Roots

Trysts with spellings

Like any proud father, I like to boast of my child’s achievements. Unfortunately I must also confess that my parents had very few opportunities to feel proud of their son.

However touchwood, my daughter Yaamini or Ammu as we call her, who has just turned eight has indeed given me enough moments of joy and pride, that validate and vindicate our decision to bring her into this world.
Latest one have been her successes at Spelling Bee competitions at school, district and state levels. Though she never won any of these rounds, she did well enough to make the cut at every stage for the nationals, all without any preparation.
* * * * * * * *
In 1979, my family moved to Kochi, when my father was posted at the Government Hospital, Ernakulam. Till that time all his postings were at rural places mostly in Trichur district. I was almost 7, when we moved to Ernakulam or as it’s known better to rest of the world — Kochi.

Between 1977 and 1979 my mother, sister and I shuttled between my mother’s parents home and my paternal grandfather’s home, as my father decided it was time he specialized in something and was away for his post graduation.

My paternal grand father was bit of an aristocrat, and my sister and I were home tutored. So we never went to a nursery, kindergarten or a pre-school. I was enrolled into a nearby government school in my grandfather’s village. And it was a big deal at that time because it was the same school where my father, and aunt( my father’s sister) studied. Also it was the alma mater of a number of other relatives. So when the next generation also joined the school, there were automatic spurts of nostalgia among everyone, and just about everyone had a story to tell me.

However, I don’t remember going to that school much. I already knew everything which was being taught because the two years of home tutoring we had essentially covered the first standard text books. I was naturally bored, and the class teacher who also happened to be our neighbor graciously allowed my mother to take me whenever she chose to, to her home.
The school was a Malayalam medium school, and we never had any exposure at that time of the English language.

So when we moved to a large city, again my parents chose to enroll us in the nearest government school, and I joined mid-way in second standard, while my sister started off her first standard there. My parents at least at that time never really cared, both of them were educated in a Malayalam medium school, and back in late seventies education was still not commercialized. My father was quite proud of his roots, and was of the opinion that talent and hard work are more important than the school.

However over the next couple of years, he figured that only his children were in Malayalam medium, while all his peers had enrolled their children in English Medium. So in my fourth standard I switched to English Medium, after two months of preparation by a home tutor during the summer holidays that preceded the new academic year.

Once I completed my fourth standard as one of the outstanding students of the class, everyone pressurized my parents to enroll me into a better school.The school of choice was Rajagiri High School, which at that time was a boys school run by missionaries of Carmelites of Mary Immaculate(CMI).

It was also one of the most prestigious schools of the district and getting admission was tough, and involved an entrance examination.

This was the first competitive examination in my life, I had barely learned to read and write English, and was under prepared. Naturally I did very poorly and did not qualify. If I remember right I scored 7 and 9 in the two tests. My father had to then cough up Rs 5000, a princely amount those days to get me an admission.

So when I joined the new school, I was filled with a number of inferiority complexes. I could not speak a sentence in English, and the school had a rule that students to speak in English inside the campus unless it was the Hindi or Malayalam classes. Many in my class knew how to speak the language fluently, and quite a few of them spoke without the typical Mallu accent. I was convinced I did not belong there, because I had scored very poorly in the exams, and my father had to commit the grievous sin of paying monies to get me through.

I also met many kids who came from the wealthiest families of the city. I always thought we were very poor, because that’s what my mother wanted us to believe.

Our teachers were very strict. School management believed that corporal punishment was the only way to discipline a bunch of unruly boys. Teachers used to beat the kids with canes on just about any part of the body. The school staff room had an assortment of canes of different sizes, and even thick rulers which were weapons of choice of assault for the teachers.

Each teacher had a peculiar manner of punishment. The styles of caning and the rhythm in which they caned, were often mimicked in the classes. Serious mischief would lead to more serious punishments. This included making the student kneel in the hot sand pit used for long jump and high jump in the large play ground for an hour or even more. I have seen many students walking back sun burnt with blisters on their knees.

