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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The end

February the 12th was quite an amusing day. I had actually come back from college that very day with a heavy load of books that I had picked up at a fair a week before and I was dying to get my hands on them. It was then that mom instructed me to go to the hospital. I was disappointed, but I didn’t have a choice. Grandpa was ill and there was no one to take care of him. I wasn’t really attached to my grandpa. In fact, I’m not emotionally attached to most people around me.

I had to endure a lot of embarrassing moments that seem to be extremely funny in retrospect. Thaatha( Tamil word for grandpa) seemed to have lost track of reality. He didn’t seem to be aware of the fact that he was actually in a hospital. He thought that he was still in his house. Coincidentally, the room that was allotted to him in the hospital was scarily similar to his living room. His living room has a cot in the centre and a bench alongside. Opposite to his cot, there is a door which leads to the kitchen. Behind his cot is the entrance to his house or what used to be his house rather.

The hospital room had a cot in the centre as well.  Parallel to the cot, there was another cot which had a green bed sheet on it. It was the only hospital in my small town and hence it was crowded outside. My grandpa, according to whom the place we were in was his house, called me closer to him and asked me, “Dai Sudar, why are there so many people outside my house today? What’s happening? “. Aakash, my little cousin who had accompanied me, was grinning while I was pondering over how to answer my thatha’s question.  I gave him a random answer and put him to sleep.  A few moments later, he woke up suddenly and called me closer to him again. This time it was about the cot alongside him. “Dai Sudar, what is this big green banana leaf doing on my bench?” This time I burst out laughing along with my little cousin. I told him that Viji Chithi (Tamil word for aunt) had kept it and will be coming back shortly to take it.

My Thaatha was an independent person all his life. After Paati (Tamil word for grandma) passed away, we asked him to stay along with us. He refused. He held privacy and individual freedom in high regard: both his and ours. So he obviously didn’t prefer being chained to a drips bottle in a hospital room, though it had been hydrating him all along. Once every three minutes, he made a valiant effort to break free from that pipe which had been curtailing his freedom and independence. And every time, we had to disturb our inertia in a bid to stop him from disconnecting that pipe. My Thaatha was a short-tempered man and he saw us as people who were pulling all the stops to prevent him from doing what he wanted. The first two times, when I took his hand away from the pipe, he pinched me hard. Given the state of his body, I could sense that he was giving it his all to stop me.

From the third time, the smarty employed a different strategy. He threatened to spit at me. And I obviously didn’t want to be spat at, though my heart kept telling me that it was a mentally unstable old man living in pseudo-reality. I was helpless and hence did what any sane person would do. I called for help, LOUDLY at that. As soon as the nurse came in, I stepped out along with my cousin and as expected, people in the corridor gave me weird, apparently judgemental looks. Unperturbed, we went to the nearby hotel to get my grandpa some milk to drink.

He had low BP and wasn’t supposed to drink anything hot. But my grandpa had been used to drinking piping hot tea early in the morning. So when I offered lukewarm milk to him, he wasn’t satisfied. His big booming bass voice was heard again. “Dai Sudar, milk is not hot. Boil it again and add some sugar”, he said and pointed to the door in front of him. In his house, it would have been his kitchen door. There, in the hospital, it was the toilet door.

 “What are you staring at, enter the kitchen and boil it?” I stood right there, helpless for a second and went blank. The two most obvious things followed. He threatened to spit at me and I called for help again!

At 4 in the afternoon, Chitapa (Tamil word for Uncle) came to relieve me. As I walked back home, I thought about a lot of things. I started thinking about my relationship with Thaatha, the days when he used to take me to school. But one startling visual memory of my grandpa is this image of him sitting and watching TV alone during the last leg of his life, the one post-Sulochana (my paati’s name). That image will never cease to haunt me, the image of a lonely old man not interested in anything in life watching TV only because he had no other choice or desire. His wife was long gone; sons were busy with their own families and grandsons found him too boring. I didn’t dislike him, I didn’t like him either. It’s just that I never felt anything about him.

