Thursday, May 27, 2010

Uncommon lady, extraordinary courage.

They were a successful couple. He climbed the corporate ladder, and there were no more rungs left for him to climb. With her post graduate qualification, she could have had a "career" per se, but, never thought she was doing any less, as a support system for her children, their education, their higher studies, organizing the infrastructure, and so on. By and by the children were into their own lives, the grandchildren appeared , and she had another set of claimants on her time, this time, on a cheerful priority basis.

At some point in this wonderful scenario, there were some health scares. For the husband. Movement problems initially. The best of the doctors looked into it, and diagnosed the thing as Multiple Sclerosis, or MS.

Medications. Therapies. Discussions. Advice. It had to do with intense pain and nerves. It was about some nerves loosing their insulation, which is called a myelin sheath. This could happen anywhere in your body, and this was characterized as a disease of the Central nervous system (spinal cord and brain stem). You never knew which part of your body would suffer next. Initially, he continued to work. Actively. Things appeared to be under some kind of workable control. And then movement became painful. For a person with a successful active career graph with a great slope, this was difficult to accept. Retirement loomed, and was a comfortable one

These were days, when he couldn't move without help; calling out to someone all the time really really bothered and hurt him. Got him very upset. There were days when he was better . And there were days when going anywhere even in his wheelchair was impossible. And so in between attending to and looking after every need of her husband's, she started reading up on stuff. A friend of hers mentioned a book , "The Brain that changes itself" by Dr Norman Doidge to her, which told you about neuroplasticity : it was all about how , when some part of your brain dealing with a bodily function(s) was malfunctioning, how you could train another part of your brain circuitry to handle this.

She literally devoured the book and got thinking.

Sleepless nights were spent googling for contraptions that could be used for the therapy. The stuff on Google was available in the US, cost upwards of $1000, had a lot of bells and whistles and beeps to trigger action on the patient's part and you still didn't know if it was the thing for you. Then she decided to try something herself, based on what she read. It was all about trying an action, and reacting to the body's feedback, and getting used to the body's feedback, to the extent that brain actually started believing it was meant to do what they were teaching it to do. And so she studied the set up, read up on the science, enthused her husband to try things, and he'd get up, with great effort, and slowly, he would imagine he was climbing down stairs, position his ankle and perform a step. When it was done as per the instruction, she would clap. And he would try again. Of course there were glitches in her responses too. Sometimes housework intruded. There would be phone calls. And so she cajoled an engineer relative into making for her, something that would beep instantly, on successful completion of the single required action.

Things improved, and he progressed to walking with a cane. Of course, there were some other bodily function issues, but solutions to those were known and available. She was successful, not just in this physical change, but it brought a mental change in him too; he cheerfully, slowly walked down to the garden in the evenings, to sit for a while with folks from their building, and had a nice time with friends.

All throughout this, the visits to the doctor continued, but she and he were now part of a support group for similar patients. Folks thronged to listen to her experiments, asked for the book, and for a while , the local bookstore had a waiting list for the book. They rejoiced in her experiments, the occasional successes, and were inspired to try something themselves. Of course, in a social system where extended families were important, she continued to attend important social functions, with him when he felt up to it, and by herself , when she had to. There were times when she had to rush to the hospital, and although family help was around, it was mostly really these two when the decision to hospitalize was often taken.

She inspired a huge sense of respect and awe in those who saw her trudge her way through so many obstacles that she was presented with. It wasn't just physical; this was a time and age, for both of them to travel, enjoy their grandchildren, spend time in their hobbies and friends. She literally made his affliction her own, mentally.

As it often happens, such patients often end up acquiring some other medical problem, well into the first one. He started having trouble swallowing. At first they thought it was an MS thing. But it wouldn't go, and doctors were consulted.

The diagnosis was not good. The Big C. With the attendant chemo and radiation therapy. The side effects were too many and unbearable. For a while it looked like he was over the worst. But it was not to be.

Last week he was rushed to hospital, when breathing became troubled. MS had taken a back seat, and the Big C had won.

She came back home alone.

This is a tribute to someone one has known for many many years. One has always known her to be academically smart, but she has been unparalleled in her seeking and application of knowledge, with great empathy, to lighten her husband's burden when he was stricken. She has no sons, and her daughters and their families, some staying far away, have stood by firmly in actual and psychological support, all along. You talk to her, and she still makes you live through it, when she cheerfully describes how he improved . She knows she isn't superwoman, but she knows how to laugh at her self when she tells you about falling fast asleep, in a bedside chair, after days of constantly attending to him in severe pain, when the daily male nurses she had paid for, simply did not turn up.

She couldn't afford to slow down. And it is not always about anatomy and treatments. Anything can happen . ( In India).... When the nurse agency, which was paid in advance, washed their hands off the sending of nurses, she and her friends, went and threatened them with a police complaint of fraud, whereupon , very soon , a decent , responsible male nurse appeared on the scene.

