Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Place For Everything

Feeding Moy Moy looks complicated until you get used to it. It's a precise ritual we follow five times a day and, because she eats through a tube, the menu has few variations. Three times a day it's Ensure, the other two it's milk. Her medicines change through the day, though, and we have an array of little cups to measure them out in, along with the other tools we require to accomplish the tube feed.

This is in preparation for Moy's dinner - the second photo is the meal and her evening meds:

The Ensure is what goes in the big cup and the little wire whisk is what we use to mix it smooth. The tiny funnel inserts into her tube and allows the pouring to take place. Her meds are all in the little cups: anti-convulsants are the yellow and white liquids and the cough syrup is red. The little white jug has warm water in case some of the pills haven't dissolved completely and the syringe is for flushing the tube clean at the end.

Each element in the arrangement is crucial and keeping the cups and whisk and jug and syringe in one place has been a challenge. So many different people wash the dishes in our house in the course of a day and everyone has their own idea of what goes where. Sometimes we fish the plastic cups for the medicines out of the cutlery drainer; sometimes we find them tucked inside the big Ensure cup in a pool of water. Sometimes the whisk is discovered in with the ones we use for eggs and whipping cream; sometimes standing up in a water glass.

No systems!

Vikram, who is the original systems man, finally got fed up. Last week he was out in the bazaar with his family shopping for groceries when he discovered the perfect solution. When he brought it home, I first thought he had found a doll's bunk-bed and was giving it to his daughter for her birthday, but when he showed me what he had in mind, I realized it was a stroke of genius:

Now each and every piece of equipment has a home and we feel like calm, methodical scientists with all our tools at hand when we prepare meals for the Princess.

Thanks, Vikram.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Dalai Lama Gives In To Temptation

Many years ago, I was on a plane from Hyderabad where I had gone for work. In those days, I hardly ever flew anywhere (no one did then, at least in India) and I was feeling chuffed because the trip had been paid for (by the National Institute for the Mentally Handicapped) and I was therefore a VIP.

The man sitting next to me was a Tibetan Buddhist monk and we got to chatting. When I told him where I had been he was very interested and when I told him where I was going, he was even more so.

"The Dalai Lama has just started a school for children with mental handicaps in Dehradun!" he said, astonished. "Maybe you could help train our teachers!"

I gave him my card when we landed and he said he would be in touch. But when I reached home the next day, I found his teachers were quicker than either of us. They had already discovered our Early Intervention Centre and had brought several children to Dr Linda for assessments. Manju and Paula arranged training sessions for the staff and a wonderful little sister relationship was established which was endearing in its devotion to everything Karuna Vihar did.

When the Dalai Lama himself came to meet the children of Ngoenga, we were thrilled to be invited to the very small gathering. Linda, Moy Moy and I were the ones to go - and at the last minute, I asked Ravi to join us.

Ravi is - as you can see from the photo - an arresting figure. Grave, venerable, his eyes are deep and mysterious, as if they contain the wisdom of the ages.

That morning, he looked particularly fetching in a bright red kurta with a Himachali shawl and his trademark colorful hat and the newspaper photographers waiting for the Dalai Lama to arrive entertained themselves by taking pictures of him as we walked into the hall.

We were given seats of honor on the centre aisle where he would be passing and we could feel the excitement mounting among the children and the staff as word spread that his car had been spotted.

Here's how close we were. We would have been elated just to be able to see him walk past, but something made him stop to greet us. We assumed it was Moy Moy who had mesmerized him (it always is) and took it in our stride when he paused to bless her. The woman beside him explained at length in Tibetan who we were and though I couldn't understand any of it, "Karuna Vihar" was mentioned so often I guessed he was learning about how much we had helped them with training and medical advice.

Later, during his talk, his eyes kept returning to where we were seated and again, we assumed it was Moy Moy's magnetism.

But we learned the truth when the event was over. We were summoned to be in a photo with him and one of his aides placed us right next to him (that's me looking dazed in the green jacket with Linda beside me). Ravi is barely visible in the photo, but what happened next put him front and center and I still regret not having my own camera with me that day.

The Dalai Lama finished the photo-op and spun around on one heel, surprisingly agile for a man his age. As he turned, he seemed to be searching the crowd. When his gaze fell upon Ravi, it stopped. They locked eyes and stood looking at each other for a few moments. Then the Dalai Lama, eyes sparkling, reached out and pulled on Ravi's beard, like he had been waiting all morning to do just that.