My English teacher during the first year (fifth standard) was an old gentleman named MM Mathew. He was well into his sixties and was due for retirement. His minor punishment was to pinch the children on their ears till it became red or the child cried. When he was really angry, he used to take the compass from the pencil box usually used to draw circles and arcs, and squeeze the tender ear lob of the child between his thumb, the pointed tip of the compass and his forefinger, till it started bleeding.

We used to have regular class tests. So in the second month of my first year at Rajagiri, we were given a test on spellings. And I spelled the world ‘little’ with one missing ‘t’’. And our teacher did the compass act, which created a scar that’s still there on my left ear lobe. Though my parents never reacted to the incident, he was asked to retire at the end of the term when some other parents complained to the school management when their ward’s ear lobe developed an infection scarred by the compass tip.

****
Spellings were never my forte, and even today without the help of a word processor I cannot write a paragraph without making a mistake.

So it’s indeed a proud moment for me when my daughter has qualified for the nationals of a spelling bee competition. When I was driving along with her for the State finals, I asked her the spelling of the word “little” and she mocked me for asking the spellings of such simple words. All I could do was smile, smile more than a little.

Categories: Redolent Memories, Roots | 2 Comments

Everytime we say goodbye, I die a little

These days I remember a lot of people whom I have lost in my life. These include those I lost to the inevitable truth called death, but also those who simply slipped away into oblivion because I have never been very social.

Rigours of living in Bangalore, trying to cope with the complexity called life, juggling between different roles that I need to play is not easy. Keeping people around me happy is the toughest job and I keep failing at that more than often.

Life was much simple when you were growing up. There was no responsibility, and no one depended on you. You were almost in a cocoon, so comfortable, and very care-free. The only pressure on you was to study and do well, which I guess I never did after all.

Last October, my daughter, Yaamini (Ammu) turned six, and she’s growing into a fine young lady. I am also glad to report that she is showing incredible maturity for her age. These days I try to spend some quality time trying to educate her on some hard facts of life. So far she has had a very protected childhood. It has been luxurious compared to what I had.

I now realise what my parents went through when we (that’s my sister and I) were growing up. I always used to wonder why they were so tense and worried about us. I am seeing similar patterns in me.

Till Ammu was about five and a half years old, she was regarded  as just a bundle of joy, someone who could just waken you from the deepest and darkest of dumps with just her voice, or presence. All you wanted to do was hug her, kiss her, and make sure that she kept smiling. Everything she did brought you happiness, and you wanted to laugh with her, and cry with her. Even when she threw tantrums, frustrated you with her illogical demands, or made a mess of the house or her dress all you wanted to do was cajole her.

However these days, I see that we are having real conversations that are no longer inane, gibberish, or trivial. She is raising queries that cannot be explained or addressed through baby chat any more.

Sometimes she wants me to treat her like an adult, and not brush away her concerns like I used to do before. At other times, all she wants is that I play with her, indulge her in palaver, treat her like a three-year old.

When you see that your child is growing, developing her own individuality, own little personality, you also have a feeling that you are losing a part of you inch by inch. Today she is dependent on you. Tomorrow she will not be, and that very thought results in a selfish feeling of sorrow.

My mother always used to tell me that her best time was when her children were really small. Yes, we were a handful, but everything about us gave her joy. And as we kept growing, we brought more misery and worries.

I am scared that as time passes by, as my relationship with Ammu transforms, a part of me will start to die.

Life does come a full circle.

This is my 25th post, and for all those who have stopped by, here’s one of my all time favourite songs,  a video created to celebrate the life of a very special star.

Categories: Redolent Memories, Roots | Tags: , | Leave a comment

In Pursuit of a Perfect God

I am an almost atheist. I really find it difficult to believe in God, and I find it even more difficult to believe in a God according to a specific religious belief. Yet, when it comes to the inexplicable and unexplainable, I am one of those who would like to take refuge in a Superior Force. My atheist friends brand me a coward for this reason.

I grew up under the influence of my grandmothers who were fairly religious. My paternal grandmother who passed away about seven months back at the  ripe old age of 96 years was a great influence when I was a kid, and used to tell me stories from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. In fact by the age of four, I just about knew all stories from both the books. In fact getting me to tell a religious tale was a favorite past-time to some of the older folks at home during those days. My maternal grandmother was a huge Sai Baba devotee and used to have poojas and bhajans regularly at home. My father, at least during his younger years, never cared much for religion or God, but turned around by the time he reached 60. My mother is very spiritual and spends hours, even today, praying; and is a follower of Sri Paramahamsa, Vivekananda, and the Brahma Kumaris.

