Life as they knew it

Heard about an incident recently that scared me and then made me think on what lies ahead…


The story is about my aunt (pishi) and uncle (pisho). She is my father’s cousin. Well into their 80s, unwell and were living all alone in a posh locality of Mumbai. During their heydays they were always surrounded by family and friends. A house full of laughter and love. Everything is a thing of the past now.

Pishi is a patient of depression and with age has become physically weak, pisho has Alzheimer’s. They had a house-help who took care of them.

One day, the neighbors found it strange when they didn’t see the main door opening or anyone entering or leaving the house for four days. One of them had a spare key for emergencies. They entered the house to find that the old couple was surviving on biscuits and water. The maid hadn’t come for four days, pishi was too ill to cook, pisho, too forgetful. There was no money at home as pisho had forgotten all the bank details.

Some emergency calls and hectic planning later they were taken to Kolkata. Where they are now with close to relatives, who can keep an eye on them. Not that things have improved much, their relatives are either too busy, too old or uncaring. Some manage to spend time with them but last heard they were surviving…


There was a time when pishi was known for her cooking. I know as I have tasted everything from plain dal to rich lobster curry, sukhha mutton and delectable snacks like pani puri and bhelpuri. They had always lived in Mumbai and would go to Kolkata on holidays. Their only child, was their pride and joy — An ENT specialist, connoisseur of food and a very cheerful son. Soumitra Ghosh or doctor dada  (as I knew him) had an infectious, happy-go-lucky personality. Dada’s sons were the apple of pishi, pisho’s eyes. I met the boys in 1997, when they were 6 years and almost 3 years. My parents and I had gone to Goa via Bombay (not Mumbai then) for a short winter break.

That also happened to be the last holiday we (ma, baba and I) spent, as 1998 brought ma’s devastating and prolonged battle with brain tumor.

It was a memorable vacation as not only did I love Goa but every moment I spent with pishi, pisho, dada, boudi (sister-in-law) and the adorable boys.

Later, while I struggled with ma’s and baba’s illness I would get news that dada and boudi had decided to shift their base to New Zealand. Pishi, pisho would visit them for holidays but mostly spent lonely months a;one. As they aged their visits to New Zealand reduced to zero.

Then came the shocking news that doctor dada had passed away in New Zealand. That news broke pishi and pisho completely and led to the slow deterioration to depression and Alzheimer’s.


My thoughts wander to the old couple at times. Somehow managing to survive each day. I wonder why should good people, who never harmed anyone, suffer like that.  On more practical level I think about the lack of old age care in our country where even basic care is expensive and at time elusive for many. What lies in their future I don’t know but I can only pray that their suffering ends soon as a wonderful couple such as them do not deserve so much pain. Also a hope that old people get better and comfortable life and not hear what an old gentleman in one of Delhi’s old age home told me years ago, “Beta, hume koi puchta nahi, koi dekhta nahi, hume to bas maut ka intezaar hai (Child, no one asks about us, or comes to visit us, we are just waiting for death)



