Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Earth Gene

They say life evolved from a magical mix of the right chemicals on our planet, and amino acids happened . Apparently various organic carbon compounds containing carbon and water , when zapped by a great energy source give rise to amino acids, which are the mother and father of proteins, which are actually the things that manage our cells.

And so our DNA's are really based on the earth's biology.

To cut a long and complicated story short, I believe all our DNA's have some little coded strand somewhere, that links us to the land we call our own, inextricably linked to the chemistry of that special earth.

Somewhere , around 30-40 years ago, migration from India to the West was a sort of meandering river for several years. Most parents then , slogged very hard to educate their children , denying themselves things and saving up, and it was very common then for children to get financial aid from the Universities abroad because of their hardearned excellent academic performance. Today,
what with the economic situation changing over the years, the situation is so different that it is not uncommon to find one child studying/working abroad in a given urban family.

But there has been a price to pay, in terms of wistful parents in their old age, in a society, where there has been a sudden jump. From a society where grown children lived with their families with parents, quiet happily, to an entire population of old parents, that feels the geriatric loneliness, but continues to put up a smiling face to the world, taking solace in the fast communications and visuals of the web cam. Where emails have replaced a worried look, and webcam appearances fill in for a reassuring hand on the elbow.

M was a neighbor and my mother's great friend. Our entire childhood was spent hopping in and out of each other's houses, and we children looked upon her slightly older children, all sons, as kind of role models when we were in school. She was a natural teacher, and a Sanskrit and Mathematics scholar, besides being an amazing mimic with a dramatic bent. She coached students in these subjects at home throughout her life.

The 70's and eighties saw many of us go to the US, some for further studies to return later, and some to a new life in the New World, after completing post graduations. Empty nests were never earlier part of the Indian scene as such. The biggest trauma was seeing your daughter leave to go to her marital home, after her marriage. But somewhere around the late eighties and nineties these same parents suddenly started acknowledging the diminishing nest.

M had three sons, all in the US. One , who had lived with her all along, (and whose children she had looked after as a priority, like her own, so that the couple could work ,) had just left, and she and her husband, a literary person led their own peaceful life, occasionally struggling with old age health problems. They missed their grandkids a lot But didnt want to stand in the way of anyone's ambitions and career plans. The public face was a tad different from what we saw....

Between the two families, I was the only girl child who came back from grad school in the US and remained in India, and I would always go look them up on my visits to my maternal home. They would be full of news about their grandchildren and children. They had visited the US a few times for family occasions when some of the older grandchildren were young, and had great memories. M's health problems now limited her mobility, and so she didn't go on too many long trips. Instead she was a very enthusiastic participant in all kinds of social activities, and was my main accomplice when I was planning a surprise 61st birthday party for my mother, her best friend. She even composed a poem for that occasion and recited it.

One day, I got a call from home, giving me the terrible news. M's husband had passed away in his sleep, after complaining of slight discomfort, after a day spent with some visiting friends. M was devastated. So were my folks, who did their best to help her get back into the run of things in the house, once all the rush of people coming to offer condolences was over.

The children came down from the US. Some to help her organize the confusing paperwork, now that she was by herself. Some just because they thought they should come. And some. because they simply could not stay away. But everyone had to go back to their jobs. It cost a huge amount for entire families to visit, and while the sons came to visit, their families could not.

The nature and vibrancy of Indian society, enables a reasonably fast return to a normal life, with lots of neighbors, friends, relatives, crowding your day, leaving you little time to brood. M's leg was troubling her a bit more now, her movement was restricted. But a whole bunch of parents came by and urged her to take extra classes for their children, and she got used to a solitary life enlivened by these activities. Her friends would drop by, take her along to attend the Marathi theatre , which she really enjoyed. She stopped walking too much, and my mother really missed her friend when she herself was packing for a trip to the US to visit her own sons, and M could not come by because it meant she had to climb a floor. As very old friends since their late twenties with small children, they both shared a lot of confidences, and understood each other very well.

Then suddenly one day, i heard that M was shifting to the US. To be with her sons. They worried about her staying alone. This way she would be close by, and part of their lives. My mother knew about it several months earlier, when M had to make a decision. She could sense was M was thinking. But she also knew, that M would think of herself last, worry about her staying alone causing worry to her children, and as she said , "what could be better than living out your last few years around your children , enjoying their success in life ?".

Her youngest came to escort her to the US. She would stay initially with her youngest child . I had known this fellow as a baby, and was close to him. I was glad she would be with him to begin with. Her house, a rented place, with fixtures and furniture from the childrens' young days was locked up. The landlord, who himself had learned his maths and Sanskrit at her feet, said he would retain the place for her as long as she cared to visit. I would often walk past the place on my visits to my folks , see the boarded windows , search for a gleam of light unconsciously somewhere, suddenly get a lump in my throat and move on.

