Saturday, May 23, 2015

Body Language

My body has a language: it sings in numbers and I am grateful to say that I can hear its song.

But first things first: I have been amiss in posting. Things fell apart and the center could not hold.

This anarchy has also been of my body's making. The humors flowed sluggishly; red stitched itself through the eyes; the eyelids proved unable to stay lifted long enough to let the eyes see; the balloon feet staggered, unbalanced; the heart raced to keep up and then slowed down, tired. All I wanted to do was to sink within and let my body have its way. My kidneys have failed, causing panic to shoot through an organic system that had taken its balance and well-being for granted. Undefined anxieties exploded and my mild distaste of needles loomed into a major phobia.

However, today, I am glad to report that the storm has been contained. My kidney disease has brought me many gifts and this entry goes out in acknowledgement of these gifts.

When I was younger, people teased me that I was not of this "modern" world, that I operated from some golden, pre-lapsarian past because of a predilection of seeing the world through romanticized glasses. I have never agreed with this; I am born in exactly the absolute correct age and I never had any pink prisms to filter the world's realities. This age suits me and I owe it my very life. Thanks to this wondrous age, even though my major organs have failed, I am aware of a feeling of undeniable well-being. I can enjoy my job, sustain a conversation, and savor a demi-tasse of coffee. Of late, I have even found the wherewithal to use earrings when I go out for dinner with family and friends.
Yes, these outings exhaust me once they are over; yes, I have muscle cramps that go on for days; yes, I have forgotten what it is like to sleep through the night; yes, my social life is seriously compromised. Even so, all this is nothing when I remember my body's desperate attempt to reach me to help it. I also remember my total inability to help.

Then, this age, this millenium came to my body's rescue and taught me to understand its language. I started dialysis, a miraculous process that helps my confused body to maintain balance, to come to terms with its condition. Patient experts taught me how to listen and talk with the flesh I inhabit.

I have always known that my body has an intelligence all its own, an intelligence that I have no understanding of, that I have been unable to access. But now, I have learned to balance my diet (the strictest kind) with the medications I have to take; I have learned to understand the relationship between daily weight, blood pressure, and the kind of dialysis solution (or dialysate) I use that night. I await my blood results with alacrity because that is how  my body speaks now. Last month, I celebrated my independence from Epogen shots and blood infusions to maintain my red blood cell count; my body actually beat anemia! A couple of weeks ago, my nephrologist congratulated me on controlling my phosphorous after months of trying to achieve the correct balance between including enough protein in my diet while avoiding phosphorous. It took almost a year of trials and failures to achieve the correct potassium numbers.

Every morning, when I take my blood pressure, record my weight, and finish my treatment, I am grateful for the ability to do so. Every evening, when I again take my blood pressure, record my weight, and begin my treatment, I am grateful for having lived the day. Yes, I do wish my life were easier, but more often than that, I am glad, so, so glad that it is as easy as it is!

The Geeta insists on the importance of making friends with oneself. The truth of this issue has been brought to me. I understand now that I need a lot of people and a lot of things, but all pale in comparison to how much I need to get along with my body. I am humbled by the incredible adaptability of my body, its admirable insistence on being my best friend, its stubborn loyalty in its refusal to abandon me, its ever-youthful willingness to accommodate new ways of replacing parts of itself, and at the risk of intense narcissism, I am so, so proud of being allowed to inhabit this wonderful machine that celebrates the spirit of being human with every breath it draws for me, with me.

I have learned to love my body with a completely different sort of appreciation and for that alone, if for nothing else, I wish to live forever with this body. There can be no gift greater than an aware life lived in a body that won't quit.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

Flickering Lights: The Insolence of Office

Flickering Lights: The Insolence of Office: This past month and half has felt like an uphill Odyssey, during which every pebble that could tumble, tumbled, every thorn that could pier...

