Friday, April 05, 2013

A selfish emotion

On yet another regular morning, we walked out on the roadside with our adorable little German shepherd, taking him out for his everyday morning stroll. A lot of strays on the large open ground nearby barked at him and my mother just shooed them away with a small cane. She loved the thing a lot. More than a lot of other things. She protected it, from all the unknowns outside. The shepherd was now very much a part of her world of giving.

The strays had all been out in a deadly night's cold and rain without a shelter, some of them wounded, some hungry and probably a few that were just living their last day. It just so happened that they did not happen to be a part of someone's world of love and giving, someone like my mom's, by virtue of just unfortunate coincidence.

Blocks away, lived the small girl who loved her collection of teddy bears, all so neatly arranged in her little cupboard. On a day when one of the dolls got messed up in water, and its eyes got damaged and fell out, it tore her heart a tad bit and she wept a little.

And then there were all of us regular folks. Those that loved our families, felt reassured with every word of love and care. We'd sway with joy and burn with pain with every motion that passed us through, in our very own circle of people. A lot would cherish every minute manifestation of intellectual progress of their regular unexceptional children, somehow wanting to be reassured that they are special and unique in their own ways, in a world of 6 billion confused folk, whose acts at the end of the day are nothing but tripe and blips in an infinite universe that yearn for existence with the excuse of an irrational sense of self-importance. Aided with the burden of an unexceptional speck of a mediocre existence, we'd all bust a hame about the people in our lives, because end of the day, that is all we had.

Meanwhile, there were the stray folk outside too. Those whose lives damn well would get a tad lot better with a little care that we had to offer outside our own little sphere. In fact, some could actually manage to survive.

And, so is the nature of love. An elaborate design in a box inhabited by people in our own worlds, those that have come together by accidents. With all its grand illusions of true 'giving' and 'care', there is a lot of energy that recirculates within the box, our sphere of people who we spend our lives for. The inhabitants were dependent on and attached to one another, expecting no great standards of performance, moral values or excellence. The biggest purpose it served is to basically make everyone's craving for social companionship and care, satiated to various degrees. A sense of reciprocation or a need for possession, with just either of these at play, the design would sustain. A prescription handed down by nature itself down the line, a remarkably successful survival technique, that helps one shut the box and focus on whatever is inside. A grand illusion, mutual give-and-take, and completely no damn to everything else.

And thus we lived in shut doors, locking our possessions, building securities, eliminating liabilities, all towards the apparent betterment of the inhabitants of our own boxes, because we 'sought' love. We 'gave' love too, but only apparently so because the basis of the emotion is just not unbiased giving. It is a survival mechanism. A family inside your own little cupboard box of teddy bears, and you can damn well spend your 80 years of life, without really having to think out-of-the-box.

We'd be humane, but only selectively so. We'd love, but only selectively so. Who became part of our own little boxes were often defined by a sequence of accidents, our own prejudices and tilted views of the world that appealed to our own selves. But strangely so, it reaches the threshold when we prepare ourselves to shut ourselves from the inconvenient strays out there. And then, it is all about the box.

None of this is intended to be a calling for charity. One cannot deny that love itself exists, no matter whatever shallow forms it exists in. And folk expend a lot of energy in its name. This is all merely yet another idle reflection on what truly is, a selfish emotion, that we all crave to whatever degree. 

For what it is worth, it does help a few survive, in their own little boxes. Only thing to perhaps know and understand, is to never exaggerate that emotion to an illusion of unconditional giving, for there exists no such thing.

Monday, March 04, 2013

My dad. My child.

A picture of the tiger burnt bright on to him from the nursery school book, one that we borrowed from a friend whose smart 2 year old had by now mastered it all. 

We asked him what it was. As he tried to recollect, certain sparks that fired in his internal circuitry traversed a billion nerve endings only to abruptly encounter a ball of dead cells and right there, they vanished into the void in a puff. He wore a lost look on his face for a couple of seconds. But then he quickly tried to hide that, out of some sense of shame. The admittance of the inability was more traumatizing than the handicap itself. Then, he mumbled from one end of his mouth, slowly and without much confidence - 'Lion. Of course, I know it is a lion'. His tongue twisted and jumped a bit as it struggled to spell it all out. And, he spoke in a voice much softer than he had ever did before the incident. His voice had fallen and receded into his depths. Perhaps out of some sort of fear. Or a sense of helpless submission to a complication that boggled him down. Only minutes ago, we had walked through the whole picture book once and identified this picture to him as a tiger. Only days ago, this was so effortless and basic a task that this would not even demand any sort of mention. The brain had always miraculously constructed the concepts in a whiff. The man, my father, used to know to drive a car, repair electrical components, reassemble machinery, compose emails and transact online, document family finances in splendidly detailed spreadsheets with convoluted formulae, sing an occasional song, tease neighbors playfully, organize weddings for friends and loved ones, bring groceries home and go to work in day or night shifts as an electrical engineer.

