Renu's Week

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Report of 13 Dec '10

Hello from Chennai -

We are well and hope the same with you. I have enjoyed getting emails from people across the oceans and am grateful to all who have donated to the B. This is a lean season for us.

The Banyan continues to be good. I am mesmerised by the patient we rescued most recently from the streets. Ms. G speaks Tamil, Hindi and some English. I had not seen her for about 10 days (details later), and found her *more* emaciated, if possible. She was not, by any stretch, fat or even a healthy weight to start with. She's had some vaginal bleeding, and I am terrified that this may be indicative of cancer. I have asked for an evaluation and we will go from there. The social workers tried to locate Ms. G's family, and were unsuccessful. I have insisted that Ms. G sit in a chair for some time every day, and she does not like this - she'd rather lie down all day. One day, she tried to negotiate with the nurse and, failing that, turned to me and said something; I did not hear it and asked the nurse what she'd said. Ms. G said, "I said Babloo." "Babloo" is a pet name, or one of great affection, and I was touched and saddened: in a past life, Ms. G had probably Babloo'd a niece or son or grandchild, and now I was the recipient as her family was nowhere in sight.

The rains lashed the city last week and all but wiped out access to Mogappair. I did not take my car to work last week, but took an autorickshaw - a 3-wheeled cab. The auto driver had a tough time getting there, too. This happens annually: rains arrive, massive road damage ensues and then cars routinely go into workshops. Unfortunately, loss of lives due to hidden/submerged potholes has also happened. Scott, my civil engineer husband, says if the roads are laid down using best practices and no corruption in contracts (still an elusive concept here), they would last years. As of now, the roads last "year" - one year, until the monsoons come again. I had to work from home a couple of days last week as there was absolutely no way for me to get to work. When I got there last Thursday, the Banyan drivers urged me not to take my car out for a few days longer.

Scott told the boys of snowfalls in the U.S., that when schools would close and he'd stay home from work, I'd take the car out and head to work. He said he knew then who "essential personnel" were. I don't have the luxury of getting to work in extreme weather here, as the roads get wiped out.

We got together with my wonderful friend Joan and her family, to give thanks for her mother-in-law's life after she passed away early last week. Mrs. Pandian was a warm, loving, hospitable person and we have partaken of her legendary cakes and her hospitality. Joan's husband, Mohanraj, is also a really lovely sort, and, barring the solemnity of the occasion, it was nice to get together with the whole family. Patricia, Joan's very sweet daughter, sang a beautiful solo at the service and it was moving beyond belief.

A few events to celebrate: our dear friends, Kris and Gabe, welcomed daughter #3 - Gabriella Georgena; my long-time friend, Tori, welcomed granddaughter Hayden Grace. We are super glad to hear of these happenings! There have been other events to celebrate, too, undoubtedly, and I will hear of them.

Exam season is on for schools and my schoolgoing son, Navin, is attempting to study. Collegiate liberal arts education is very easy in India, and Naren does not have as much to study. He is in the annual pantomime staged by the Little Theatre, and we will see it later this week. Scott and I managed to get away to the beach, and it was nice to sit and talk. I got to talk to my father, too; he enjoys this season - the music and the bonhomie - and had attended several carol services.

It is very, very nice to be within talking/driving/reaching distance of the family. I remember thinking this as I sat at my mother's bedside and read to her and kissed her warm, beautiful face.

May the spirit of Christmas give you peace and family joys - whatever your family may be.

Unw -


Monday, December 06, 2010

Report of 6 Dec '10

And it's time to build an ark.

The Northeast Monsoon has brought rain unceasingly for 2 days. Today, all schools and colleges were closed, and Scott and I did not go to work. Naren came to visit last night and stayed the night, and I dropped him at the train station today. On return, I hit a pothole of epic proportions, cleverly concealed by rain water, and damaged the power steering fluid link. Scott took the vehicle to the mechanic, and we now have the car back. One does not appreciate power steering until one is without it, as with several other things.