I was also fairly religious till I was around 13 or 14. I remember, after spending a very spiritual summer vacation at my maternal grandmother’s house listening to talks from preachers and thought leaders, I decided to give up on meat, and even cried when I saw it being cooked at home. Around the time I turned 14, I suddenly gave up on God. Looking back, I cannot pin-point a single reason for such a reaction, but there were many. One of the reasons, I decided to give up on the Hindu Gods, were because they were too many. I was scared to align with one.

I also could not understand why Christians prayed in a Church, and Muslims in a Mosque, while I had to visit various temples.
I grew up with friends from all beliefs. I studied in a Catholic school, and my classmates were from various Christian communities, which Kerala is famous for. One of my best friends was a Muslim, and he used to share  his lunch box generously with me. My father’s best friend was a Jew, and we were always invited to his home during their festivals. I started questioning. “Why aren’t my friends Joseph or Tareeq not scared of our Hindu Gods, and why am I not scared of their Christian and Islamic Gods?”

Another issue which I had was the depiction of God by all religions, and the morality associated with the phrase, ‘God Fearing’.

All religions advocated a God who became angry when human beings goofed up and I was advised to be Godfearing, and never invite the wrath of God. When a plane crashed, when floods or famine occurred, or even when someone young died, they held God responsible. God was angry because he has not been appeased properly. Hence slowly in my mind, God became a tough school master, the kind of teachers in our Catholic Boys High School, who used to use the severest form of corporal punishment on young boys. I was very uncomfortable with that image of God. My age of innocence died, and I started indulging in practices that were deemed to be a sin during my wonder years. Then again, I was reminded. God does not like bad boys. You must listen to your parents and teachers. You must focus on your studies. God does not like children who lie, who do mischief. The image of God being a task master who keeps snooping around you like a Big Brother was very uncomfortable. And if God does not punish you in the form of an angry parent and teacher, you are going to get punished on Judgment Day. The concept of Hell and Heaven exists in all religions, and I found that amusing. I don’t know of any major religion that does not have the concept of rewards and punishment once you die. The sinners go to Hell, while the pious souls are rewarded with a heavenly abode.

Also God is supposed to be so powerful, that he can control human beings, human feelings, and human nature. When a classmate fell into a pond, then God sent a passer-by as a savior who jumped in and saved him. When the snake was about to bite, God appeared in the form of a mongoose, and fought with the snake.

Again I had questions. “Thousands die of snake bites every year, and a similar number drown to death. Why doesn’t God send someone or appear in another form?” Elders who  were probably tired of my questions said, “God helps only the innocent souls, people who have done good things in life, and always punishes the sinners.”
“But then several children die young; they are innocent,” I argued.
“No. In their previous birth, they certainly have done something wrong,” came the reply.

I read the Bible when I was in the 9th standard. It was gifted to me by a Christian friend, who wanted me to accept his belief. I read it almost like a Charles Dickens novel, getting very confused between the two testaments. Now God became not just a tough school master, but also a judge, who knew your case too well. A close Christian friend used to regularly go in for confession, and confess his sins, and then come back and commit them all over again, and then repeat the process over. He reasoned. “Confession absolves me of all crime, and I am pure again so I can sin again.” I found that hilarious.

We were told to pray to God, and strike deals with him for special reasons. Doing well in an exam was the most important reason. And if I did not do well, praying to God so that my father takes my results lightly was an automatic step. I found this was almost like bribing. Can God be bribed?

Then the wiser lot told me that there’s just one God, and he’s everywhere, and even inside you. I was comfortable with that idea, and I stopped visiting temples, and even stopped the little prayer I performed before I left for school everyday. By the time I turned 15, I started reading more serious stuff, and over the next three years, I had read enough to denounce God and religion. I gave up on God while still being a teenager.

I spent the next two decades in a more or less godless world using my own moral compass for directions. However suddenly, I have started questioning myself. I have started to miss my God! Well, I don’t know where he is, and what he is like. I don’t know whether he really exists. I know I need to restart the pursuit again.