This lady is a lesson in what education, learning , understanding, empathy, dedication, and family is all about. Its not all about doctors telling you things that you don't understand. Its not all about fancy hospitals, and infrastructure. It is about having the guts to deal with the affliction as if it were your own, passing on this enthusiasm to the actual patient, and being able to understand what's happening.

And whats more, facing it. Bravely, with a smile.

Uncommon lady, extraordinary courage......

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mitochondrial Musings

Sometimes in life, one pays too much attention to individual trees, to the detriment of the forest.

Turns out that every cell in our body has a nucleus sitting in a cytoplasm. This cytoplasm, consists of millions of mitochondria, which are like power packs. These mitochondria, are responsible for conducting exemplary energy management in your body, cell by cell, by judicious combustion using oxygen and food.

Now each of these mitochondria knows what to do as per the instructions coded in what is called the Mitochondrial DNA or mtDNA. This is of course, different, from the DNA in the cell nucleus, whereby you get your parental genetic tendencies and traits, when 23 chromosomes from the mother meet up with 23 from the father.

Sometimes, like in life, there are few bad mitochondria; their mtDNA has been messed up. When in any cell, more than 50% of the mitochondria are messed up or mutated, this gives rise to imperfections in the form of mitochondrial diseases in a person; as many as 40. Nerve cells in the brain and muscles require a great deal of energy, and thus appear to be particularly damaged when mitochondrial dysfunction occurs. Nerves, muscles, and the brain are the most affected, and the diseases are sometimes seen in childhood and sometimes later .

Muscle weakness or exercise intolerance, heart failure or rhythm disturbances, dementia, movement disorders, stroke-like episodes, deafness, blindness, droopy eyelids, limited mobility of the eyes, vomiting, and seizures, are some of the outcomes of mitochondrial disease. ( You can get these symptoms even otherwise, but one assumes the response to treatment would depend on whether the cause was mitochondrial, or not.

And while the nuclear DNA has chromosomes from the father and mother, the mitochondrial DNA stuff is inherited only from the mother.

And so scientists have been experimenting trying to figure out if a nucleus can be simply pulled out and made to sit and grow in a disease free perfect mitochondria elsewhere. And since the mitochondria depends 100% on the mother, this means a nucleus with one mother now gets to sit in the perfect mitochondria found from another mother.

British and Japanese scientists report creation of embryos, with two different mothers and a father. The motivation for arriving at this amazing state of affairs is an effort at trying to do away with mitochondrial diseases.

These embryos developed into what maybe called embryos devoid of the inherited genetic disease. No child has been born like this so far, for legal, and ethical reasons, but should it be, then it would have 2 mothers and one father.

I often wonder why someone doesn't do some research to figure out how faulty mitochondria can be repaired. It is unlikely that a 2-mother-1-father child will see the light of the day, due to legal compulsions. It certainly looks like scientists are able to go deeper and deeper into nano-level situations of the human body. Certain cells apparently have some coding in their DNA that says the cells should die systematically on its own, or programmed cell death.

Why can't research be done into finding this code and implanting it into the bad mitochondria cells, so they will spontaneously die, and not contribute towards mitochondrial disease ?

Its a bit like saying, that a child is learning bad habits staying some place, so let's remove the child from there, and take him to another place where the people environment is better. And this can go on ad infinitum, doing nothing to find out why the environment is bad, and what one can do about it. And how the child can grow in strength and confidence, learning to deal with it in a constructive way.

And our society today reflects this approach. Careless neglect creating pockets of disturbance in society. Nobody studies the root cause. Band-aid treatment aided by vote bank politics, to paper over the problems, with show-items like statues, special reservations, grand sounding schemes. Every problem society has several problem creators, and one paternal elected official, to paper over the faults, while filling their own deep pockets.

We in India know how to abuse technology. Ultrasonography , has been used to kill instead of diagnose. Taking the mother and checking her uterine contents for sex determination is now dangerous for the mother. The original societal environment, like the aforementioned mitochondria, continues to be bad, inimical for the mother-to-be, and we do nothing to change it.

Meanwhile neonatal research progresses by leaps and bounds, benefiting only those who were born in good, nurturing societal setups.

I don't see the likely hood of this 2-mother-1-father child ever becoming a reality, and it shouldn't. You cannot pluck things from a continuum, drop it in some other medium, and expect zero remnants of the old continuum to exist, in the new medium. We don't know how the drops of the old cytoplasm and perfect mitochondrial new cytoplasm will mix. And how this will show up in a resultant human , if, and when , it was ever to be allowed.
And so I wonder why research is even funded in this direction.

And as far as the n-mother-m-father child becoming a reality, there are so many children , born of one father and one mother, no one to call their own, looking for families , one father and one mother, to call their own, and tried and tested social systems in place, to make this happen.

Like I said, we pay so much attention to the individual tree, to the detriment of the forest.....

