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.......


  1. That post resonates with me in many ways. Beautifully written as always. In fact it should be published. Have you had any of your work published? It really is good.

    Carers in our society do a tremendous job and how fortunate that family was to have Yamunabai. In fact there are so many carers who are never recognised for the tremendous work they do. The Carers society where I live is my only charity. I do some care for my father and also my sister who has Parkinsons Disease. Its not easy for the patient sometimes nor the carer. If we didnt have people like Yamunabi then our hopsitals and aged homes would be overcrowded and not be able to manage. With an aging population this issue is a real concern in years to come. We all need to plan I think. May we all be lucky enough to have someone like Yamnabai in our life.

    I also understand the need to give older people respect and let them do as much as they can for as long as they can. And make their won decisions. We will all understand this one day. Everyone needs to have a purpose and be respected. Thanks for the reminder.

    By the way, the Australian women cricket team beat India - does that makes us sort of even now???

  2. I almost had a tear in the eye... Your description of events is very touching and reminds me of my grandmother's last days...I can remember my Mother caring for her mother and watching her slowly slip away... But such is life... Thank God for people like Yamuna bai and thank god for the daughters...

  3. Lilly Thanks so much for your very informative comments. Regardless of the culture we live in, and the country, and whether the families are joint or nuclear families, at the end of the day, its all about respecting and taking care of your parents, either with the help of Yamunabais or yourself. And Des and your sister are so lucky to have you.....

    About the Australian women's cricket team, I hear their captain Lisa Sthalekar's father is an Indian.... ah well, a win is a win and congratulations.

    I hear Hayden is making some comments on the third world now that he is back.

    These Cricketer types all need to take a vacation for a while.

    And maybe let us enjoy that cheesecake that you were about to send over......

    hitch writer It is a very great honour to be able to care for a parent like this in their last days.....and with yamunabai, simply more so....

  4. You made me cry. You always have such moving stories and descriptions...thanks for bringing these unique individuals to life with your writing.

  5. I agree with Lilly that your work should be published. You put in such vivid detail and it makes the people come alive. A wonderful story well told.

    I wish we had women like Yamunabai. I think I will need one in a few years.

  6. Your posts are always so beautiful! And this is such a moving story! We all could certainly use a Yamunabai in our lives as we move down the road. I suspect they're not easy to find.
    Thanks you again -- you really should publish your stories!

  7. ChakliThank you. But you need to be tough, spicy and not easily crumblable, like your divali you dont cry.

    Darlene, Sylvia K Thank you for your wonderful comments and your confidence in telling me to get published. I suppose, if it has to happen, it will. In the meanwhile , one blogs about the good people one has seen in one's life, and hopes that it inspires us to help others too.

  8. This is so like you, to find something good even in a sad event like a death...but may be long drawn out disease and deaths give us the time and insight to appreciate the Yamunabais who exemplify the true meaning of 'nurse'.

  9. Reading this made me cry. Yamunabais was one in a million. My own father was an invalid for 11 years and my older sister gave up her job and took care of him after our mother passed away. The rest of us helped out when we could. How she would have loved to have someone like this person to help with my father. Your story brought back so many memories for me. As usual, your writing is so vivid and wonderful, I could picture every incident in this man's life.

  10. 'Nurturing' comes naturally to some, unfortunately their number is so small. Being 'Critical' comes naturally to most of us and our number is so large!

    People like Yamunabai are remembered because we want to be like her and also because Yamunabais are so rare.

    Great story, I must tell you that I read it three times and enjoyed each time.

  11. Sucharita Close association with old age and death, teaches you to view the world around you, differently, and notice the small things. One learns. Thank you for the comments...

    JudyThank you for your comments. And I absolutely salute your sister for being a full time "carer" for your father for 11 years.Its a very very tough thing to do, but one is immeasurably richer for the experience.

    Vivek अभिप्रायाबद्दल आभार .....
    हा माझा स्वतःचा अनुभव होता . वडीलांच्या वेळी.
    सगळ्याच मदतनीस बायका अशा नसतात , पण आप्पांचं नशीब म्हणून ह्या बाई आल्या. अश्या घटना खूप जवळनं बघितल्या की कायम डोळ्या समोर रहातात .

    असाच एक ब्लॉग इथे

  12. That was a beautiful story and very heartwarming. I agree with what was above that it would make a good story even a book if expanded which it could be.

  13. Hi there! Thanks for stopping by Blog Around the World. Just wanted to let you know that you are all linked up! Check in daily to see where in the world we are headed next!

  14. I admire the Indian lifestyle that allows room for care of, and daily respect for, the elderly. In many countries that outlook has diminished with the need of two pay packets for each household. Which means care and respect is often done at a run, although still with great love. A minute is worth an hour when it comes to spare time after an extremely busy week.
    Figures gathered in recent years reveal that Australians work more hours in each week than almost any other 'advanced' nation.
    What is 'advanced' pray tell?
    Suranga, is this 'luxury' of care limited to the better off in your society?
    June in Oz

  15. Rain,Debbie Thank you.

    June have sent you email....

  16. I am one who likes to read blogs, but there is an inherent tension within me when I sit down to respond since words do not come so easily to me while writing. I must compliment you on your narrative & writing skills (wish I had one like this). I came across your Blog through Shri Patwardhan's Blog (his is another blog that I love to read). I shall keep looking forward to " asach ugich kahitari" from you. My Compliments again.

  17. partha Thank you for the kind words. Words often flow when one has lived the episode.

    I used to think writing was difficult. Then I just gatecrashed the blogosphere. Its fun. Maybe you can try blogging too. (I have told this to someone else called Ganesh who comments here, too).

    Best wishes to you.

  18. My best wishes to you from the bottom of my heart. That daughter was you, wasn't it? I can't even imagine, even with Yamunabai's help, how anyone can go through such difficult times, watch someone so dear waste away before ones eyes...And I wonder, will I be as strong when the time comes?

  19. I opened my mouth to say something and then noticed that lily above has said it all and said it better than I could:
    "If we didnt have people like Yamunabi then our hopsitals and aged homes would be overcrowded and not be able to manage. With an aging population this issue is a real concern in years to come. We all need to plan I think. May we all be lucky enough to have someone like Yamnabai in our life."
    And you make these characters come so alive. Thanks

  20. Brilliant narrative! the poignancy woven in with such finesse... wow!