The Core

Everyone who knows me well knows how fascinated I am with the aerial view of our planet, the view an astronaut gets to see -Barbareek’s view: just beauty, so much beauty that one cannot help feeling overwhelmed and shattered in many ways. One does not see the ugly divisions the boundaries, the bombs exploding, the hatred, the strife – one sees idyll.

Closer to the surface discontent reigns.

Wiser minds have stated that there is something within us that stays unchanged, untouched as we go from believing that our physicality and mental acuity powers our existence forward to realizing that in the end we are just dragging this battered dead weight forward the best we can. The thing that was deluded and the thing that came to a realization of sorts is the same core. It grew, it evolved, it made itself ready for whatever comes next.

That essence is what reveals itself from an aerial perspective that tends to strip away all detractors.

That same essence also shines through in the performance art of someone like Marina Abramovic who talks about it here.  People took turns sitting across from her at MOMA and just staring at her, making eye contact, nothing else.  So many people wept.  No words were spoken, there were no distractions and tears flowed.  And then Ulay, her ex, came and sat across from her, she broke protocol to hold his hands.

This gesture, to me, was so similar to the aerial perspective.  There were no detractors, nothing skewing a situation where a person was simply gazing at another, making an attempt to look inside, to find that core and connect.  Tears came when there was a glimpse of this core followed by the sense of connection.

Marina and Ulay, in all news reports, are embittered exes.  One is suing the other.  Marina has been blamed for her ambition, her fashion, her success that torpedoed ahead of Ulay’s – all manners of things that skew and obscure relationships on any average day in our lives.  But when they look inside and through all their strife they find, even for a brief moment, the thing that allowed a connection in the first place.

We are all collectively enclosed in this cocoon we have created around ourselves, the way a spider secretes a web.  We are spitting out a web of religion, politics, borders, exploitative traditions all around ourselves.  The walls get taller, the webs get thicker and somewhere inside is this cowering self ready to thrill to the touch of a gaze – aerial or up close.


There is contentment in solitude

There is a fondness for the inertia within which it exists.


I am younger, more resilient perhaps. If there are several layers of thought within the brain then this is the predominant thought in this superficial layer, the thought that insists I am younger, more resilient and not as distraught; stronger, not requiring support but capable of providing it. 
Then there are these other deeper layers where thoughts of loss reside. I remember standing there on the Lake Cazenovia pier, watching the July 4th fireworks shooting up through the sky, dissipating into blackness. There was some foreshadowing there, a thought that I kept rejecting.  
On July 5th I walked around in several loops around our residential complex while reciting the words of a mantra that a punditji had had me memorize after my car accident in May of 1989. This mantra, one is told, keeps one safe and alive. I didn’t question it then. I have been reciting it without fail every time I take my steering wheel in hand.
So, on July 5th, I walked and recited and walked and recited, aiming for several multiples of the magic 108 number while keeping his visage in mind. But, unbeknownst to me, things had kept worsening during that night. I left for Canada that afternoon.  
The next seven days were about to become the last seven; the part of the music that says “rit,” [ritardando] underneath the last few measures of a lifelong performance that had stunned audiences over several breathtaking movements.
Since then I think of his eyes, sharp till the end, giving us hope because there was no listlessness, no dullness. I recall his unstated need to take both of mom’s hands in his own during his last few hours. 
At no point during five of those last seven days did I feel as though there would come a time when he would cease to exist in a physical form. On the sixth day the doctors came around with their talk of comfort, trying to convince us that it was all that could be done. My tears came unbidden then, like a reflex, while nodding at whatever the doctor was saying. But hope remained. Hope digs in, it makes itself a home until it out stays its welcome.
I think about this mantra now, the one I believed was intended to keep us safe and alive, and I realize how deluded I was about the intent behind these words. I have only a rudimentary understanding of Sanskrit but I now believe it is intended to facilitate the transition out of a physical existence and into the realm of pure consciousness. It is a prayer for an easy dissolution of all ties that bind as one moves on – urvarukmiv bandhanan mrityormokshiyamamratat.
The ritardando we witnessed had been a conscious effort by him over a few months and not just during the last few days. He was giving away his clothes, minimizing his intake of sustenance, withdrawing from all old interests, very consciously trying to exist in just a sliver of space, urvarukmiv…
The music slowed down and stopped. He takes up no physical space now, just the one that fills every corner of our minds.
I live through my days in a “normal” way, appearing sanguine, addressing all matters of importance that I need to address because I am still taking up space, taking in oxygen and sustenance. We share memories with each other and tell each other of our vivid dreams where he appears to bring us wisdom and succor. Then I look around my home and think of the brilliance of his efforts to minimize, to make his footprints smaller, to make all his ties tenuous. 
It is a thought that mesmerizes and sticks around.