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

High Noon at Ghatkopar

It was a good thing we were travelling downhill. I stay on what once used to be a hilly area , and three of us were taking a 3 wheeler, a ricksha , to the next suburb of Mumbai, Ghatkopar, to visit the offices of an IT company.

Seeing that 3 of us, a friend, my daughter and I , were kind of squeezed, carrying assorted bags, into the ricksha, sweating in the searingly hot, 40 degrees, super humid mid-day sun, shining with sweaty faces, you would be absolutely correct if you surmised that none of us were going for a job interview at any IT company.

Hiring a ricksha in Mumbai, has to be done with a certain bit of cunning finesse. The drivers often refuse to ply to the place you indicate, and the thing to do is to name the nearest well known landmark like a theatre or a mall, where the driver can get another customer easily.

Having safely established ourselves in the three wheeler, the driver was a bit surprised to find that we needed to go a bit further, and then some , over railway lines and stuff. We spied the building we wanted and pointed to a left turn. Our driver, who was itching for revenge, simply continued straight, saying there was a No Entry sign. Which was itself strange because nothing stops a Mumbai ricksha from entering through a No Entry street. Since any more arguments would have us entering the highway, we immediately disembarked, indicated our displeasure to the guy, and left, making our way, in a light breeze, down an incline to the offices we had to visit.

A nice office building, a huge amount of swishy cars parked there, a few making fancy turns into the compound, and the two uniformed security men at the gate enquired where we wanted to go.

"BlogAdda ", Me, confidently.

The two watchmen, looked at us, 2 behenji type middle/old aged women, and a young girl in a kurta a trifle short than it should be (as per their native standards), wondering if we had the wrong building.

We didn't look the type who were, say, on backslapping terms with Addas per se, and besides, they said, there was no such office there with such a name. Just when he was debating the merits of asking us to leave or throwing us out, I whipped out my phone, and called the number I had been given. The security chaps decided we were OK and urged us to stand in the shade as we waited for someone to come and meet us.

To make a long story short we were at Blogadda offices , where they had received the book by Anil Kumble which I won in their contest. The parent company goes by a more IT sounding name, which the security guys knew and we didn't.

We were escorted up to the Blogadda offices by Harish, who very kindly came down to meet us.

A beautifully appointed office, with a compact visitors cum meeting room. Cool water suddenly appeared , and thirst quenched, we looked around to gape open mouthed at my name showing up on the vertical blinds of the window! There was a huge fantastic Suchitra Krishnamurthi painting across the breadth of the room, and it provided a wonderful backdrop to what was to follow.

When was the last time, the owner of a company, followed by all his staff, came out and into the room to meet you ? When was the last time, someone appeared as thrilled to give you something, as you were to receive it ? When was the last time you had one real photographer and 2 cellphone-photographers, clicking your pictures, as you did mundane things like open boxes, investigate fancy packing and remove cello tape ?

And when was the last time, you sunk under the weight of a prize book ? And when was the last time you spied a card with your name printed in it, with compliments in blue ink, from Anil Kumble ? And when was the last time, you opened a wonderful book, autographed for you, by the author, Anil Kumble on one of the front pages ? And when was the last time, you looked through a book, gifted to you, an unbelieving grin on your face, excitement rife amongst everyone around you, the Blogadda folks crowding around, everyone feeling happy for you, and chilled glasses of Mangola suddenly appearing ......

And finally, when was the last time you entered a blog contest, and much before the last date , the first comment on your post asked you to display the picture of the Anil Kumble Book because the person was sure you would win ?

And when was the last time , so many of your co-contestants, much before the results, expressed a hunch, in your comments section, that they thought you would win , and that they would be quite happy about it ?

This has truly been a very lucky and magical period. Mothers Day just happened, and I penned something for that too; it rated a winning mention. I have been very fortunate to have the sort of blog friends that I do....

A heartfelt thank you to my friends, and for the folks at Blogadda, this :

Edited to add : I can't show the book page by page here, but watch a wonderful preview of the book here....!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Sweet Life, Glycosylated life....

I once did a post after finding out that our brains were organized like cities. Ever since then, I have been looking for correspondences between how our bodies handle things and the way we live in day to day life.

I know several folks who get their blood sugar done on a regular basis. Say every 3-6 months, depending on what they are advised. Of course, age often colors the attitude with which you regard the diabetes. Fasting and post-prandial (after meals ) blood sugar values, are often the magic numbers that decide your future.

I know folks who couldn't care about the numbers, then some who excessively worry, and some smart people, who kind of eat sparingly a couple of days before the test, and lay off biryanis and paranthas in anticipation. Suddenly, decent values appear on a test, the doctor nods, and folks are back to careless imbibing of stuff, some of it of the careless liquid hydrocarbon type.

The thing to do, it seems is a test called HbA1C. Something that proves that although today you may be the role model for folks, its your history that counts.

HbA1C, also known as "glycosylated haemoglobin" has something to do with the affinity between the haemoglobin molecule and glucose. Your red blood cell, contains a molecule of haemoglobin. The glucose in your bloodstream, attaches itself to this, forming what we refer to as HbA1C.