I was also pondering about how religious my grandpa was, like most people belonging to his generation. He used to be extremely fit and was a perfectionist. He was a very serious person in life; it’s ironical that he contributed to some hearty unintended laughter on the last day of his life.

I then went back to the hospital. He was sleeping. Chitapa, Appa and Amma had reached by then and we were discussing about the various things that had happened that day. Not a single soul in the room, including Thaatha would have imagined it to be his last night alive on this planet. We were so optimistic that he’d be back home in a couple of days that we didn’t even take him to a city hospital. And Thaatha was a person who loved anything and everything cooked at home. So we saw no point in taking him to a city hospital.

I went back home and had a disturbed sleep. Chitapa and Appa decided to spend the night in the hospital. I woke up hearing Appa scream at half past four the next day. He had called mommy’s phone. Mommy was unusually calm and I could hear Appa panic over the phone. I sensed what was happening and sprinted to the hospital. Unlike city hospitals, anyone can storm into an ICU here in Tiruninravur. Thaatha didn’t like the oxygen mask and he wanted to get rid of it. Appa was trying to hold it tight, in vain. He was obviously not able to watch his dad die in his arms. I took over from my dad and held the mask close to his nostrils. After a while, a nurse took over. I went and stood near my grandpa’s legs and was looking right into his eyes. He was struggling to breathe but was looking right into my eyes. Slowly the eyes started losing focus and started looking upwards. I started screaming at him, I told him to look at me, my eyes. The eyeballs rolled back to their original position again. We were making eye contact again. An eerie 30 seconds followed before my grandpa’s eyeballs looked upwards permanently. The doctor, who was adopting desperate measures towards the end, left the room in despair. My thatha slept that day and never woke up again.

Chithi, my cousins and Amma had arrived by then. All of them were crying and I didn’t make any attempt to console them either. I was just shell shocked; I was plainly staring at my grandpa’s walking stick leaning against a cot in the room. I wasn’t crying, I have never cried after someone’s death. But this death had definitely affected me. It was ironical that at 4.15, when the doctors were in desperate need of an ambulance, not a single vehicle turned up. But at 5.45, the ice box arrived within ten minutes of our call.

A slew of rituals that seemed pointless to me followed. I was under constant siege for being lazy. I am irreligious and I just wasn’t interested in the proceedings.  But I wasn’t lazy here. I wasn’t ready to the question the blissful pseudo-reality that everyone lives in. Each person has his own pseudo-reality and it’s unfair to question it because you’re living in one yourself. The body was then taken to the graveyard. The undertaker apparently charged a whopping 7000 bucks to burn the body. It’s funny how people can be extremely heartless and selfish even in times of extreme grief. My dad was obviously not willing to bargain with the undertaker with his dad’s corpse on his shoulders.

I stood behind the funeral pyre and watched the body burn to ashes. Beyond the raging fire, I saw people cry. I then saw them leave. And after a point, I was alone. The fire was burning faintly. Director Bala’s words struck my mind as I watched it burn. He once said in an interview that he preferred going to a graveyard to a temple. After all, if peace is what they want, what better place than a graveyard. I realized the truth behind that statement. My grandpa had finally reached a state of eternal peace.

I also pondered over his film Pithamagan. I marvelled at the thought process behind the story, the concept of an emotionless orphan drafted into the seemingly beautiful world of emotional give and take only to be stranded in a limbo after his friend’s death. I was more like the protagonist. I didn’t feel anything towards my grand-dad till that last day of his. Why did he have to make me laugh like that and disappear the very next day? God is a sadist!

I also realized how death effortlessly achieves the equality all of us strive for, throughout our lives. It makes us humble, keeps us grounded and tells us with an evil smile on its face that it owns us. And that it owns all the citizens of the world and remains impartial. I wonder if there can be an alternative to death at all! Death after all, is such a beautiful thing.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Wayanad- tour diary