Both men burst out laughing and hugged each other like old friends, deep calling unto deep.

Look at this picture and ask yourself: If you were the Dalai Lama, could you resist giving that soft white beard a little tug?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Girl Named Gia and A Blue Bicycle

This is a story within a story and you need to know both of them to get the whole picture.

Let's start with Gia.

I met her while walking with Moy Moy one afternoon. She approached us curiously and started asking questions about why Moy was in a stroller, why she was drooling, why she couldn't speak, where she went to school, what did she learn there and what was the point if she couldn't talk. Her questions were rapid-fire, as if she couldn't keep up with her own mind. None of my answers satisfied her. She asked the same questions over and over, as if hoping to trick me into telling her the truth.

But WHY can't she talk? I can talk. Why can't she? How can she not be able to walk? My legs work. Why don't hers?

Sometimes questions like these really bother me but with Gia, they didn't. Her curiosity was genuine and respectful - she wasn't asking idly or without acknowledging Moy Moy's presence. She really wanted to understand how something like this could happen.

A few days later, my sister was here and we met Gia again on the street. She walked along with us and, again, talked non-stop. Where were we going? How were we related? Why was our skin so pale? Who was older?

She kept it up until her road veered off to the left and she parted from us reluctantly, saving her last goodbye for Moy Moy, then scampering down the road without a backward glance, her book bag - almost as big as she was - bouncing up and down as she ran.

"She's exactly like Jill Wheelock," my sister remarked, even though she hadn't understood a word of what she had been saying.

Jill was a childhood friend and a legend in our neighborhood for her free-spirited outspokenness and talent for mischief. We all adored her, admired her and wished we could be like her. Mary was right. Gia was Jill.

One afternoon I saw her walking by our house and I called out to her from the kitchen window. She stopped and said, eyes shining, that today was her birthday. I had been cleaning cupboards and had come across a beautiful sketchbook with felt tip pens - still in their wrapping. When I gave them to her, she seemed overcome, unable to believe they were really for her. Carefully, reverently, she opened her knapsack and placed them both inside, looked at me in wonder again and slowly walked out the gate.

A few evenings later, her mother appeared at our gate. We had never met, but she had found me by asking people on the street. Gia was missing. She had been expected home from her tuition class over an hour earlier. It was now dark and her mother was frantic. "I only have one daughter," she explained, near tears. I got the car out and suggested we return to her home first to see if she had turned up while she had been searching. As we drove there, she told me that her husband used to beat her and she had finally divorced him and was now bringing up Gia and her little brother alone. The little boy, two and a half, still didn't speak. "I don't want her to be a domestic worker like me," she said. "I want her to get an education. That's why I send her to tuitions. So she can BE someone."

Gia was waiting at home when we got there - she swore she had been there for an hour; her mother insisted it couldn't be so. Home was a hovel - a tiny, cramped servant's quarter behind the house where she worked - and Gia looked as if she knew she would be spanked as soon as I left. "I hate sending her all that way alone," her mother said. "But it takes us 40 minutes each way to walk. I can't carry him all that way and I can't leave him alone either. If I had a cycle, I could do it so quickly."

If I had a cycle.

Part II of the story.

When I turned 50, I asked Ravi to give me a bicycle as my gift. We went together to select it and it was a beauty: bright blue, sturdy, no gears. I rode it around four times in two years. It seemed like a good idea when I asked for it, but in fact, it wasn't practical at all. Whenever I have time to get outside, I also have Moy Moy to think about. Since she can't sit on a cycle, I prefer walking with her in the stroller. On those rare occasions when I want to nip quickly to the market on the cycle, its tires are invariably flat because I use it so seldom.

The very DAY I met Gia's Mom, I had been thinking about my cycle. "What a waste," I was thinking. "Who can I give it to? There must be someone for whom it would be a God-send."

Enter Gia's Mom.

The moment I heard her say that about needing a cycle, I knew who it was meant to go to.

I'm not telling this story to make myself look good or generous. Just as a reminder that if we ask a question, we will get an answer. It happens every time.

Like Gia's persistent questions about why Moy Moy couldn't talk, which now, suddenly, having met her brother, I understood her concern with and had an answer for: let's get that little boy in for an assessment. Karuna Vihar is right down the street. We can help. That's what we're here for.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Skype-ing In The Hood

Cathleen came calling this afternoon. There she is, sitting inside my laptop, moving and talking just as if she were right next to me.

