Sunday, November 19, 2017

Knight In Distress

Pic Credit: Pngtree
The incessant honks are really bothering me and I cannot focus. Why does Rishi have to live in this godforsaken part of town? Couldn’t he have chosen a quieter suburb with emptier roads? All around me, vehicles whoosh by, the sounds getting on my nerves. Now someone has started yelling. Gosh it’s a lady. Screaming at the top of her voice. Someone must have pissed her off real bad. My sympathies with the poor sucker, I chuckle. The yelling is closer now, to my right, real close. I peek a look in that direction, and I see her. Well, I see her finger first – waddling in the air, making animated gestures and then I see the rest of her. Her face is red as a beet, her voice growing hoarse as she throws around curses that would embarrass even the most notorious of my gang. I look to my left to figure out who she’s yelling at, there’s no one. But the finger continues to waddle and now she’s waving to pull over. Gasp, she’s yelling at me? A pothole jerks me off my seat and I struggle to achieve balance. The screaming continues.

I force myself to look ahead. I am not good at multi-tasking. I am trying to ride this 100+ kilo two-wheeler with one hand, while I try to maneuver Google maps through the other. Juggling the bag of clothes between my feet is not even being counted here. Damn you Rishi! And now this crazy female wants me to listen to her rant! A man cannot even ride his machine in peace.

Suddenly she cuts me off, with absolutely no notice whatsoever, forcing me to pull over. Women riders, I curse. Let’s get this over with once and for all. I swerve a bit, slow down and then come to a stop. I watch her park and walk towards me.

“Why you using your phone while riding? You ain't even got a helmet!” She barks at me.
“Take my bike number. Complain to the cops. Anything else?” I retort, very matter-of-factly.

She’s quiet. I think I have made my point. I rev up the engine.
“I lost my brother to that.” She says, quiet then.
You can’t argue with that. Not without looking like an inconsiderate asshole. And haughty girl or not, it does not seem right.

“I am sorry.” I say softly and turn off the bike.
“Why are you riding like this?” She asks softly. I look at her then. She’s quiet, waiting for a response.
“I am trying to find my friend’s place. Stupid highway, can’t ask anyone either.” I say.
“Hmm. What about that? What’s that?” She asks, pointing to the bag now toppled over to one side.
Odd question, I think. How does it matter?
“Yes.” I reply.
She raises her eyebrows, pointing at the bag.
“Jackets. Track pants. What’s it to you?” I say, flippant.
She’s silent now, looking into the distance. Seconds tick by.

“Put them on.” She says, pointing to the bag.
“What? No way. It’s freaking hot!” I counter.
“Put them on.” She says firmly.
“No. Why don’t you just get on your way?” I almost shoo her away.
She’s silent then, possibly conceding defeat. What girl would want to pick a fight with a stranger?

“Where are you trying to get to?” She asks softly. Harmless question.
“Kajaria Vihar. Tell me how to get to it and I’ll be on my way.” I start the bike again.
“Gimme your phone, I’ll key in a shorter route. Two-wheelers can go easily,” she says.

I look her over. She’s decently dressed, not a robber. How far could she run with it anyway? Especially with my bike still revving. Unsuspecting fool that I am, I hand it over. Unfortunately, running away with it was never part of her plan.

“Put them on, or I throw this right into the highway.” She threatens, her hand raised to throw my lifeline right into oncoming traffic. I see the glint of madness in her eyes and I know she is capable of executing her threat. Vehicles speed by and my phone, my dear iPhone 8, will get crushed under these overloaded trucks. Stress tests and everything aside, am I really willing to risk it?

“You are a crazy woman!” I yell.
“That I am! Now put them on!” She yells right back.
Grudgingly, I pull out the jackets one by one. I am now wearing four layers of clothes.
“Tracks too. Hurry up!” She says, pointing the phone at me as if she were pointing a gun.
I pull them on. I am already sweating profusely but the psycho isn’t done yet.

“Move” she commands. I do, obedient all of a sudden. Who knew that a threat to my beloved phone could make me so meek? She pulls off her hairband letting her hair loose and looks at me. She’s beautiful. And I am confused.

But the psycho is clearly up to something. She pulls the band around the handlebar and fits the phone right in. It sits tightly there, snug against the leather.
“There. Off you go now.” She says, looking at me with a sense of pride.
My heart jumps to my mouth, what if it falls? She notices the expression on my face and does an exasperated eye roll. I am sure it says, Men!

She takes the plastic bag, now empty of clothes it held, and slipping it through the handlebar, fits it right under the phone. I smile. My phone is safe; even if it falls it would fall right in. She’s okay, I think.