Poignant and haunting Aligarh, the movie

I remember reading about Professor Siras couple of years ago, his suspension from Aligarh Muslim University after he was caught having consensual sex with a man and the court battle that followed. I was disturbed then to read that someone could lose their job, dignity and so much more just because he or she had different sexual preference. I believe that one’s sexual preference has nothing to do with their professional capabilities and it’s a personal matter, and to discriminate against them is a crime.
The movie Aligarh, dealt with this issue with great sensitivity. This was a story about a man and his battle against the system, and it was captured beautifully by Hansal Mehta, Apurva Asrani, Manoj Bajpayee, Rajkummar Rao and Ashish Vidyarthi among others. The portrayal of Professor Siras by Bajpayee left me captivated. His whole body language changed, and not in the insulting and so-called comical manner that’s so common in Hindi films when portraying a gay character. His reticent attitude, shy manner and extreme loneliness were palpable in each frame.
The scene where he is sitting all alone, holding a glass in his hand while listening to an old Bollywood number and subsequently breaking down, remained with me for a long time. Also the scene where he thinks Vidyarthi’s character Anand Grover is a gay was not funny but sweet. His friendship with Rao’s character Deepu Sebastian was also memorable. Bajpayee molded himself perfectly as an ageing professor who loves to teach and can’t cope with the discrimination against him was poignant.
I loved every frame of this haunting and unforgettable film.
The only grouse I have is not against the film but the people who were watching it with us. I can understand if you don’t understand or wish to understand such a serious movie but to keep chatting loudly, laughing at the most sensitive scenes and discussing what they had for lunch and how badly it was cooked by their maid can be extremely irritating. My friend had to repeatedly request a group sitting behind us, two ladies sitting next to us and four more sitting in front of us to pipe down. Till finally, we gave up and moved to different seats, where, thankfully, we were surrounded by people who were equally engrossed in the movie. To such individuals I would like to say just this, please respect the people sitting next to you, if nothing else, when you enter a movie theater and try a game of patience, it pays, honestly! Analyzing food and discussing the nuances of a film can take place during the interval or after the movie. It can be quite lively, believe me!

Hospital tales

Having spent countless days in various hospitals across Delhi, NCR I have seen people, their reactions to news — good, bad and ugly. My days, spent mostly alone, in hospital rooms, outside ICUs waiting for my mother or father to recover have been mostly dark and depressing. There are two incidents not related to me that remain engraved even after so many years. The first still disgusts me and the other stuns me, even after eight years.

A baby is born

This incident took place in 1998, my mother’s sudden cerebral attack had left us in a state of panic. As she needed emergency medical attention, we took her to the nearest hospital. While she was in the ICU, my cousin and I waited in the hall. Sometime around midnight a young couple walking in, the girl was in labour and looked scared, the husband looked blank. While she was being taken to the labour room, the man was joined by his mother. Waiting rooms are dark and dreary places where patients’ relatives are on tenterhooks, so welcoming a new baby into this world lightened the mood. The whole room seemed to be waiting for the good news along with the family. Sometime later the older lady was called into the labour room, she returned after five minutes and sat quietly. The husband looked at her expectantly, and the rest of us waited too. She looked at her son and muttered angrily, “Beti hui hai.” (It’s a girl). I was the only one to jump up from my seat, walk up to them and say congratulations. The lady’s reaction was a tight, forced smile and a half-hearted thank you. The brand new dad’s reaction was worse, he looked disappointed, walked out of the room and started smoking. My cousin and I were stunned! Before reality struck, after all it was a baby girl not a boy so there was no cause of celebration. The others waiting in the room became quiet, no one congratulated them, infact they looked sad too. Why did this scene surprise me, when I knew this was the reality? Perhaps because, I was born in a family where a child, whether a boy or a girl is loved equally or it could be because I was seeing this discrimination happening infront of me for the first time ever. Even while I write about this incident now, I am disgusted by the father and grandmother’s behaviour.

She held my hand…

This happened in the first week of January, 2009. I received a call from Shanti Avedna Sadan at 4am, informing that my mother was in a critical condition. I rushed to the hospice to find her sleeping peacefully. The matron told me that my mother’s condition had stabalised and she was out of danger. While I sat, holding her hand, uttering a prayer of thanks, I heard a commotion nearby. A patient was being shifted to a room and she was extremely restless and babbling. While the nurses ran around arranging for emergency medication, I saw a young boy, not more than 15 years old standing next to the patient, shaking like a leaf. Someone had offered him a cup of tea which he couldn’t hold and it smashed on the ground.

To this day I don’t know what made go near the patient and hold her hand, when caregivers of other patients were standing at a distance. In the bed lay a young girl, thin and extremely pale. Her eyes huge, wide and beautiful were searching for someone. She was agitated and wasn’t letting anyone touch her and kept calling for her mother. I held her hand and with a smile said her mother would be there soon. Her bright eyes looked at me, she smiled and said, “Sachhi, mummy a rahi hai?” (Really, my mother is coming?) While I assured her, she held my hand tightly and kept repeating the same sentence while I kept assuring her. She was delirious and at times thought I was her mother. Soon she was taken to a separate room. I wasn’t allowed to enter there. A little later her family ran into the room and within minutes we came to know that the girl had passed away. While the hospice staff put on some soothing spiritual music, I sat there shattered it was the first time I saw someone dying almost in front of me. I could feel her hand in me, and her eyes looking at her expectantly. Her voice and expression haunted me for days.