Yes, the pursuit of a Perfect God.

Categories: Random Thoughts, Religion and God, Roots | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final Battle

Internet always offers you hope, and sometimes the exact opinion you wanted to hear. All you need to do is type precise words that will throw up just the results you want to see. You are bound to find an answer for all your questions, and Google is God. How I wish it were true.

Back in Kochi, on the 27th of August 2008, I decided to seek alternative ways of medication. Allopathy, which Acchan had practised religiously for 46 years, had nothing more to offer. The night we landed, I started reading on alternative cures for cancer online. A simple search threw up thousands of results. That got me excited. There was still hope.

I ordered e-books, called up doctors and practitioners across the globe. Surprisingly, they were more than willing to listen, offer help, and were very compassionate. They all said that he could be cured, with the right alternative medication. Choices were many. You have every branch of medicine which offered a cure for all forms of cancer. There are testimonials all over the net, very inspiring, from cancer survivors.

Acchan had only one sibling, a sister who was younger to him by nine years. The very next day my Aunt and I drove down to Ottapalam some 120 kilometers from Kochi, to meet a renowned practitioner of Ayurveda, who also happened to be a monk.

I am not a religious person, and I’ve always felt that a thinking man should never take refuge in religion or God. Having studied in Maharajas College, I met a lot of Communist thinkers, who helped convince me that there was no God. I was very comfortable, and I am still very comfortable with Atheism.

But the end of August and the beginning of September were trying times. Even a hardened soul like mine was ready to seek asylum with God. I was prepared to visit a temple, church, or any other home of God; do poojas or any other rituals however nonsensical it might seem.

In the past sixteen years, I had been to a temple just five times, and was never one to pray or seek blessings. Once for my wedding, once on a vacation, and thrice for various ceremonies for Ammu, my daughter. Given a choice, I would not have ventured to any of these homes of Gods.

Swamy Nirmalananda Giri was, however, a revelation. He never talks of God or Hinduism or the scriptures. His knowledge of medicine is impeccable having enrolled for an MBBS course before giving it up. He agreed to come with us and see Acchan. Through the journey my admiration for Swamy grew, as he explained how Ayurveda can be used to treat cancer, with the precision of a scientist.

That evening he met Acchan and said there was still hope. He explained in detail what was happening to Acchan’s body, and how by using Ayurveda he could kill the tumour. In fact, some of the doctors who had assembled at home, primarily to meet Acchan were impressed.

However, Acchan chickened out from trying the rigorous treatment which he suggested, and only agreed for palliative care.

The next few days my practical knowledge of botany improved. I was scurrying across the state getting leaves and plants for Acchan’s treatment. I met Swamy again who started making new compounds that could help Acchan fight cancer. Unfortunately, Acchan had given up the fight the day he was diagnosed.

His condition started worsening. One night he asked for me, and explained to me in his own inimitable manner, what exactly was happening to his body, and what we may see over the next few days. He was groping for medical terms, and was having difficulty remembering facts. He was disoriented. He said he was having hallucinations and was heading for a hepatobiliary coma. He told me that he did not want any visitors, and did not want anyone to see him in his last days. He wanted everyone to remember him as a healthy man.

I believe it was the 5th of September when we decided to admit him to a hospital. He had lost most of  his senses, and was very weak by then.

Doctors told me that there was no hope now, and the the end was imminent. It could be just a few  days. His friends from across the globe started calling him up. Dr. Venu, his classmate and best friend from the US, used to call regularly and cry, and make us also cry.

Acchan used to keep himself, prim and proper. Though he had a large paunch, he shaved every day, coloured his hair jet black and always looked a few years younger. An unattended toiletry of nearly two weeks meant that his real age started showing up.

It’s said that an astrologer who wrote Acchan’s horoscope on his birth had predicted that he would die on the fourth month after his 69th birthday. Born on May 21st 1939, he had turned 69 in May 2008. Amma tells me that he was always very scared of the harbinger of death, and talked about it once in a while. I never knew him as a superstitious person, but he was.

On September 12th, 2008, in the early morning he passed away rather peacefully. He had dropped into a full coma two days back. Amma and I watched him breathe his last.

