Sunday, September 21, 2014

Transient Happiness

I know happiness is transient. That's why it must be cherished even more. I don't want to hold on to it because I know it can't be held. I just want to feel it and remember it.

It is a cold February night. Atreya is lying on the mattress next to my bed. Aloka is fast asleep next to him. They must be uncomfortable in that tiny space squeezed against the wall, but they sure are warm. Atreya and I talk about all kinds of things. I am relaxed. He is relaxed. We are family. And we are under one roof.

Atreya, mom and I are sitting in mom's room, watching The Green Mile, a movie we have seen a few times before. We are sharing what we feel about the characters and the story. Mom has her letter linker open in front of her and she plays the game every now and then. Atreya asks to eat something good and I get up to make pasta. Mallika is cutting vegetables I need. Aloka walks in sleepy. I make her lie down on mommy's bed and she is fast asleep in a few minutes. Atreya later carries her upstairs in his arms, huffing and puffing- she is not so tiny anymore!

It is early morning in August, the morning after our party to celebrate old and new friendships. We are all drinking tea. Mom and Meenu are on the swing. They sing songs alternately. Sonu, Manju and Shikha are listening with attention. Aloka is trying to squeeze in between the two, and when she is shusshed, tries to get Manju's attention. Anakin is restless- he wants to be part of the group and he wants biscuits. The khudd is flowing below noisily, incessantly, and the mountains gaze upon us benignly.

The sun is about to set. We see a rainbow on our mountain. Mom rushes in get her camera. I run upstairs to my iPhone and click pictures from my terrace. I come down and show my pictures to Sonu and Manju. Mom shows hers. There is some banter about whose pictures are better. Sonu and Manju mimic my "Awesome", "Wow", "Fricking view". We are all laughing. The beautiful evening and the people around me fill my heart.

It is a beautiful sunny September morning. The rain and storm of last evening have washed everything clean. The mountains are gleaming. We are out on a walk to Aganjhar Mahadev. We see Sonu on her scooter coming back from somewhere and when she sees us, she parks her scooter and joins us for the walk. Mom is walking ahead of me. Aloka and Sonu are running, with Aloka trying to catch Sonu. I can't run but I am grateful that my little girl has a running partner. In my mind, I run faster than everyone and no one can catch me- my hair flying, my lungs breathing freely and my legs untiring!

Friday, September 19, 2014

If you have to!

This is a poem I wrote when I was pining to have a baby in 1991.

Little darling!
Song of my life!
Don't tug so hard
at the strings that hold me together.
Sweet child!
My very own!
You will arrive when you have to
If you have to.

All my decisions are futile
My courage, my ruthlessness, my cruelty
And so is
this persistent craving.
Sweetest one!
Elusive flower of my garden!
You will come when you have to
If you have to. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Miracle Babies!

I have told this story to many people and always noticed a certain disbelief in the listeners' eyes. I understand why. The story is dramatic and if you don't know me well, rather unbelievable. But it's true. It's the story of the birth of my son Atreya.

I was 16 when I first had to take steroids to control my irascible asthma. Every year after that, I would get sick in April and would be on steroids for 3-4 months. During the rest of the year, some 7-8 months, I would be on heavy doses of oral broncho-dilators.

When I was around 19, I understood that the medication I was on would not make it possible for me to have kids. It just didn't seem possible for me to be off steroids for the required 10 months, a necessary condition during pregnancy, and even if I avoided them somehow, the heavy dose of broncho-dilators was bad for the fetus too. So, I closed the chapter and stopped thinking of having a regular family. That was fine at that time, because although married since I was 18, we were young and busy and rather poor.

Then at 25, something happened. I suddenly became obsessed with babies. I would be watching TV and something as mundane as a young boy wrapping his arms around his father's back would set me crying. I started stopping to play with every baby and young kid I would meet. I felt tugs in my heart that I could not explain. I had visions of a baby crying in the heavens (yes I mean that) and asking me to let it arrive. The baby cried a lot. I cried even more.