Later I came to know that her name was Priyanka, she was a 17 year old motherless girl. Her father was an irresponsible gambler and a drunkard and she had been brought up by her grandmother. When I look back, I wonder, did her mother really come. I hope she did, that would have given Priyanka peace and complete happiness.

Ma, my strength and inspiration

flowersIt is my mother’s death anniversary today, she passed away seven years ago, after battling brain cancer and then living a life worse than death.

As sleep eludes, my thoughts keep wandering to the night of 15th January, 2009 when I received the call from Shanti Avedna Sadan, informing me about her passing away. The news, though not unexpected was nonetheless devastating. My first thought after collapsing and howling in my room, was how to inform my father who was asleep in the next room. I didn’t have the courage to tell him that his soul mate was no more, as I feared he would not be able to take it. Being a heart patient, with a pacemaker to keep him alive and prone to seizures, he was a very weak man. Yes, the concept of soul mates exists in my world, I am yet to come across a couple sharing such an equal relationship which was filled with deep love, mutual respect and amazing companionship.

That dark night was made bearable by my friend, who upon hearing the news came to my place immediately, just to be with me. Another friend decided to go to Shanti Avedna Sadan and wait for me. My aunt came early in the morning to be with my father as we broke the news to him. She stayed back with a completely broken man, while my friends from Bharat Soka Gakkai (BSG), accompanied me to bring my mother back home.

A word about Shanti Avedna Sadan, it is India’s first hospice for the care of the advanced and terminally ill cancer patients. Most patients are brought there when they are on the final stage of their lives and can only be given palliative care, sometimes not even that. The first thing that struck me about that place was that peace, tranquility and prayer existed there. It was a spic and span place, where sisters and doctors took care of patients with utmost care and love. I knew my mother will be surrounded by prayers and care and would be at peace.

I admitted my mother there less than a week before Christmas of 2008, knowing well that her days were numbered. Putting her in Shanti Avedna Sadan was the toughest decision I have taken ever in my life, nothing has ever come close to it and nothing ever will.

She was detected with brain tumor, Glioblastoma multiforme, in 1998. Brain surgery, 32 rounds of radiotherapy, 24 rounds of chemotherapy, she recovered only to fall back again in 2002. From then on it was a slow and painful progress towards death. She became bed ridden, lost the movement of her hands and legs, slowly she stopped talking and her eyes became blank. The doctors said she was beyond any medications apart from palliative care.

Our house resembled a nursing home with two nurses and later two more for my father who slipped, fell and had broken his ribs. I was at my wits end trying to put a brave face, manage home, two bed ridden patients, four nurses, two helps and a job.

I still remember bringing her back to our house where friends and relatives had started coming in. My mother looked peaceful, there was a glow on her face, as if years of pain and suffering had been washed away, and she was finally free.

In those dark years of her suffering, I had pictured her soul — pure, white, and unscathed, trapped in a body riddled with pain. I had prayed that her soul be set free from this entrapment. Looking at her I felt that my prayer had been answered. This was further reiterated by a senior BSG leader who told me that he had read about how a person looks when he or she achieves Buddhahood and this reflected on my mother’s face that day.

Performing her last rites, relatives, friends and neighbors coming to pay their last respects passed away in a blur. What remained were her precious memories… which remain fresh till date. The most endearing ones… bursting into fits of giggles over something and chatting for hours, her invaluable guidance about life and above all her singing whether it was bhajan, Rabindra sangeet or any hindi song, her magical voice managed to transport us to a different world.