The Insolence of Office

This past month and half has felt like an uphill Odyssey, during which every pebble that could tumble, tumbled, every thorn that could pierce, did so, and every wind that could cut bone, howled wildly, brandishing fresh knives. These weeks have made me long for days when I was juggling only one, at the most two disasters at a time. Today, it feels like time has run out and I will need all the motivation I can muster to get up from where I sit.

Last Friday, I was shocked to hear myself sobbing and begging for a technician that could fix my washing machine. The problem was not just the washing machine, but a whole lot of emergencies suddenly blooming everywhere I stepped.

Of course, part of me wonders if I do not feel this way because of my sudden, severe anemia, which exhausts me. However, finally, there is promise for that at the end of tomorrow (the gods willing). Tonight, the lion's share of my grading is done, and my washer is finally functional after weeks of stubborn silence. So perhaps it is a combination of relief and exhaustion at having lived like a juggler for the past few weeks.

But no. There is yet a monster I fight, since I still hold my sword.

Right now, I have a battle with either a credit card who mistakenly filed a charge as fraudulent, or a merchant who has seriously mismanaged my booking for my upcoming international trip beginning in a few days; or perhaps I am fighting both. I cannot tell whom I fight or on what side. With complaisance that is a characteristic of all scriveners, I am repeatedly being told, "Yes, yes, we understand your frustration, but the computer, you understand?" and "Of course your position is appreciated but our policy cannot be compromised." And my favorite, "I completely understand your problem but it is obvious that you do not understand what I am saying, or you realize my problem!"

I wonder if I am losing my grasp on reality. Should not I receive an apology for someone having messed up? Should I not receive reassurance that all is handled and well? After all, the trip is not cheap and I have received no discounts for my booking, nor any advantages from the credit card. Yet, like with the immovable technicians and managers in charge of  my washing machine, I hear myself almost begging, asking for unspecified favors.

There is no report of my challenging or disputing a charge for years; yet there remains a dispute. This reminds me of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's "A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings:" The man should not exist, yet there he is, and he is the problem of the people looking at him. So this dispute is my problem and the merchant's tone does not lack in accusations snapping just below the surface of their words. The credit card company is belligerent at best and suspicious at worst. I cannot believe I beg strangers I cannot even see to take money from me, right away! The nightmarish, Kafkaesque situation is not lost on me.

Tonight, I have needed the solace of this blank space to vent, and my sincere apology to my patient reader; I am usually not thus darkling, I like to think. However, be that as it may, tomorrow, I pick up my sword again, rise with the sun, and hopefully, when the sun sets, my trip becomes more real, more possible, more manageable.

For tonight, I shall put away my tea cup and get some rest. Perhaps a few cats might come and commiserate with me. If they do not, I humbly and completely understand about the insurmountable problems facing them and their scriveners.


Monday, November 24, 2014


Yes, reader, I drive. I live in a world that gives me little options. I am not particularly fond of driving and resisted it until my child needed me to drive. I also drive a hybrid; it is my first truly new car, and I am fond of the car. However, unlike my child, I realize I cannot take care of my car on my own; I need help from what has turned to be the most unreliable cross section of my species: car mechanics. I have come to believe that when forced to deal with a car mechanic, one must operate from the position that one is going to be cheated, and one must concentrate only on damage control.

A couple of days ago, what began as a normal chore day turned into a nightmare, thanks to the mechanics I have patronized for the past few years. Actually, it is a dealership, since I am told that no one but a dealer knows how to handle a hybrid, and now, I wonder at the mythologizing of the dealers.

This dealership has middle managers who receive the car and behave as liaisons between the owner and mechanics. The one I saw on my last visit, R.V., is the one I am always "placed" with, although he makes me vaguely nervous. He fancies himself a smooth talker, his smile just a bit too wide, and his eyes always calculating and shifty. He is always eating something or has just finished eating it. He likes to talk about the Indian restaurants he takes his expanding family to, every week, thinking to strike a kinship with me, which contributes greatly to my nervousness, since I do not frequent Indian restaurants every week and I can feel no kinship with a man who is so obvious in his efforts to put me, woman customer, at my ease by keeping conversations within women's domain, like food.