'The cycle of life', a friend had said. It all keeps coming back to me and keeps filling my thoughts almost all the time. Never did I think, the return to childhood could be as markedly and uncannily accurate in all its granular details.

The night that reduced my dad to a child had earlier looked as unsuspecting as any other. It is unclear when exactly the stroke hit him. He had struggled through a good part of the night on his bed, and in his confusion had only thought he dreamt that he couldn't move his arms. It was only in the morning that my mother had noticed. He had gotten up on his feet trying hard to overcome whatever was vehemently trying to put him down. He stood leaning against a wall with a coffee cup on his hand, and was spilling it all on the floor. His face and shoulders had drooped on one side and words came out of his mouth indistinctly. She instantly knew what it is. Then followed a hopelessly long chain of events until we got him admitted into a good medical facility located far from the remote town we lived in. Mother and our helpful neighbors took him out in the only ambulance available at that hour, as his pulse rate was dropping alarmingly low to the 30s. The ambulance was a mess. The driver was a kid and there was no professional there to administer any bit of reasonable aid. Couple hours later, he reached an intermediate facility with absolutely no glucose having dripped into his body, looking withered, sober and arms all stiffened. A bunch of waiting until scans could reveal the left ganglio-capsular infarct he had. We had to take him to Chennai again to get him treated. Yet another ambulance, some paperwork and another 3 hours of travel and another hospital hop due to lack of beds and finally he was admitted, at 12 midnight, pretty damn late. A week of treatment followed. More scans and tests, a hell lot of needles, blood, tablets, food pipes and few nights in the ICU. An MRI of the brain revealed an infarct the size of a large gooseberry. After the first night in the ICU, he woke up all confused and lost. For a brief while, he thought we were in September until his confusion became apparent to us from his mumbled speech. The days that followed had so many ups-and-downs. We realized, he was past the absolute danger zone. He lived. His pulse was still low in the bradycardia region, but he looked steady. What more, he was mobile. He had good action in his arms and fingers, despite the right side weakness. And he recognized us all and seemed to make sense of what we could say. This was all really good considering how bad strokes typically get. We felt glad and more relaxed. Then, when we finally got to talk to him better as he moved into a ward, we realized his difficulty in recollecting and speaking. He cried often and once he'd forget to recollect his own daughter's name. He jumbled up words and names all the time. He spent hours and days wondering why he was not able to recollect names of people and things. With a lot of difficulty he'd construct a sentence and then find himself unable to go further. We had folks visiting all the time, some crying, some that would idly sit around and recollect incidents of deaths and illnesses in people they knew and some who would suggest obscure medication from unknown places with no idea of what his medical condition even really was. After a while, the phone calls and visitors became very traumatizing to the family and at times we just put the device aside. Weeks later now, we have relocated him to the city away from his community and job, and are getting him treated here. A few months of therapies, diabetic diet and exercising to follow. 

The memory is fresh in me, all from the last few days, and still seems so surreal. I remember the hospital room where I fed him with my hands as he was silently watching a tv show of his favorite people whose names he could not recollect anymore. I remember showing him how to write straight lines and alphabets in a ruled notebook. I remember getting worried as he watched an advertisement showing sweets or a funny scene on television where someone smoked or had alcohol. The term 'parental control' popped onto my mind, only it seem to have the diametrically opposite meaning. I saw him burst into tears emotionally often, unlike the daring old man he once was. As I once stepped out for a half hour's errand, he had looked for me at home longingly. With the help of a cousin, he called me up on a phone and in his low worried voice, he called out my name asking me if everything was okay at my end and asked me yearningly when I'd return home. He had been thinking of me restlessly all that time. My heart broke instantly. I remember my dad speak to me. With the voice of a child. And with the innocence of one.

