Monday, February 09, 2009

Touches of Class

I don't know if classless societies exist. And I am not even talking about things like countries. Ample amount of stuff has been written about that, by guys that go by the names of Marx and Lenin, and everyone knows what happened in certain countries who swore by them.

However, I have a suspicion that , that sometimes, power generates class. The Constitution treats all of us equally, and the vegetable vendor lady at the corner, and the local Member of Parliament enjoy the same fundamental rights. It's the other rights that those in power play around with.

In autonomous institutions like ours (where I live and used to work), people earning differently have different "entitlements". At one point in my working life, I have spent hours, explaining to the payroll people, requesting them to deduct a larger insurance premium payment from my salary, as I wanted to be insured for a larger amount, only to be told, that at my (salary) level, I could only insure myself for a fixed predecided amount, and never mind that I might have delusions of grandeur about myself. So I got slotted into a class.

As far as our institute hospital facilities go, beyond a certain pay, you are entitled to a private room. Below that you are consigned to a general ward. This business of class, again. And never mind if your appendix is behaving more erratic compared to that of an officer type with mild undiagnosed abdominal spasms. The old gardener who fell from a coconut tree and broke his hip bone, entertains everyone in the general ward, with his innovative excuses when the physiotherapist comes to retrain his limbs, after surgery, while a senior executive lies in boring solitary splendour, with an elevated blood pressure, elevated prestige, and missing relatives, desperately unhappy in a single room....

Leela-aji was my daughter's friend's grandma. Aji means Grandmother. When my daughter was in middle school, everyone knew every ones grandmothers, when they came visiting. Some stayed on. Leela-aji was one such. We were returning from my daughters swimming practice one evening, and she mentioned to me in an alarmed manner, the news , that Leela-aji had apparently slipped and fallen down, fractured something, and was in hospital. We decided to check this out , and took a detour and went to the hospital.

Leela-aji's son was at a reasonably high post, and we assumed she would be in one of the single rooms.
We read the names outside the rooms. No Leela-aji. My daughter even managed to peer inside some, Still no Leela-aji. My daughter insisted that her news was correct and so we went back to the front office to check. We were told she was in the wards.

A peep into the ward, and we saw Leela-aji, putting down a newspaper, removing her glasses and rubbing her eyes, simultaneously smiling, and shaking her head. She said something to the lady in the next bed, whose daughter was visiting. Then she saw us, and waved and beckoned to us. We spent some time with her, and she made some "serious" conversation with my daughter about her swimming and friends, and we promised to come again the next day, with a book that she wanted , which I had..

She was fairly old and I wondered if she was able to rest adequately in the excitement of the general ward.

"You know , they did give me a single room", she said, eyes half shut, giving me a toothless smile. " but everyone is so busy, no one has the time to come, and I feel so alone. So I requested that they move me to the general ward. I have made lots of friends here, and I even tell stories to some of the children here. It keeps me alert and away from thoughts about my recuperation. Its fun !"

(I hope my daughter learnt something there.)

Don't know about her son's stature, but Leela-aji certainly exuded a lot of "class".....

Many many years later, my mother, then 83, while on a visit to us, had a cardiac episode , collapsed and was admitted to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit(ICCU), of one of Mumbai's biggest Municipal hospitals, which had outstanding doctors, but the infrastructure for visitors was yet to be developed. Since I am the only child of my parents, resident in India, my husband and I took turns at the hospital ICCU,and they allowed only a single person to be with the patient at a given time.

Still coming to terms with what life was dealing me, worrying if I would ever talk to my mother again, whether there was enough cash with us (we had rushed out as-is with the ambulance), and how my siblings would manage to get here fast (from the US), we would take turns , sitting on the floor of the large hall outside the ICCU, where several people sat, worrying about their near and dear ones, in trauma, inside.

Late at night, i would try and catch a wink, with my head pillowed on my purse, my long scarf wrapped around me, shivering more from the cold uncertainty than the floor temperature.