Dr K

Dr K has been my parents’ GP since they started living in Ottawa fifteen years ago.  I had never met him but had heard my mom and my dad mention his name often.  Listening to their stories I was always envious since this doctor appeared to be the stuff of legends and I was deprived of any contact with him; in the United States I am certain that meeting such a doctor is a near impossibility.
Over the years I had heard of his role as a guide.  My father had come to rely on his judgment and his expertise.  The one instance I remember very clearly is the one where my dad was going through some strange vertiginous and balance related issues.  It was frightening because we couldn’t tell what this was.  Was it another frightening symptom of the illnesses he already had, was it something new? So they went to see Dr K.  He asked several questions, lay my dad on the stretcher and essentially just tilted him this way and that.  It was apparently a matter of realigning something in the inner ear in order to fix its balance function.  When my dad was off the stretcher his problem was gone.  There was no guessing, no running of a million tests, each yielding no relevant information toward a recommended diagnosis.
I had heard from my mom that when Dr K first met my dad and learnt his name he told them that his dad’s name was Aaron which is really close to my dad’s name – Arun.  Over the years I heard stories of just how many times he had said that my dad reminded him of his own dad who he had lost several years ago.  Their office visits to his clinic included long conversations and a mutual delving into each other’s backgrounds and history.  
Dr K is well-traveled and has been to India several times.  He has been to Bihar, he knows about Laloo Yadav.  He is very involved with the Doctors Without Borders organization and spends many months of the year out of the country treating people who are much removed from care of any sort.  He spends a lot of time in the northern polar regions of Canada as well, treating the native population.
As we mourn the passing of my dad I didn’t want my mom’s health to start suffering from neglect, if nothing else.  She had recently cancelled her annual check up appointment with him because she was spending most of her time in the hospital with my dad.   Yesterday mom agreed to go and see Dr K.  I drove her there and even accompanied her to the examination room.  When he came in he greeted me with a hug, no introductions were necessary and then he focused his whole attention on my mom.  He hugged her and then he pulled his chair really close to hers and held both her hands as he looked straight into her eyes, not saying a word.  The tears started rolling down her eyes and mine and when she spoke she told him how much his care and his affection had meant to my dad, my mom, over the last fifteen years.  She told him how my dad always wanted to consult with Dr K even when he knew that his ailment required more specific care than that which a GP could provide.
They held hands and kept reminiscing for a long time, he remembered every conversation and every session they had ever had.  He occasionally turned to me to tell me how my dad had such presence, such an impact on all the people whose lives he touched.  He told me my dad inspired instant admiration and reminded him so much of his own dad and that he had felt a lot of affection for mine.
We had assumed he would have known of the cause of death since hospitals in Canada keep the GP informed of all developments.  But word hadn’t reached him yet.  The last information he had was that my dad was in critical care due to renal failure.  He learnt of his passing when my mom checked in at the reception and told the receptionist.  So we told him that renal failure wasn’t the cause.   It was PJP bacteria/fungus that goes after people whose immune systems either don’t function because of an autoimmune disorder or are suppressed by anti-rejection drugs given to people who have had an organ transplant.  My dad had had two organs transplanted and his immune system was severely compromised.
The PJP destroys the lungs with a severe pneumonia.  My dad’s lungs were full of fluids.   He couldn’t breathe.  When doctor’s asked him how he felt he would tell them he felt like a fish removed from water.  
I told Dr K that my brother had overheard a conversation that his medical team were having in the ICU and they weren’t aware that my brother was listening.  One of the doctors had compared the chest X-Ray to the whiteness of a pillow case. Dr K uttered the words “white out” when he heard this.  I could hear the tears in his voice as he said these words and then turned around to grab a Kleenex.
He explained to me that a normal chest X-Ray would look black on the film.  Like an idiot I said you would also see ribs.  He said, “I don’t see ribs…ah I see…that’s interesting…if you are a doctor you don’t see the ribs…you see the black or the obliteration of the black (air) with the white that represents the absence of air and the presence of fluids or anything else…”  With this exchange it hit him that this was the worst case scenario.  He told my mom that she should have called him, that he didn’t have the magic that would have fixed him this time but he would have known what was going on and we wouldn’t have spent so many days wondering and clueless.
He finally got around to completing my mom’s check up.  He recommended diabetic counseling for her.  I urged him to recommend this counseling as soon as possible but he said that this was not the right time because she couldn’t learn or retain new information at the moment, through grief.  He recommended it for three months from now and I saw him type in a note full of compassion on his computer screen as he emailed the staff responsible for setting this up.
He hugged us warmly as we left his office.  I left feeling more comforted than I had felt in the preceding 48 hours.