But as is my wont, I don't take defeat easily. I decided to have a baby. My mother, as always, accepted my decision despite all the problems she knew I faced. My doctor, a good friend of my mother's, told me to come see her when I have reduced my regular broncho-dilators from four tablets a day to one tablet a day. And she said that the only safe period for me to conceive was a month after I stopped steroids, ie August- not earlier, not later. That would give me about 8 clean months until the next April when I would again need steroids. But she said all this with great reluctance, and added rather harshly that I was being a fool and that if something triggered an asthma attack during my pregnancy, I should not expect her to prevent a serious problem.

Now, I had no clue how to fix my problem. I was seriously ill and had been most of my life. Broncho-dilators kept my airways open until April every year, after which prednisolon took over. I would be gasping for breath without these life savers. How could I reduce this dependence?

At that time, my MIL convinced me to try acupuncture. For almost a year, I went to GK daily to get acupuncture done by a doctor, spending all my money and free time in the quest for reducing this drug dependence. I started taking long walks in the IIT campus, where we had an apartment, to lose weight and increase my lung capacity. And for the first time, started focusing on myself, watching for triggers and avoiding them. And what a delight when I finally could reduce the broncho-dilators to one a day.

Now on to the next challenge- conceive in August! I mean how ridiculous that sounds. People try for months or even years before they can conceive, and here I had just a month, which means just 3-4 days in which to succeed. If I didn't conceive, I would have to wait for next August. Like hell I would wait!

Let's not get into the details of those 3-4 days. Suffice to say we were like rabbits. We happened to be in the Valley of Flowers on a trek in August of 1992 and I believe Atreya was conceived on the way back in Rishikesh. When I tested myself using an off-the-shelf pregnancy kit back in Delhi, my heart was in my mouth. When I saw the result, I left my lab at IIT Delhi without a word to anyone and went straight to my gynae, without an appointment. I still remember the disbelief in her eyes.

Well, I had the best 36 weeks of pregnancy- no nausea, no illness, no asthma. I felt fitter than I had ever felt and so happy that it gives me goosebumps to remember that state. Then around the 36th week, Atreya decided he had to come out, so he stopped breathing and was birthed by C-section on April 14, my mom's birthday!

Such a smart baby, because by April 18th, I was in the throes of the worst ever asthma attack.  I was so sick that at one point, my mother called my dad, who was in Srilanka, telling him to be prepared for the worst.  Had Atreya been inside me at that time, I don't think either of us would have survived.

Now, isn't this the most delightful unbelievable miracle-laden story. Atreya had to be born. I had to be his mother. The impossible had to be made possible. So, all obstacles vanished for the time required. The mountains parted and made way for me to walk through them. What a miracle!

Both my babies, Atreya and Aloka are miracle babies. I wasn't and was supposed to have them in my life. Truly they are gifts beyond reckoning from a very compassionate universe. They define who I am and tell me, am I not so very special to be defined by miracles? 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

My Partner in Crime!

I love my mother Chandrama Anand. She becomes a part of all my ventures, foolish or wise, and supports me as if I could never be wrong. She is ready to travel with me wherever I get the urge to go to, often at very little notice, and enjoys every place we go to. She loves everything I cook and asks for second helpings with a twinkle in her eyes- no better compliment. She takes in my friends and becomes a part of their lives, accepting them as they are, with all their goodness and oddities.

She has taken this rootless me into her house and made me feel I belong right here. She was never lonely when she was living alone, but now makes me feel it was me she was waiting for to fill her life. She lets me look after her simply, accepting everything I do (or don't do) with grace, with no drama or discomfort. She accepts every gift I get her, big or small, and takes care of it as if it were the most precious thing in the world.

This special woman makes me feel special, something I never felt earlier. It's an art, I'm telling you.

The Freedom of Choicelessness

Today, I read a post on FB by an anxious parent wondering if he should enroll his young child in an expensive school, spending a lot of money for good education. I remember similar anxiety for Atreya when I first moved to Singapore. But my decision was made for me because I figured out very soon that I will never be able to afford an international school for my boy on a single salary. Anxiety had to take a back seat and I put him in the nearest neighborhood school that cost me next to nothing.

Over the years, he changed schools a couple of times but stayed in the public school system, a highly competitive and stressful environment, even by Indian standards. Sports are given lip service. Obedience and rote learning are considered virtues. Kids as young as 4 year olds are sent for tuition classes and continue to do so until they pass out from high school. 80% of kids wear glasses to read because of the lifestyle. On the positive side, infrastructure is good. Teachers are qualified and labs well-equipped. And kids are safe.

