Monday, November 30, 2015

God's Own .......

The last time I visited here was in  May-June 1977.

We had then driven , partially , down the  west coast , via  Kolhapur, Belgaum, Hubli, Dharwar, Mysore, Bandipur, Ooty, Coimbatore , Kochi, Trivandrum,  KanyaKumari,  and then back up the east via Pondicherry, Bengaluru, Hyderabad  and back to Mumbai.

This time ,  it was a family social function being held at Kovalam Beach,  and one acquired wings and flew.

There were family members who were accompanying, who were simply not born in 1977, and another trip to KanyaKumari was in order .

One of the things I remember from the previous trip , was  how the entire trip from North Kerala to the Southern parts of Kerala, was down an endless highway , which was really a road passing through towns. You could never figure out where one town ended and another started. You watched  shop names, schools  and bank names, all from a moving vehicle  and tried to figure out where you were. Just when you figured  out how to pronounce the uniquely spelled names , with "z" sounding like  a thick "L' , you would start seeing another city name.

This has remained unchanged  over the last 38 years.

What has changed though, is the lovely traditional houses we had seen alongside the roads during our earlier visit. Lovely tiled house, with the typical red soil sit-outs in a kind of porch at the entrance, coconut trees and plantain patches  thriving in a sometimes crowded garden .

Today, what you see 90% of the time is 2 storey bungalows , emulating Mumbai-Pune and similar styles. Zillions of shops, and minor malls. Yes, they still have gardens, and coconut trees and plantain patches, but it is not the same. 

Closer to Kanyakumrai in the Nagercoil region, for some reason there was a profusion of huge hospitals.  general hospitals, speciality hospitals, children's hospitals, orthopaedic specialty hospitals. It looked like land was available cheap, and people preferred to build their own hospitals. Kind of mind boggling for someone coming from a congested Mumbai, but it also said something about why so many hospitals had so much business to sustain themselves.  This , in a land, where  once upon a time, and possibly even now in certain parts,  ayurveda was the system of choice.  Which is not to say that ayurveda has disappeared. NO.  It is very much there,  but these allopathic hospitals seem to be proliferating , highlighting all kinds of diagnostic fancy checkups and stuff.

In 1977, the approach road to Kanya Kumari past Nagercoil was sparsely populated with buildings, but with many trees along the roads. Today you make your way southwards through a maze of residential , commercial, educational and other setups,  with one ways and suddenly closed roads, hundreds of buses and two wheelers buzzing around, and the huge amount of eating places. 

Kanya Kumari now clearly has a Skyline.  Unfortunately.

I remember  driving in our old Fiat, straight up to the Tamil Nadu Tourism Guest House  almost right on the beach in Kanyakumari, and getting a place for an overnight stay.  The room then was huge, AC's were not prevalent, and balconies looked out on to a clean beach. Today , the rooms have become smaller,  you need AC to avoid mosquitoes,  the beach has been fenced off ,  with random public structures erected on the beach , and there is now a very crowded promenade of sorts.

Earlier, you had small local stalls on the beach itself, selling cane stuff and shells, and shell products.  Today the promenade has been taken over by folks selling Nepali Woollens,  fashion street style teeshirts and dresses, and luggage .  Way to one side of the promenade , is a profusion of shops  selling snacks, or "Tiffins"  as they are called, and evenings are all about walking in the midst of hot griddles sizzling with oil and water sprinkles, as dosas come off them one after another in various forms, watching buggies taking people across the already crowded promenade.  
In all this what you remember is the folks. 

Looking for a vehicle, to take us to visit a blogger friend , a native of Trivandrum, the hotel gave us a vehicle and a driver, who took us through a maze of roads, with a running commentary, and an indulgent stopping , for the daughter who , enamoured of red bananas, simply had to click entire hanging sets in front of small shops.

 I didn't notice , but the daughter noticed;  the car  was an Audi.

( There is something that connects 5 star places and fancy cars , to me .  Going for a blogger meet at the Leela  in Mumbai , I took a ricksha and was stopped at the gate of the hotel. Rickshas were too low for the standards of the hotel. When I asked how one was supposed to traipse across a kilometre and why, they offered a ride in a BMW parked there inside, just for folks like me. It took some time for me to emerge at the hotel lobby from the chauffeur driven car with the sinking back seats.   This time , the hotel was again the Leela , in Kerala, and the car was an Audi....

Aiyyo ! Sab "leela"  hai..... !   ) 

When the Kerala tourism person was unable to tell us with clarity about road transport/cars one could hire for KanyaKumari,  the hotel driver  offered to help, and spoke to a bunch of accredited/approved drivers of cabs outside there, and fixed up with one gentleman who would take us to KanyaKumari and back.  On the appointed day, he was there to ensure that the driver had come, and that we were on our way, and wished us well. 

This gentleman, drove us to Kanyakumari, pointing out stuff on the way,  then drove us in the afternoon to the entrance to the Vivekananda Rock memorial trip compound, and when we were hit by unusual rain , while disembarking , both at the memorial and later  back on the mainland , he rushed in with a big umbrella, to the gates, knowing that cars were not allowed upto that point.  And herded us back, as it were , to the car.

