Renu's Week

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Report of 27 March 2011

Hello from our living room -

And the exams are over. The tutors have done their jobs, one boy has studied, taken the exams and finished them, and is now breathing easy. Many of his friends have not finished yet - those taking the sciences ostensibly finished first - so the party is not hearty, but some partying has started.

Breakfast this morning was from 9.30 AM to 12 PM. I love, *love* these times: the boys are intensely opinionated and insightful, Scott is funny, and we discuss all manner of topics with candor and considerable laughter. Naren's perspective is very gentle and spot on, and he tends to be able to deal with Navin much better than any of us can, so there was a fair amount of advising on college today. Navin took it very well, and that is really how Naren intended it: not to be preachy or judgemental, but just his opinion and advice. As the boys go into adulthood, it is nice to watch them interact; so we eat chocolate and junk and dreadful pudding and fruit and eggs, and talk and laugh until other things intrude on the schedule.

The Banyan has been fine, and I am getting enquiries about when I'll return. Navin now has entrance exams to write, and I have a superlative conference to get to. So off I go. However, the Banyan's pull is very great and this is a lifelong association. One of the health care workers (hcw's) has had a baby, and we are happy all are healthy. The hcw's are big reasons for my working at the B. Another hcw supervisor told me of her children's wonderful grades, and I was very happy to hear that: education truly is the way out of poverty.

I think of Ms. G, one of the patients at the B, and her cancer, and her peaceful passing. The social workers had tried desperately to find her family, without success. And then, in front of my eyes, she started to look skeletal, and we found the cancer. I will always be grateful that our patients have the warm, loving surroundings of the Banyan, in life and, most importantly, in death. I shudder at the prospect of their dying on the streets - alone, uncared-for, unkempt, scared.

Our car has been in the workshop and we are taking autorickshaws (3-wheeled cabs) and buses everywhere. I miss mobility, but this city is very well-connected with public transportation and autos, and we are managing. We have also done a lot of hanging-out inside our flat (apartment).

We saw a bunch of movies this week, and ran into Vaishnavi, one of the founders of the Banyan, at "The King's Speech." I had not expected to like the movie, as I do not appreciate disability being milked for the Oscars' sake; however, I did like all the supporting action and the extremely understated humor. Navin is a big fan of Vaish, and the two of them talked like long-lost souls; they are very much alike - intelligent, mildly anti-social, big lovers of animals, compassionate.

I have been in touch with the family of a friend in the U.S. Her father, whom I know well, is hospitalised and I have been chatting with the fam. I am a big fan of parents of friends, and have loved talking with Kris's mom, and Olivia's parents, and Mark's parents; no different with this friend, Ms. C, whom I love dearly. Mr. E, the Dad, is a fun and funny person and all of us like him. I have received many letters from the family, grateful for my notes, and really do not believe I have done anything remarkable, other than love the fam. However, I can well understand the welcome correspondence of concerned friends, which I received myself when my mother was very ill. Like salve.

It's a good life. Our neighbor, Usha, came to ask for a resource to put a young lady in Madurai onto a psychotherapist and we were able to suggest a name (Madurai is my hometown); Usha has done wonders in getting help for the young lady's son, who has special needs. There is nothing as recharging as the ability to help.

Unw -


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Report of 20 March 2011

Hello from Chennai and Happy Holi!

There is music blaring from downstairs, and squeals as people try to dodge the squirts of water and colored powder others are throwing on them. It is the harvest festival, imported from North India, and used to be the boys' favorite holiday. People wear old clothes - which they don't mind getting stained - and throw color, water, colored water, etc., as above. There are photos of the boys from previous years - unrecognizable due to the profusion of color on their faces.

I wondered if the music would bother Navin's studying and he said, "Once a year for 2 hours is really ok." I am glad to hear it, the perspective. Naren quickly dodged the color this morning and left for a meeting on International Theatre Day, which is next Sunday. He will be in a play with a friend of his, and we will see it if it's open to the public. We were not allowed to see his ramp walk, as it involved tight security - with all that gold.