On Friday, however, I made a mistake. R.V. had claimed something wrong with my brakes that would take a lot of money to fix and asked me if I had the deductible for my extended warranty if it gets fixed.

I nodded and agreed.

Yes. I realize I should have somehow channeled a distressed female from my acting repertoire and stared at him in dismay over wide, tear-filled eyes at the prospect of the deductible.

However, I agreed without much fuss and I regretted my agreement immediately, as I saw the cogs and wheels behind R. V.'s eyes suddenly come alive. I knew I'd pay for it.

Well, the service is not covered by the warranty and I told R. V. to just do the regular maintenance, which should cost me about $36. He said he'd have the car ready to go within the hour, perhaps a couple of minutes over. It was my chore day and I shrugged my agreement.

After over two hours, when I finally caught his eye, he called me to his desk. The mechanic, C or G, I never did catch his name properly, awaited me there with his singular giggle. In fact C or G's speech is hitched with this giggle. R. V. and C or G claimed that the car's 12 volt battery had died.

You could have knocked me over with a sneeze.

I had just replaced it last year. What had they done to have murdered the battery so soon? Car batteries do not die every year, especially not the ones that cost about $300! I had been told that I was set with my battery for a few years when I'd changed the battery last year. I'd had no trouble with the car battery at all, until the car was taken into the shop on Friday where C or G did horrible things to it and killed the battery.

I had no choices, of course. So I used up all I had saved the last couple of months, more than twice what the deductible would have been. Within less than 10minutes, the car was ready to go. This was suspicious behavior, indeed, since it would take at least 20 minutes to change the battery, n'est ce pas? Trying to smooth over my feathers, R. V. walked me over to the payment department, complimenting me on taking such good care of my car.

I was quite upset and to compound my foolish behavior, I flounced off the dealership, vowing never to return.

I belied myself as I was back before five minutes had gone by.

Before I reached the first traffic light, all the lights on my dashboard came on alarmingly. I reached the dealership and was scolded soundly by C or G that there were way too many things wrong with my car.

Another sneeze would have done me in.

This was the first I'd heard of many things going wrong with my car. After all, had I not brought it in regularly, spent thousands at this very same dealership to ensure that nothing much would go wrong with my car? Had not R. V. himself complimented me on just the very thing? Leaving me on the curb, C or G drove the car off again behind forbidden doors.

R. V. finished eating something and threw the wrapper as he sauntered over behind closed doors, no doubt to confer about the problem my car was, with C or G. When he returned from the shop, I got another scolding, disguised as an explanation about how my car was a computer and as such, very complicated.

"But I understand how computers work!" I protested to no avail, of course. This was R. V.'s territory and if I had no tips to offer about which Indian restaurant was the best, I should mostly hold my peace and agree with his greater wisdom.

The lights on the dashboard are silent now. But as I left the dealership, dire warnings about how short lived the car was, rang in my ears. R. V. and C or G offer me no warranties or guarantees on the work done. Horrible things could happen at any time, horrible things that could cost me everything and then, whom would I depend on? I'd have to return to R. V. and C or G because, really, in the wide, wild world, no one understood my car but they!

On Friday, I knew I was being cheated. I have analyzed, re-examined, and re-lived this experience over the weekend, an exercise that has rendered me unable to do much else. I can see only one pivot on which the encounter spun: my acknowledgement that I could meet the deductible for a hypothetical repair.

This has been an expensive lesson.

I should have paid more attention in physics class.
I should have learned to play the distressed female par excellence, a mask that would rival Nirupa Roy's Mother roles.
I should have stopped enjoying chess and just concentrated on mastering the strategy of war manipulation.

Perhaps then, I would not be sleepless, at 5 a.m., wondering from where I can conjure a reliable mechanic for my hybrid, or if I would be forced to go crawling back to R. V. and C or G, and how much dignity there was in eating that crow.