The Banyan is fine. We had a new volunteer start: she is a physician about to emigrate to the U.S. and wants to continue volunteering with the B on her visits here. I encourage it. We talked about how nice it was to do for other women, because, in society's eyes here, everything is the woman's fault: if she has a mental illness, if her husband has it, if they have a daughter, if some ill befalls the family, whatever - everything is blamed on the woman. And yes, you read that right: in some families, it is considered a curse to have a daughter, as her wedding expenses will nearly drive the family to bankruptcy. It's nice to be on the helping side. I am grateful to Vandana and Vaishnavi that they founded this magnificent organisation.

Our mentally disabled (there's a difference between that and mentally ill) patient, Ms. M, is up in the dorm now. There's another Ms. M in the sick room and she'll be there for a bit, as her gait is not strong enough to let her be upstairs. She had climbed her bunk bed and fallen from it, so we think it best that she be where she can be seen. Hema, one of our intrepid and dedicated volunteers, also the person who runs "Friends of the Banyan" in the U.S., had sent Ms. M a sheet of stickers and they are pasted all over the sick room now. They really do make the place look cheery and fun: God bless Hema. The dorm Ms. M came up to me the other day, with a very happy smile, and she and I chatted for a bit about what she had eaten for breakfast, etc. She answers all my questions correctly; I do think she had not been sent to school as a child because the family was worried about the stigma of the mental disability. Shame. She would have been a quick learner, as she is now.

We continue to struggle with leptospirosis and the blooming rats. With the monsoon, I hope that's the extent of our woes. The residents do, however, drink from the faucet and that becomes eminently unsafe at monsoon time.

I got to sit with some of the senior health care workers for lunch the other day - all of us went late - and enjoyed that immensely. I am very fond of these young women - impoverished, dedicated, so willing to learn, fun, funny, good people. At the end of the meal, I mentioned how much I'd enjoyed it, and we parted ways.

The lady gardening assistant at our apartment complex gave me a grand salaam the other day, and when I asked how she was (she's the one with hip pain), she said she was out of the med (Ibuprofen); I told her I'd write its name down and she could get it at the store. My stash tends to run out quickly and I think it's affordable, even for the impoverished, so I will have my patient buy the meds herself. It would be nice to subsidise everyone's requests, wouldn't it, but that's not realistic.

Our neighbor, Usha, a wonderful resource with advice on our boys, chairs a facility for special needs children; it is named Vidya Sagar. She has involved Naren with helping one of his collegemates, K, a young man with cerebral palsy and in a wheelchair, get off the city bus. Our facilities are not very disabled-friendly, and the poor young man needs help to get off the bus and to get to his class. His mother travels to college with him every day and waits for him to get done; she told Naren that the bus driver and conductor were reluctant to help, and acted like the disability was contagious. So Naren gets K off the bus and takes him to class; he said it was "rewarding." I am delighted. Nothing like tapping the hearts of these young men and helping them realise there is a whole populace out there who'd like to be included. I notice also that Naren's arms are more muscular, and he mentions that he must get up early and eat breakfast before he gets K, othewise K's mother buys Naren breakfast; Naren had previously got up late and missed breakfast, etc., none of which helped his overall state of health. Helping K is also helping Naren, which is a great bonus.

Navin appears to be taking his studies a bit seriously. We hope for the best. His school is inclusive and there are students from various sections of society, and some special needs kids, all of which we like. If we do for folks without it seeming like a major production, it goes that much farther towards making such activities as natural as breathing.

Scott and I managed to get away for lunch and a dreadful Tamil movie called "Ratha Charithram." It was billed as a multi-starrer, etc., and has an actor named Suriya whom I really like; however, it was violent and unentertaining. Lunch, however, was great; when the waiter noticed my disappointment at the absence of fish at the buffet, he asked if he could make a special order for us - on the house. I agreed joyously, and he packed the leftovers for us, which I thought was an exceptionally kind gesture.

If you think you could spare $15 to sponsor a Banyan resident this Christmas, please email We would appreciate that immensely. Thank you.

Unw -