Cetirizine is a great drug; sedates, however. I picked up a virus a few days ago, and could not do very much. I gargled madly, and kept the water poured down the old gullet, and feel better. I did pop the pill last night and slept like one, well, drugged. The days of sleeping through the night are likely over - wake up to see the time, if there is some noise, swat the mosquitoes - and last night, uninterrupted sleep was back for one night. I did wake up groggy, but the drippiness has gone. My pharmacy friend, Brent, ordered several bottles of cetirizine for me and boy, was I grateful: they are wonderful aids in my practice of medicine here. As are the ibuprofen, the tylenol, etc. Dispensing such things to the local impoverished people, when they need it, has earned me lots of smiles and greetings and discounted autorickshaw rides for the family.

Our neighbor's maid lost her husband recently. He was not a great provider and was alcoholic, thus the maid is not grieving. Her daughter, who is a college graduate (yes!!!), helped pay her father's medical bills. I talked to the young lady, Ms. E, for a bit the other day; I used to tutor her in English for her college English exam. We have tried to help her find a job worthy of her education and one that will pay well, because the family is extremely poor. Our leads have not been spectacularly successful, but Ms. E has some typical Indian reticence and bashfulness and has not followed up many of the leads. So, right after condoling the death, I had to tell her that jobs do not fall into laps and other such pieces of advice.

We went to listen to live music yesterday - a British singer-songwriter, who was very good. Then Naren's friend, Karan, played with his band. Naren and Aishvarrya came a little bit late, and Scott predicted that Aishvarrya would see us before Naren did. Sure enough. At her urging, they came and sat by us though we did not insist on it, and left before it ended due to other commitments. Aishvarrya is a sweet young woman and doing wonders for Naren's awareness of others.

Scott picked up the boys late one evening, and returned home; he had stopped at a red light when a bus decided to run it (very common here) and rear-ended him. Naren helped fight the good fight (also very common here, which is why foreign companies forbid their employees to drive here) in Tamil, and a police complaint was filed. Thankfully, no one was hurt, which our cook attributes to my mother's protective spirit, and there were plenty of lessons learnt - such as the importance to Scott and Navin of knowing Tamil.

Unw -


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Report of 15 March 2011

Hello from the land of the overstuffed -

Today, Naren turned 20 and asked if we could have breakfast at the newly-opened Hilton. But of course: b'day requests, within reason, have to be satisfied. So we went: the place is opulent, beautifully decorated and the service obsequious. The only other guests there were the ones who'd come on someone else's tab. We ate non-Indian food (called "continental food" here) with gusto, and the boys ate waffles and chocolate chip muffins and choco cereal with much glee. It was nice to sit and talk and laugh and soak up the ambience. The service by our waiter was superlative, and he even brought a very nice cake for Naren, which we were too full to eat but which they packed up for us. We took a picture of the waiters and Naren, and complimented our waiter extravagantly to the manager: not enough good things are said in the world, and I must express appreciation when warranted, I feel.

It's very hard not to say "I told you so" to your child when some event that you can see unfolding before your eyes, but which your child is too teenager-ish to see, eventually unfolds, isn't it. I watched Navin's prep for one of his tests earlier, and it was inadequate, and I urged more; the adolescent thought not, went off and took his test and did not do well. I do realise they must make their own mistakes, but it is extremely difficult not to point out that things could certainly have been different. Keeping my mouth shut is always a challenge; today being Naren's b'day, I was determined to keep the mood cheery and tried resolutely to stay upbeat. That went okay, but the "I told you so" kept threatening to roll off the tongue. I have, however, made the mistake of urging caution with the people Navin hangs with, and that went as you might expect - stony silence, a glazed look, and a tangible change in mood.

Our neighbor, Usha, has been invaluable in explaining adolescents to us. We are very fortunate in our friends and neighbors.

