Renu's Week

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Report of 23 Feb 2011

And a year has gone by -

A year of altered dynamics, of memories, of trying to get used to life without my mother. We brace for parents' passing, I think, but sometimes an odd trigger sets off sadness. We observed my mother's anniversary yesterday, and gave away sarees and flowers (by local Hindu custom) to 7 impoverished married women - the complex's employess. It is considered a mark of grand good fortune to my mother that she died as a married woman, i.e., not as a widow, and so, 7 women (the number can be a manageable odd number) come and receive some gifts from us and it is to represent my mother coming, and leaving happy and satisfied. Personally, the 3 Weiss men and I also wanted to honor a widowed employee, but our cook - running the show as none of us knew the rites - would have none of it. Widows are treated very poorly, unfortunately, in many parts of my beautiful country and are not welcome at auspicious occasions such as weddings, naming ceremonies of newborns, etc. - very cruel.

My father was in town on Sunday, for us to face the period with togetherness. Susan, my sister-in-law, also came up from Bangalore and that was nice; her presence was fun and therapeutic. A dear friend of ours named Vijaya told me some shlokas (Sanskrit verses) appropriate for the occasion, and I read them out at my mother's photo, of course ended up bawling along with my father (Susan quickly came over and put her arm around me), and then we ate lunch. Yesterday, my mother's favorite foods were made, and at least one of them was a Western dish - stew; my mother was a big fan of Western food and relished steak and fine meats when she visited us in the U.S. - a bit atypical for a Hindu. Yesterday, all of us made the food together, and Naren did the bulk of the cooking with some supervision, Navin made a big salad. That was nice; my mother would have enjoyed all of that.

The Banyan has been good, and I continue to field issues on the phone. I can't currently focus on our perenially underfunded state, but I will do that soon enough.

Navin and I were driving to pick up Scott one day and noticed a crowd at one point. We stopped and went to check, and noticed that a young boy had jumped off a bus and fractured his leg. Our country is so overpopulated that public transport is crowded during peak hours, and it is not at all uncommon to see people hanging off the stairwells of buses, holding on to window bars. This school student had been one of those and had either jumped or fallen. We stopped to render aid, an ambulance was called, and as always, there was a heap of people, including some young men living nearby, who were available to assist me; as I took a dirty rag off a bleeding foot wound and asked about a clean piece of cloth, the young men quickly produced a clean shirt and asked me to tear it. I hesitated, as it was a good shirt, but one of the guys tore it and produced a clean rag for me to bandage the foot. We rendered basic aid, waited for the ambulance, and I told the patient that people had died while travelling on and falling/jumping off "footboards" - the bus stairwells - and for the patient to please not do it again. This morning, Navin and I saw some school kids (not necessarily my patient's group) dangling off the sides of buses, and I groaned.

There have been no movies, etc., as all of us hunker down for the board exams - theory papers start on Monday, 28 Feb. This endeavor truly calls for the whole family to be involved, and no one blinks when parents take leave from work for it. Scott and I managed to get to the beach yesterday - waiting for Navin to finish being tutored! - and that was extremely nice.

Unw -


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Report of 16 Feb 2011

Hello from Chennai!

Exams are on us. Navin started practical exams this week, and then theory will go on until 22 March. He will be one of the first to finish; those who have taken arts go on until the 31st. The school will then host a farewell, where the kids speak about their experiences. It's very cool to hear all the kids, and just as in Naren's class, there are several in Navin's class (which is universally considered a weird class) I really like.

My cousin, Dhanu, phoned last week. He has a coffee estate in Coorg, like other Coorgi cousins, and must be doc/vet/counsellor/taskmaster. He narrated the symptoms of one of his workers, and asked if it could be amoebiasis, which Dhanu himself has had. I said it could be, and affirmed the medicine, which was the same one Dhanu had taken; yesterday's text on my cell phone said the labourer was better thanks to me. I told Dhanu he had diagnosed and prescribed the med, and I had little to do.

My father used to come with us to Coorg on summer vacations, and drop us there and return after 2 days' stay. In that time, he and my Uncle (then the owner of the estate and now his son, Dhanu, is) would sit on the verandah, and all the laborers would line up and narrate their symptoms. My father would prescribe the meds, and then label his stash of samples and hand it over to my Uncle, who was very sharp. It was a memorable time, and quite often, the laborers would wait for the non-Coorgi doctor (my father is from Tamil Nadu) as they thought he had kai raasi - a lucky hand, i.e., curative powers.

The Banyan has been well and I get calls regularly about blood tests and such. The health care workers (hcw's - impoverished young women from villages around who come to work for us) are getting very savvy about treating the patients, and I am extremely pleased. At one point, a horde of nursing students had visited, and one of them asked me why I worked at the B; in addition to the obvious, taking care of the destitute and feeling singled out for this blessing, I said I loved watching the hcw's blossom with medical knowledge. It is a treat watching them figure out symptoms, illnesses and treatments for themselves when I teach them, and their list of causes of abdominal pain (or "differential diagnosis" in medical parlance) was impressive.