And so continue the ups-and-downs of this phase. Today, we are glad as we see him recollect an ATM pin and sad when he mixes up a cover and a charger. Glad as he could write the spelling of a word or improve his signature, and worried when he tells us he feels giddy. 

Dad, if you would some day be completely cured and I sure hope you do and if you would read all this then, hope you'd know and feel reassured that we will be around to take care of you.

And I don't think you'd know this, but... 

Dad, you are my child now.

Thursday, January 03, 2013


Disclaimer: This piece is really a rant, and unlike my other attempts, I have not tried to close the start and the end into a single theme, as a logical whole. It is just a flow of thought, unhindered, undirected and whimsically indulgent in its chaos.

I've read once somewhere as to how there is no definite moment of death. It is not that the previous moment, you were alive and then the very infinitesimal next instant, you were gone. Death is really a continuous process where the domino of cards that we are, kinda degrade and our interdependent systems topple little by little into an increasingly irreversible state, as different portions of you fail and cease to function at varying times.

Perhaps there was no such thing as life itself. There were really just points in the continuum of existence, where as you moved further down, the plots in the graph got darker. You could all be plotted as a point somewhere on that line. Sometimes when you are alive too, you feel weak, as if you are displaced a tad bit downwards the continuum, fortunately or unfortunately as the case may be, not quite irreversibly.

Indulging further in the pointlessness of arriving at conclusions without consequence, I have also occasionally wondered why we identified the 'heart' as the organ that feels pain and love. I guess, it is a very physical feeling - to feel the blood rush with excitement one time, and when in pain and you gasp, the lungs would long desperately to take in more of the wind, and maybe you mistake that feeling in your chest to be a pain in your heart. When you were the most fragile, you thought the heart could stop. Well, it all doesn't matter what we think! About, the physical and biological manifestations of pain and love. They just exist.

Let's digress a bit! Or perhaps I was only digressing until now. It does not matter. In a rant with no central coherent topic, everything was a digression. And, nothing was.

I wanted to indulge further obsessively as I'd take liberty to compare myself to a most magnificent object - the mirror. Having no face of my own, and with no objectivity to measure myself against, other than with relation to the people I face, I'd just be that - a dim lit mirror with no light, no face and character, when all by myself. But when the objects stayed afore, I reflected. They'd talk and I too would. I reflected their smiles, and their pains, and often it was as if, I had nothing of my own, and one look at the mirror would make you believe, their smiles and pains belonged to me too. And rightly so, for those moments, I lived those also. In their absence, I was a mercury coated sheet with no expression of my own, existing outside the continuum of life, and time, like God, or rather, just like an immortal piece of stone. If you'd try to plot me in the graph above, against the existence continuum, you cannot. I'd be imaginary, non-existent, and not renderable on the life-plot. There was no 'walk of life' for the mirror. It was not a point. It was just that. Pointless. Never came a day when, I'd be the first to smile, the first to express anger or sadness, or wake up in tears or any inexplicable sense of joy. I'd wake up in the morning as a clean slate, but for any scratches and scars left behind by the imperfections of time. An empty and dull piece of metal. Then, it would begin. The restless exercise of reflection, until all the lights go off in the night. What others were, made sense. Whatever they were, whatever they did. And, I could miraculously blend in. Their hollow conversations, obsessive likes and dislikes, instincts, emotions, fear, jealousy, racist hatred, anything be the case, I could connect, empathize, and I'd reflect and participate. This was not just a mirror, but had to be a miracle rather!

Is it a coincidence that mirrors were fragile? It perhaps requires some sort of intricate design, like the domino of cards, to be able to reflect and not absorb the beauty, the smiles, tears, the errors and imperfections onto oneself. Or, does it truly reflect everything with no trace of what happened left behind in memories? Did a mirror have a memory of its own? Did it not absorb a bit of the joy and the pain too? And, in the process, acquire a face? Maybe, it wanted to everyday, but it never would. Life revolved around reflections of others in the forefront. Folks would come and bounce themselves off the thing, to hear themselves out, or merely to find a bit of reciprocation in a world that is so direly short of that.

But, occasionally, they'd clean the rust off my surfaces and polish me, to make me look bright and clean in whatever little ways, so that I can continue my job with more perfection for much longer. And for what it is worth, I am grateful for that little thing they did to me.