“For the record, I ain’t promoting phone usage while riding. But it’ll work for tonight," she says.
I look down sheepishly and mumble an incoherent apology.

“Take the next bridge and then the first right. Go straight till the dead end. Kajaria Vihar will be on your right.” She says, walking back to her bike.

"Hey! If you knew the directions all along, why not just tell me? Why make me wear all this?" I ask.
She giggles. "Coz it was fun knowing I could! Besides it's funny seeing the lengths people go for their phones!" She laughs as she dons her helmet.

“Thanks.” I yell out, impish now.
She looks at me then, the far-away-into-the-distance look clouding her face again.
“No. Thank you!” She yells back. And then she’s gone.

That night, Jugaad Inc. is born.

Friday, October 6, 2017

When the Bell's tolled

The narrative below maintains anonymity for certain reasons. Please do preserve the same on this page.

To the person who’s reading this: If you’re going through Bell’s (or anything that has pulled you down momentarily), I hope the narrative below gives you some relatable comfort. Remember you’re strong. Much stronger than what you’re going through. Stay patient and stay positive. And now that what was to happen has happened, take this time to slow down a bit and appreciate people and life around you. Life is beautiful! Not every change feels positive in the beginning! More strength to you! Get well soon!

Pic Credit: Huffington Post
6th September, 2017. A normal Wednesday afternoon, 30 days ago. It starts out as a normal throat infection, or so she thinks. The pain just behind her right ear bothers her a lot. So she trots out to the nearest ENT. Armed with an illegible handwritten doctor’s note and a handful of medicines including the obvious course of antibiotics, she comes back home. Over the next two days, the throat pain is all but gone. The ear is another story altogether. She feels an inflammation behind the ear, a nerve pull that tugs at the top right portion of her head. Friday morning, she can take it no more and her husband drives her over to the general physician. On the way ‘Channa Mereya’ plays on the radio, a song she has heard hundreds of times. She cannot figure out whether the lead singer is singing or if it’s just music, whether it’s a remix version or the original. Her husband is taken aback by her questions. The song is playing at the usual volume. Her hearing’s gone for a toss. 

The GP does his checks. He tells her he suspects Bell’s palsy. She has no clue what he’s talking about. He tells her it’s a temporary neurological ailment where the virus (anything simple like the flu) affects the facial nerve that causes temporary facial paralysis. Read here for more. It does not sink in. Or maybe her splitting neural headache is too much for her to bear and focus on what he’s saying. Because it’s not confirmed yet, he cannot recommend medicines. And if it’s indeed Bell’s, there’s no stopping it. It can only be treated, not prevented. He tells her a couple of face exercises (blowing cheeks, whistling) to be done every couple of hours and sends her on her way. She’s told to call as soon as she feels a hint of facial weakness.

She spends the weekend away with family. Saturday goes by in a painful stupor. Sunday morning, she sits on the bed trying to do her exercises and she can do them no more. The right side of her face slumps. She breaks down. She thinks she could just say goodbye to the folks she’s with and leave. But then someone cracks a joke and they all laugh. And she sees the shock and confusion on their faces. And she breaks down yet again. Her husband calls the doctor immediately who gets her started on a dosage of steroids. These are to continue for a month, dosages tapering every 5 days. They return on Sunday night. She’s told to start with current induced stimulations on Monday. By now, their families are shaken.

Over the next week and a half, she cannot blink. Her right eye stays open, and waters continuously. Unable to find a pirate patch at the medical stores, an old Qatar airlines overnight sleep patch comes to her rescue so that she can get some sleep. Her speech is slurred, drawn out in slow long drawling words. Chewing, food and water intake are tough. Her smile and boisterous laughter skew her face. Expressions do not cause any kind of movement on the right side of the face.

During this time, she sees those closest to her break down at various times. People she has always seen as strong, steadfast, sane heads. She is usually the emotionally weak one. And then one fine day, right out of nowhere, she feels stronger. Just like that, the roles are reversed. The consolee becomes the consoler. Her family and her dearest friends come through for her, always being there for her – painstakingly tolerating her quirks, doing odd jobs, reading to her, gifting her a spa session, taking time off to be with her and her heart swells at the love and care she witnesses.