It was on Thiruvonam (the Main Onam) day.

Ironically, Onam was the only festival which I really connected to. I hate most festivals for many reasons, which I would discuss in a separate post. Now I know there cannot be another Onam which I can celebrate and the day will always remain sombre.

We had a huge crowd by the time we came back home with his body. Family, friends, peers, patients, and absolute strangers had flocked in.

Through the day and the next few weeks, people of all walks of life, told me how he had touched their life as a doctor, a friend, and sometimes as a fellow passenger on a bus or a ferry!

What startled me was it included just about everyone from every walk of life. There were fishermen, labourers, corporate honchos, teachers, nurses, and businessmen. Their stories kept giving me new insights to his life, something I never knew as a son.

That’s when it dawned upon me that my father was indeed a very special man.

R.I.P Dr. K. Sivadas.

Your son really loved you.

P. S. I am sure some of my readers who knew Acchan very well might wonder why I chose to write these posts three years after his death. The truth is that I have wanted to write it on several occasions, but was simply too overwhelmed. They say time is a healer; the pain is now less intense and I hope I can be more objective in recalling the past.

Categories: Roots | 4 Comments

How I wished the clock stopped

I had rarely witnessed Acchan being sick. I was away from Kochi when he had a severe jaundice attack in 1995 and was hospitalized. I was not even informed since I had taken up a new assignment in Bangalore, and my parents felt that I should be focusing on my career, and not worrying about domestic issues.

On the morning of August 22nd, I managed to put a brave face and insisted that I would go and meet the doctors along with Acchan. I told him “Let me handle it from here. I am not a boy anymore.”

We drove down to the hospital and doctors told him that he had a minor nodule that was malignant in his liver, which would be difficult to operate on. They kept saying that if we were to treat it quickly, there was still hope. They also advised Acchan not to take a look at the Radiologist’s reports.

I sensed a false sense of positivity. No one was looking into my eyes and talking. Everyone seemed to be happy. I insisted on having a private chat with the oncologist who told me that there was no treatment for liver cancer to the  best of his knowledge. While my heart sank again, I still did not cry. He advised me to try my luck with the best hospitals in the country so that they could at least give him a better quality of life before death.

When we walked out of the room other hospital staff crowded around Acchan and he suddenly became his usual self. He started cracking jokes and teasing the nursing staff in his usual playful manner. Everything looked normal and I started to feel much better.

As we were about to leave, Acchan pointed to an empty wall and said that there would be his photograph with a garland around it next month. He told an administrative staff that it would be his duty to keep the garland fresh and the photo free from dust. Everyone around suddenly started weeping.

Once back home, I decided that there was no point crying. I called up some of the younger doctors with whom I could at least communicate freely, and decided that if there was even a one per cent chance, we needed to explore that. Acchan was dead against any treatment, as he was quite clear that there was no hope. I argued. “Science has progressed so much. Every day we hear of new treatments for cancer, and I am sure that there could be a cure if we approach the best. Let’s just meet the best doctor on the subject in India, and maybe across the world.”

We started a frantic search. Advice kept pouring in from all quarters. His peers and classmates across the globe started calling in. After much deliberation, we zeroed in on Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. We managed to get an appointment with Dr Mohan Das, perceived to be India’s finest hepatobilary oncologist.

Two days later on a Sunday afternoon, Amma, Acchan and I flew to Mumbai. His jaundice had worsened by that time and he looked really ill.

My good friend Krishnan K V, who served along with me on board of IQ Techmedia was kind enough to arrange a taxi. Another friend had already booked a hotel room.

Acchan was always punctual and preferred to reach earlier than an agreed hour or time. While the appointment was at 9.30 AM, we arrived at Tata Memorial Hospital at 7.30 AM.

Tata Memorial Hospital said to be the finest cancer hospital in the country is one of the most chaotic ones too. You have thousands of patients from across the country, poor and rich, powerful and weak, young and old consulting with the specialists at the hospital every week. Everyone is treated equally and no one gets preferential treatment.