I’m generally against travelling as a group to any place. In fact, I do most things alone. I’m a narcissist and I love to analyse the way my mind behaves every time I set out on an adventure or anything slightly different. The very equanimity I cherish when I travel alone is grossly abused when in a group. My freedom and privacy take a rude beating every time I travel with my family. I wouldn’t blame anyone specifically because I’m a very rigid person and I prefer sticking to myself and cannot bow down to authority or control of any form. My eyes seem to mistake care and excessive love for intrusion into private space and that explains my mom bearing the brunt of my fury and mood swings every time we decide to take a detour from the normal. I have also consistently made it a point to avoid travelling with fellow students, right from school, because such trips usually have a martinet at helm wielding a whip to ensure punctuality. Punctuality is not an issue here; it’s the scant regard for letting the beauty of a particular moment set in and absolute disrespect for man’s most fluent emotion, the tendency to enjoy natural beauty that puts me off. People so often tend to ignore the glorious present in a bid to experience an uncertain future.  These martinets also have their own crude ideas about morals and virtues, thus enforcing serious limitations on the amount of fun one can actually expect to have. And more than anything else, I’m a spendthrift and I consider myself smart enough to maximize on the amount of fun regardless of the quanta of resources available at my disposal.

So when Preetam and Jockey asked me to join them and set out on a trip to Wayanad, the answer I was going to give was quite obvious. It didn't surprise anyone, including myself. Preetam and Jockey had on earlier occasions made it a point to accuse me of being partial towards my friends in Chennai and behaving indifferently with friends back here in college. The unfair accusation was definitely getting on my nerves. In spite of all that, I persisted with my rigid stance before I finally agreed on one fine morning, the rationale behind which seems to be inexplicable at this point of time.

I wasn’t pinning any expectations on the trip. Initially, my ego received a nice pat on the back. It was a diverse, random group I was travelling with. Other than Preetam and Jockey and of course butter, I never really knew anyone properly. The others were having their share of fun and the way they conceived fun seemed to be completely different from the way I did. Preetam and Jockey meanwhile were at their irritating best initially. Jockey especially was such a pest. I plugged in my earphones and played music in full volume. That settled a few issues and for the next few moments, I was in my own sweet world as I experienced myself breeze past the static world outside.
The next day, we set out to conquer Chembara peak, but due to an unfortunate turn of events, we had to postpone our plans of scaling the peak and take a detour to Edakkal caves. There was nothing noteworthy about that place except the unanimous concern for the environment on display there. It was a place that deserved not more than an hour of anyone’s time but unfortunately, thanks to my generation’s obsession with taking photos, we ended up spending a little more than five hours there. By then, I had acclimatized myself to the group’s culture. I had even got myself to play a game of dumb charades with them. But the criminal waste of time in taking photos was something that tingled a murderous rage deep within. The lesser said about the time taken to eat, the better.

I was willing to take into consideration the varying fitness levels among the people who had made it. But in spite of the allowances, the time we wasted was unpardonably high. I wasn’t sure though, if we could actually do anything about it. On our way back, I noticed that a lot of red flags and photographs of communist luminaries were fluttering against the strong winds. It was as if the commies were still in action in Kerala though the UPA is in power there right now. I realized that regardless of the ruling party, the hearts and minds of people were still painted red. Not very surprisingly, the commies had lost only by a margin of 2 seats.

Next we went to a museum, which mostly had insignificant statues in place. But I did manage to find a few interesting things there. For example, I have been told that people traditionally worship lord Shiva in the form of the Linga. But I managed to find a five-headed Shiva, the significance of each of the heads obviously remaining oblivious till date. I also managed to find an idol of a woman dancer wearing the holy thread referred to as poonal in Tamil. I have seen statues of goddesses wearing the same elsewhere, in Haleebedu, Karnataka, if my memory serves me right. In the present day scenario though, the poonal seems to be an exclusivity among the Brahmins though I have seen people belonging to other castes wear it after marriage. But I am dead sure that women of today don’t wear it though I am certain that given a choice, most of them wouldn't want to. It threw light on what seemed to be an ironical possibility to me. The holy thread is considered to be supremely sacred and is worn by the caste right on top of the hierarchy ladder today. But then the image I witnessed the other day projected a dancer woman, probably one belonging to a lower caste and more importantly, a WOMAN wearing the thread, which implies that there could have been a point in time when women and the lower castes of today were on the same platform as the others. The above observations are obviously wild speculations but then I believe that there could be an element of truth behind such extreme imagination. It also lead me to another thought, one in which I was pondering about the absence of women priests in temples. I wondered if women priests wielding the poonal across their torso performed poojas and archanas in temples every Sunday back in those days. I also came across a lot of archaic weapons I had seen in my history books long long ago.

Next, we went to Banasura dam and surveyed the place briefly. We were a little late and after gaping at the exorbitant prices for boating across the vast expanse of fresh water, we settled down at what the locals called the nature park. It had a few swings and I had typical childish fun there, swinging to and fro at crazy speeds. Next we set out to explore the huge circumference of the dam and in the process, we trespassed into private property. We kept moving only to eventually realize that we were short of time and had to go back. Someday, I hope to go back there and complete my mission.
After quite an eventful day, we went back to the hotel. After spectating brief sessions of dancing and taking photos, I hit the sack. The next day, all of rose early in a bid to scale Chembara. A good number was late as I expected and after wasting some more time taking pictures of scenery that would be available in better quality online, we reached the foothills and started ascending one of the largest peaks in Wayanad, 2100 metres to be precise. Jockey and I lead the way and proceeded at breakneck speed until we reached a checkpoint, a heart shaped pond. We were asked to wait there and it was our turn to waste time taking photos, though it wasn’t at the expense of anyone else. We also took a detour and found a heavenly place near the pond. It was an area densely populated with trees and thanks to our speed; we reached the place quite early in the morning, relatively that is. It was around 9.30. The amount of sunlight was just right and the thin rays coherently seeped through the leaves creating an amazingly pleasant feeling inside. Jockey and I were delighted with ourselves for discovering that place and weren’t in any mood to leave it any soon. So we let a lot of people leave ahead of us, people who were mostly ignorant about the existence of the paradise, only to catch up with them later of course.

For me and jockey atleast, the ascent was more about enjoying the subtle intricacies involved in the construction of the humongous masterpiece termed nature. We made it a point to take detours on a regular basis and discover new places of intrigue most likely to be skipped by the others. We took great pleasure in climbing the peak off the beaten track; we seemed to be in love with the process of creating our new path, scripting our own destiny.

A person like me who is heading down the extremely tempting and convenient path of agnosticism, a trek like this can be quite a tease. Have you ever realized that it is almost impossible, ALMOST, to enjoy a composition or a performance without getting to know about its creator? It is as if our mind is designed to sing paeans about the creator of something we enjoyed; it has been like that since time immemorial for me atleast.
But if there was something I really enjoyed about the trek, it was the fact that I was fit enough to do a task involving a certain degree of physical strain with such ease and pace. Mostly, the mountain terrains resembled the description of the steppes I used to find in my 8th grade geography text book. They looked like huge grasslands until I reached the last leg of the climb where we had to do some steep rock-climbing. After enduring those moments of extreme fun and adventure, I finally reached the top and I have to tell you that it is a feeling that’s likely to be unmatched for a long time to come.
Boring is the word that best describes the descent. There were no expectations and it was as if we had seen everything. The descent is actually tougher than the ascent, for people like me especially. I take huge heavy steps and don’t walk on my toes. So every time I landed with a thud on the rocks, my calf muscles experienced some amount of pain. After we got down, jockey and I ran all the way to the place in which our jeeps were parked. The vehicles were a good 800 metres away and the fact that we were able to run all the way after a demanding trek gave us a feeling of fulfilment about our fitness levels.

We then reached Suchipara falls late in the evening and had a nice refreshing bath before we headed back to college. Overall, it was one of the best trips I have embarked on. It taught me a lot of things about myself. It also taught me that all trips and all people who captain expeditions aren’t the same. It was a pleasure meeting a diverse group of people with different ideologies and ideas. I also discovered that I was capable of exploring alternate methodologies and avenues as far as having fun was concerned. I was extremely satisfied with the way the faculty members who accompanied us made us share responsibilities and remained open-minded throughout. The process of occasionally adjusting to satisfy norms and accommodate other possibilities didn’t seem painful to me this time. In fact, I realized that adjustment was sometimes necessary and could be fun too!