The Banyan has been fine. I have also treated folks around our flat, and that has gone well, too. There are several young women here from Chhatisgarh, a most impoverished state, and I stopped to talk to one of them. I am full of admiration for these ladies: they leave their homes and families and crushing poverty behind at a very young age, and take up employment far away. To a person, they are kind and good and pretty, and appear to settle well in Chennai. One of them, Ms. S, calls me "Didi (big sister)," and chatted for a while today, talking about how she can no longer visit her home for longer than 2 weeks, having got used to life outside. I have treated one of them medically, and felt pretty responsible for ensuring the recovery of a young woman, far from home.

Anu and Benji stopped by today to drop off a present for Naren, and had b'day cake and tea. It was good to see them, and I will always appreciate being in touch with my family. Vinu called to wish Naren, they shared some laughs and then I got to talk, which was also good fun. Naren called my father to get his blessings, and my father felt bad that he had forgotten the day, and asked that I give Naren some cash on his behalf; it was nice to talk to my Dad, too.

Unw -


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Report of 9 March 2011

Hello from my bright and sunny living room -

A young man is studying in the adjoining dining room, the other young man is off assisting at his college play's rehearsal. It is nice to be able to focus on the family, and I spend much of the day with an apron on, it seems like. I cooked some pasta yesterday, which is really a bit too dreadful for me to eat but which the men devour. We had some rare ice cream today (not homemade); we tend to not stock the treat or many sweets, fruit on the other hand is consumed in vats. We do tend to firmly overeat when there are sweets about, and all are quite unabashed about it.

The Banyan is well, and one of our senior personnel has quit. The senior coordinator, Vanitha, had quit in December, and Harini quit this week. I will miss both folks: the passion they brought to their jobs, their easy manner, quick resolution of difficult situations, their prodigious intellect. It has been a privilege working with both folks and I feel happy for the patients at the Banyan, that they got the benefit of this thunderous expertise.

I continue to field issues on the phone and that is going okay so far. As I have not taken call or wielded a pager for a while, I don't wake up easily, thus I tell the men to answer the phone and wake me up if it's the Banyan. Also to stay until they see that I am lucid: the spouting of nonsense is often de rigeur when I wake up.

Our neighbor brought her maid over, as the lady had some health issues. Ms. D has been abandoned by her husband, and had a plethora of concerns, including stomach ache, headache and weight gain. I took a fairly detailed history, and asked if her husband beat her; even if the man has abandoned her, it is quite commonplace here to see him return for cash, or to beat his spouse for a variety of reasons. Ms. D denied the beatings, but after she left, she told her employer that she had indeed been pounded on the head by her husband many years ago. I sent Ms. D to our local Public Health Center to get her thyroid investigated for her weight gain, and I await the results. Ms. D was sweetly appreciative of my care, and that is the loveliest part of working here: just by using what I call "Wal-mart greeter skills" ("Hi, how are you? Tell me what's bothering you today. How's your daughter? She's in college, isn't she?"), apparently the person feels cared for *and* they are appreciative. Especially in the impoverished populace, I value this interaction.

Ms. D's daughter is in college, and I like that part a lot. Our neighbor helped pay for her education, and that is such a magnanimous gesture. It is education that will lift our young people - especially our young women - out of poverty, ignorance and prejudice.

Sundays are apparently my days, with breakfast to be provided for me. That does not happen with any regularity, but this last Sunday, I was too fatigued to cook and let everybody hear about it in my usual reticent, bashful fashion (ha ha ha). So breakfast was generated, Naren hurried outside to buy a watermelon from our local vendor, Navin got the pastries and juice out, Scott rushed out to buy some eggs and scrambled them, and we ate. And we talked. That is a wonderful time for me: to watch the boys gab and gab, and laugh, and get appreciative of their wacky family. At one time, and I think I've mentioned this before, at least one boy rolled his eyes and said, "Somewhere in the world, some family is having a normal conversation." Now it's said with great affection, and the boys are morphing into adulthood without feeling the need to leave their parents well behind. For this, I am eternally grateful.

We saw "Black Swan," and it was weird. Certainly well-acted, but weird.

