Wednesday, November 12, 2008
A house remembers.....यमुनाबाईची गोष्ट
A fifty year old house. For a long time there were two people there. Then one, and now , no one.
He was 86, sprightly, and very proud of his health. This was the house , his father built, and now he was alone, in the house that held so many family memories, stories and images. One day he was diagnosed with an aneurysm in the abdomen. They said it was big, beyond what is an acceptable safe size, and told his daughter, that he needed someone constantly around him, as any fall would be, well, fatal. She lived in a different city, and came by often, but now they needed to look for someone on a daily basis.
That's how they got Yamunabai.
Medical insurance , per se, here, is not a mandatory thing, although more and more people are opting for it. In a city, where doctors will not necessarily ask about your insurance before examining you, there are several agencies specializing in providing personnel who will come care for you . These people are not medical folks, but know the rudiments of good care; they are trained to care for a bedridden or non bedridden patient, assist in the physical therapy , help with the taking of medications, maintain the facilities around the patient, cook and feed the patient, clean the patient, can contact the doctor if required etc .
Yamunabai came to them from such an agency. .
She herself , was an ill-treated and then abandoned wife, who lived with her married son. She had lost her father, and she enjoyed caring for this elderly gentleman; his daughter came more and more often on her visits, and whenever her father was resting, Yamunabai would regale her with the happenings in her own house, show her some new photo album with pictures of some celebration , proudly pointing out her son and daughter-in-law. She lived some distance away, changed two bus routes to get here, and had an amazing knack of befriending the bus conductors, vegetable vendors, cobblers, and even bicycle repairers on the roadside, that she encountered on her daily trips.
A short, fair, cheerful lady, she would come every morning and leave every evening after the night shift lady came. The patient was still fairly mobile, defiant of the doctors, and pathologically prone to turning a deaf ear to the doctors. He loved to walk everywhere, totally oblivious to the chaotic Pune traffic. Once a week he went to a religious discourse. She had instructions to accompany him everywhere, and she tagged along with him to the bank, post office, religious discourses, seminars, and assorted places that were part of his routine. They had a continuing argument where she tried to convince him to be careful, and he enjoyed defying her. Everywhere he went, his friends knew that she came to look after him, and accompanied him, often waiting at the house entrance, for him to return. But they humored him, and never mentioned it , and he was happy.
Walking long distances proved some thing to him.. So he walked more and more. She walked along with him; sometimes cajoling him to slow down, sometimes suggesting public transport; she often mediated between rickshaw drivers and him, when he unilaterally decided that he was being charged extra, and simply walked away, leaving the drivers flabbergasted. His hearing was deteriorating, he spoke louder as a result, and the rickshaw drivers were sometimes the recipient of accusing looks as people on the road heard the old man telling them off.
Then , one day, he overdid this walking, got breathless, and almost collapsed. The body complained, but the head was adamant. She somehow managed to drag him to a roadside tea stall where she settled him down on a chair and hailed a three wheeler to take them home. Then she called his daughter , who lived in another city, close by.
By and by, the body capitulated, and his walking almost came to a standstill. It angered him. And tested her patience.His legs gave way. Standing by himself, was history. Baths were a thing of the past, and there would now be daily sponging and cleaning /powdering of the body. Bedsores appeared. His old friend's grandson, a doctor, came every alternate day to check up on him, as well as do some small talk, and taught the ladies how to treat the bedsores. His daughter and she learned to do several dressings on those wounds every day, and she learned the handling of sterilized bandages. The daughter would come and go occasionally, but this lady continued to religiously follow the protocol told to her, and reported to the daughter on the phone almost every day.
The sons lived abroad, and came down on a visit. The daughter was also there to complete the family collection. International flights in India always arrive at odd times like 3 am etc, and it would be around 6 am when the sons were expected. The old man, his circadian rhythms in confusion, often lay awake at dawn. Yamunabai got up especially early that day. She moved the wheelchair close to the bed, and in a great effort , managed to shift him, somehow, on to it.
The commotion brought the daughter there.
"The sons are coming. From America. What will they think ? I thought we had enough of this sponging the body. He needs to have a decent bath....".
The daughter couldn't agree more. Between them both, they pushed his chair to the bath place, and bathed him , like they would a small child, who refuses to stand still, turn etc; except in this case, he couldn't stand, even if he wished. Energized with the steam and warmth, he felt better and smiled as they helped him lie down again on his bed, propped up by a pillow, as he looked forward to a slow breakfast of nutritious porridge, lovingly administered.
The sons came, the family was together again, and for a short time, everyone pretended that all was fine.
The passage of time brought in dementia. He would complain , get angry, say all kinds of things to her and his daughter. He would hit out with his palm, when the antiseptic irritated his bedsores, and she would deal with him as one would with a naughty errant child. She had been around such patients as part of her job, and it did the daughter some good to have her company , as she wondered about a future fatherless life.
Yamunabai occasionally took a day off or went early, ensuring that the daughter was then around, and this was one of those nights. He was complaining about being full, and declining soup; so his daughter waited for a while. Tried to adjust the inclination of the Fowler's bed, but it was no use. So she sat by his side, wondering, reading, looking back , at her life as a child of the house, and his, now facing difficult times.....
But he was already looking ahead. And slowly slipping away.
The end came that night. Stealthily.
The old man's daughter was alone, and , after the doctors visits and family phone calls, she waited till morning to call Yamunabai.
But Yamunabai was already on her way. The bicycle repair person across the road had seen the midnight doctor visit, the lights, and the quiet, and had given her a call.
Yamunabai took it very personally, that she couldn't be there to help in the final hours. Then stoically, she got up to help the daughter. In a society where women do not attend cremations, she accompanied a daughter to her father's cremation.....
Her contracted job was over, but she stayed on for 2-3 days, to help the daughter wind up the house, clean and reorganize the place, and face all the folks who came to condole. Refused compensation for those days when it was offered.
One wonders how she did this kind of a job, year after year, caring for old people, wracked by highs and lows, faced with outstanding and sometimes, not so outstanding family situations; different doctors, new instructions, criticism and comments. All for someone , who is actually no one of hers, but who she considers her own, and cares for accordingly.
There is no one in the house how. The daughter has gone back to her own family responsibilities which had taken a back seat for while.
Yamunabai is probably on a newer assignment, this time, maybe with a grandmother type. A newer life , a different experience.
But if the now empty house, had a face and you saw it, you would probably see an indulgent smile playing on its face, at the mention of Yamunabai. It takes an immense amount of luck to have a Yamunabai in your life, in your last days.
No amount of rules, legislation , degrees and diplomas can make a Yamunabai.
You just have to be blessed. And lucky. The late old man would have completely agreed.......