Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mom gave us a scare

Hospitals are scary places. Which is why I usually avoid visiting sick relatives.

But I couldn’t escape last night. Mom gave us a scare. She had been feeling uneasy in the evening -- a throbbing headache and a nagging feeling that something was wrong.

At the hospital, her systolic blood pressure rocketed past 220. The doctor said this could lead to organ failure or a haemorrhagic stroke and got her admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).

If hospitals are scary, the ICU is scarier. You can’t really see the patient and what the doctors are doing. Who knows if she’s being given unnecessary medicine with undesirable side-effects. Moreover, they allow relatives in only at certain times.

At other times, we wait.

It's the waiting that you dread, till the ICU attendant calls out a name -- and somehow that’s worse.

"Annie ke saath?" (Who’s with Annie?) he calls out in the waiting area and I rush to the doors of the forbidden kingdom.

But no, there’s no good news. I am not being let in. It’s only a nurse who hands over a list of medicines that must be bought right away.

It's not easy to relax in the waiting area. The blue hospital chairs are not very comfortable. I try taking a nap but my neck hurts
. The ward boys are watching a Bollywood film on television and I watch it too, glad to have something to do.

I'm not the only visitor in the room. There are four other men waiting for news from the ICU -- all of us are strangers bound together by the unwelcome guest threatening our loved ones.

Two enterprising men (perhaps they’ve had days of practice) wait till the ward boy’s back was turned, spread a sheet on the floor and are asleep within minutes.

A woman is brought in at around 3 a.m. But it’s too late. Her son, a man in his 30s, leans against the ICU wall, bawling like a baby for his dead mother. Relatives rush to console him but the man doesn’t stop weeping incoherently till the body, wrapped in a white sheet, was taken out. The ward boys, perhaps out of sympathy, muted the TV so that the dance beats of a Bollywood item song didn’t interfere with the man’s grief.

I watch the man crying but am unable to react. It’s not that I am being the stoic tough guy; perhaps the possibility of being in that man’s position hasn’t really sunk in.

I got to meet mom twice -- she had spent a sleepless night, disturbed by the commotion a few beds away, where a housewife had been brought in after she consumed some sort of poison following an argument with her husband.

The good news, mom was much better (if befriending and charming three nurses is any indication) and doctors are now keeping her in the ICU an extra day for observation. She comes back home in the morning.

I’m feeling guilty. Hospital staff gave me mom’s gold rings to take home. And I’ve lost one of them. Mom doesn’t know yet.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

It's time to change

My colleague, an Indian-origin Brit, finds it hard to believe that India is Asia's third-largest economy.
"They say we will be overtaking Japan this year," I blurt out in a show of patriotic fervour.

"But why can't we see it out there?" he asks, pointing to the office windows offering a bird’s-eye view of Connaught Place.

I know what he means. It’s not the nattily dressed investment bankers or the endless stream of cars that snake in and out of the city’s business district that he sees. It’s the dozen piss-laden pillars that gave Barakhamba Road its name, the beggars and lepers at Hanuman Mandir a few blocks away and grimy heroin addicts who skulk in the subways.

India is an enigma that way -- a poster boy both for poverty porn and economic success.

While there’s no stopping India from becoming a global superpower in the coming decades, it can’t just brush away its problems under a plush carpet. It’s time to change all that.

I wish I could borrow Harry Potter’s wand and place everyone under an Imperius Curse, forcing them to do my bidding.

Dear President, you will not take your son-in-law and grandchildren to foreign lands at the government's  expense. Send them a nice postcard from Seychelles instead.

Dear Prime Minister, you will not be meek and say yes to everything a mother’s love demands. Sometimes it is necessary to lose the battle in order to win a war but too many defeats can overshadow a solitary victory.

Dear Minister, you will not use your position to allot real estate or telecom licences to people you like. Offer them tea and Marie biscuits and bid them goodbye with a smile.

Dear MLA, sleep if you must but you will not watch pornographic clips to pass time in boring state assembly sessions. Play noughts and crosses instead.

Dear Army chief, it’s nice to have just one date of birth. Makes keeping track of Birthday Calendars on Facebook so much easier. As for army scandals, this is a good time to start work on a tell-all book.

Dear Government servant, you will try your best not to be bribed. We need a hundred Anna Hazares to weed out corruption, so we’ll just have to do all we can with the Hazare we have for now. And you know what? Going to jail is over-rated.

Dear Municipal worker, I know the pay isn't all that great but who knows, if you polish those floors till they shine, you might just get promoted. And you wouldn't want your peers in America to think they are the best.

Dear Mumbai Police, I know Ajmal Kasab relishes his chicken, but is that reason enough to shift six cooks to the prison? He’s not really a suitable judge for TV’s Masterchef.

Dear Corporates, you will forget petty rivalries and take Incredible India to the next level. It’s a win-win for you too -- eventually. You can share the spoils of war later.

Dear Maoists, time to send that Italian tourist back home. The ministry of tourism needs good word-of-mouth publicity. Have you forgotten atithi devo bhava (the guest is God) already?

Dear Journalist, give us some good news; we’ve had too much of the other kind lately. We want more philanthropic IITians, Olympic medals and Nobel prizes.