Monday, November 10, 2014

Pinned Here

My patient reader knows of my room mates, the cats, who have, of long, provided an anchor, a steadying presence, even a definition of what constitutes the idea of home for me. I have considered myself extremely fortunate in having the felines around me. Our relationship, I would insist, goes beyond normal language, our lexicon is structured around analyzing moods rather than actual combination of syllables or sounds. We do communicate, sometimes more effectively than the way I communicate with my students, even.

With my room mates, I do not worry about how my words may be mis-heard, unheard, unremembered, sometimes even misunderstood, like I have to when I speak to my classes. Of course, in my household, like with every household, we are careful not to tread on toes (and paws), not to hurt feelings, to follow the rules of courtesy required for the wheels of routine to rumble on without too many pot holes and other disasters. These rules of adjustment are the same my child and I had figured out when we used to regularly live together, the unspoken acknowledgements, conceding, bowing and stepping, all part of the same dance.

I have felt that the cats and I, the WE who inhabit this space right now, have danced and stepped together enough to merit being considered a household. A lot of my friends point out that this "relationship" is one sided: I seem to depend more on the cats than they on me. The cats are quite capable of feeding themselves (and even me, if only I would agree to adjust my diet to include mice, roaches, snakes, and lizards). They do not much care if it is a bush that keeps them warm and dry from rain or if they are curled up on cat beds around my house. They seem to be quite capable of protecting themselves, even to the extent of keeping their own pet possum in my little backyard.

All this is true. In fact, I have often wondered if the cats notice if I am in the house (unless I am feeding them). It seems that they ignore me, mostly, and unlike dogs, they do not particularly respond to my need for hugs. A few of them do tolerate being held for a breath, and then leave on their terribly important errands and routines, without which, they seem sure, the sun would not rise or set.
I am sure that mine is just one of the many houses they reside in at different parts of their routines. It is not home for them the way it is for me, the way they are for me.

However, then there are days given to the rains, when the horizon well-nigh disappears, when even a breath seems wet; a day very much like yesterday, when I could not hear the television for all the booming and thundering and crashing waterfalls everywhere. All the cats found their way into the big room where I spend most of my waking hours. They chose spots on the floor, in a box, on cat beds, in sofa corners, even a couple of spots on cat furniture. By the time evening fell, I realized that I had fed them all faster than ever, since they were all in the same place and I didn't have to wait for stragglers to stop by. I was glad of that.

As the evening progressed, I also realized that I was, for lack of a better epithet, pinned to my preferred place in the big room. Like points on some compass, the cats had arranged themselves to keep an eye on each other and on me, even as they napped. If I got up to get a book or a drink, all feline heads shot up in alarm, to watch closely what transpired once I had abandoned my assigned space. If I failed to return to my assigned spot in the duration that followed feline reasoning, the youngest kitten would skitter around the house to escort back the truant. The oldest cat watched the kitten and the alpha cat watched the oldest cat. The other kitten remained on alert, in case reinforcements were necessary. The remaining two cats laid their heads down to maintain their napping mien.

The ease with which I fit into this dance argues that I am used to this routine from other rainy days. The way in which we form families, anchors, thin threads that bind us to this plane of existence, are as amazing as they are varied. The idea of mortality looms as my kidney disease advances and as I become more aware of the terrible battles for survival I see being waged around me.

I may not own much in way of wealth or wisdom, but here, in this navel of the world, I have validity. Here, I am pinned in my own place, with designated steps for a familiar dance, with responsibility to participate in a routine.

If unpinned, I would be missed. Here.


Monday, October 27, 2014


I have protection on my mind. Last week, I visited a dialysis center and it has brought the extraordinary quality of my skin to the fore. The nurse repeatedly emphasized the importance of keeping all infection away since I would have an open way in the body cavity. I nodded sagely in solemn agreement.