Her initial sessions of physiotherapy are painful. They start with 35 spurts each of surged faradic current for 15 motor points on the face. She learns about the frontalis, buxinator, mentalis and orbicularis oculi facial muscles. She learns about the number of expressions controlled by the 7th cranial nerve – surprise, frown, nose lift, cheek blow, whistling, pout, smile, grin, eye closure and so on. She learns about Grade I palsy – recovery in a month and Grade II palsy – recovery within 6 months. The first couple of times, the current on her nose feels like it would saw it through. Several times she feels her teeth gnash and she wonders if she will need to see a dentist next. But her pain tolerance is up several notches. Only twice in 23 continuous days of physiotherapy does she break down – neither time due to physical pain. She re-learns to say the A-E-I-O-U – the O first coming out as Awww because the mouth wouldn’t close. She blows balloons, blows out candles, blows air and sucks through a straw as part of the exercise regimen. And sometimes she giggles at the absurdity of it all.

To manage the weight gain side-effect of steroids, she takes to walking like a fish to water. She tries to read to keep herself busy. The first week she can barely manage 10 minute sessions. It improves significantly over the next three weeks. She solves a 500 piece jigsaw puzzle – patiently working through it in intervals. She shops online like there’s no tomorrow. Her family and closest circle of friends become her lifeline – those who cannot visit check in on her continuously – their concern apparent in their care and enquiries. She makes ‘getting on my nerves’ kind of crass jokes which they make faces at, but she laughs at her own sense of humour. Several times over the month, she feels overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude – of this much love and care and the feeling of being taken care of.

She shares a great rapport with the physiotherapist, Dr. Shwetali Sachdev, who’s a smart, driven woman, passionate about her work. During her sessions, they talk about a number of things ranging from politics to shopping, travel and more. It must not be easy treating patients with the same stimulations over and over, counting 1-15 for 15 exercises and 35-45 stimulations for 15 motor muscles every single day, day after day. Yet, the doctor does it with the same amount of dedication without breaking a sweat.

She meets a 9th standard student who’s been coming for six months. The girl has Grade II palsy and not once does she see her complain. She hears of an IT guy from Amsterdam who contracts Bell’s just before his return and starts physio here. People at work are supportive, understanding her need for having taken a whole month off. They juggle the additional workload and call in from time to time. Through the month she’s greeted with simple acts of kindness from random strangers, even strangers who do not realize that she has an ailment and are just being nice. Deeds that bolster her faith in humanity even more. Not that it ever needed any support. Her faith in grass root humanity has always superseded her helpless frustration with some degenerate ones from the human race.

Days turn to weeks, weeks to a month. It’s been 30 days and the recovery has been tremendous. The last week has been more a rejuvenation vacation complete with TLC from every nook and corner. Her exercises are still to continue for a while but she feels amazing and stronger than ever. Her BIL thinks she’s such a fighter – well he hasn’t seen the cribber in her! Her sister is surprised with the sudden positivity. She does not know if it will last, but she sure hopes it does. Some tell her it could have happened owing to an evil eye and tell her to ward it off. And she looks around and wonders – even if that were to be true, she has unimaginable love, care and strength coming to her from her near and dear ones, faith and oneness with life coursing through her, and a feeling of gratefulness despite it all. Or maybe, because of it all. What does she really have to fear then? Life is still good and will continue to be good. Sure, there will be ups and down, but hey – we get through it. And sometimes, we even come out shining!

Note: Bell’s Palsy affects over a million people in India every year, that’s 1% of the population. But it is getting more common. Grade I and Grade II are dependent on the severity of infection – Grade II being more severe. There is no algorithm to the way it affects people, it is just pure luck. Because the virus is airborne and more prone to spread during colder climate, it’s best to take precautions during the rainy and winter seasons and at colder places – making sure that ears are covered as one steps out. Having a strong immunity is obviously recommended. The good thing is Bell’s is 100% recoverable, all one needs is patience and endurance. Needless to say, TLC always helps!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Who is She?

I hear the rhythmic sounds, muted screeches of metal on metal, spaced a second apart. The mind takes slightly more than that to register the source of the sounds. I walk over to the balcony and lean down to look. Fourteen floors below, I see the swing in motion, swaying up and down – the rider a tiny apparition in the distance. It is dark all around; the setting sun has long since surrendered to the starry skies. I only catch blotches of white; I believe it to be her skirt billowing in the soft breeze - the same breeze that rushes up to meet me as well.

It’s always a ‘her’. It has to be a she. The mind refuses to conjure otherwise. I see her hair flying haywire with every drop and getting whipped up with every climb. I hear her giggles echoing through the night. She’s played a hilarious prank on her colleagues today, one that they’re going to remember forever. She’s acquired lifetime bragging rights over her acting skills as well. They tell her it was Oscar worthy.

