Saturday, August 27, 2016

Identity (Micro fiction 2)

“About saddle discomfort, opinion is in favor of going natural down there, in the nether regions, you understand? It gives good cushioning, don’t go shaving, it makes pedaling prickly,” Ajooni had to smile at how upfront sports persons were with their anatomical tips. “And girl, bacteria loves Lycra, wash and dry and wait a minute!” her team cyclist cast a surreptitious look about before dipping her voice, “There is a cream called ‘Ass magic’, it is all about loving your bum if you want to haul 100 Km daily on that road bike you fly upon. Get going now.”

A tiny push and spring, Ajooni had swung her right leg over the saddle expertly, eyes watering with merriment behind her custom glares. As soon as the bike gained momentum, she threw back her slim neck and hooted out an unladylike guffaw at the name of the chamois cream. Ass magic indeed! Had her grandmother even an inkling of this cycling culture, Ajooni would be home, honing her rajmaah and aloo gobhi skills.

“What kind of a mother are you, tell me, letting your young daughter roam around long distances alone? And on a cycle?! What if the tyres punctured out there on some deserted stretch? She could be knocked down or worse, kidnapped. Mark my words, that cycling club she is so fond of is an evil influence on her. Our Ajooni is too naive!” the home of this adventurous cyclist was thick with these hyper cautious notes.

They were three generations living together and it was the middle one that bore the brunt of foretold tragedies. Ajooni’s mother played buffer as best she could but Bebe Ji was if anything, as stubborn as her granddaughter. The two often argued over their Sikh identity. “Puttar, it is a privilege to be born a Sikh. We have some unique concepts of the Saint Soldier, the Guru, our Mul Mantra, Naam and Hukum, let me give you some books on Sikhism in English, it is important to have a sense of who you are and where you come from.”  

The intensity with which Ajooni tuned out this indoctrination was in direct proportion to its frequency.  An Ivy League graduate, she was a do-it-yourself millennial, not exactly trusting of institutions that had let down her generation more often than not. “Bebe Ji, we just need one religion in the world, that of humanity,” she was fond of cutting short her grandmother’s spiel.

Brought up by progressive parents in a liberal environment, Ajooni
was used to following her heart and mind. At the dinner table one night, she made a declaration of sorts, “I want to cycle across India and document the ride, more as a campaign to highlight women’s safety issues on our roads,” The table clatter braked all of a sudden, multiple goldfish mouths of her family members, sucking on air in abject panic. “Oh my God, I warned you she was being given too much freedom,” Bebe Ji’s body quivered with concern. Using the dismayed silence as a cue, Ajooni expanded on the theme, “I want to prove that it can be done and that it is safe. My aim is to encourage and motivate more Indian women to step out of their fear zones when it comes to solo traveling. I have picked a challenging route from Leh to Kanyakumari, about 3000 plus kilometers. I may need your inputs Dad and Mum on budget breakdown and route plan. My fitness preparation is going well.”

That’s it. Just like that. There was no time for dissuasion. A lot had to be done. Bicycle accessories, tools, kit, spares to be bought. Ajooni’s father got busy booking her one way ticket to Leh. Her Mum pitched in with the media coverage material. And Bebe Ji settled down for what she knew would be a long haul in her tiny Baba Ji’s room. Ajooni was looking at about two months of cycling to cover the route.

Their hearts in their mouths and prayers on their lips, Ajooni’s family ticked off the days, one at a time on a special calendar Bebe Ji insisted they hang in her room. She would take the broad red marker pen and slash the date cross ways with a vengeance. Weekends came and went.

The day she was to launch on her final leg, Ajooni called to speak with her grandmother. Tears rolled down the aged eyes, as she pressed the phone to her ears, “Bebe Ji, do you know what kept me going on this ride, your Gurudwaras… our Gurudwaras, they became my default plan of action, such stunning, unhesitating, unrivalled hospitality Bebe Ji. They met my requests with good will and chai! I slept and ate there. I experienced charity first hand. This trip has changed me. You were right about spirituality being in giving with no expectation of a return.  Wahe Guru ji ka Khalsa, Wahe Guru ji ki Fateh Bebe Ji!”

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dignity (Micro fiction 2)

 Preminder dived into Dr Neela’s eyes, there was no resisting that merry twinkle, a wholly infectious smile, beginning over the incisors and stretching into her petite, pearl studded ears. “You are a most healthy sample Ma’am, no diabetes, no blood pressure, haemoglobin is twelve plus, you are into quite a bit of physical activity, don’t worry. Just let’s get this pre-anaesthetic check-up out of the way and we will schedule your surgery. “

The patient gathered up her papers and backed out of the doctor’s room, marvelling at the brilliant young professional, “So much joie de vivre! What an amazing woman!”

Quiet as a graveyard, the hospital stretched around her. There was sombreness to patients milling about in the waiting areas and the dispensaries. Even the cafeteria smelt introspective, knitted brows hunched over plates of food. People sat in a common shroud of silent acceptance and grim fortitude.
Images of Dr Neela’s smile kept Preminder company on her trudge to the parking lot, “I am lucky to hit upon such a positive gynaecologist. It is a minor procedure. I am in confident and upbeat hands.”