Later that day, I accidentally touched a hot kettle and the cat accidentally scratched me. My hand felt the accidents and as is my wont, I ignored them and went about my work. Today, I noticed the new, pale, unbroken skin beneath the little burned patch and the red angry scratch scar had healed over.

This is absolutely and totally incredible and magical! My skin is so perfect a protector to the rest of me, that my sensitive inner organs need no armor, no pelt, no spikes. The skin is alive, with an intelligence of its own and knows its job, which it pursues relentlessly, determined, it seems, to protect the rest of me beyond the foreseeable future. Protean in its nature, it changes its hues, shades, textures, and size to keep up with my changing body. A skin-less opening can spell so much disaster that a separate intelligence, diligence, and deliberation are constantly needed, and even then, it is only a matter of time when "human error" will lead to serious infections.

Previously, I have confessed my amazement at the miracle the body is, one's first and last home, one's best friend if only one would let it, whose betrayal leaves one broken in unimaginable ways. It must have indeed been a benevolent star that oversaw the evolving of multi-cellular mammals. And incredible as all other organs are, the skin is the one that gives us a face, expresses feelings, gives alerts to the rest of the body, like an interactive suit from a futuristic world.

Today, I m feeling a bit under weather (either a burst cyst or a pulled muscle, I cannot quite tell) and my skin envelops and comforts me better than any quilt can. It provides me further comfort, the kind only a friends-and-family photo album can. Instead of haunting my facebook for memories, I examine my arm, my leg, my face: here is the scar I got when I fell down the steps of my grandfather's house; that faint streak of paler shade is the medal of honor I received when I fell off my bike for the first time; that birthmark on my shoulder is the same I share with my daughter; this one I inherited from my mother; the wrinkles at the edges of my eyes are very much like the ones my father had, my favorite part of his smile.

How incredible that the connections I am always looking for, which bind me to the world I have trotted away from, are always with me; all I need is a mirror that speaks the truth!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gift Day

First of all, let me wish all my readers a wonderful new year, full of health, prosperity, love and joy. Today marks the first day of Vikram Samvat 2071, the Hindu new year. I feel compelled to write something today for a variety of reasons, the main one being that contrary to expectations, it has been a good day.

I am in stage five of my kidney disease, a gradually deteriorating condition I have been living with for over two decades, so much so that it feels a part of my self-image. It is almost as though my failing kidneys have created an unconsciousness in part of my thinking process and without really thinking about it, I wonder how an action, food, or weather pattern might affect them. Today, I was to visit a dialysis center, to mentally prepare for the process when the time comes.

I confess, I was apprehensive. I tried not to notice that it was New Year's day; I told myself to snap out of it and not to expect extra luck. After all, I was not in a melodramatic Hindi serial!

As it turned out, the Script Writer of my day must have begun the day with sweet, saffron infused milk, which must have resulted in an extraordinarily good mood. I imagine the nib dipped in a rich, purple ink pot, and a beatific smile on the Writer's face as the first words are sketched.

I walked out in the cloudy, soft day feeling relieved and clear headed. The dialysis nurse explained the process and as she talked, I could visualize including this procedure as part of my day. The nurse also assured me that I would "feel better" once dialysis started; I was surprised since I do not feel unwell. However, her reassurance, explanations, and calm demeanor of the people around her reassured me. There was no sense of alarm, no condolences offered, no guarantees promised.

The only glitch seemed to be the availability of a half hour during my work day to finish this process; I needn't have worried since my schedule for next quarter presents an entire hour between classes! How propitious! It seemed all was falling into place. I was told that even traveling should not be a problem.

After visiting the dialysis center, I rushed to the temple for a small puja a group of my friends were participating in. I had expected to reach too late, but good fortune again smiled and I did not miss a single shloka. The temple is a place of unspeakable, unimaginable peace and well-being; there is that swishing of peepul leaves as the wind sighs through it and the sound is like nowhere else on the planet I have been. An anxiousness in the center of my being settles down and sways with that sound, as the ageless, timeless shlokas wash over my head like a benediction.

