some days. It is very good to be a doctor at such times, and I tried to ensure that the young lady kept up her fluids and rested when she could and delegated when able. Sheila's sister, Anita, also married outside the community and was ostracised, with her Dad not speaking to her for 23 years - and then he died. Anita's husband started a company named Netsol, which was sold a few years ago to IBM for a large amount of money. She is none the worse for wear for this ostracism, and did not appear to be filled with regrets or any such.

Coorgis are estate people - coffee, rice, cardamom, pepper. The people are good-looking and fun-loving and Coorg is verdant and beautiful. I don't think there's very much to do other than grow the coffee, come back and drink and socialise. Thus, an active pastime is to speak of others and not very much of it is good. Listening to it got exhausting after a while, and I was glad to return. The 3 Weiss men got lots of sms's from me and a gift, thanking them for their positivity. I am also tremendously grateful for the geniality of my in-laws; yes, they are weird (aren't we all) but they try to say nice things and that is tremendously soothing to be around.

Exam fever is on, Scott is rising to the occasion and the boys are kicking in some effort. While my mother has felt sorry for the kids, I like the fact that the education system here is so rigorous.

We saw "Slumdog Millionaire." It was spot on, and while I wept through much of it, the resilience of the desperately poor came shining forth and that I enjoyed. A. R. Rahman, who did the music, is a Chennai native and a great friend of the Banyan, having composed some beautiful pieces for us. All are hopeful of an Oscar for this wonderful, humble human being. Navin got to shake his hand last year and was thrilled; Naren loves his music also.

Unw -


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Report of 4 Feb '09

Hello from our neighbor's house -

We are well - most of us, at least. Navin sprained his ankle last week, and is my patient. Good to be a doctor at such times, I feel, if for nothing else than knowing when not to panic. Scott astutely bought a pair of crutches a few years ago, after many episodes of renting, and Navin is using them. He is better, and Naren is ready for him to get off them, as everyone else has had to pitch in with Navin's chores.

My uncle Bollu died earlier this week. He and my Mom had not spoken in over 52 years, due to her marrying my Dad. He didn't speak to any of us, either, but I think I mentioned having breakfast with him a year or 2 ago, thanks to my cousin and his daughter, Sheila, who arranged it. It was a genial, good time, and I like having this memory. What a waste to not talk to someone and be estranged, how many regrets might happen later. I have mentioned repeatedly how glad I am that my late brother, Manu, and I were on good terms.

So now there are issues of whether the half-breeds (us) will be allowed in at the memorial service. I shall go to Coorg for it and, if allowed in, will go condole with my aunt, Gubbi, and cousins. Time is too precious to let feuds get in the way; as I have told my siblings ad nauseam, nothing is worth my losing touch with them. They are welcome to any property I might have (hoo hoo, I can afford to be this generous since I have none).

My young student came to learn English and she is doing well. The Government has closed all colleges in the state fearing trouble due to the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. What a waste. Even folks who *want* to study cannot.

My aunt, Indira, visited from Coorg and stayed with us for about a week. That was nice. She had hosted us so often when we visited from the U.S. that it was nice to return the favor. She is of my mother's stock - intelligent, opinionated, funny.

Exam fever is on, and I will be taking 4 days off to go to Coorg. The men will have to hold the fort, which I am not fussed over.

Unw -