While Acchan was always busy and rarely paid attention to the day-to-day school activities of his children, whenever I joined a new school, a new college, or a new course, he was always there to enroll me in,to sign the papers and pay the fees. He was there when I joined my first school back in his ancestral village. I switched schools twice later and every time he was there, registering me into a new school. Similarly, at Maharajas College for my Pre-Degree, and also for my engineering college admissions. At the cost of sounding clichéd, each of these instances started playing in my mind like flashback scenes from an old movie.

And here I was at a registration counter enrolling Acchan for the first time and perhaps for the last time. Irony at its worst.

The hospital has a registration counter, and I stood in the queue as soon as I arrived. There was a light August shower outside and it reminded me of the start of academic seasons in Kerala, where it always rained on the day the school started.As my eyes became moist, I started fighting back the tears. Problem is that whenever you fight tears, there seems to be a downpour of them, and you start to cry inconsolably.

After waiting for five hours, we met Dr. Mohan Das who after examining the reports, and a five minute physical check-up called me in. He told me that the cancer was already past the third stage and entering into the final stage. The nodule what Acchan’s peers had described was a tumour — the size of a coconut. He pronounced that his maximum life expectancy would be another three months. Acchan’s liver was almost cannibalized by cancer, and his kidneys had started to fail. Doctor added that it could be just three weeks before he died from a multi-organ failure.

I kept staring at that man almost amazed at the ease at which he predicted my father’s death. His eyes were emotionless, cold, and inconsiderate. But somewhere there was also a sense of helplessness. I pleaded with him to do another check-up.

‘This cannot be true, there has to be a way out’, I said. I blurted all my bookish knowledge on cancer treatments kept suggesting different treatment options. He patiently kept telling me that all options had to be over-ruled as it was too late.

Acchan looked very relaxed; he knew his end was near. He looked resigned to that inevitability. Amma was hopeful; she said her prayers may work.

Back in the hotel room, I burst into tears in the bathroom.

That night, all three of us slept for the last time together. As a family, we used to sleep in the same room every night till I was almost 12 years.

As I tossed around in the bed next to them, I told myself that everything is perfect even now. I still have Acchan with us; he is sleeping next to Amma. We are still together as a family. No one has left us. There is peace and tranquillity. World is still beautiful…

Through the night, I cried silently. I wished somehow that I could bring time to a stand-still and reverse the clock. I hoped that the night would never end, that the night never had a morning. How I wished that those moments froze in time. How I wished that!

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The Beginning of the End

I started a new relationship with Acchan the day I got engaged.

Till then, he regarded me as a kid, ridiculed  my inadequacies often in front of others, much to my embarrassment. We had few things in common. He was a disciplinarian, while I was a Bohemian. Despite being so full of himself, he was well-aware of his surroundings, and connected with everyone around, all the time. I am a day-dreamer,  almost always totally disconnected with the world. He was an extrovert, and I was an introvert wearing the mask of an extrovert. He was a go-getter and a public figure at least in Kochi’s society, and I was the sort who would rather retire into the company of a few select friends. Hence it’s all but natural, that we never connected really well.

Though I knew that he wanted me to marry someone the family chose, he never said a word against the marriage, neither did he offer any word of advice. He simply performed the duties expected of him like any other dad would have. He simply delivered!

To my pleasant surprise, his attitude towards me changed since 2002, the year I got married. He started treating me as an equal, and was rarely in a patronising mood. He stopped making fun of me. Communication though still limited, revolved on more serious matters such as health and relationships.

Acchan was a health and fitness fanatic, and despite practising Allopathy, he indulged in naturopathy for his own well-being.

He exercised practically every day. He jogged every morning and some evenings too. On Sundays, he used to run or walk fairly long distances. Even when he was in his late forties, his Sunday walk used to be from our home in Chittore Road to Alwaye, some 23 odd kilometers. An injury to his leg in his early fifties did limit him, but did not cripple his enthusiasm for all forms of exercises. Unfortunately, my own lackadaisical attitude, never allowed me to emulate his passion for physical drills, despite multiple bouts of fitness fevers.

Even after retirement from the Government service, he led a very active life, and practised medicine till about three weeks prior to his death.

Even in his sixties, he used to wake up around 5 AM, and then go for a morning walk which used to be about eight to ten kilometers, and used to leave for hospital often opting to take a bus, a habit his peers disapproved of, or even a boat since Mattancherry was well-connected by the ferry.  Some times he commuted back from hospital by foot.