Is a title really necessary?

I watched the Fourth of July fireworks on Lake Cazenovia this year.  Each spectacular display filled me with a trepidation that belied my awestruck smile, the smile the camera captured.  I had a sense of being in the wrong place at a wrong time.  My presence was required elsewhere but life always unfolds in a less than ideal fashion.

We are scattered across town, across borders and under various roofs tonight.  I am not sure anyone is sleeping well.   I am trying to express myself on a tiny phone screen at this strange hour of the night with words that are inadequate and restrictive.
My memory is long.  I remember always being eager to sling a thermos full of something refreshing, cross bodied across my tiny, four or five year old frame, slipping my hand in daddy’s warm hands and getting on the steamer that crossed the Ganges and took us to our ancestral home, ferrying us between Mahendru Ghat and Pahleja Ghat.  The steamer served deliciously unforgettable potato cutlets.  Whenever he asked if I wanted to accompany him on a trip my answer was a resounding yes.

Over the years, I remember the times I disappointed him after every math exam and the times where I surprised him with an academic performance that was better than what he expected.  After a particularly harrowing exam result in college I had mustered up enough courage to hop on a three wheeler and go straight to his office in the middle of the afternoon to ask for money for a course where I promised him I wouldn’t disappoint.  I was full of apprehension as I worked up the nerve to ask and floored when he gave me the funds without raising any objections.  I think I kept my promise that time.

There was the trip to Chandigarh.  The aloo paratha with butter that we shared was the stuff epicurean dreams are made of but what stands out even more is a hope he expressed  – that I would always be skipping to the music in my head, confident and stress free.

He had a vision for me.  It entailed a very detailed and impressively executed plan for setting me free to find and define myself in this world.  He did his part with perfect choreography.  I am still trying to live up to my end of the bargain.  I have stumbled, I have slacked off and I have never taken a single step past the “work-in-progress” mould.  There is some defective switch, circuit or gear within, something eager to bestow a lemon status on me,  I can promise to keep trying and I am certain he believes I’ll get there.

I was driving for seven hours alone in the car with my thoughts and recollections. The news in the morning had been delivered with an unmistakable note of panic and distress in mom’s voice and I had to drop everything and get on the road.  I needed to be in the right place this time.

Seven hours alone in a car gives one a lot of time to reminisce and makes for some blurry-visioned steering.  The tears this time reminded me of the tears we had shed together on a bench in the Prince George’s Plaza Mall in Bowie, MD on the eve of daddy’s departure to India, leaving me behind.  I was young and naively fearless but he had faith I would flourish, even through the tears that wouldn’t stop for either one of us.

The illness that reared its ugly head in 1987 was already a year old at the time and it just made him more determined to clear a thorn free path for our future.