The second evening, saw a huge group of Sikh people , come in. Several community elders, a few senior ladies, and many people my age. One of their folks was admitted, and it is a sterling feature of this community, that they turn up at such times, in a very united fashion , to give solace, meals, bedding, extra pillows, and what have you, for the immediate relatives. Whispered discussions with the relatives, nodding of heads, instructions to some of the younger ladies, who covered their heads in respect and bustled off to do the needful; maybe some special medication needed to be purchased, some report needed to be picked up. An hour spent there and the community group went home, leaving behind tiffins of food, water, fruit, a few bedsheets.

My husband was inside and he asked me to try and get some sleep, so as to be able to take over from him later.

Some of the ladies laid out a sheet. Got some pillows out, and they rested. waiting to relieve whoever of theirs was inside, sitting with the patient. There was continuous traffic to and from the ICCU, nurses, doctors, orderlies, and cleaning staff, some going off duty, some coming in.

I lay down , head on my purse, resting on my arms, stared up at the ceiling, and tried to blank my worried mind. I noticed the lady looking at me. We smiled. She asked me who was inside. I told her, and couldn't speak anymore. She understood. She beckoned to a young chap and asked him to pass some of the fruit. Peeled some oranges, and shared them with me. Forcing me to have some. Slowly after a while, the lights were dimmed. Maybe that was a routine occurrence. She asked me who was with me , as she couldn't see anyone there. I got back to where i was originally and nodded off a bit later due to sheer fatigue.

Sometime around 5 am, I awoke. I should be up and ready to relieve my husband who was to make a trip home. I sat up, and something fell away. Someone had covered me with a bedsheet as I slept. And I soon found out. The lady who I had spoken to earlier, didn't think it was safe for me to lie down like this , by myself, indicating that there was no one with me. She thought I needed a reassuring cover. She had spread her sheet near me as I slept, and anyone passing by, would have felt, we were members of a big family , waiting out there . Her younger son, whose sheet she used to cover me, huddled by himself , in his sleep, in another corner with some other relative.

There was no talk subsequently. Only heartfelt silent words. I quietly folded the bedsheet and left it by her feet. The action seemed to wake her. I folded my hands and wished her, wordlessly conveying my gratitude. I organized myself to go in to the ICCU , and sit with my mother, through what was to be her last day on earth. Sometime during the day, I heard a commotion, and the elderly Sikh admitted to the ICCU, was wheeled out , face covered.

I never saw the lady again.

I don't know what people mean when they talk of someone having lots of class. There aren't any degrees of class. You either have it or you don't.

And this was one lady who was literally overflowing with it. She had even some to spare.


  1. What a very beautiful story. Many thanks for sharing it.

  2. The story is very beautiful and beautifully told. The lady was so kind and you had such grace to accept and thank her.

  3. You are so right when you say you either have class or you don't. I think class must come from the heart. Wonderful post and I enjoyed every minute of it as usual.

  4. It is a beautiful story! and I agree with both you and Judy, you either have class or you don't and it does come from inside. Thanks for you usual wonderful, insightful, uplifting post. Glad I found you in "blog world".

  5. i'm so glad to have read this post...

  6. Form is temporary, class is permanent :)

  7. You just made me cry. There have been such incidents in all our lives...and it takes some 'class' to register and retain them in our memories and express them like this. Wonderful!

  8. Anonymous, Amberstar, Judy, Sylvia K, Suma

    Thank you. It did bring back a lot of memories writing this....

    Rahul Contrary to what you cricket types think, in this case Leela Aji and the Lady in the hospital, displayed signs of pucca form as well as permanent class. These people never lose their form and always have class, unlike some people we know , who even get paid for it. Hmm.

    See this for additional clarification....:-)

    A. I. Everytime I think of this episode, i experience mental trauma of the same magnitude. And it shows up, as it happened , on the mind screen. I guess some things cannot be archived in life, because they continue to teach us so much.

  9. "I don't know what people mean when they talk of someone having lots of class. There aren't any degrees of class. You either have it or you don't." And you my dear of bucket loads of it.