The interesting part, is that the red blood cells, stick around for 8-12 weeks before they are replaced by new ones, and if a test is done to ascertain the number of glycosylated haemobglobin molecules as a percentage of the total no of red blood cells, then at any given time, it tells how controlled your sugar levels were in the preceding 2-3 months (8-12 weeks). A normal non-diabetic HbA1C is 3.5-5.5%. In diabetes about 6.5% is good.

Sometimes, there are lessons in life that we can learn from this.

What you see on the surface , is often different from what goes on inside.

Like we have a Minister of the State Home Department. You would think that he wouldn't know the spelling of "C-R-I-M-E". But history has a way of happening, just like HBA1C. This Minister recently applied for a passport, no doubt to go on a government junket, and his image took a complete beating when it was revealed that he was being denied a passport because he had 19 criminal cases filed against him. Those little criminal molecules, holding on fast, and circulating, stealthily, in company with the prestige molecules......

Like the rich accomplished, presumably well educated, beautiful girl, who got engaged , as per her parents' express wishes, to someone I know, with what was considered "exemplary" pomp and show, and generated a feel-good sense all around, till it was found, that she was actually interested in someone else, was still in touch with him, and was going through all this only to ensure that her parents were pleased; unpleasant situations would be handled by the same parents later; money was never a problem. If only someone had checked out the attachment tendencies of molecules in her life....

Like the Alphonso mangoes this season, going today, for 200 Rs a dozen; and their historical activity, since coming off the trees over the last few weeks indicates, that these photo worthy royal fruits, have been forcibly ripened using calcium carbide, with scant regard for the fact that it is carcinogenic to humans. And some folks, like those who fudge their sugar situation with last minute pre test diet alterations, continue to mindlessly buy the fruit, because it is cheap and even gift it around. Sweetness and generosity, this instant is important; for all other times, there are always physicians and insulin.

Seeing similarities in life after observing how the human body handles things, is something I enjoy. I don't know if your DNA can code for such things, and whether you can have a gene that predisposes you towards such thinking.

Why talk of DNA's and genes ? Because I think the converse is possible. ....the application of real life situations to the understanding of human body actions....and not everyone is capable of it ....

My late parents -in-law were both diabetics since their 50's , and my son appeared on the scene when they were in their 70's. They were very very particular about managing their diabetes well, and had even won a medal from the Diabetic Association of India, for 25 years of managing their sugar levels very well.

There was often talk about diabetes, sugar levels, wearing footwear all the time, to protect against injuries to limb extremities and so on. ( I , a non-diabetic, never wear footwear in the house, and my son was aware of it.) Of course being a very young grandson , his grandma , whenever she came to stay with us, would indulge him, frequently making some delicious sweets at home, for which sugar syrup was always made, and he would watch....

I once heard him listening to his grandma about how injuries to diabetics, even from things like shoe bites, took a long time to heal. His face lit up. "But of course ! All those medicines you take for the injuries - imagine having to move through canals and canals of thick sugar syrup, naturally slowing the flow of blood ! No wonder the medication takes so long to reach the shoe bite place..... now I know why you must not have so much sugar in your blood ....!"

If there was anything like a reverse DNA , he had acquired it maternally.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Magic recoveries.....

I wrote about her about two months ago.

And today I read about some ongoing research being done by Theresa Pape, a research assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, regarding head injuries, that throw you into a traumatic coma like situation.

Turns out that Ryan, a 21 year old college student, was flung from his snowmobile during an ice storm and suffered traumatic brain injury. All his cranial fibres were twisted, he was in a coma, and gave no response, as he lay, comatose, but with eyes open, unaware of anything. A month passed and someone advised that he be shifted to a nursing home. Then they heard of research trials for investigating whether repeated stimulation with familiar voices can help repair a coma victim's injured brain networks and spur his recovery.

His mother Karen Schroeder enrolled him in this research trial, and recordings of the voices of Ryan's family members would be played back to Ryan through headphones , four times a day. His mother would talk to him about his favourite project as a 10 year old, where he had to raise pigs, and how he bid on 3 piglets at an auction and brought them home in a fancy car because they had no truck. Three weeks into the trial, and Ryan slowly started acknowledging sunlight outside the window, and turning towards it. Then he started following commands to push a ball out of his hands. Today, he brushes his teeth, texts hi friends, and walks with a walker or four pronged cane.

I didn't know about this research but I have a similar story about someone I mentioned earlier. An 85 year old brilliant and brave lady, lying comatose, but with a determined look on her face.

