Monday, January 21, 2008

Nasi Goreng and chit chat

Today I had an irresistable urge for chinese food. Unresisting, yet strapped for cash, I went over to S.... which was the about the only place I could afford, and get to with a mere 5/- rupee bus fare. Chinese menus 1,2,3 & 4 were sold out, and feeling downcast (not to mention hungry) I went for the only option left - mediocre nasi goreng. The facts that I'm spicy food "intolerant" and not exactly a fan of meat went ignored.

So I sat there, amidst the Colombo office bustle during a weekday lunch hour, moodily shovelling in the unappealing food and staring at the other people chattering happily with friends/family. I felt very lonely, all alone at my glass-topped table.

Subsequent conversation with Darling went something like this.

Me : I had tasteless nasi goreng at S.... today
Darling : You went to S.... for lunch? Why do you voluntarily submit yourself to this kind of torture?
Me : (shrug)
Darling : Hang on, what happened to the (packed) lunch from home?
Me : I gave it away
Darling : To whom?
Me : (sheepishly) A guy on the street...
Darling : WHY???
Me : He looked hungry...
Darling : ......
Me : (helpfully) He offered to pay me 5 rupees for it
Darling : ......????
Me : I said "No, no" and offered him 20 rupees. He said "no, no" also. Then we both walked off
Darling :...........
Darling : I am speechless. See you in the evening.

Hmmm.... poor fellow. He's stuck with me for life.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Darling Achchi

My grandma died 2 weeks ago.

It took me 13 days to get my thoughts together so that I could reply to all the condolence e-mails/sms/facebook messages... stuff my friends resorted to because I wasn't too keen on answering the phone. 13 days to put into words some of the stuff that has been running around my head.

Achchi had a heart attack soon after the homecoming... for those who are interested it was a NSTEMI (i.e. not affecting all 3 layers of the heart) but quite extensive as all chest leads of the ECG showed changes and the troponin levels were sky high. She was admitted to the CCU, and responded well to the treatment... after more than a month of on-and-off chest pain, she was pain free and confortable. She smiled and talked of going home in couple of days and wanted her brown dress with the sparkly flowers to be brought. The next day she developed internal bleeding... I suspect that was a reaction to the loading doses of aspirin, clopidogrel and enoxaparin. Her Hb plummeted to 6.5g/dl and she needed 3 blood transfusions. Yet she was still smiling when we left...

When I went with breakfast the next morning, something wasn't right. Achchi would usually be on the lookout, eagerly waiting for soup/toast/oats. Instead, she seemed sleepy and just mumbled to leave her alone. Mums deftly checked everything... blood glucose: ok, BP: stable, oxygenation 84% but improved to 100% when a mask was put on, neurologically ok, no signs of a stroke. It was then that we noticed a temperature of a 102 degrees! Antibiotics were started, steroids and other supportive drugs. Tests revealed she had developed staphylococcal septicaemia... goodness knows from where, but probably when one of the dozens of cannulas were inserted.

So there she was in the CCU, unconcious, weathering one crisis after another. Cardiac arrest, hyperkalaemia, unrecordable BP, acute LVF, tachyarrhythmias with heart-rate over 160, impending renal failure etc. etc. on various occasions. But she survived them all. She got the best care from the team of doctors and nurses, she had consultants of every speciality looking after her... She was getting better...

Achchi opened her eyes after 10 days of unconciousness. A couple of days later, she recognised Mums. Those last two days, she was very comfortable... free of pain and fever, on an air mattress, breathing freely and with stable heart rate and BP. I was with her untill about an hour before she passed away... she looked beautiful and peaceful. A pirith cassette was playing, and Mums had placed the earphones on her. She opened her eyes and looked at me just before I left. I left the hospital full of hope... physiotherapy, speech therapy etc.

Close to 10 am, my grandma had just stopped breathing... and all resucitation efforts failed. Mums was with her till the last, and if anyone else had told me, I wouldn't have believd the end could come so suddenly. I can only comfort myself with the knowlege that it was her time to leave... if she had ayusha left... she would have survived with all that treatment and loving care. I was glad she had been comfortable, I believe she was concious enough to hear and focus on the pirith and hope she has been reborn in a good place.