    I remember spending every day in hospital when Des was in there for a whole year. Oh the stories but the ICU was the best part. They were brilliant the medical staff -and the most caring. I loved your story about this and I could truly identify. Frightening times but many blessings found too. They know him so well at the hospital now they roll out the red carpet, lol!!

  10. Oh Suranga, That was a beautifully told part of your life which moved me too to tears - it also brought back memories of my own Mum and Grandmother (Nana) the two of whom died many years ago but who are still missed much. Thank you for sharing your memory, Love Kate x.

    p.s. The comment about problems you experienced getting through to 'Shambles' makes me wonder if my system is going to collapse - Lord only knows! I'm just keeping my fingers, toes and eyes crossed.
    Cheers K.

  11. This is such a touching story and thanks for sharing it. There is always a bond between people who are going through similar situations and that's what brings them closer coz they understand what the other person needs.

    The discussion of class here also reminds me of my impression of the class in the Mumbai local trains. They have a first class and second class. But most of the people traveling in first class dont really have any class. They are just a bunch of snobbish people who can afford the luxury of traveling in the first class and think they are grt. They will not even accommodate a fourth seat and give dirty looks if someone is standing too close etc. In second class though people just get bonded together. People readily accommodate everyone and even amongst the rush and crowd you feel so comfortable traveling there.

    Its true, Class comes from within, you either have it or dont.

  12. What a beautiful story. And no one could have done justice to the two ladies' class and grace except you.
    Thank you.

  13. Wow! I'm tired of being awed by your posts...but really, this is soooo terrific!

    And this was one lady who was literally overflowing with it. She had even some to spare.

    Loved it!

  14. I agree with everyone else. You either have class or you don't, Your income level has nothing to do with real class.

    Thank you for sharing a painful time in your life with such class.

  15. Lilly Thank you. You know, it is strange, but sometimes I feel that we see the best that humanity has on offer, in the most traumatic periods in our life. I didnt know Des was in the ICU for a whole year ! My best regards to Des....I hear the Aus Cricket team came to your area where the fires were, to meet the people and help with collecting donations. What a great gesture....

    KateThank you. And Kate, I dont think the problem was with your site alone. It even happened for a while whenever I went to Pearl's site. At the momemnt , there is no problem. Its like the weather. Who knows these days ?

    Enchanted Thank you. And the attitude of the ist class train folks that you describe, is in some way linked here. A lot of folks have this false sense of status and prestige, that involves inabilities to "get down on the floor" when the occasion so warrants. This "high" attitude really makes them miss out on the wonderful classy folks you meet like this.....

    Usha, Naperville Mom, Darlene

    Thank you for your wonderful comments,,,,

  16. It was an innocent comment about classy people (which is in no way directionally proportional to money), on a piece one read on a favourite site. The comment was ‘form is temporary class is permanent’. The reply was a bit overburdening. It started with ‘For you cricketing types’…

    One really wondered whether someone commenting on sport (which is one’s passion no doubt) can only be the sports/cricket type? And do people see us as some freaks who care about only one thing in life. One reads literature, listens to Hridaynath, Lata Mangeshkar, Nusrat, Gulam Ali, SD Burman amongst others, reads Pu La Deshpande, G A Kulkarni, reads most other great authors irrespective of the language, collects art for the sake of it, (and not investment) .. but at the end of it all, one is just a cricketing type.. an easy generalisation coming from someone who doesn’t like to generalise (one hopes)..

  17. excellently written. One of the best articles i've read in a while.

    i'll also add that people who we *expect* to be all classy and hoity-toity are often shallow with only a veneer of class.
    Often its simple folks with no ambitions of being rich, educated or upwardly mobile who surprize you with a touch of class in their behavior.

    People are full of surprizes that way, and only someone very green behind the ears learns to take people at face value !


  18. Class, it always shows. And as generously as it does here. Thanks Shail, through whom I got to this post; and to you too, Suranga Date for sharing this slice of life.

    1. Usha Pisharody, thank you! These experiences have taught so much....

  19. Had seen you active on Shail's time line often times, but this is the first time I came this way. In awe with your observations :-)