I lost my mother the next year, and M never saw her friend again.
My mother, had returned from a trip to the US where she had gone to attend a grandson's graduation. She had had a bit of a health scare there, but had managed on sheer will power. She flew a long tiring trip of 23 hours, almost exactly 9 years ago, to come stay with me for a while before going to her place. She never did. It was as if she was waiting to reach her homeland before she let go.

I did hear later on from M by post. She was very aware of the cost of long transatlantic phone calls, and restrained herself. I made several trips to my parents place during the year, to do some paperwork, and complete the various formalities, as I was the only child in India, and it fell upon me. I missed the old places to go to. And I wished M was there and that I could go talk to her about my mother.

A year later, on my visit to my parents' house, a neighbor mentioned M was back. Most folks were incredulous. I was, to put it simply, thrilled. I rushed off to her place that afternoon, and was presented with a tableau of M sitting in her living room, her leg resting on a pillow, and assorted middle school children with notebooks sitting around her . The parents in the locality had heard she was back, and had so much faith in her abilities to teach their children, that they came rushing in to welcome her and pleaded with her to start the classes again.

M was back doing what she loved.

I spent an evening with her, listening and talking, and what emerged was something different. She was very comfortable living with her sons . But she had nothing she could do, as unlike in India, there was no concept of people dropping in unannounced. The daughters in law had everything so well set, that they left her out of any work that she could help with in the house. And after so many years , her childrens' families were busy with their own lives, and had little time for her. Casual conversations almost never happened. Everyone was busy. This was worrisome for M. She alternated amongst the children, with the same final conclusion. She was a misfit. Something that was considered normal family conversation in an Indian set up, was now raising eyebrows here. She felt bad about her decision to return. But she wouldn't want to cause a problem in the lives of any of her sons, because she was unable to follow certain norms. Her leg disability restricted her ability to move out of the house, and everyone was very too busy to chauffeur her around, it seemed. Back in India, there were so many people around, she could always wave and stop a three wheeler and go wherever she wanted. Some were even available on phone and would come by to pick you up. She had a talk with her sons and families, and one fine day, her youngest who escorted her to the US, now accompanied her back to settle her in.

M had tears in her eyes when she told me some of her experiences within the family. I made something simple for both of us that evening and both of us shared a quiet dinner. She with a daughter she never had, and me with a mother who was the closest to mine. There was a caretaker lady who came in every evening, cleaned up the place, stayed the night and left after breakfast in the morning, after M had had her bath. M needed help moving around.

I kept meeting M thereafter, often consulting her and confiding in her regarding whatever I was working on, and although physically deteriorating, you could see that she was happy with her life, grateful to all those who made her day, and enjoyed sudden visitors like me. Old students of hers insisted she attend their weddings, someone always came to escort and help her there, some people landed up with sweets to celebrate the success of their child in some exam that she had helped study for. Old folks from the locality, often dropped in to compare notes, talk about hired help, doctors and typical topics such people discuss. And she would write lots of letters. Like the one she wrote my daughter after she competed her boards successfully . Small things, but they thrilled us no end.

One night she went to sleep, and the care taker lady , taking tea to wake her, the next morning, found out that everything was over. Just like that. They called a nephew . He came, took charge and did all the rituals and formalities. None of her sons were able to come at such a short notice. After a suitable interval, the landlord requested the sons to shift the belongings as he wished to allocate the place to someone else, now that M was no more. And one of them came. To do the needful, as they say.

I often wonder, if there is an element of your own earth in your DNA. The feeling of wanting to wing home.

Various people have it to various extents . M had it. My mother had it. To some extent I have it too. I have travelled and stayed for longish periods in many countries, made some very close friends there. But I have always felt that this is my home and my place . Notwithstanding the daily uncertainties of life , the various hassles , unreliable innovative services , inability to do things on time etc etc, this is my place, and it is something, that probably sits there, winking , in one corner of the protein strings of my DNA, as the earth gene in my DNA. It probably came there when I grew up, and is , what scientists call, a dominant gene.

Dr Barbara McClintock, in her Nobel lecture (1983) on the human genome said :

"The ability of a cell to sense these broken ends, to direct them towards each other, and then to unite them so that the union of the two DNA strands is correctly oriented, is a particularly revealing example of the sensitivity of cells to all that is going on within them. They make wise decisions and act on them."

I certainly think the cells have the right idea. Some cells make wise decisions , some don't.

Some folks have that gene, some don't. Sometimes it is dominant, sometimes it is recessive.

As you get older , like me, you notice the dominancy peering round the corner.

And sometimes, you sit back, smile, take a deep breath, and say - "Welcome !".....