My grandma was a wonderful person, kind, compassionate and loving. My grandfather survives her, and he is heartbroken at having lost his life-partner. They were married for 57 years... but had "an understanding" for a decade before they married. They raised 4 wonderful children (2 engineers, a doctor and a businessman) and had 9 loving grandchildren. Their home was a haven to dozens of nieces and nephews who would invade the premises during school holidays and leave stuffed and played out to their hearts content.

She braved hard times during WWII when my grandfather was abroad and she was not supported by her in-laws. Too proud to ask help from her family and unwilling to complain to her husband, she sold her jewellery, piece by piece in order to have food and shelter for her children. She never bore any ill-will and when her father-in-law contracted TB and was to be banished to Welisara, she had him brought to her home, in spite of having 4 small children there. She fed, washed, nursed and comforted him for many months untill he died.

She wasn't very educated as her father didn't believe girls should go to school beyond standard 5... but education was very important to her, and she rejoiced at every truimphant milestone reached by her kids and grandkids. She had travelled to many countries and really enjoyed life. Always well dressed, she would scope out the latest fashions at family weddings and tell me... "Duwa, so-and-so was wearing a beautiful saree blouse with /only one sleeve/no sleeves/corset fastening at the back etc.... you should get your blouses sewn that way, young girls should be fashionable..."

In the weeks preceeding my wedding, whenever the angina bothered her she said "may lamayage magulen passenam mata monawa vunath kammanne ne" (after this child's marriage, I do not care what happens to me). She pooh-poohed my Victorias Secret body scrub and recomended crushed mung beans mixed with saffron and sandlewood in order (as she said) to make my skin glow like gold. I remember how much she enjoyed herself at both the wedding and the homecoming... meeting with all her relatives and having a ball of a time. Recently while searching her cupboard for a fresh towel, I came across our cake-box, carefully wrapped up in a handkerchief and placed next to the Deva pictures in a corner of the shelf.

Achchi had told my mother that she had made a vow... that after my wedding and homecoming were over, that she would offer a hundred lotus blooms to the Kaluthara Bodhi. So we travelled to the Kaluthara on Saturday, to fulfill the vow on her behalf. I went on buying flowers from vendor after vendor, I'm not sure how many we offered for the pooja, but it was over a hundred. it was an offering of love and devotion... and helped drive home the fact that just as the flowers would fade, so too would we, each of us, experience decay and death.

My grandma was deeply religious, observing sil during all 4 poyas days during her youth, and later, whenever she got a chance. She trully practiced Buddhism, meditating often and above all, spreading loving kindness to every living being. I cannot remember a single instance where she has spoken ill about anyone... even if someone treated her horribly, she would always find an excuse and seek reconcilliation. She has helped build temples and meditation centres, planted holy Bodhi trees, taken part in umpteen katina poojas etc. etc. Her greatest delight and most cherished memory was of the time she was permitted (in her words - "in spite of being a mere woman") to carry a sacred casket containing holy relics (Dhathu Karanduwa) at the local temple.

Gandma was always a sucker for a sob story. Should anyone come to her with a tale of woe, she would give away the money in her purse, the rings off her fingers and the bangles off her hands. Many's the time my mother has gone in track of them, and redeemed them from whatever pawnshop they'd been hocked at. Achchi would lie right and left to save other people (especially domestic assistants... or her naughty grandkids) from blame. Whichever child's home she was staying at, should anything break or get torn or misplaced... Achchi would look suitable contrite and confess to the "crime", knowing fullwell that no one would have the heart to tell her off.

I loved her deeply... and still do. I miss seeing her happy face when I come home from work. I miss having her pottering around, checking on the meals being cooked and her comments (almost always positive) on what I'm wearing. I wish with all my heart that we had been able to somehow help her pull through. The chasm her death left behind continues to gape - black and empty.

I try to comfort myself... She had a good life for 84 years... loved by many. She was relatively healthy and hadn't been hospitalised for anything in over 10 years. She was happy and active and mobile untill the last few weeks... she had a peaceful death.

May she attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana