Sunday, December 26, 2010

For Tvisha - Age 12, 1978

Dear Tvisha,

1978 was yet another year with a couple of major events, one of them good and the other one not good.

Responsibilities at school were increasing, as schoolwork got tougher. I now had become at best an average student in class. This never bothered me much though. My aim now was to do the best I can, and it was ok if I didn’t make the top of the class. I was still doing very well in a few of the subjects such as Mathematics.

I had made many friends by now. After my mother, there was no one really to monitor how long we stayed out of the apartment after coming back home from school. I used to hang out with my friends until late, or would come home, have dinner and then go back out again. Not great for a 12 year old, by the way.

Thaatha got busier at work. He got a big promotion at the bank. They made him responsible for the state of Maharashtra and Goa. He had to travel several times a month to cover all the cities that fell within his area of management in order to monitor performance. As you can expect, he was also coming back home a little later than usual, and brought a lot of work home that he would work on after dinner for a long time. So he wasn’t able to spend as much time with Krish and I as he would have liked.

The bank also provided thaatha with a new car and a chauffer to go along with it. So our lifestyle changed a bit due to this as we could travel now by car to any place we wanted to, when we chose to. We really liked this convenience, which was something new for us. The person who used to drive thaatha to and back from work was a man named Ghosalkar. Over the years he became very close to us. You may remember him from your visits to India when I always meet him. I consider Ghosalkar to be one of our family, he is that close to us.

I may not have mentioned this to you, but after my mother passed away, thaatha’s brother who got married moved back to live with us along with his wife, and of course my grandmother (mammai) who took the place of my mother in raising us.

There was something going on, with my father and his brother taking mammai to the doctor often. I could sense that not everything was right. When I would ask they would just say everything was fine. I was in the midst of my final exams at this point and was in full preparations for the same. That was the reason why they wouldn’t tell me what was going on with her. I was really close to my grandma, hence.

So on the day my exams got over, my uncle (thaatha’s brother) looked very relieved and informed me that grandma’s surgery went well. I was very surprised that they didn’t even tell me about her surgery. Then I went and visited her at the hospital every day while she was recovering. She was there for quite a long time. I didn’t like that hospital (not that anyone is supposed to like a hospital in the first place unless you work there, I think).

One day after school, I came back home as usual. My uncle’s wife opened the door to let me in. I walked into the room and placed my bag in the corner of the room as I always do, when I heard someone making a clapping noise. I turned around and saw my dear grandma sitting on the bed and beckoning me. I was so happy and thrilled to see her, I jumped on the bed and hugged her so tight and didn’t want to let go. Then I saw as to why she couldn’t call out to me when I came in. There was a hole in her throat through which they had conducted the surgery and it hadn’t healed yet. So she couldn’t speak for the time being.

Later on, I learnt that grandma had ulcerative colitis for a long time that eventually turned into colon cancer, for which they had operated her. The prognosis wasn’t too good, something I would learn only after a few years.

- Appa

Thursday, December 9, 2010

For Tvisha – Age 11, 1977

Dear Tvisha,

1977 was a very uneventful year for me and the family. We were all still recovering from my mother’s passing away in 1976. Thaatha buried himself in his work. Although he used to give us anything we wanted, he wasn’t that communicative as he was dealing with his own grief. For me and Krish it felt like a big vacuum not having our mother around anymore, but in my grandma (cuttle appa’s wife) we found the person who took on the role of our mother in the best possible way she could. I just adored my grandma, a lovely lady with a never ending flow of affection and care for us.

One thing I didn’t mention to you about the previous year was that just before paati passed away, they had found a bride for my father’s younger brother (my uncle) and his wedding date was in early June. And then paati passed away in May. By rituals we used to follow, we usually don’t celebrate anything for one year from when a family member passes away. Which meant that my uncle’s wedding would have to be postponed by a year. But thaatha would have none of that. He, as you know, was a very practical person. He made the decision, against most of our relatives and friends’ opinions, of not changing the wedding date. So my uncle did get married just barely a few weeks after my mother’s passing away. It was a very brave move by thaatha who felt there was no point in delaying something as important as a wedding, preparations for which had taken a lot of effort and time.

My mother was my backbone as regards to my schooling with her tutoring, her constant reminders and expectations to focus on our studies, coming back home in time, etc. Things now took a different turn. As I was searching for answers mentally, I found that I had to take on the major responsibility of managing my studies on my own, given the situation. Thaatha was there to help us in any way needed with our studies, but he too was busy with his work and could not be around all the time to help manage our school work. My performance at school suffered as I started taking things less seriously. I even had a teacher comment about my dropping performance in class which I didn’t like. It got to a point where I didn’t care what my teacher thought. My performance in my eyes wasn’t as bad as my teachers thought.

I was now in Standard VI, which was secondary school in India. So I was one of the bigger boys now :-). I played a lot of games in school during lunch break and before school started – cricket, square ball which similar to dodge ball, hockey, basketball and soccer. I tried my hand at everything. For the first time in my life, I started eating street food outside school each day. Now that is something no one should ever miss. There is something about street food that you can’t match anywhere else.