I decided to push my luck farther and went down to the library, seeking the perfect book on tape for my car ride to work next week. I cannot express my joy at the treasure I have found: an entire collection of the Bard's plays, arranged in a row on a back shelf. My knees gave way and I almost wept in sheer relief and gratitude at this.

It is almost the end of the day, and I just finished talking with some of my childhood friends, a rare thing indeed, as all of us are scattered over various continents, across oceans.

What a gift of a day! I am grateful for having lived it. I wish my readers the same kind of year before us, a year infused with warmth of friends and family, propitious chances, clear mindedness, and all of it punctuated with islands of enriching solitude for quiet contemplation and reflection. May King Vikaramaditya's wisdom light the year, help make friends with the demon perched on our shoulder as we make our way through the grey fog of tomorrows, and may we emerge victorious like the king, whose, name keeps log of our passing years.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fobbed Off

In the middle of somewhere in Southern England, there is a little town where tour buses stop not for long, only to give a tantalizing glimpse of the well-renowned charm of the English countryside. This town is sleepy and most shops are still closed at 10am. In fact, as though to underline the effect, there is a plaque hung on the wall of the only open shop, that claims that at this spot, nothing happened whatsoever. This town is supposed to be eminently forgettable, and of course, manages to be the opposite. I am thinking of that town today; that is exactly the kind of day I wanted this to be.

I have previously blogged about the joys of doing nothing, of having forgettable days, of the importance of the fallow season. Yesterday, I decided that I'd give myself this day off. I woke up earlier than usual and cleaned up the usual messes the old cat makes, anticipating a wonderfully nothing day. The other cats watched me cautiously all morning, wondering when I'd leave, since I seemed to be in a hurry. When I finally finished, I arranged myself on my usual spot on the couch; the kitten napping next to the spot jumped up and left the house, spooked at my strange break in routine.

When I sank down on my spot, I had decided against doing anything of import. However, somewhere in the middle of the day, as I checked mail and handled the recycling, I saw my car.

I knew the day would be lost in all manner of ways.

I was not wrong, more is the pity.

I have a new key fob that needs to be programmed to my car, and wikis and youtube videos had assured me it is easy work, no need to worry, none whatsoever. So I decided that since this job was not of much import (I have one working key), it would be allowed on a day like today. So armed with instructions, I clicked open the car and flicked my perfectly good nothing-day away.

The instructions wanted me to put in and remove my key fob a certain amount of times, within a certain number of seconds, and magically, the car would respond. It all felt like magic, like so much of science does: a certain action repeated in a particular configuration, like a ritual right out of The Golden Bough, and the magic would take.

Unfortunately, this spell was faulty, or I failed to follow the ritual properly, because the key fob stared back unresponsive at me and the car remained stubbornly silent and cold. Unbelieving, I tried running the car around a few blocks, thinking that perhaps she just needed to wake up a bit. Then, I let her rest for exactly a blink and a half, and began the ritual again.

Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results; perhaps he fails to understand the importance of repeating a ritual during a process of magic. Be that as it may, I stopped after four hours, since the neighbors began glancing uncomfortably in my direction, as I switched on and off the car and opened and closed the door, as though caught in some kind of inexplicable rhythm. The man walking his dog from the land behind mine guided his canine friend away, and the woman from two doors across steered the children she was supervising towards the large trees, encouraging them to move away from my stationary car, going off and on as though possessed.

I am defeated: the little black plastic box that looks like a defunct controller of a toy car remains unconquered. In deference to my neighbors, I have slunk back onto my spot on the couch, but I cannot stop glaring at the fob and beyond it, at the car. Of course, I make sure that my glaring at the car is not too baleful: it would never do to have my most important friend be angry with me.

I think I shall refrain from checking mail or handling any recycling until I can recover from today. The cats are absolutely right: one must make an effort to resist the siren call of chores and sit still until the world spins away.

A mug of saffron tea, tempered with lemon and ginger helps immensely if a day is to be successfully fobbed off. 

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