Dec 12, 2017

As Does the Pain

Sarabjeet Natesan

How and why do we find It in ourselves to be mean, vicious, malicious? What drives our sense of accomplishments at having done so? Somehow, to touch someone’s raw nerve, to stroke it, to push it, to hurt and to inflict pain has become the new cool. Collectively we have changed so much, that the new low feels normal, feels so right and feels so ok. It is ok to troll, to make fun, to tease, to collectively harass and then so easily move on, unmindful and careless of the agony inflicted. We are not born with it, we acquire it, some of us lose the un-mindfulness, weed out the mean spiritedness, while others plough on, and make being unkind the backbone of their existence. Some fortunate ones get a certain course correction and are lucky to have the serenity to accept that, while others due to power or position, pass off being nasty as having a ravishing sense of humour and a sparkling style of wit.

Under rather unfortunate circumstances I had to bring my parents home to be with me so that I could take care of them. This also sadly turned out to be the last trip they ever made to visit me. My father’s cancer has resurged, my mother had lost her eye-sight after a very nasty fall. They both agreed that some measure of intervention was required and since I was a stay at home mother to my three daughters, and my parents loved the calmness Chennai offered and my mother the sea breeze, they agreed to be with me. I was relieved that they were not putting up their customary resistance, yet I was also very worried and scared; they both required surgeries and intensive care. I was unsure and concerned about my abilities to take care of their medical needs. Our apartment was big enough to accommodate everyone and I very meticulously planned my parents’ room; closest to my room, close to the dining table, with proximity to the bathroom and place in the room for their meds, I thought of everything that was required and anticipated everything that could go wrong and planned for everything. Since My father needed more time to recover, his surgery was scheduled first and my mother’s operation second. I also think that when one puts in so much effort, the entire universe conspired to help and support the cause.

My parents were happy to be home with so many of us, because they were there, and I had put prior restrictions on post-operative visits, a lot of my friends, my husband’s relatives, his parents came to visit them before the medical interventions started. There was about a ten-day period for blood work, tests, scans, x-ray results etc before my father’s admission to the hospital. The house was full, my daughters were always sitting with them, hanging around, talking, listening, sharing, getting my mother’s walking stick, my father’s reading glasses, fetching them a drink of water, doing their homework with my dad. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of tea and coffee served; my parents would not let anyone go without food and so there was a lot of cooking happening, in short it did not seem like a household with sick people, it was just grandparents visiting and a full house! Since my mother could not see, and her hearing was not too good also, she was guided by my kids; they would lead her to where ever they wanted her to go and many a times she would gamely play along. It was also the start of the internet driven communications and I would play my father’s favourite songs by his favourite singer, K.L. Saigal on the net. I would also make my parents talk to my sisters over the webcam. My mother could not see my sisters, but she could at-least hear them well if I increased the volume of the speakers. Pre-monsoon showers had set in in Chennai by that time and the big tree by my parents’ bedroom window housed a ‘myna’ who would come every morning, perch on the tree branch and sing. My mother was captivated, Delhi had no such beauty left and she would be up early morning to listen to the bird sing. The cool air made for good weather and my parents were restful and relaxed.

In the days that followed my concerns were allayed, the test results were not too forlorn, my father’s surgery went off well and he was back home in four days. Things were looking good and even though my mother’s surgery faced small hiccups, eventually it was done. The schools had closed for holidays by then and I did not have to worry about pick-ups and drops, about car-pools, about break-boxes, about getting up early to set the kids off to school. I could not have been happier, it was just perfect!

The human mind is a very small piece of space; physically it is, mentally it becomes small, once we give it importance and listen to it and feed its sense of purpose. Once the surgeries were done and my parents were both back home and recuperating, I have a feeling that I lost it. Instead of the vastness of humility and gratitude, I let it come to my mind and heart that I had done something great and that I was a shining example of how things should be taken care of; forgot how it was all a team effort; from the ladies who took care of the dishes, cleaned the house, to the person who delivered fresh vegetables and tender coconut water every morning without fail, to my children who though very young, provided a lot of help by not only taking care of my parents but also managing their work themselves, and my husband who was their hospital companion and my pillar of support, to my sisters who through their phone calls and talks with me, never let the enormity of the task overwhelm me, they and their families spoke to my parents on a regular basis and kept them in good spirits, to my eldest brother in law, who came to visit because my dad told him in passing that ‘I want to meet you’. My parents’ siblings and friends who checked on them without fail and never let down their sense of belonging, and the doctors who contributed the most in their recovery. In my heightened and astounded state of activity, I somehow lost my sense of purpose. My father noticed the change in my behaviour but did not say anything. I think he was also overwhelmed by the pain and recovery. But he let me know in small words that the team effort was a lot to be thankful for.

In a couple of weeks when my mother’s eyes began to heal, and she was back to walking a few steps with her new walker, she told me that she wanted to see and talk to my sisters. So, I called up my sisters and set up a time to webcam with them. It was decided that we will all talk at 7-7.30 in the evening and have a little party, cut a cake and each will have a piece. So accordingly, a cake each was bought for Chennai, Delhi and Dubai. Knowing how much my parents loved ‘pakoras’, I even fried onion, potatoes and eggplant pakoras and made green mint chutney. At 7.25 pm, I set up the call and called out to my mother. I could have gone to get her, or sent one of my kids to bring her, but I just sat on the chair and called out to her to come and join us. My mother got up with great difficulty, she was wearing post-operative dark glasses and using the walker she was not too used to, came out of her room and unfortunately got distracted and instead of coming straight, turned left and went into the dining room. I don’t know what came over me, I started to laugh uncontrollably and said to my sisters that mummy has lost her way and that I should have put a traffic signal in the house. Of-course, no one reacted. My father was so hurt and upset that he quietly got up, went to my mother, took her hand and led her back to their bedroom.

The party was cancelled, the cake uneaten, the pakoras cold and the entire house was crestfallen. My father called me to his room and in a very upset, and for the first time, a very angry voice told me that what I did today was completely wrong. And with that one remark, I had undone all the respect, care and love I had shown them. And how I was totally off my moral tracker to make fun of someone who has lost her eyesight, and for that matter anyone. I had celebrated my 40th birthday that year, but standing in front of my father, I felt like a 14-year-old. I had made one mean, insensitive and uncaring remark. And I thought I was being funny, witty and clever. I was so devastated by my father’s tone that I apologised a hundred times over. My mother had no clue what had happened, for my dad told her that the connection was very bad and that’s why the call could not be completed. I said sorry to my mother and she just smiled and said that I can’t be blamed for bad telephone connections. I regret my behaviour and words to the day and apologise for them even today, even though my parents are long gone. Many a times, in my mind, I replay that scenario, I don’t call out to my mother, I don’t even ask children to get her. I set up the entire webcam and the party and I go and get her, a mere fifteen steps, I bring her to the computer table, I sit her down, we all talk, my parents cut the cake, we eat the pakoras, I even make a cup of tea, we laugh and joke and then we sign off. And then I wake up.

And the lesson stays as does the pain.

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