December 30, 2010

That strange thing called memory...

It’s terrifying, the thought of not being able to remember anyone or anything that has been an important part of your life. It scares me more than the thought of dying alone.

I was randomly reading online yesterday, when I suddenly remembered something I wanted to read about, and by the time I had opened a new window to search for it, I had already forgotten what it was. In two seconds. I had blanked out. I had absolutely no clue what I’d been wanting to search, and I had a mild panic attack. For some strange reason, I was suddenly reminded of my late grandfather, my mom’s dad, who had Alzheimer’s towards the end of his life.

I’ve never told you about my grandfather, have I? A finer man, I’m yet to come across. P.V.Damodaran Nambiar, even the name commands respect. No, he was not like the quintessential grandfather in your huge old ancestral home, plump with a booming voice and an ever-forgiving nature, who chewed betel leaves and gave you toffees. He was tall, more than 6 foot tall, thin as a reed, with pure white hair and beard, ala M.F.Hussain. People on the roads would point to him in wonderment, thinking he was M.F.Hussain. For as far back as I can remember, he’d been like that. He was soft spoken and walked with a slight hunch. He was quick to scold if we did something he didn’t like, but just as quick to appreciate if we did something good. He had nimble fingers, which I admired a lot. I was his favourite, because I was the youngest. He was my favourite among all my grandparents, don’t know why. He was also the most respected among his family members, and the most loved among friends.
He had had a tough life, with being the eldest of a large number of siblings and his father passing away quite early on. He took care of everyone.

And for me, maybe I loved him so much- I think I was more in awe of him than anything else- because I used to love the way he spoke English, weird as that may seem. I feel- and would strongly like to believe- that I picked up the love for the language from him. After he passed away, when we were at our native place, my uncle and I were cleaning up the old house, when we found a stack of old diaries belonging to him. Even the daily entries, the mundane points, were so impeccably written. And his handwriting was like perfect italics font.

Old age struck him with a vengeance, having no mercy. He had varicose veins, bronchial ailments, cataract, and the worst of them all, dementia, which the doctor told was the starting of Alzheimer’s. Oh it’s a terrible thing to happen, dementia. It draws away from you, slowly, painfully, what was rightfully yours- your memories- and leaves you with a ghost of an old man. Towards the end, he had no memory of us, he didn’t recognize any of us, except for in flashes. He lived in the past. The past where he was younger, maybe happier, with all his children with him, his beloved three children who he loved so much, and who loved him just as much. The past where he was a handsome young man- he was just as handsome when he was old- riding his bullet and picking up his daughters from school.

I had spent an entire summer with him, my grandma, my mom and my uncle, in that rambling old house in Nadapuram. I’ll never forget that summer, I don’t wish to, because it was then, when my grandfather could no longer remember me, that I grew more fond of him. I developed a new affection and respect for him. We all used to sleep in the huge master bedroom upstairs, some on bed, some on floors, because we had to constantly keep an eye on him. He would wake up suddenly, walk to the window, mumbling, holding on to the bars and looking outside into the night, refusing to come back to bed sometimes, and suddenly he would look at me, smile, and I would see a flash of recognition in those beautiful wise eyes, and I would hopefully smile in return, hopeful that at least now, he would pat my head and call me Ammu..But just as soon as it came, the moment would be gone. And I remember thinking, I wish I were a part of his past, at least then he would remember me.

What would it be like, to not remember anything anymore? To be surrounded by people who you don’t recognize anymore? To be bathed and fed like a baby, after living a full, active life where you never depended on anyone for anything? To wake up suddenly in the middle of the night and not know what time of the day it is, because time is not really a factor for you anymore? It’s terrifying. I always used to wonder, what would he be thinking, what is going through his mind, if only I had a way to know.

I have seen the pain my mom and everyone else has been through, taking care of him. He reached a point where he couldn’t even go to the bathroom on his own. It’s not easy, you know, taking care of your aging parents the same way they took care of you when you were a baby. There’s no excitement and joy and pride. There’s just a lot of sorrow and pain, and sometimes sympathy, for this person who was your hero at one point of time. But every hero falls sometime or the other, doesn’t he? I hope I have the courage to do it when the time comes, god forbid.

Dear Manavi, I wish you knew him, your grandfather, our ‘velyacchan’. A better man hasn’t walked this earth*, and never shall.

* From Anita Nair’s book, The Better Man.

December 10, 2010

The girl who grew up...

I was on my way to work today morning, walking along the winding little lane peppered with tiny little houses that connects my house to the main road. I take that same road every morning, and everyday, I see a lot of activity along that route. Women washing vessels and clothes, men leaving for work on their cycles, little girls with neatly plaited hair setting out for school, goats, chickens, an eerie little wayside temple with a black-stone idol of Shiva, kirana stores (a quintessentially Indian phenomena), etc.

Today morning, while I was walking, I saw one little girl, with a blue colour dupatta on her head, tied into a neat long plait. She must’ve been about 5-6 years old.