At a social event later in the day, Preminder could not stop talking of her happy doctor and the affirmative energy she exuded. “Woman troubles anyone?  Neela is your saviour,” she urged her friends. There was interest, ears perked up; this was after all, the retired uterus community. Hot flashes, post-menopausal abnormal bleeding, generic fatigue were their staple diet of conversation.

It wasn’t until five days later, having completed the oral medicine dose, that Preminder texted Neela, asking for the tentative surgery date. There was no response. “That’s strange! Neela is a very prompt and courteous doctor,” Preminder cast about for possible reasons other than an ongoing operation or an outpatient visit or a ward round.  “Doctors keep terribly busy,” she decided to wait a day. But the silence extended into the long Easter week end and then beyond. By now, a peevish cloud had begun to gobble up Preminder’s good natured acceptance of Neela’s preoccupation, “How can a gynaecologist take off on a pleasure trip this long?” she grumbled to herself. “There are alternatives available, we can go to another hospital,” her husband suggested. But Preminder had taken to this doctor and would not hear of trusting another.

“Ma’am, yours is not a medical emergency. We can perform the procedure when convenient,” Neela had assured her, she recalled. And so the wait turned into a month long drag. Life put Preminder on the roller coaster that it invariably does and before long it was time to move out on a transfer. In that all too common panic of gathering up the most one can, when leaving a city, thoughts of Dr Neela came bubbling up Preminder’s busy head like flotsam. “Better get this done here before moving to a new place.”

Preminder placed the call. “Dr Neela? Ma’am, you mean the late Dr Neela?” the voice at the other end echoed out and amplified back in over Preminder’s stunned ears. She slumped into the sofa, her hand stiff on the earpiece. The hospital receptionist had handed the phone over to the supervisor. A politely impersonal tone was launching into an explanation, “Mrs Preminder, I am so sorry to inform you that we lost Dr Neela to pancreatic cancer this Friday past. We can schedule you with another gynaecologist.”

“Pancreatic cancer? I had no clue, she was so full of life,” her new doctor smiled gently at Preminder’s agonized incredulity across her table. She waited for the words to wash the distress away before holding out a metal badge. It had ‘NO CODE’ embossed on it. Preminder turned it over with a frown as the doctor spoke, “Some of us in the business of saving lives choose to die differently Ma’am. This here is a wish expressed, negating any CPR or cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Neela had done her paper work. She did not want any chemotherapy, radiation or surgical treatment.”
Preminder couldn’t believe her ears, “But how could a doctor not want the care she administers  others?”

“You are right Ma’am, Neela had access to the best oncologists but she wanted to go gently, knowing modern medicine’s limitations. No heroics, no life support, no futile care for her. She chose to manage her pain and spend time with her family, dying in peace, at home.”

The two sat in silence for a while.  “She used to say Ma’am, that the state-of-art of life’s end is death with dignity!” 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016


One of our greatest fears is purported to be that of dying. The thought has come to me, unbidden, as much of my own end as of those I love and live for. I have stood idly, gazing at roads and trees and structures around me, “These will remain here, long past my exit from this space.” While watching movies of the yesteryears, I have wondered, “I did not exist when these stars were singing and dancing. Where was I?”

And then, another of those stray thoughts, quickly brushed away, just in case it brings on its wings any bad luck, “How will I die? Who all will cry? Have I not moved on with my life after such losses, my family will too?” Morbid meanderings yes, but so real, so inescapable, so defining of our fragile humaneness. And the quick reassurance “It is not happening yet, that is somewhere in the distant future, right now there is a list of things to do, the day to get through, events to attend, health and finances to care for!”

Am I alone in this cyclic, cerebral, futility? Why do I tell myself pretty much every other moment of the day, “I am not passing this way ever again?” There is a sense of a steady inching forward and that vast swathe of time gone by. And since no astrologer commits on one’s “ayush” it has certainly occurred to me, “How much more do I have to run down my bucket list?”

Some of the unease attached to these ruminations could be eased off if we just became as matter of fact about death as we are about birth. Were it to become more acceptable to speak of the unmentionable, even plan for it, we would free ourselves of the pall of unsaid things and oozing fears. Half the heartbreak at sudden exits comes from this sentiment, “I did not say a proper goodbye!” There is a sea of difference between a heartfelt farewell as against a sudden wrenching away and the lifelong agony of having had no closure.

I have pledged my organs, my Mum has divided her jewelry but we have not sat down with our loved ones to share thoughts and feelings around the inevitable and eventual separation. I know it would calm my mind tremendously to air out my misgivings. I want to be able to say to them, “Forgive me for my mistakes. I wish we could be together always. I never want us to separate. But remember me when we split. Think of me when you are eating a crusty, cheese laden pizza. Hug the silly dog for me. Picture me when you are sitting across my favorite swing. Look closer at the grass on the golf course; it probably has my DNA on it. I don’t know where I will be when not with you but hold on to me. I will go with peace, knowing I have said all I had to say to you. Give me a hug, look deep into my eyes so when the time comes, we go where we need to go, in peace and on a wing.”

It cannot be… life cannot be a meaningless accident. There is too much heartbreak, far too many ecstatic moments and pure frames of joy for this journey to be so random an affair. I therefore choose to believe!