When I moved away from my parents, I was the same age she is now, but while the distance in miles was also the same (she moved from India to the US, I moved from the US to India) the true distance was vast and insurmountable.

We had no phone, to begin with. When we first arrived, we lived in Delhi "temporarily," always planning to move out to a smaller city the following month, so we didn't bother to put our names on the waiting list for a phone. One month stretched to seven years and it wasn't until we had been in Dehradun for five years that we finally got one. Twelve Years Incommunicado!

When I wanted to call my parents, I would have to find friends willing to have me camp out in their home for what could sometimes be days. I would book a "Trunk Call" for what was always an inconvenient time (2 AM, for example) and then wait and wait and wait for it to go through.

Sometimes it did, sometimes it didn't. When it did, the voice transmission was always delayed, so I would be in the middle of saying something when suddenly what Mom had said seconds earlier would come through. There was always an echo, too, so we got to hear our little inanities and apologies twice, as if they were so profound they needed to be repeated.

We all hated the calls, but felt somehow obligated to make them at least on birthdays and Christmas. They ruined the day because of the need to leave home to receive them and left us feeling unsatisfied, bereft and even further away.

Now, communication is so easy I have no sense that the children are any distance at all. We speak on the phone several times a week, IM daily, email every little thing that occurs to us and NOW, we Skype too.

Our connection used to be too slow to allow good Skype-ing, but with my new Mac and a fast broadband, we are all set.

And today, the whole family got into the act.

Ravi and Cathleen argued just as they always did:

C: I miss everyone so much!

R: Who asked you to go? Why don't you come back and do your studies here?

C: Baba, you know I can't - there's no one in my field there.

R: Change your field. You're in the wrong place.

But we all know his true feelings, as shown in this fond gaze:

We had meant to astonish Vikram with this new technology and had instructed her to remain absolutely still while we called him to see the beautiful "photo" of Cathleen. But he had heard her voice from the kitchen and was astonished (and disappointed) to find that she wasn't there in the flesh!

Mummy and our niece Aishwarya joined in too - the two cousins hadn't seen each other for several years and Cathleen had never even met A's husband (off camera, unfortunately, as is Moy, whose response was recognition and delight):

Skype is truly a gift. We've had a tour of Cathleen's apartment in Jerusalem and we know what she can see from out her bedroom window. She's seen our house all freshly painted, knows how my new short hair looks and can tell if I've not made the bed. The number of times I have wanted her advice on which outfit to wear! Now I can just model them for her and await her considered opinion. I'm thinking of other possibilities as I write. LOVE IT!

Friday, October 1, 2010

If You Want Peace, Work For Justice

Vasant Vihar, the fancy neighborhood just to the right of ours, is going Gated. It's a big deal, and I'm sure there were many meetings of the Society's Executive Committee to decide which streets to block off and at what time, how to pay for the guards who will man the little kiosks (and I do mean little):

and why it was all necessary in the first place.

Security is a major concern these days and the more stuff you have, the more concerned you are about protecting it. Delhi's fancy neighborhoods are all gated now and I suppose residents there take it for granted - the price of living in an upscale area, free (or so they think) from the fear of break-ins, theft and assault. This will be a first in Dehradun, once considered a peaceful, sleepy town where the biggest issue was the date of the Board exams or the shape the garden was in.

But who are we kidding? Does anyone really think that by locking the gates to a particular neighborhood the people living there will suddenly be safe and secure?

I think a lot about the men who will be occupying these little metal boxes. They will be skinny, poor and anxious about their families back in the village. It's a night job and the boxes are designed not to let them get comfortable enough to sleep, but they will be tired from their day jobs and they will find a way to sleep whether they are comfortable or not.

Does anyone really think this is a system which will work?

If you want peace, work for justice.

Barring the odd truly socio-pathic individual, most people prefer to do an honest day's work to feed their families. Crime is a natural outgrowth of a society whose values are skewed in the direction of selfishness. A complete lack of awareness or concern for the needs of people one considers less than oneself is a hallmark of our age.

Look again at the picture of the gate.

It might prevent a car from entering, but the sides, the sides! Anyone could get in. Anyone WILL get in. I'm sure the gates are not yet completed. I'm sure they will be perfected and barbed wire will be placed on either side of the gate to prevent miscreants from getting in. But I like the way it looks right now because this is the reality of all security systems which rely on maintaining the status quo. They are FULL of loopholes, side entries and clever ways around. Because they do not address the real nature of the problem.

If you want peace, work for justice.