He used to meet around 40 patients a day, and still had the energy to go out and meet his peers and friends for a drink or two in the evening. He loved to party, and was a party animal.

I always used to take pride in the fact my parents were healthier, happier, and more content than I was. While there was little peace in my own little family by 2008, it was very comforting for me that my parents and sister were doing absolutely fine. However, everything changed all of a sudden.

It was in July 2008. During one of my regular telephone calls with Amma, she mentioned that she was worried about Acchan’s health. I brushed it way, discounting it as one of my mother’s fresh attempts to find a new cause to worry about.

I knew that Acchan lived life to the fullest. He never had any worries. His family never troubled him. He preferred to live a life according to his wishes, and found genuine happiness in doing so. His profession kept him busy, and he had a large set of friends mostly from the medical profession who kept him in good humour. His self-deprecating sense of humour meant there was always fun and joy around him. His only worry, perhaps, was that his mother who was still around was suffering from dementia and other old-age related illnesses.

A man of no worries, who lived life to the fullest, would almost always dread the thought of death and illnesses. In Acchan’s case it wasn’t different. This had prompted him to be extremely careful about his health, and he used to take every precautionary measure. He regularly monitored his vital parameters, and almost every other month do an ultra-sound scan of his body. Above all, we had the best doctors in the country in Kochi, who were his friends. Best advice would always be there.

I had utmost confidence, hence, that there would be nothing healthwise that he could not handle by himself.

August 2008 was a miserable month in every sense for me.

Gargantuan fissures had started appearing in my family life. There was huge work pressure. Despite all these I used to speak with Amma, who kept updating me. The initial reports indicated serious, but manageable issues with his liver. Doctors suspected Cirrhosis, which we felt must be  the case, because he was fond of his drink. He drank on all occasions on days when it rained in Kerala and on days it did not.

Around August 16th, Amma called up. He had jaundice, and he was tired and sick. I told her not to be alarmed. Jaundice can be handled with naturopathy treatment, a strict diet, and a lot of rest. I have had two jaundice attacks, and Acchan had too. We had seen this before and handled it very well. I spoke to him that night, and he sounded jovial.

I told Amma that I would be booking a ticket next week after closing some important assignments. I assumed that he might require a short stay in hospital, an operation, and that my presence there would be required for a week.

On August 21st, I boarded a train to Kochi about 5.30 PM. I received a call from Amma around 8 PM, and my world came tumbling down . She said that my brother-in-law was summoned  that afternoon by the doctor in Westside Hospital, where Acchan practised. My brother-in-law was told that Acchan had cancer, and chances were very grim.

I was numb listening to her words, and must have mumbled a few words of consolation. It took me nearly 20 minutes to come out of the shock, and I started weeping silently in the darkness of the 2nd Class AC compartment.

Categories: Roots | Leave a comment

My Father. My Hero.

I realized that my father was a very special man the day he died.

When I was a kid growing up, like any other child, I was totally in awe of my Dad. It was much beyond the “My Daddy is the Strongest” syndrome that all children go through. I used to call him Acchan, which was what almost all Hindu kids from the state of Kerala call their dad, before the Anglicization of Malayalam happened. I insisted that my daughter call me Acchan too, because it feels more Indian and real, and connects us back to our roots in more than one way.

Acchan was a paediatrician, a children’s doctor. He served in the Indian Army as a medical doctor, rose to the rank of a captain. He might have become a major if he had stayed for a longer term but he chose to come back and settle down with the Kerala State Medical Service. Then he married my mother, and by the time I was born, he was well over 33 years old. Incidentally,  I was 33 years, 3 days the day my daughter came to this world.

My sister, who is about 20 months younger to me, and I saw very little of him during our childhood. He was always a busy man who spent more time with his peers and patients than with his family. However my sister, mother and I never had an issue with that fact. We understood and accepted that as a doctor he had his duty to the society. In those days, the medical profession was truly revered, and most doctors adhered to the Hippocratic oath.