She is a renowned doctor herself, and at any given leading hospital in Pune, there are many of her students practicing as successful specialists. While she lay comatose, but breathing on her own (a big plus), there was a steady stream of her old "students" dropping by from their busy practice clinics and OPD's to see her. The ICCU personnel of the hospital never ceased to be amazed at the luminaries trooping by. Some of her old anaesthetists, who partnered her in surgeries came by. Her family who maintained a vigil in the antechamber were totally amazed at young and old doctors, talking to her, as if she was listening, about their new cases, discussing certain points, asking her opinion. Then they would break into their usual light banter , akin to that which happens between doctors in an OT as a successful surgery nears completion. Some would hold her hand, some would just talk.

This doctor would depart, and sometime later, a junior colleague, another anesthetist would drop by, en route to an assignment. She would sit at the bedside, hold her hand, press her ankles, and talk to her about all kinds of interesting things they had both experienced, and enjoyed in their careers. Sometimes, new cases she was attending. The in between blanks in time were filled in by the lady's grandnephew, who came straight from his board exams, to give her a complete rundown on how every thing went. He also cribbed as usual about his sisters. When someone mentioned that she couldn't see, he even ventured to push up her eyelids and stand close to her and talk.

4 days into this routine, and one afternoon, the lady anesthetist suddenly heard her lady boss answer back, something in response to all her talk ! Messages went out pronto, and the family and the old lady's students came rushing by. She was now awake, but her left side was completely paralyzed. But her memory systems were so good still, that Intel and Seagate would have probably gone into a desperate downturn, faced with them.

Her eyes had some problem staying open, but she had a complete concept and sense of time, and wanted to go home. She reminded her nephew about returning some of her library books which would incur a fine unless returned by some date she remembered and mentioned. She remembered totally clearly all the events till she had the stroke while watching TV at night. She even remembered what their family doctor advised, and how she did not want to be admitted to a hospital, and no one listened. All this within one hour of emerging from her coma...

Two days later, she was moved out of the ICCU, and two more days later, she came home. Basically confined to bed, with a bunch of maintenance tubes attached to the upper and lower orifices.

A month at home, and she was already cribbing about some exercises the neuro physiotherapist made her do daily. One fine day she simply removed the tube through which she was being fed. The catheter followed. Her super dedicated nieces-in-law now help her sit up, and hand her a meal bowl with a spoon, and she can eat on her own. They make the choicest things which she likes, to tweak her appetite, as there is hardly an exercise that she can do now : she, who enjoyed going on treks, went on daily walks even at the height of a cold winter day, and insisted on laboriously climbing up and down stairs despite her arthritic knees, to see me off, on my last trip to visit her.

I just spoke to her on the phone from Pune. She has been getting calls from all over the world. She won't talk too much about what her condition is. But she will discuss her worries now that her favourite grand nephew's board exam results are due, and her hopes that he get into what she considers Pune's best college, which also happens to be her, my parents' and my Alma mater. She reads the paper daily. Expresses her disgust over the politicians. She told me she was avoiding mangoes this year after reading about the forced ripening using calcium carbide which is so harmful for us. She takes a huge interest in my children and I discuss them with her as I would with my late mother earlier on. D. from an earlier blog post, who has known her as long as I have, had come by to see her with fresh champa flowers, she tells me, and the gesture was greatly appreciated by her.

Her doctors are not surprised by her recovery. They think , absolutely anything is possible where their Ma'am is concerned.

Of course, it is clear that she did not heal and emerge from the traumatic brain state without the very judicious use of medicines, and conservative treatment. Razzle dazzle state of the art treatments sometimes cannot be used in view of age. The family understood that and had complete faith in the doctors treating her. And the other doctors, who came to talk to her as she lay comatose , actually behaved like family.

There is a sense of hope and a belief that you cannot give up trying.

I think the research that I just read about at the Northwestern University School of medicine, actually seeks to quantify and formalize that.

I remember reading about some research regarding the sense and feel of maternal touch and its effects on human growth hormone in babies and children. Children deprived of such a touch, despite all nutritional benefits, failed to grow well, as a result of stress , of, maybe , isolation.

I am sure , at 85, the human growth hormone isn't going to appear anywhere in this case. But I like to think, that a sense of family touch and belonging, manifested by uplifting verbal communication by those considered close, brings a renewed sense of growth and hope, to those, afflicted by such brain trauma. They listen. They absorb. And at some point, with a sense of fullness and gratitude, they respond, emerging into the real world.

Normally one reads about some discovery and then tries to use it.

Here was something I saw first hand, and lo behold, I read about it being researched today !

Its nice ending on a cheerful note......

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Me in the time of Cricket.....

I've been getting strange, unbelieving looks.

The Blogadda folks announced a Wide Angle Book contest to win the wonderful coffee table book by Anil Kumble, India's great ex-cricket captain, record breaking bowler, and avid photographer, and the two best tributes to the maestro would receive an autographed copy of the book, each.

It so happens, that the results came yesterday. And turns out that I am one of the two who gets the book. It is also relevant to note that both the winners were women. Just saying .

Reactions have ranged from skeptical disbelief, boring nods, childlike excitement , patronising comments implying, "you never know what these old ladies will be up to next", to plain and simple thrills and shouts, telephone calls, emails, messages and sms-es of excitement and congratulations.