Oh yes, something else big happened that year. My beloved drink during the short recess, the chilled Coca Cola was gone from India! thanks to the brilliant idea of our then Prime Minister Mr. Morarji Desai and his government who demanded the Coca Cola company to reveal their secret formula so it could be manufactured in India. Yeah right! This was due to some policy that the government had come up with. So Mr. Coke said bye bye India. The next time I got to taste Coke was when I came to the USA to pursue my MBA, after 15 years. I will tell you, it was well worth the wait ;-).

- Appa

Friday, December 3, 2010

For Tvisha – Age 10, 1976

Dear Tvisha,

Although inevitable, the passing away of a human being especially when it happens without warning is something that a kid or even an adult can never be prepared for.

My mother (your paati) passed away on May 17, 1976 at the very young age of 42, when we all least expected it.

Leelavati Sivaramakrishnan (1934 – 1976)

I had mentioned to you in one of my previous posts that your paati suffered from diabetes. She was diagnosed as suffering from diabetes at the age of 35. In order to control the high sugar levels, initially she took oral tablets, and then daily insulin shots. I remember going with her often to the doctor to test her urine for the presence of sugar.

To try and combat this she tried some ill advised methods such as skipping dinner daily. Although she avoided sugar in her coffee, her biggest weakness was her fondness of all kinds of sweet desserts. She used to make a lot of sweets as well, and couldn’t keep good control over her cravings.

Her diabetes got worse with time, and she was also admitted to the hospital when she cut her finger while playing the veena and the cut wouldn’t heal.

I had my summer holidays after the final exams. On May 16, paati wasn’t feeling good at all. It got pretty bad to a point where she was just lying on the bed, sleeping most of the time, not even having enough energy to get up or talk.

Thaatha called the doctor a few times to ask him to come see paati. The doctor underestimated the seriousness of the situation, and at first wouldn’t come immediately since it was a Sunday, his day off. Finally said he would come see her in the evening as he had to go some place.

As the situation got worse, thaatha got hold of another doctor who came home to see paati. He immediately asked thaatha to admit her to the hospital. Paati was admitted to the hospital around 5 pm. She was conscious at that point. They administered insulin but even that wasn’t improving her hyperglycemic status. Krish and I came back home very worried, and me not really understanding what was going on.

According to thaatha, after a couple of hours, my mother regained consciousness for a few minutes, inquired about us, and actually said to him, “take good care of the children in case anything happens to me”. It was as if she knew what was happening to her.

She went into a diabetic coma and passed away just after midnight. My uncles came to the hospital to relieve thaatha so he could come and deliver the news. It was not a pretty sight at home as the news spread late that night and into the early morning. There were a lot of people from the building who came to our apartment (the building was a very close knit building), with everyone crying.

I was scared, and buried my head into my grandma’s lap, and just heard what was going on, not having a clue of how to deal with what had happened, and what it meant.

I think the three of us, thaatha, Krish and I dealt with this devastating loss in our own ways. Thaatha, in his own words, was benumbed and wasn’t too communicative with people around and was involved in his own grief. It was good for all of us that my grandma moved back to live with us, as she was the common thread that held us all together to some kind of normalcy. I was in denial for a while and I could say the same for Krish. But eventually we all had to accept the fact and face it.

My mother’s passions & interests

Paati was a Math graduate and was passionate about Math and about education. She had specific goals for us – study and perform at the top and become a doctor or an engineer, two careers most parents wanted their kids to be in at that time :-).

She used to tutor both Krish and I, and used to get very upset and angry if we didn’t perform to the levels set by her. I have gotten a lot of scolding from her.

She was musically very inclined and talented. She learnt music from cuttle appa, and after his passing away, in later years she engaged a teacher to come home and teach her vocals along with her friends. She used to be very good playing the veena and performed at building functions during the Ganesh festivals.

Cooking was something she was very fond of, and was great at it. She would come up with her own recipes, and also modify recipes from magazines to suit our palette and her cooked food was just fantastic. She used to maintain all her recipes in a diary which I am still trying to locate. We just don’t know where it went. Thank God for Blogger today, or I would have lost all my recipes! :-)

Paati loved to visit new places and hence we would try and go to a new place every year. She was also great at keeping in touch with all her sisters and all her social contacts, and was very popular in our apartment building and the neighboring ones.

Marriage (1956)

My mother’s father was a very prominent and well known citizen of Trichur, a small town in Kerala. My mother had 10 other siblings. Through the common astrologer, cuttle appa got an inquiry about marrying thaatha with paati.

So thaatha’s mother and sister went to Trichur to see your paati. They wrote back from there saying that paati was very pretty and nice, but also was a little plump. Was thaatha ok with that? Thaatha had a nice reply to this – “How does that matter? She can get plump even after marriage!” :-).

Thaatha took 3 weeks off and headed to Trichur to see paati. He saw her, liked her and said yes to marrying her. They both hadn’t even talked to each other but were absolutely fine with what they had seen, and had figured each other out I suppose :-). Since thaatha had only 3 weeks time off, they settled on a date within the next 10 days and they were married off! :-) Cool, isn’t it?

They went to Vaikkom, a neighboring town, for their honeymoon and then came to Bombay to begin their new life together. Krish was born in 1961, followed by yours truly in 1966.

I have tried my best to recollect and write what I could about my mother. I had to take help from thaatha of course. And yes I will be writing more about her in subsequent posts, and as I remember events or situations.