  1. Wow!!! Amazing post as usual!!! You say things so simply..... it is awesome!!!

    I am sure you're right. There definitely is some connection of our DNA's to our earth. We definitely have a lot to learn from our cells.

  2. There is something in the calling that one hears from a place. I agree with you.

    Even within a country one feels that there are some places in which one is more comfortable than others.

    Great post, made me think....


  3. Wonderful post, Suranga! And I loved the description of M's situation. So touching.

    Yes, certainly there must be a connection to our part of the earth in our DNA! I totally agree.

  4. You know Suranga..I clicked on your blog link and my volume was on so it started playing songs. I was listening to the 4 songs you had and now going to comment. :)

    This made a wonderful read. The connection is always there wherever we go..whatever we do.

  5. Once I went to Mexico to study and while there lived with a family. I had to speak Spanish 24/7. Fortunately I was only there for two weeks. I was very homesick and when I asked how to say that, they didn't know. Or possibly I didn't phrase it properly.

    I liked your post very much. We are helping my husband's parents now and it has been very difficult to go to their home two or three times a day is hard. They both have Alzheimer's, so they don't really remember we have been there. We make them food and take them to the doctor's office and other things that need to be done. The part of life of sitting and chatting is no more, because they really don't remember anything for longer than a minute or two. I wish we still had the old days, but they are gone.

  6. A beautiful post!! M's story brought tears to my eyes... my mother has the same feeling about living in her own house... she says she would feel uprooted anywhere else, and like M, she has visitors all day long, and her own work, little things that require her attention, bills ot be paid, a leaking tap to be replaced, some neighbour dropping by.

    Love how you write!!!

    I certainly think the cells have the right idea. Some cells make wise decisions , some don't.

    Some folks have that gene, some don't. Sometimes it is dominant, sometimes it is recessive.

    Agree with every word...

  7. I moved Mom from Bangalore to Pune...when we moved from Gurgaon to Pune thinking it would be nice to live close to each other...a huge mistake. She misses her busy life in Bangalore and feels like a complete misfit here.

    Yes...there is some connection...

  8. Lovely post ! It reminds me of another time and another place. And my parents too.

    As they resolutely stay away from us, saying that is where they find their 'calling' and that is 'home' !

    Life has a strange ways. And the stories that visit us are our own stories. Our own lives playing out as other peoples lives.

    I agree.. with my limited knowledge..about this DNA business..

  9. I have an award for you at my blog!

  10. Beautiful post, very evocative. This will the major story of our personal lives, given that so many of us are dispersed. But am so glad M came back to what she felt comfortable in. That takes guts to do. I'm just thankful she had someone like you.

  11. Your post brought tears to my eyes. So much love for your mom and for M found within. This was beautiful.

    Yes, I feel the need to "wing home." It's strong in me.... so strong that after Katrina, nobody could stop me from going home, with no power, no water, no food, broken windows, etc. It was home and I was going to fix it and make it work.

    So many people were critical of New Orleanians wanting to go home, but it's HOME. We have deep roots here, deep as the oak trees that survived... I love taking vacations and visiting new places and learning new cultures, but HOME is where my Heart is. Truly.

  12. Lovely post... I do agree that we share a relationship with a place. It is good that M was able to come back and do what she wanted. That is so important - to live a life the way you want - I believe that settles the restlessness of mind.

  13. That was really a very very good read. You really did inspire my love for my home land. And the story of M was so very touching and I felt as if I too had once attended those classes! I mean, it sounded so close to home...

  14. Ranu Vivek, Manju Thank you.

    Solilo Glad you enjoyed the music. Not that I am plugging my other blogs, but there is some further cool music at the sister blogs mentioned in my sidebar, Reghotya and Strewn Ashes.

    Amber star Thank you.

    IHM Thank you. And the M's of the world can teach us so much, if we only stopped to listen....

    EkanshThank you

    Kavi Thank you. I wonder how we will be in our old ages ?

    Shilpa Delighted with your award. Thank you. it inspired a post. Check Gappa !

    Sujatha You know what, M needed me as much as I needed her. But there has to be a connect with the land....

    Aleta You said it. Home is where the heart is. And thank you for the wonderful comment

    Joy.Ekanthapadhikan Thank you

  15. Very moving story. And I love this DNA idea. It might explain why so many people feel bad now, at the same time as our Mother Earth is suffering.

    Then, I remember that the first time I set foot in India I thought "Finally, I am home". But I was also happy to go back to my parents country.

  16. I absolutely believe in the universal soul connecting us all. The connections may be weak, strong or even uneven in time and space sometimes, but one can always relate to it. Your words are so effortless they leave me awestruck most of the times :-)

  17. So true..both my brother and my brother in law went to the US to study but they were clear - they will not stay there..my bro in law came back ; my brother is finishing his studies and he is just waiting to head back home..the land of opportunities is right here in front of us..