There was always a sense of pride, when someone called for him at mid-night, and he had to carry the stethoscope and the sphygmomanometer (the hideous looking instrument used to check blood pressure), and pay a visit.

As a family, we rarely socialized together, unless it was at a party where he had an invitation. Though he had many  as a doctor, we used to be taken out only during the weekends or holidays. And most such visits were to other doctors’ or patients’ houses.

In fact, there were just two occasions that I remember of where  we went out as a family.

One was December 23rd, 1979. Even as a seven year old, I was pretty sharp with numbers and dates. All four of us actually went out for a walk and had masala dosa (probably my first masala dosa) from the old Woodlands Hotel in M G Road.

The second instance was a trip to Thekkady probably in 1980.

We were a very content family even without taking any trips or outings as a family.

Though he used to be a child specialist, I cannot remember Acchan playing with us or even taking care of us when we were young. We were very scared of him, because he was short-tempered, had a thick moustache (it was still Prem Nazir generation, and hence men with thick moustaches were rare), was built heavily compared to the men of that generation, and had a voice that used to thunder when he was in one of those black moods. In later days, I used to wonder how he managed to be so good with his patients.

Overall, he was a jovial man and was loved by everyone. He had a very caustic sense of humour. I have perhaps inherited a drier version of the same.

He used to be an avid sports fan, and he used to take me to football matches. Football was really big in Cochin during those days. He taught me to play chess, a game he really excelled at.

Throughout my school days we must have played chess against each other many times. Yet I remember distinctly that I only won one game in all those days. We used to compete fiercely against each other. He never ever treated me like a child when we played chess, and used to scold me whenever I played a bad game. He was really good.

Now when I play any game with Ammu, my daughter, I always let her win, primarily to witness the joy on her face.

I never experienced any such joy playing with Acchan. I used to cry, run to Amma after losing six or seven games in a row. Even my tears never moved him. He never let me win.

Later in life, I became a better player, by studying thousands of moves on the internet and competing against the computer. When he used to visit me in Bangalore; he was around 65 years old then; I used to beat him and extract my revenge.

He was an avid cricket fan. We really bonded during the famous World Cup win in 1983. Most of our conversations from then on revolved around cricket or other sports.

We lived in the pre-television era. Television came to Cochin in 1984. He taught me how to get the right frequency on the radio, and listen to a cricket commentary.

Acchan was very careful about every penny he earned. He never charged proper fees. We lived on a shoe-string budget and he used to be quite stingy. Even so, he used to let me buy books. He had signed me into one of the best libraries in the neighbourhood.

I then had better access to the world of books, knowledge, thoughts. It made me a rebel without a real cause.

He was very particular about education. I was enrolled in the best school for boys in Kerala during those days. I left home at age of 17 to take up engineering and moved to a hostel.

I am told that he was disappointed that I never chose to study medicine despite excelling in academics at school. I learned this from one of his peers who chided me for not living up to my father’s dreams. However, Acchan never once told me that he was disappointed with my decision to not study medicine.

I rarely depended on him for pocket money in college. Quizzing was a great passion and the prize money used to be really good. I always took pride in the fact that I never had to really make any unnecessary demands. My mother used to manage my college and hostel fees from her own budget. I was fortunate. I had a coterie of affluent friends who were more than generous and loved to splurge on me.

I used to visit Kochi just about once or twice every year once I moved to Bangalore after college. Acchan and I rarely communicated at length, and conversations were mostly about sports or other trivia. We never had a man-to-son conversation that my friends used to talk to me about.

I resented the fact that we were never close. Growing up I knew that Acchan was full of himself. I used to think that he never really loved me. Somewhere I always used to feel that I had never met his expectations. In many ways this brought in an inferiority complex.

People around us used to tell me that I was an under-achiever in spite of all the great starts the world had given me. A complete contrast to Acchan who grew up in a village, walked several miles to school and was still a topper in the SSLC exams. Now Acchan was always an over-achiever throughout.

Though I believe I was never born with a silver spoon, having an educated set of parents was really a blessing for a kid growing up in the eighties. Especially a set of parents with strong values who taught their children to do well and be good. Acchan was content about the fact that despite all odds, I managed to be independent. I might have leaned on someone or something often, but I was still standing on my own two feet. That made him proud.


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