Or maybe it isn’t that. She is there because she needs a break. Her sobs make her way up to me. Her five-year old has thrown yet another tantrum and overturned everyone's dinner. His doctors want him to be labeled as an autism case and she is fighting them tooth and nail. Her husband would rather have his child committed to a nursing center than bear the burden. But she would be damned, if she lets anyone brand her son. Her cell phone resounds in the pitch of the dark, a shrill tone piercing the silence of the night. If only she could get a few more minutes of quiet, but sigh.

Or maybe, she just is. No high flying incidents. No saddening moments that pull her down. Just another day. A light jog in the morning, some rushed words with her loved ones, a hectic day at work, catching up with friends. There’s nothing particular she has achieved, yet there’s a sense of accomplishment. A day well delivered. And so she swings, up and down, catching up on moments through the day, pondering over snatches of conversations, feeling one with herself, recognizing her own self grow with the world around her. That’s probably it. She probably is; she just is. Nothing more; nothing less.

And as the cadence continues to make music, I wonder if it’s just the flowing breeze that binds us or if there is more in common between all these women and I, invisible intertwining threads that weave in and out binding person to person, differing combinations of snippets of life stolen from a huge master list and assembled to make us whole? Most days she swings, on some days she doesn’t. Those are the days she’s lost, but then she always comes back. Every day is a new day; every day will be a new ‘her’ and the possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Age No Bar

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I see her standing at the other door of the compartment. She watches me from all the way across. Mentally, I give her thirty seconds to come stand by my side. In thirty more, she will probably flash me an alluring smile.

I underestimate her. She has done all that and much more within twenty seconds. She’s staring at me now – her unyielding gaze making me squirm under its effect. I feel paralyzed. I do not smile back. Her hand slides down to my cheeks and I blush. The tip of her thumb grazes my brow and I flick my hair aside. Around us, people start giggling.

There’s electricity in the air. The ladies in our compartment seem charged, some of them on their toes as if trying to witness a spectacle. How shameless. Some point their fingers at us as if we are on display. Well, in a way we are – what with her public display of affection reaching new heights every minute. She doesn’t miss a beat. Reaching around my neck, she pulls me close to her.

And then laughter erupts peppered with phrases like “Awww”, “How cute!”, “So sweet”, and “How adorable!”

“How old is he?” The lady holding her hand asks my Mom.
“Thirteen months.” Mom quips as I look up at her. “Yours?”
“Just eleven months. And she’s already going on eighteen years,” the lady chuckles.

I look at her standing next to me. She just winks.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Two Sides of the Same Coin

He hefts the overweight bags onto his right shoulder. Walks ten steps. Pauses for fifteen seconds. Shifts one of the bags onto the other shoulder. Walks twelve more steps. Lowers the bags to the ground. The contents shift treacherously, threatening to spill over on the street. Hurriedly, he picks them up again. Mentally curses himself for having forgotten his cell phone at home. His son would have come running to help had he known. With a long deep sigh, he puts one step in front of the other and starts walking again.

She whooshes past him leaving a strong flowery fragrance in her wake. For a second, he is reminded of the Rajdhani Express that his mother used to tell him stories about. There one second, gone the next. But then she stops and turns around. Looks at him and squints. Like there are gears turning in her head. Silently contemplating. She comes running towards him and asks “Is it okay if I help you carry this to your house?”


“Kids of today, they are so ignorant!” he exclaims heatedly.
“What happened, Aniruddha? What is making you grumble even as you enter the house?”
“This generation, Baba. They know nothing about our culture and religion,” Aniruddha replies as he downs a glass of water and shuffles around in the kitchen.
“What are you looking for?” He asks, following his son around the house.
“The matchbox. I think we ran out.”
“I got us some. I went to the market. Had to buy the monthly stock of groceries.”
Baba, how many times do I tell you to not go alone? Why carry such heavy bags home?”
“It’s ok, Aniruddha. Bless the girl."
"What girl, Baba? You really need to stop talking to strangers."
"She was a kid, Aniruddha. Must be all of twelve. But she saw me struggling with those bags and offered to carry them for me. Now, what were you griping about?”
“Nothing, Baba. It’s not important. Just call me next time. Now, did you take your medicines?”


Dear Diary,
That old man reminded me of my Grandpa. I wonder if he has any grandchildren. They say what goes around comes around. I hope someone helps my Grandpa the way I helped this man.

I got chastised today. Severely. How was I to know that while going around Shiva’s idol I am not supposed to cross over the channel? We go around idols all the time. It’s called circumambulation – the going around. Daddy spelled it out for me. Might be helpful for my spell bee, he said. I hope my good deed for the day does not get nullified by this religious infraction. That would be bad for Grandpa.

PS: (It means Post script): I used 2 medium and 2 complex words in today’s entry. That makes the total so far – 47 new words for the bee.

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