Next day,  we were to go straight to the airport, after visiting the Suchindram Temple , and as is my wont, I always prefer to provide for sudden eventualities, and delays and reach early.

Suchindram temple , an amazing sight and we had an almost conducted tour of the internal temples, where we were urged to loosen the purse strings , all in the interests of ensuring favourable deity responses to all our troubles.  The structures, and ancient sculptures were outstanding and the history very impressive , but we were a bit put off due to the blatant business like attitude  of those purporting to communicate with the Gods.  And then we emerged , after retreiving our cameras and phones, to see in front of us , a Narendra Modi Tea House, with folks having dosas and slurping sambaar . 

We were only 2  hours  away from the airport , when our driver  urged us to do a short backwaters trip , in Poovar, the area we were driving through.  Clearly a very persuasive person,  and aware of us two ladies travelling by ourselves, he guided us to a good backwaters trip on offer, which was replete with mangroves, backwaters, birds, old structures, with personal ghats/steps leading to the river;  a ride out into the open sea, to see the golden beach at the junction of the river and the Arabian Sea, and a quiet ride past the many resorts that now dot the Poovar area.

It was a special trip with only both of us  in the boat, and a perceptive boatman, who noticed the cameras with the daughter, and would guide us to the various banks with the engine off, so it wouldn't disturb the birds the daughter wanted to click.  We admired a lovely pink wild flower hanging from one of the branches ,  and he actually reversed the boat, and plucked it for us.

 A great trip down the length , of maybe 40 % of Kerala.

Watching the numerous schools and colleges, proliferating across the state, and kids in their special Sunday traditional clothes returning home from Sunday morning church sermons, assorted weddings at temples  and other special occasions. 

Trying to read and pronounce long names with a  preponderance of "l", "k" and a "zh which was really a heavy L" .

Wondering at finding a huge Audi showroom suddenly in the middle of nowhere outside Nagercoil.

Enjoying , what we thought were potato chips and banana chips presented by our blogger friend, and enjoying them even more after finding out that they were arbi/colocassia-root  chips.

Wondering, why South Indian filter kapi was not available in the TTDC hotel, and whether we should tweet to Puratchi Thalaivi Jayalalitha  about it. 

 And yes, the red bananas.  hanging in clusters , on what are called banana plant "hands" .

We might have lugged an entire cluster home to Mumbai. But checking them on a flight and flinging them on conveyor belts is disrespectful, and the weight of the clusters may simply exceed the permitted 7 kg   for cabin baggage.

 But , on second thoughts , it might just be more fun, to visit Gods Own Country again .....

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

An Unsuitable Heart

One of the good things about having your short story rejected , is that you can promptly put it on your blog instead of having it disappear in the caverns of TOI , only to appear on , say, page 157 of an anthology, months later. 

Yes, I participated in the Times of India #WriteIndia Campaign, where well known authors give a passage and you weave a short story around it, using it anywhere in your story.  This time the author was Ashwin Sanghi and the passage he gave was :

"I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. "Ten, nine, eight, seven..."

My story , completing a hat-trick of rejects , below. 

An Unsuitable Heart

I am 85.  I was never like this.  Weak, dependent, bedridden  and  full of doubt.   Scenes from the past often stream across the mind’s eye,   and sometimes I can’t believe myself, and what I have been through.   And yes, more so, what I have put others through. 

A great liberal arts education, in the heart of what was,  and  still is, the cultural capital of the state;  college and the associated popularity, followed by a few acclaimed publications of stories in well known magazines, and I was set.   But my parents had other ideas, and I was slowly and inextricably drawn into a world where pucca futures were important than dreamy presents,   and what followed, was   a resigned agreement and capitulation to a parental wish, and marriage. 

She was everything a person would have wanted.  Smart, friendly, loyal, respectful of elders, responsible, dedicated, and  I  enjoyed  attending with her, various functions to which we were invited,  and lapped up the attention.  Well educated , in a sort of single-minded way,  she capably handled a  high school teacher’s career  with her house role , and before long I had two sons,  whose childhood  remains etched in my memory.   I did well in my literary pursuits, got invited to seminars and presided over discussions, and was honored by an adjunct professorship at the University  in another city,  Mumbai. 

It is not easy uprooting everyone’s careers and education, and it was decided that I would live in Mumbai, while my wife and kids continued, well set in Pune. Our respective parents were by then  old, and it would be nice for them to have one of us there.   

Mobility is not easy in this country, and those were old conservative days.

Mumbai.  Or Bombay, as it was called then. They call it the city of dreams, but sometimes dreams  become your life, and sometimes, you start believing in what you wrote, as fiction. 

That’s where , and when, I met  V. 

 Attractive, very articulate,  well read, stimulating,  free-wheeling,  with an amazing breadth of mind, we were like soul mates; we spent so much time together, uncaring of what the world thought. 

What’s more, I soon learned to throw caution to the winds.   

Some folks thought I was also throwing my shame to the winds,  but those were still days of  worrying about  “What will they say” ,  in the life of a woman in smaller towns,  and my wife of so many years, stoically continued her career , and life,  bringing up our sons single handedly,  as she continued to hear about my various escapades , and deny them to those close to her , who hinted at stuff.

 I  married again.  Divorce was then really and only   in the law books. No one actually went to court on it.

V and I were the toast of the literary world, and we travelled the world.  I thought I had done my first wife a big favor by transferring my old house in her name and making a onetime provision for the sons, and I continued flying high as I published one best seller after another.   

Yes, there were rumblings, anonymous letters, occasional lawyer missives, but people stopped at mentioning polygamy, and everyone let the status quo be.   V and I had one son and one daughter, who went to the best schools and colleges in Mumbai.  For the second time,  I  enjoyed the childhood of my newer kids well into my fifties and sixties; till destiny thought it should intervene.   

V was diagnosed with cancer. 

I did not know what hit me.  My kids grew up overnight, and it was years and years of hospitals, chemotherapy, sunken faces, shrunken bodies, wild agony,  pain, and depression.   It was also a time of immense expenditure, and my daughter took up an assignment abroad, so she could contribute her mite.  My son soon followed, and then it was just the two of us. 

We had slowed down,   V due to the big C digging viciously, into her innards, and me ,  simply due to a heart, abused , physically and mentally, over decades. 

One windy rainy day, I got up at dawn to close the window that seemed to allow raindrops in, and returned to find that V was lying a bit strangely, and was not responding to anything. 

Somewhere at night, she had left us all. 

I don’t remember much of what followed.   My kids came for a few days, stayed and left, promising to come again soon.  My friends rallied around, there were write-ups in the paper,   and slowly, one got back to life.

I was completely, for the first time in my life, completely and desperately, alone.

Life was set into a routine of walks, doctor visits, writing, and the meals always came from an arrangement from a nearby lady who provided dabbas.     Neighbors dropped in occasionally, being nice to an old man, who clearly had no one, that they could see.  V had been friends with the ladies of the neighborhood,  and they thought they owed it to her memory.  I sometimes forgot things like keys, and always kept a spare set with them.

This is how they found me one evening, when they noticed a dabba, unopened, left outside the door since the morning.   I was barely breathing,  slightly bluish, could not stand on my own, and they rushed me to the hospital.  The children were informed.  My daughter couldn’t come, but immediately sent funds so as to get the best treatment. My son would follow and be there in a few days. 

I was in Intensive care for a while, then out in the wards for a while, and then again in Intensive care, as the doctors debated the course of treatment.  Second and third opinions were taken, and they said a transplant was the only treatment of choice.  I guess when you have so many mental blocks in your heart, and you ignore them,   as they play havoc with stages of your life, angioplasties don’t help;   you simply need a complete replacement,  a makeover.  

I soon got used to the ICU. There would be all these ticking metres,  numbers changing on displays,  nurses suddenly rushing to a cubicle, as someone heaved and breathed their last.  At first it bothered me,  but I got used to it.     

We were on a list,  for a transplant organ, and the doctors were alert.  When a possibility arose, there was a flurry of activity.  We were told a heart would be available from Pune, and once we knew the schedule, I would be prepped for the transplant.     

The special day dawned; my daughter had arrived, and we were told there would be a green road channel monitored by the police to ensure that the harvested heart from the Pune donor reached in the quickest time, in the finest condition. 

I was lying in the OT, being prepped, and heard the cardiac nurses talk.   The doctors were scrubbing, machines were being checked, instruments counted, people were constantly on the phone,   and I was told who the donor was.

It was someone in his late fifties, or possibly early sixties,    who was injured in a bike accident, and never recovered consciousness.   His family had graciously allowed the use of any organs that could save lives.

The chief cardiac operation theatre  nurse mentioned the name of the patient.

If my heart had been beating on its own, I would have missed a beat.  Perhaps stopped.  I caught my breath.   

In my sorry condition, I could only stare and curse destiny.
 I recognized the name.   It bore the same last name as me.  And the middle name was mine.  That is how we name our children in Maharashtra. 

This son never had a choice while he lived, and now, the choice was made for him , after he died. 

A jangling phone alerted the nurse and she rushed off to answer.   There was some problem with the vehicle bringing the stuff, there would be a delay, but they were to remain ready to receive the heart at any time.  

I was agitated beyond anything. They thought it was the thought of the delayed transplant. They could not have been more wrong.

They didn’t know that it was the last thing on my mind.  My entire life, spent in a wild, willful way, unconcerned with feelings of some, who bore my name and resemblance.    

And at the end of it all, a donor heart coming  from  him, who must have clearly thought  all these years,  that I was a heartless sod.

Yes, very clearly, and unequivocally, I was.  A sod, with a heart, teetering on its last legs.

I didn’t want to taint his heart.  I simply did not have the right.

There was a bell, and a beep, and the assisting doctor rushed to the door.  Presumably to supervise the arrival.   Things had to happen in quick time, in proper steps,  as planned, and this was the beginning.

For me, this was a final humiliation.  I prayed for a delay.  I did not want a transplant.  The doctor turned to walk outside the OT.

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. "Ten, nine, eight, seven..."

They say I was slurring zero, when they rushed in……