But at that time, none of this mattered. I had no choice, period.

Even when I could finally afford to move him to an International school many years later, we didn't make the move because I had figured out by then that when some doors are closed on us, we learn to open other doors by ourselves. Sometimes, not having external resources and choices is a good thing- it forces you to dig for resources hidden within you.

Atreya spent the first six years of schooling unmindful of the stress around him, mainly because I was unmindful of it. I had other things to worry about. I did try to help him with difficult concepts in maths and Hindi, but he was left to his own devices for most part.

In his secondary school, I stayed the same but Atreya changed. He became serious about his studies and started enjoying beating the system by hard work and love for what he was learning. When he passed his O levels, he broke all records of the neighborhood school by getting distinction in 7 out of 8 subjects, without any tuition of any sorts. Till last year, 4 years after he graduated from the school, his picture was hanging outside his school and his record remained unbroken (it probably is till today).

But more than this academic achievement, what makes me proud is the kind of person Atreya is today. He is intelligent, disciplined and hard-working like no one else I have seen, considerate towards others and in touch with his emotions. What he is today is partly due to the harsh environment he had to face at school and partly due to the opposite kind of environment at home.

I could use the money saved from expensive school education to travel extensively and buy a house where we lived happily for many years. Even the decision to adopt Aloka was possible because I had control over my expenses. Life lessons came along the way. He saw me struggle and work hard and enjoy my work and take care of people who worked with me, and that was perhaps the best tuition he ever got. He learned to live life without someone watching over him all the time and in the process, became responsible and independent. He traveled with me to far-off places and developed love and respect for nature and the environment.

The type of school he went to did perhaps stunt some aspects of his personality, we would never know, but what he gained is not to be scoffed at either. Could he have been a sportsman if he had attended an International school? Possibly! Could he have chosen to explore his creativity in music and art? Possibly! Would he have learned to manage his time and become disciplined there? Who knows! Would he have grown up to become a kind and thoughtful person? Who knows.

My advice to the young man worrying about his kid's schooling- just be a good dad. Engage with your kid. Show her how to to live by living a good life. Share your struggles and victories openly and often. Be kind and fair. Don't make money the counter to measure your happiness. Choose to love life and she will learn to do the same. This is the only choice worth making. All else will take care of itself. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

RSO first batch

Today, I made my first batch of RSO. Writing this post to document some of the events and emotions as I went about it.

Mom, Sonu, Aloka and I went to Banjar valley near Kullu to collect the buds. It took me some time to know exactly what I needed, but in any case, we had to be quick about the collection, so a lot of material was collected, including leaves and seeds.

Back home, I separated the buds from the rest, which took mommy and I about 2 hours to do about half of it, and then later, I had to spend another 2 hours to finish the separation.

I then put the buds for drying in the basement. First I used the fan, but later decided to use the blower/heater and it worked great. In 2 days, the buds were quite dry.

The leaching process was quite ok (used Tony uncle's old turban to strain), but I struggled with the boiling off of the alcohol. I used the water method- placed a pan on top of a large bowl of boiling hot water. At first, the pan I used was very thick. So I replaced it with a paraat. Later, I realized that the bowl needs to be filled with hot water to the brim. So did that. And later, changed the water bowl every 5-7 minutes, so that the paraat could stay hot. The actual evaporation process was quite fast, once it started that is. At the end, I overdid it. The oil became too thick. Lesson learned- have to watch the pan like a hawk and take it off as soon as the bubbles disappear.

As a result, it was quite a struggle getting the oil into syringes. Mom was such a great help. In the end, we had to add some alcohol to thin the oil. I am not so sure about that part. Will surely avoid this dilution in the next batch.

All in all, I am very pleased with the effort and result. But I am anxious about its use.

Will Kismat aunty feel ok taking it?  I know the quantity I have is not enough to treat her cancer, but I have other fears. Will it give her an unnecessary high? Will she sleep better? Will it help her get better? If it were me using it, I would be bolder with its use. But with someone else, the responsibility is harder to shoulder.

I hope and pray this is the right thing to give her at this stage. I hope and pray that it will help her with insomnia and pain.