There are even plans afoot on some blog posts, to wrest the book from me under false pretences.:-)

I think time has come to clear the air about me and cricket.

My earliest cricket memory is from half a century ago, when there couldn't be anyone worse to play with, than the boys in our colony. Summer holidays, and a searing afternoon May sun, saw us playing an ill advised tournament against the boys. My predominant memory is of running desperately to reach the crease, a partial umpire declaring me "out", and me desperately trying to prove that part of me was already inside what we then called , "deed-bat" (= one and a half batlength) , which was our name for the crease.

High School and college cricket was basically me, surreptitiously listening to radio commentary while studying. There were then Maharaja type guys called Vizzy who did the commentary, who I always mixed up with Vijay Merchant. There were no TV's , no earphones, and the commentary often suddenly shifted to Hindi because it was always All India Radio.

Early twenties saw me work for what is today's leading IT company, owned by the Tatas, and one year, the Tata Sports Club allocated some club quota tickets for a match in Mumbai to our company. Our group of friends decided to buy and attend, and 9 am on a hot morning saw me sitting way in front in the North Stand of the Brabourne Stadium. There were no Bisleri water bottles in those days, you carried your own limited supply, and lunch. We did spread wet towels over our heads as the sun bore down, but the excitement of the game, lack of water and the heat was too much, and the entire North Stand was treated to me collapsing in a dead faint right in front. A whole lot of folks got into action, poured water on me, and made me drink some, and for the rest of the match, I suspect that the fielder at deep fine leg was also looking at me.

TV happened, and understandably, I stopped attending stuff at stadiums.

Since then, I have had the privilege of being part of a family where 50% consider themselves experts of the game (and 50% are considered not worth classifying). 25% have played schools cricket in India and University cricket in UK, and seen some legends up close and personal. Another 25% spends more time on cricket study than academics, writes detailed stuff, continuously communicates with similarly obsessed people, and one lets it all happen, because the academics has never suffered.

In the meanwhile , I observe with great amazement as these folks watch matches on TV, give advise occasionally to the fellow on the TV screen, predict when someone is going to bowl a certain type of ball, shake their head in disgust and shout saying "Kashaalaa full toss atta ? (=Why a full toss now?)" , "Chor manoos ahe, Sachin la LBW khota out dila (=Thieves ! Wrongly gave Sachin out leg before wicket(LBW))", " Arre ! Stump war taak ? Wide kashalla taktos (=Oye! Bowl on to the stumps ! Why bowl wide ?)" ....... and many other things.

I have sat motionless on a sofa, worrying about something burning on the stove in the kitchen, because any change in the configuration often brought on unnecessary wickets, hundreds of miles away. Food could be cooked again, but we couldn't lose a wicket. We had guests for dinner the day Anil Kumble hit his maiden century, and the family and some of the guests promptly went out to get a celebratory wonderful dessert for everyone.

And while the cricket obsessed types have always gone ga ga over the game as it was played, I have always been more interested in the personalities. I love to watch the post match presentations, and hear the players speak. I enjoy their interactions with each other in the team. I observe how they behave with members of the opposing team.

I enjoy seeing the gifted Sachin walk out to bat in Australia, and the audience rising to applaud every step he takes. I enjoy seeing how he handles a particularly badly behaved opposition bowler who snarls at him. I see the nation stand solidly behind him, when he looks up to the sky after reaching a milestone and I wonder what his mother watching from home must be feeling.

I enjoy hearing Sehwag confidently promising to hit, anything that came talking to his bat, and making those promises come true. No false humility, and he tells it like it is.

I like looking at those they show sitting in the pavilion, waiting for their chance, and I wonder what must be going through their minds. It is great to see families of the players on TV, supportive of each other, parents proudly giving interviews after a record being broken, and a wife and children coming on to the field at the end of a match to greet someone , who has just declared his retirement. I like to see a captain, who carries a team with him, leading from the front, in and out of the ground, without a hint of glamour, but with a great sense of leadership and giving.

And so, a cricket-disabled-me, jumped at this opportunity to write a tribute about Anil Kumble, about whom there are never two opinions. I have followed him and observed him for many many years, like many others in his class. I keep track of the commercials these people do. Tells you a lot about what they think is important in life. It is a pleasure to see how the family is so important in their busy lives. In India, family includes extended family, and for a public figure with a huge demand on his time and talents, this often involves a delicate balance of priorities.

I see this "balance" in his entire career. I see this balance in his life, what I see and read about.

And so I wrote this tribute, and was delighted to note that someone appears to have agreed with what I had to say....

For other bat and ball details there is always Google, television and commentaries.

Thanks to the folks at Blogadda for creating this opportunity.

And thank you for the wonderful Book, avidly awaited...

Monday, May 03, 2010

Lessons in life...