My sister, Anu, and her family were here on Sunday for a quick breakfast with us and that was grand fun. Our dining table is quite small, but all 8 of us squeezed around it and ate junk - chocolate and pastries - along with some healthy stuff. There was plenty of laughter and that sustained me for the rest of the day. We saw the play "Dirty Dancing" (based on the movie) and enjoyed it, but for the very risque dancing that the prude in me did not want young Indians doing. :)

The anniversary of my mother's passing is 22 Feb, and I miss her. I look at my sons talking and sharing with me, and Scott's unparalleled sense of humor causing all of us to laugh, and think of how much my mother loved all of us - especially Scott, whom she veritably adored.

Unw -


Saturday, February 05, 2011

Report of 6 Feb 2011

And another month is on us -

I am in my bright, sunny living room, it is about 75 degrees outside and the sun is happily shining. We have a lone plant on the balcony that is doing so well it is outgrowing its little pot. Neither of us has a green thumb, really, but this plant is a resilient little wonder, doing well in spite of us.

Sundays are good days - no maid or cook, the whole fam here and a leisurely breakfast replete with junk. Often, I let the kids have chocolate with their b'fast and our favorite bakery that trains underprivileged kids churns out very luscious pastries, so we tend to indulge. And then the conversation flows, always the fun part for me. The boys have few secrets from us (I think it's completely appropriate to have some), and even fewer from each other, and are opinionated and insightful, so I enjoy the talks.

I was in Madurai last week to attend Dr. Kurien's funeral. We could not get through to Mrs. Kurien earlier in the week to find out when the funeral was; my sister-in-law, Susan, managed to contact her, so gave us the info that it was to be on Wednesday. Scott and I drove down on Tuesday. The roads are markedly better now, as the Government has realised what developed countries figured out (and had the money for) early on: that roads improve connectivity and trade and the economy. The 480 km (300 miles) was covered in a little over 6 hours, when it used to take 9 or 10 due to terrible roads full of potholes.

Nina (nee Kurien) Zachariah was down from the U.S. and it was good to see her, despite the circumstances. We were classmates from the ages of 10-15, and share things from that era - idiotic jokes, silly crushes, memories of a fun, innocent time. We got to talk for a little bit, and that was lovely. Mrs. Kurien is a dear, and we got to talk to her a little bit, too. I am a fan of physical contact, and like hugs, and think that a touch or a hug or a hand on the shoulder helps morale considerably - especially at such times. My father came with us to the funeral, and saw some old students and friends, so he had plenty of folks to talk to. I got to meet an old student's son, a handsome young man quite our sons' age, and that was fun - the next generation is on to achieve great things. Weddings and funerals - I suppose those are times when we get to see many people in one spot.

My father's cook, Ms. A, is pregnant, and she and her husband are elated. This young lady had been abused ad infinitum by her parents, who seized her money or her jewellery at every opportunity, and her good husband has put a stop to all that. (My father and his friends found said mate and got the young lady married.) The couple is very happy together, and live in a little room behind my parents' house. Last time I was in Madurai, Ms. A, told me of a trip she, her husband and his relatives had taken to a temple near the sea; all had also found time to go to the beach and play in the water, and Ms. A had had a spectacular time. I think it was the first time she had seen the sea, and one of the few times she'd had any sort of happy time, and I was very glad for her. She brought her pregnancy test reports for me to look over, and everything appears to be going along well, except that the young lady needs to lose some weight (not necessarily now); I tell you, it is nice to have the medical knowledge to discern right from wrong. I couldn't escape medicine while away, but that was okay - especially as it involved reassuring a young, anxious mother-to-be, who has not really had a whole lot of good in her life before now.

My father had a full battery of tests done at Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore, a fine institution where Anu and Benji work, and has to take some meds on a regular basis. On our walk back from the Kuriens' place, I noticed he was panting and had to use his inhaler. On examining him, I heard a wheeze that cleared with deep breathing, and we have come to the conclusion that my father is out of shape and deconditioned; he aims to walk daily, I hope that happens.

We were fortunate to have Greg Brown, also an alumnus of Uthscsa, visit us with his Brazilian friend, Luciana. It is unfailingly a treat to see Greg, and talk and laugh and debate with him, and it was nice to meet Luciana, too. They were nice enough to take us out to dinner at our favorite restaurant - a lovely place with great salads and dessert - that has now priced itself out of our patronage. Greg landed with a heap of chocolate and nuts for us, and I told Luciana it was always good to see him - for more reasons than one :). Greg is a big fan of the Banyan, and took Luciana to see it; she was impressed. It remains a *great* place to work.

Naren was interviewed in the paper about his views on religion and it was a cool article. Navin is cracking the books at his pace. We do not inherit the world from our parents, we merely borrow it from our children - said someone. On two occasions, we have seen our sons' friends outside and had merry conversations with them. Navin's friends once invited me to have ice cream with them, and I stood outside the little kiosk, thinking what a treat it was to interact with the young people.

Unw -