Dear Driver, what’s with all that rage? I know it’s hot but you could always enjoy a cold drink. OK so the other guy put a dent in your Honda Civic, he didn’t do it deliberately. Certainly no reason to stab him. Remember -- to err is human; to forgive, divine.

Dear Pedestrian, you will not go jaywalking in city streets. And of course, do not decorate pavements and walls with red paan stains. You wouldn't want such a colour scheme in your house, would you?

Dear Conman, you will not tell people you lost your wallet and need to urgently buy train tickets for your pregnant wife and sick father. I believed you once; now do you want me to lose my faith in humankind?

Dear Autowallah, you will not fleece foreign tourists. Take an extra rupee or two from us Indians but don’t give them such a bad time. We need all the dollars we can get.

Dear Eve-teaser, you will not harass women. It’s an oft-quoted argument but you do respect you own mother and sisters, don’t you?

Dear Father, so what if Dear Mother gave birth to a girl? You shouldn’t punish her; it’s your chromosomes that decided the sex of the baby. Also, haven’t you seen enough TV serials to figure out that girls take more care of their parents in old age.

Dear Cricketer, do you really need all that money? Forget the benefits of spot-fixing and enjoy the game instead.

Dear Viewer, watch and cheer for hockey, boxing and badminton. Time to get us back some long-forgotten Olympics laurels.

Dear Common Man, I know you are worried about inflation and inadequate salaries. But do you really need to smoke that bidi, tear open that gutka pouch and drown your sorrows in alcohol?

Dear Housewife, you will not throw trash in the street. You wouldn’t like that to happen in your living room, would you? See if you can volunteer to keep your surrounding areas clean.

Dear Beggar, you will not be part of the begging mafia. I know being illiterate and unemployed wasn't really your long-term career goal but please help us help you earn an honest living.

Dear Bollywood, make us more soppy films like “Hum Aapke Hain Koun”, where nobody is evil and everything is usually hunky-dory. Cheer us up so that we can forget our real-life troubles.

Dear Shaktimaan, if you existed, I wouldn’t need to write this blog in the first place. It’s time to change and you are the man for it. So please just fly down here and do your thing.

[Contest entry for Time to Change]

Monday, April 09, 2012

The day I lost my fear of road trips

"Let's drive down to Ahmedabad," said my brother, the driving enthusiast in the family.

"Shut up! We’re not going on a day-long road trip."
"I'm going whether you like it or not."

And that’s how I ended up accompanying him on the 915-km drive from New Delhi to the city in Gujarat where we were born and where my cousins still reside. My brother, the easy-going brat in the family, usually gets his way and I, the more responsible one, was coaxed by mom into keeping an eye on him.

I took little delight in my position as navigator for my brother’s Getz. I am not a fan of cars, road trips or watching Discovery Turbo -- things that my brother would die for. So all I basically did was stare at the speedometer and scold him when we went over 120 kmph -- which was too often for my liking.

Despite an early start, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. We made it to Jaipur in just about two hours, aided in part by a stubborn Mercedes driver who overtook our car and provoked my sibling into a high-speed highway chase punctuated at regular intervals with my high-decibel cries to “slow down right now or else I’m calling mom”.

We dropped off a friend on the outskirts of Jaipur and moved towards Ajmer, passing through a dozen toll-booths while I kept tabs on an ever-dwindling supply of rupee coins. I made no pretence of my non-existent navigational skills, leaving it to my brother’s uncanny sense of direction to find the right way. He’s a bloodhound when it comes to sniffing out the right direction; a Sherlock Holmes at the steering wheel.

That said, we did stray from the path once or twice (thanks to missing highway signboards and strange villagers who prompted us to keep going despite the fact we were travelling on weed-infested tracks that disappeared in the distance).

But only once did we truly lose our way, on the last leg of our journey from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. A wrong turn set us back a couple of hours and we were trapped in traffic behind a long line of trucks that seemed to crawl at a top speed of 100 centimetres per hour. It must have been faster than that but the wait was interminably long.

“Easier just to walk,” I remember saying as pedestrians ambled past, unmoved by the sight of our giant traffic centipede snaking through the desert state. I changed the song on the car stereo, drowning out my brother’s angry mutterings. That was my only privilege -- choice of car music and I made full use of it through the 17-hour journey.

We stopped only four times -- to stretch our legs and relax at a suitable dhaba, the ones with the non-stinky loos. And there were plenty on them on the route, though not dotting the highway like they do on the road to Chandigarh.

And what of the view? Miles and miles of sunny sunflower fields, interspersed with hillocks and bullocks. Veiled Rajasthani women in multi-hued embroidered frilly skirts and turbaned men mostly attired in white. I can’t believe it -- I’m actually enjoying this trip. If only I had bothered to bring a camera -- my humble BlackBerry is woefully inadequate.

We reached Ahmedabad at nightfall, ready to collapse into our beds. But it’s been fun and I’m actually looking forward to our return trip.

"You wait till I can afford the Mahindra XUV500," said my brother. "Then I won't ever be home on weekends."

"Mom!" I call out and then stop to shield my face as an incoming pillow bounces off my hands.

(Entry for the Mahindra XUV500 contest)

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