D. He doesn't know his real age. It has never really mattered.

He came to them as a fourteen year old , about a thousand moons ago. He and they, both hailed from a hamlet , a few miles inland from the South Konkan coast. Except. He was the first from his family to come to the city, and they were the 4th generation of the folks that had come to the city at the beginning of the 20th century. They had a small son , a year old, and were looking for some live-in help, and his folks suggested his name on a trip to their native village.

(It's true that one may estimate his age from the little boy's age. But he certainly does not look it, and besides, the ration card mentions his age as 65 . Which is a joke, because the little boy he came to look after is now 64. )

There were two more children in the family after that, a girl and a boy. And they have the most memories associated with him from their childhood. Being taken to school , double-seat on a bicycle. He coming by with a lunch tiffin during the school lunch recess. Last minute ironing of forgotten uniform items, broken fasteners and buttons, school bag buckles, and he quietly shooing them to be quiet as he industriously strived to repair the stuff , before their mother shouted at them. His amazing pickup where nutritional aspects of food were concerned, picked up from their mother , who was very particular about traditional cooking. When the children were small and wanted to accompany their mother to the big vegetable and fruit central market, he would always come and ensure that there was someone to carry things, as well as someone to ensure that a kid suddenly enticed by some great looking fruit elsewhere, didn't wander and get lost.

They did an addition to their small flat at one time, and the balcony had flower beds that were then in vogue. And an abiding memory the little girl had was that of him whistling to himself, scraping and peeling cucumbers etc, directly into the flower beds. Various fruit peels followed, along with the innards of papayas with the seeds. The man of the house, was aghast at the various organic smells emanating from the balcony, but he was equally proud of the exemplary profusions of roses that grew in those flower beds, to the intense scrutiny of the neighbors and passers by on the road. At any given time, you could see a rotten tomato, spoilt cilantro, orange peels, pomegranate peels and similar stuff decorating the soil. A seedless papaya plant grew rebelliously at an angle , jutting away from the balcony roof. The children would watch this botanical display with wonder, till one day, aesthetic considerations and the threat of water dripping on to someones patio downstairs put a brake on all these activities.

It was time to grow up. He did and so did the children. Careers and other considerations took people to far corners across oceans , and for a few years, everyone got busy with their own. He got married, and had children. He now had a day job as a helper in an office, and made many new friends. He had a small place of his own now, and his children went to school.

For many years in between , communication between the older family and him was minimal as job transfers, children's education etc, ensured that much time was spent out of Pune.

D. retired somewhere in the early 90's. His own children were now grown up, some married. He had a bit more free time, and he continued to come visit the old couple, who were now well into their 80's. In a world studded with fancy machines, and so called labour saving devices, he and the two of them, stood firm, frowning on the stupidity of machine-washing all the clothes together in the same dirty water, as opposed to each piece scrubbed individually by hand, buttermilk hand-churned by the traditional wooden mixer, and various spicy hot crunches and chutneys, crushed just so on the big stone with the crusher, all adjustable and fined tuned for taste, based on what the hand sensed, as opposed to a massive free for all, super fast, invisible rotation of a desperate blade.

The daughter of the house often came to visit her parents, and the highlight for her kids was accompanying D, now in his 70's himself, on to the terrace, where he climbed precariously on to a tilted branch of the jamun tree, and tossed some down to the children collecting them in a basket. There was also a mango tree, often laden with fruit, and he would climb it with childlike enthusiasm when the little kids visited. Afternoons would see him collecting the dried branches of the palm tree (as old as the daughter of the house) , and sitting on the landing, cutting and sharpening the fine dried leafy part , converting it to semi rigid rods, to make the stiff brooms. The little kids have never seen anything like this, and their afternoons were spent imbibing lessons in life sustainable activities. A special broom was once carried home to Mumbai, with folks in the train wondering why so much fuss was being made over who was to carry it, given that half the kids their age, in Mumbai, wouldn't want to be seen , with, of all things, a broom.

The end of the century was also the end of an era. The lady at whose knee he had learnt lessons in living and growing in a city, passed away very suddenly. For the daughter of the house, who was the only child in India, he became a friend, someone to consult and ask for advice, when questions arose. Grandpa, who was the one who had brought him to the city more than half a century ago, was now alone, and in a way , lost, as it was always his wife who managed all the nitty gritty stuff, and was the more aware person , where judging outside people was concerned.

D now dedicated his time to looking after him. When the family grandchildren came to visit, he would automatically and magically produce delicacies from the fridge, having mobilized for them beforehand; he had learned from grandma, and nothing ready made was OK; he'd organize the milk, make yogurt, hang it, sweeten it, spice it, mix it, and store it tightly covered in the freezer, to bring it out at mealtimes for the grandchildren just like their grandmother did. One of the grandchildren abroad was advised some Ayurvedic mixture containing turmeric powder (for some general allergy tendency reduction), and he advised that the ready made powdered turmeric in shops was a dicey thing, not to be trusted, and he went and bought some excellent turmeric roots, duly sun dried them, and for a few days, you could hear the rhythmic thump of the large iron pestle in a larger iron mortar, where he crushed it all to a fine powder. He packed it in zip lock bags, the fragrance and personal care tightly packed in. The daughter of the house likes to think that his care had a lot to do the with the subsequent success in the allergy situation for the grandchild abroad, who would take it faithfully, not because some doctor said so, but because old D had made it for him.