I look back on my first 2015 trip to Ottawa in May.  The snow had melted and the snowdrifts of Syracuse and Watertown no longer threatened our passage to Canada.  I was excited about my trip and I remember telling my hubby and daughter that I couldn’t wait to have some “juicy” conversations with dad. There is nothing more engaging than the panoramic vistas that emerge and unfold when we converse with my dad – religion, socio-economic systems, botany, philosophy, his philosophy and how he has honed or tweaked it over time, his career, his childhood, his independence from a very young age – I can listen to every story forever.

Sadly, in May he barely spoke.  He was easily tired, depressed at how difficult it had become to move and he was also irritable.  I was torn between compassion and my own selfish need for enlightenment through conversation.

My expectations were dashed and I was guilt ridden for having these expectations and saddened at how much of a prisoner his brilliant mind had become to his body.  I was sad to see how broken both my parents looked and felt and how helpless or useless I was with offering succor.

I called several times since May.  I always wanted to hear him say he was doing better but I learnt to be happy when he said he wasn’t worse.  When I called him on Father’s Day Sunday he didn’t indicate any worsening in his condition but on Monday mom told me he had to be rushed to emergency care for difficulty in breathing.

He has been in the hospital since that day.  He has had better days and bad days as his team of specialists try to work through the puzzle that his system has become after undergoing a liver transplant, severe pneumonia, years of dialysis leading up to a kidney transplant and the rather rapid loss in mobility within the last year.  The doctors are still guessing that he has a severe lung infection and are treating him with antibiotics.  He is on oxygen and has trouble conversing.  The monitor starts showing lower oxygen saturation levels when he talks but today he felt it necessary to talk to me about his will.  It wasn’t a welcome topic for me, this wasn’t the conversation I yearned for or relished.  I listened and am still stuck on the part where he got ready-eyed again as he told me that he had always added to and never depleted anything.  I am snagged on that sentence and that particular tonal inflection because such a thought would never even have occurred to me and I cannot imagine why he would want to stress that.  

He is my hero, always has been.  This world, my world, is worth living because of him.  

On July 3rd he was feeling good, ready for rehab, ready to come home and to start penning his experiences.  I am hoping tomorrow will be the first in a very long succession of such brighter days.

What Changes?

There was that feeling again. The one that suggested she was losing herself. She was another year older and had convinced herself in this past year that such a feeling was absurd.

How could it not be when the person sensing the loss and the person getting lost somewhere were one and the same?

What people meant when they expressed such a sentiment was no longer clear. So, she felt a need for better words to express this sense of loss, this sense that challenged a long held view of her sentient years, that something within us all remained ageless and changeless.

Imprisoned eyes, the truest representatives of this changeless state, were held captive within a cage of flesh and bones. They observed and interpreted a shifting mosaic of impressions, rearranging them one way or another to fit some unfathomable pattern that would make the most sense; eyes remained the same while views changed.

She had lost her favorite views. A dark and solid wall had appeared where something shone, shimmered and beckoned before.

It’s an old day

Blank pages are easy to come by.  You can grab one from the printer or turn over a new leaf in the notebook.  Life, is not like a piece of paper or  even like an entire notebook.  If you think it is then you are harboring a delusion.  Sure, you can crumple up a messed up day and discard it, you will still have something else to scribble or doodle on tomorrow.  Your ballpoint pen will last a few months and your pencil is yet to be whittled down to the nub.  It is a disposable world and paper is still not scarce.

Fresh starts are cheap and you are easily lulled into a false sense of invincibility and a misplaced belief in infinite second chances and disappearing footprints.  In reality fresh starts do not exist and you do not walk away from anything.  What appears to be a fresh start is a consequence disguised as an opportunity in a lifelong construction project that can never outrun time.

You can build a spiral staircase for no other reason than a fascination with spirals or staircases or the golden ratio but when you learn that your fascination left you with stairs that have no purpose or destination, you are stuck with a folly that you then adapt or build around or let linger as a monument to un-reason. You can end up with doors that open up to walls or windows without views as you change or the world around you changes.  But any perspective demonstrates the consequential nature of all events, even the ones that appear mutually exclusive.  No actions get discarded.

We change everything around us for better or for worse even while just being.

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