Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The World Is So Full of a Number of Things . . .

We have a sweet, small garden. A few days ago, our mali left four baby eggplant at the kitchen door. They were so shiny and beautiful, I couldn't bear to cook them. The next day, he plucked this little pumpkin (its vine had twined itself round some low-lying branch of our lichee tree and had continued climbing until it was high off the ground where it then hung, incongruous and unlikely and even more attractive as a result) and left that at the door too.

Together with a few marigolds from the front yard and a collection of coleus leaves from a pot in the verandah: what a centerpiece for the dining table! What lucky people we are! And dinner just waiting for us to break down and prepare. . .

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Welcome to Wherever You Are

The average age in our house is 68. At 51, I am one of the kids, and like most people, I think I am even younger. Also like most people, I'm not.

As much as I would like to believe I haven't aged or changed or been in any way affected by the passing of years, in fact I am more than half a century along. My reactions are slower, my opinions are formed, and I feel, God help me, somewhat entitled.

But I am as nothing compared to the three worthies in the picture. They are, in order in the photo, 88, 93 and 83 (Dad, Mummy and Masiji) and they present a view of life which is fascinating, illuminating and instructive. And, since they all live with us, they affect our lives in ways one would never have imagined or predicted.

The conversation! Let's take an average morning at the breakfast table. Dad and Mummy are both very hard of hearing, Dad speaks only English, Masiji speaks only Hindi, and Mummy, though fluent in English, prefers Hindi too. Ravi and I try to discuss things in whatever language works:

"Well, she's certainly competent," I say, telling Ravi about a new staff member.

"Who's a Communist?" Dad asks, alarmed.

"No, Dad, I was saying our new awareness person is very competent."

"New sharing system?"


"Why are you shouting so much?"

Since none of them can tell reliably when we are speaking and, like young children, their own thoughts are far more important than anything we could be discussing, our conversations are invariably interrupted. We have become adept at responding to them and then returning to whatever it was we were talking about, but there are days when the connection grows tenuous.

Mummy will tell us, for example, in excruciating detail about some news she has received from Bombay - the story begins with the phone call she didn't pick up because she assumed someone else would. Finally, three calls later, she realises that no one else in the house is able to answer (but this realisation requires a string of separate stories to explain everyone else's non-availability: I was bathing Moy Moy late that day because she had slept in and was going to be late for college, Ravi was in Delhi attending the meeting he had been working on for the past few weeks, Padma was at the store because the sugar had run out, the sugar had run out because we had unexpected visitors and I had made a quick cake). By the time she finally gets to the part about answering the phone herself, we have absolutely no idea who was calling or what time zone we are living in.

All this means we seldom get a chance to actually have a real conversation. Yesterday, I had actually made an appointment with Ravi to get his ideas on some issues at work I was trying to sort out. Moy Moy was napping, Mummy was watching cricket and Dad was busy at his desk (Masiji has gone to Delhi for medical treatment). We were sitting on the front porch and we were just getting somewhere in the discussion when Dad appeared at the front door.

"I want you to know," he said proudly, "that I DID take my pill." Cheerfully, he went on to explain how he had found it on his own, gotten a glass of water himself and that if we wanted, we could inform his doctor too.

Why did that make me go blank? I don't know. But after he left, I looked at Ravi and discovered that I was speechless. I couldn't remember the rest of what I had wanted to say.

It seems to be happening rather frequently these days.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Brother and Sister

Don't you wish you had an Invisibility Cloak like Harry Potter's? I would give a lot to be able to hear just what people are saying sometimes.

This little duo, for example. The girl looks concerned. She's listening intently. Her brother seems to be holding back yet reaching out at the same time.

And now look at her: the inclined head, the gently supportive hand on his shoulder, the subtle moving closer . . .I've said it before and I will say it again: the amazing lives of children!

Monday, October 19, 2009

Like a Fragrance in the Air

Just about everything reminds me of something, but a fragrance has more memory power than almost anything I know.

I was walking past a house in Vasant Vihar one morning last week - just for a recent example. The doors were all open and the place was obviously being cleaned. The smell of the floor disinfectant hit me as I walked past and suddenly I was walking into the Earl H Hussey Nursing Home to visit Aunt Clara, who has been dead for over 40 years. The nursing home is also gone - torn down to make way for a low-income housing development - but the experience of going there after Sunday Mass with my family, at the age of 10, came back in a flood with just one whiff of floor cleaner.

Other scents are more mysterious, leaving you with a feeling that cannot be put into words: dread, sometimes, or longing, or, like last night, a feeling of peace and good luck and the sense that I am living a charmed life, held in on all sides by a benevolent and sweet power.

I was on my late night walk and the street lights were all off. For the first time since taking up this nocturnal habit, I felt just a twinge of unease. It's chilly now at night and if I go out too late I am the only one on the street. I was walking at speed, striding right along, and trying to look brave when suddenly I was completely enveloped in the most bewitching floral fragrance. It wasn't the wonderful Rath ki Rani (Queen of the Night), an Indian bush which is totally nondescript during the day and overpoweringly sweet smelling at night - I know that one anywhere. This was different.

Because it was so dark, I couldn't locate it. I stopped still for a moment, lost in the rich yet delicate scent and trying to put a name to what I was feeling. It was such a strange sense of well-being, an awareness, sharp and sure, of safety. I walked on a few steps and the fragrance disappeared.

The feeling, however, stayed.

The next morning, still full of the milk of human kindness, I went out to locate the tree. That's it in the picture above. And beneath it, like a carpet of sheer grace and lovingkindness, these:

The Parijat tree! How could I have forgotten? In Delhi we used to stay with a woman who had one in her garden - every morning she would get up and collect the little flowers and bring them into the house where they gave pleasure for a few hours before wilting. We liked it so much we planted one in the first house we rented in Dehradun and it grew fast and strong and gave us flowers by the second year.

Parijat means Divine Tree, and if the sense of peace and protection it gave me is anything to go by, it is well named. Out in the dark, in a world full of danger and sorrow and injustice, God still thinks to send us a message of sweetness and delight, a reminder that all is well, a taste of the heaven that awaits us. Praise Him.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

A Mile in Her Shoes

This morning I got Moy Moy dressed as usual - nothing special or different except for this: as I buttoned her jeans, for some reason it struck me to put my hands in her pockets. When I did, I found they were all crumpled up - you know the way they get sometimes. I pushed my hands down in the pockets on both sides so the cloth went all smooth and straight and I felt in myself that little sigh of satisfaction I get when I do the same to my own pockets.

Well, then I put her shoes on and as I did I thought about the dozens of shoes I try on each time I buy a new pair - about how it takes that many to find the perfect fit, to find the pair that feels just right: with the kind of spring I like and the snugness I want, to say nothing of color and price and whether they make my feet look big or small . . .

And then I thought about how much of Moy Moy's life is in my hands - what she wears, when she eats, when she rises, when she sleeps, who she meets and how she wears her hair. There are so many ways to look at this reality: I can feel overwhelmed by the responsibility or saddened by her lack of choices or guilty about making the choices on her behalf or all of the above.

Or I can consider this: when Cathleen was here last year, she was cuddling Moy Moy before putting her to bed and she commented: "My My, Moy Moy, your skin is so soft! And your hair is so thick and beautiful! How do you do it?"

And I thought to myself that if we all had the number of devoted handlers Moy Moy does, washing and massaging and applying lotion, shampooing and conditioning and combing and brushing, our skin would be soft too, our hair would be thick and beautiful.

She has a full and a happy life, with people on all sides who love her and wish her well. We should all be so lucky.