Grandpa was now getting really old, would often forget things, and sometimes imagine things. His support for education, rural health , and women's issues was well known and people would flock to him for help, some of it financial. D kept a keen eye on the going ons, and would keep the daughter of the house informed on what was happening. He often took it upon himself to mislead who he thought were tricky types, trying to get things under false pretences, by telling them that Grandpa was out of town, when in fact he was resting inside. Whenever she visited, the daughter would meet up with the visitors and try to ascertain the genuine people who he could help.

Came a time when Grandpa was bedridden. The head and heart was willing but the limbs would not co-operate. The daughter spent more and more time with her father, but the entire framework that held up the system where her father felt "nothing had changed" , existed solely because of D, and his innate need to ensure that grandpa would get the sort of personalized care , had grandma still lived. He learned the rudiments of bed-sore dressings which were applauded by the visiting doctor for the attention to sterilization and antiseptic environment. He and the daughter would often check out some native solutions with the doctor, something D knew a lot about. Grandpa was a great walker, and had hallucinations about having gone for long walks, while actually unable to sit up. He would often insist on "being taken for a walk" which consisted of D and the daughter lifting him into a wheelchair and wheeling him to the balcony from where he gazed longingly at the garden where he walked every morning for so many years.
During Divali that year, when the daughter was planning to organize a better wheelchair and take grandpa to the park where he had walked for so many years, D, was the most enthusiastic supporter, organizing folks like the downstairs local fruit seller and cycle repair chap next door, to come help lift the chair and grandpa downstairs. He realized Grandpa would get tired from this excursion, and rushed ahead to have some hot stuff ready for Grandpa to imbibe, while the neighbors came down to meet Grandpa in the park.

When they got home, for the first time in many days, Grandpa exhibited some appetite, being fed by his daughter and D, and had , what could be called, a very restful deep sleep at night.

The daughter was the house was aware that D had his own family, and insisted that he go home at decent times on all days, at least when she was around with Grandpa. He would hesitate, because that meant she alone would be there to handle things. He was more than an old faithful by now; more like an elderly relative you consult.

The day that was to be grandpa's last, she had sense of foreboding around midnight, when there was no response. Energy levels throughout the day had been low, but they fluctuated, and there was nothing in grandpa's observed spirit that said things were worrisome. Of all the various calls she made in the middle of the night, the doctor and D responded. There was unseasonal winter rain that night, D rushed over, his sons accompanying him , worrying for his safety, and he walked a couple of miles before a three wheeler agreed to bring him at that time of the night. The doctor was just leaving when he came. It was all over. The doctor would come again around dawn and do the paperwork, as per the rules.

He still treats the house as his karmabhoomi, and worries about the daughter of the house. He comes by to clean the place , check for letters, which still pour in. He asks about her children, every time he calls, enquires about those across the seas, and very often, in the amla(=gooseberry) season, will call up to say that he has bought some excellent amlas and will be grating and drying them in the hot sun to make some delicious amla supari, about which one of the grandkids abroad is crazy. He also visits some close friends of late grandma and grandpa, who are themselves not doing too well, and he takes them fresh fragrant champa flowers from the tree in the garden.

He is also the wise elder now in his own family. His kids are married, he indulges his grandson and granddaughters, and is very particular that they attend school, something he never did himself. His face lights up when his grandson talks a few phrases in English. His wife is now herself fairly old, and suddenly decided to shift back to the native village. Just like that. D lets her be. He stands as a rock for his family that needs him in the city, making a few visits to the native place, where there are several relatives who can care for his wife.

To grandma and grandpa's daughter, he has now become another parent to care for. And for him, she is a responsibility. All done with great genuine concern, very willingly. No connections of DNA. No genetics. No exhibitions of attitude. Just plain and simple human family feeling.

His own daughter complains that he doesn't eat properly, drinks too much tea. He still carries huge containers of water up three flights of stairs. He himself is probably approaching his eighties. He doesn't know and he doesn't care. She says he hasn't been keeping too well after grandpa passed away. Keeps ignoring minor sniffles and niggles. But late Grandpa's neighborhood is impressed, and grandpa's doctor himself had him come over for a proper checkup once , advised some vitamins, and declared him fit.

... A huge lesson on how to be a rock solid person in life, where entire generations continue to walk by, stop, rest a while, talk about their lives and troubles, imbibe some useful lessons, and lean in comfort, knowing , that D will be there, egging you on, shaking his head, saying, "Not to worry, we'll find a the meanwhile, we need to get on with life...."