Pretty much the same age, that I used to do such stuff. You wouldn’t believe if I said it now, but as a kid, I loved dressing up and doing girly stuff. I was 5 when I cried to dad to buy me my first lipstick. And the doting dad that he is, he got me one. I still remember it, it was red in colour, and it used to act as my lipstick cum eyeshadow cum blush, and sometimes my sketchpen and crayon when I wanted to draw (err..alrite! scribble) on the walls. I had such a tough time throwing away the empty tube..sigh..

I used to have chocolate boxes filled with my accessories- earrings, chains, bangles, hairclips and what not. Every dress had matching accessories. There was a red and gold chappal that I really took a fancy to, bought from a street in Pune all those years ago. I used to believe that it went with any dress that I wore. It was hideous, when I look back at the photos now! But that was an age where I felt that anything bright and shiny was beautiful. :)

Sunday afternoons, when mom, dad and my sis were having their routine siesta, I used to get to work. Anyone who used to come down from the US or Dubai, used to get me a make-up kit, so well-known was my fondness for it. So on Sunday afternoons, I would take out these boxes, meticulously put on the make-up (and trust me, I was pretty good at it. I knew what all had to be applied where, and in what amount), then I would take out my favourite green dupatta with the gold sequins at the edges, pin it up safely on to my hair, and plait it. That dupatta was like a friend, I always had it with me. Boredom was never an option for me, as long as I had my dupatta and make-up boxes and ‘other accessories’, as my mom used to call it. :)…

I miss that girl…somewhere along the way, adolescence took its toll, and scorn for that little girl set in. I abandoned all those accessories that were part of my girlhood, and opted to go for what was in style. I stopped wearing bangles and bindis and big earrings. My mom still asks me, why I stopped wearing all that…When I saw that girl today, all those memories just rushed back, and the first thing I did was call up my mom and tell her. Because that lady has put up with all that the most, and nobody would understand it better. And you know, my mom has not thrown away a single one of those things that I cherished- right from the boxes of ‘fancy items’(just like supermarkets give me a high today, fancy stores used to be my fascination then), ribbons, hair-bands, clips, beads, to the bag of clothes that I’d stitched for my Barbie dolls( I was an aspiring fashion designer at one time)- everything is intact. She never asked me whether she can throw them away or not- she just continues to preserve them for me. For what reason, I know not.

This post is dedicated to mom, and to my dad and sis, for never making fun of that little girl or forcing her to grow up sooner than she ought to have.

Sometimes I wish I never had...

December 6, 2010

To throw or not to throw...

I’ve never been a fan of packing. I’ll avoid it as far as possible and put it off till the last minute. Earlier, when we went on our annual summer vacations to our native place, mom used to take care of the packing. Clothes used to be neatly piled on the bed first, then packed, according to ‘how soon will we need them’ and ‘how often will we need them’. The packing used to go on till late at night, because, by principle, none of us travel light, except dad. Mom always carried extra clothes, in case it rained, even in summer. I won’t laugh at that, coz even I’ve inherited that streak. I always end up packing for 5 days on a two-day trip. Mom never used to let us touch the bag and used to personally take out whatever we needed and give us, because if we go through it, there’s just a jumble remaining. I hate folding clothes. I tend to roll them up in a ball or something resembling folds and push it into my bag. And then I rummage through the pile, much like those goons who ransack people in movies. No kidding. And my sister’s no less. Fortunately for her, she married a guy who loves packing.

Anyways, in case you’re wondering what brought out this onslaught of packing memories, let me elaborate. I recently shifted my house to another one in the city, with a roommate. I had been living alone for more than a year, first in a 2bhk, then in a 1bhk. One major thing you need to keep in mind if you’re thinking of taking a house is:- you will accumulate a helluva lot of stuff, especially if you’re a hoarder like me. I cannot throw stuff away, another thing I’ve inherited from mom. It’s the most difficult thing in the world for me. I may not have sentiments attached to it necessarily, but I will always think of some possible future use of it when I consider throwing it away. And there it goes back to where it was hibernating since 1922. Back when I was a kid, I once remember fighting with dad coz he wanted to throw away one of my old, ragged, beyond-its-expiry-date doll with no hair and one hand missing, during one of his spring-cleaning sessions. I won.

One of my friends was helping me out with my packing this time. The name I earned at the end of it- aakri (which roughly translates into scrap/scrap-collector ). And rightly so, I have to grudgingly accept. By the end of the packing, I had five huge cartons, two suitcases, two bags, plus a lot of plastic packets filled with odds and ends. All this for just one person! What will I do once I start my own family! I’ll have to order an entire train to carry my stuff! And this too, after I’d given off a bunch of old clothes away. I had to arrange for a tempo to move my stuff.

Now the next huge task awaits me. Unpacking the stuff and putting it away in their rightful places. And now I’m back in a 2bhk. More space. More opportunities to accumulate.

I sincerely hope my roommate likes to throw things away...