I will never stop missing her but she remains my strength, my idol and inspiration…

Of music and memories

I have always been fond of Rabindra sangeet, perhaps because I grew up listening to my mother humming the songs while doing various household chores, taking care of me and particularly when it rained. During these times, my father who would be reading or working, would stop doing everything and just listen to her with a dreamy smile on his face.

A word about my ma and baba here, there’s was a typical arranged marriage. My father went to meet her, where his aunt requested my mother to sing a song. Nothing unusual about that, as in the 1970s it was considered natural that a girl should know singing apart from all the household activities. So, ma sang a well-known Rabindra sangeet, ‘Chorono dhorite deogo amare…’ and it was love at the first song for my father.

Soon after marriage, one day they were planning to go around the city, when sudden rains played a spoilsport. Instead of getting angry or depressed at Nature’s games, my parents decided to sing, recite poems and record them.

Imagine the scene, my mother singing a stanza of Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, my father reciting the other stanza and in the background you could hear the pitter-patter of the rain.

In the later years when I became their plus one, listening to songs was a way of life. They spent many evenings listening and trying to make me sing too. Not too much success their, unfortunately. Our holidays in Kolkata (then Calcutta), Puducherry (then Pondicherry) Mumbai (then Bombay) and Goa were fun. I could hear ma humming a song in the evening sitting by the sea in Goa, while I played with a waves and my father sat next to her, rapt attention to her melodious voice while staring at the sea.

My parents’ relationship was based on an amazing friendship. One day, while in high school, I had asked ma what makes for a perfect companion. She looked at me and said in her matter-of-fact, “Companionship, when all else fades only this remains and mutual respect.” If I was looking for nuggets about love and sacrifice, I was disappointed.

Music disappeared from our lives when ma battled with cancer, became bed-ridden and suffered a fate worse than death. My father, who loved music but his wife a million times more than anything in this world, refused to listen to music. He would break-down, switch off the TV and walkout. I started hating music too as it brought back beautiful memories and the stark reality was too harsh to handle.

But music found its way back into my life, slowly and steadily. Soon, I couldn’t imagine editing stories, working on a story idea without my headphones, listening to English classics, old Hindi film songs and eventually Rabindra sangeet.

The latter now brings back memories that make me happy, of course there’s a twinge, I miss them sorely but still smiling is now easier. Recollections of my mother stopping mid-song, correcting me or telling baba, “please stop singing, you have one tune for every song.” Baba throwing his head back and laughing, promising not to join in and breaking it in 10 minutes flat! Ma giving him an annoyed look and singing or breaking into a laugh.

Fond memories, that’s what these are now… well, most of it.

A ‘suitable’ man

Search for a life-partner on matrimonial websites can be hilarious, irritating and at times a success story, though the latter has evaded me till now, but my chats and email interactions with ‘that  perfect match’ can be turned into a best-seller.

One thing I could never figure out was why do most men begin their mail with Hello dear, Hello my dear or Hello angel when a simple Hello is good enough. Some men begin their interaction with a 500 word essay on themselves, which can be mind-numbing. The best was a one-liner I read recently was short and precise, “I am extremely handsome.” Okay! Got the message. Another one wrote: Myself is tall, slim boy who has done schooling. An honest person wrote: Hi, I am 43 years old, poor and hopelessly romantic. I truly like your profile.

An online chat with another person who had expressed interest in me when like this:

Him: Hi, how you?

Me: Hello I am fine, how are you?

Him: I’m good. I am having my own business in Rajkot. You live where and what you do?

Me: I am a journalist and live in Delhi.

Him: Okay, I live a good life, I not have any girlfriends, keep all my emotions under control. Why you single for so long? What do you do about sex?

The last question was stumping, irritating and amusing at the same time. While I was deciding what to write he went on

Him: What you quiet? What you looking for in a relationship?

Me: Errr, ummm, well…. Companionship, understanding and love

Him: Hmmm… Okay, you and I not good match. Bye bye

I don’t know about soulmates and perfect life-partners but matrimonial sites can be loads of fun!

Life, ideas, thoughts and musings