My aunt was in town and spent the night with us. She is good company and easygoing. She has coaxed my older aunt, the one with dementia, to move in with her, which is noble. We took my aunt to my brother's place today and I got to see my niece, Ahana; this was fabulous. We don't get to see Ahana very much, and she spoke of school and her uniform and her upcoming graduation from kindergarten. Looking at her was looking in a mirror: she favors our side quite a bit, and I returned, recharged by this interaction.

May you have fine family times of your own.

Unw -


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Report of 2 March 2011

Hi from Chennai -

I am eating the last of a chocolate tart made by our beloved bakery, Winners, that trains underprivileged kids. Their fare is uniformly delicious so we buy from there not as a pity party but out of greed and gluttony.

It strikes me that I know the reason for Mother's Day now. We (mothers) appear to do more of the disciplining and correcting and enforcing rules; I had to have a massive argument this morning with at least 1 son and that was not fun. I imagine when I am dead and gone they will remember some lessons. Scott has it easier, like some fathers: does not really get into issues of behavior or healthy practices, manners and courtesy, unless the situation is very far gone. Once a psychiatrist who came to the boys' school to talk to us about drug use told us to keep telling our children of right choices, and that the messages do stick whether it seems that way or not.

When you combine my obsessiveness with teenage rage, the combination cannot be pretty. The boys do fairly well, overall, with tolerating the endless "Get up early, go run, no you cannot have another piece of candy," but it is not without turbulence.

The Banyan is fine. A lot of strange thyroid test reports, and I have had to ask repeatedly whether the patients are taking the meds regularly - on an empty stomach, and daily. I am assured that they are. One of the health care workers (hcw) has a sister, Ms. R, who recently married and had a baby; Ms. R's thyroid results are off and I have asked if she took the meds. Often I encounter patients (impoverished and otherwise) who've listened to non-doctor friends or relatives and taken some faulty decisions; in this case, I think Ms. R was told by friends to stop the thyroid meds as she was pregnant and then nursing, as "it might harm the baby." I am hopeful that she did continue the meds during pregnancy as a normal thyroid is vital for the fetus. I have not heard anything about the baby, but I continue to hope.

Our cook went to her hometown to visit her ailing father. She had described his symptoms to me, and it sounded like either tuberculosis or heart failure or both. I sent some meds, including some precious antihistamines brought from the U.S., and lo and behold, the man is much better. Eating well, walking, etc. I still don't know what the diagnosis is as I have not seen any of the test reports; however, the cook is elated that her father's health is better. As am I.

Illness in a family member can sure rock one's world, can it not.

Scott and I got to see "The Fighter" and "True Grit" and a Tamil movie called "Yudham Sei." This was while Navin was being tutored on successive days. All the flicks were good, and I thought had some solid acting. "The King's Speech" is supposed to release here some day and we hope to see it. All my picks for the main awards at the Oscars won (I thought both Christian Bale and Melissa Leo were outstanding in their roles, we have not seen the other 2 - Portman and Firth), except for Annette Bening, who was very good in "The kids are all right." I was sorry "Winter's Bone" got shut out, but that happens sometimes. It is a great flick, nonetheless.

We bought some extra sarees for the widows that we know employed at the complex and at our house, and gave them. My mother would have wanted that. And so did we. The lady who helps clean our house was 22 when her husband committed suicide; with the sheer tenacity of a piranha, she is educating her children and working to provide for them. Her brother and sister-in-law (our cook) are helping. The boys were particularly delighted with the gifting to the widows; one Diwali, when our cook fasted all day for the good of the family (the men rarely do, the women often), the boys stated that this was a man-made notion, and that no Vedas (our ancient books) would have forced a woman to fast on a festival day surrounded by sweets and goodies that she had made while the men and children ate and made merry. I don't think the Vedas advocate that we ostracise widows, either.

The Board exams are under way and the Board (bored?) boy is studying. He studies with music playing and headphones on, and it is not my way, but it is his. While I don't understand it, I told him forcing him to turn the music off would be like forcing me to study with music on. Naren modelled for a show for the World Gold Council, and said it was exhausting, and that he deserved every paisa of the money he was paid.

Unw -