Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The electrician

Once when the fan in my room was giving some problems, an electrician was called to repair it. As is usual for someone who sees me for the first time, he asked a lot of questions which were answered briefly. (I was not present during the remainder of the incident. I am relating what Jaya had told me at the time. She remembers it only vaguely now.)

Before leaving, he told Jaya that he knew a pastor who could do many miracles. He would bring the pastor if Jaya gave the latter a donation. Jaya told him that there was no objection to his praying but she will not give any donation. He left a CD which he wanted me to see. It probably contained material regarding faith healing. Since none of us was interested in it, we did not see it.

The next day he came again and said that his wife had fallen ill and his son had met with an accident. He said that this was because Jaya was not 'allowing' him to 'help' me. Jaya didn't know how to respond. He seemed to be implying that we were somehow responsible for his troubles. She told him that we were sorry that he was having problems but we had nothing to do with it and sent him away.

I have met many such people with creative ideas - one person said that I should sleep in the front hall near the entrance because it was the best place according to 'vaastu', another person said there is a ghost roaming around my room (those who intend visiting me later need not be apprehensive - this was in a previous house), a person who could 'look into the future' tied a couple of ribbons to ward off evil spirits, one person said that I should not use AC because it will affect blood circulation, another person said that I should not sit for long in front of the computer because radiation from the monitor might affect my brain, another said that my room should be painted red because longer wavelengths of light stimulate the neurons of the medulla oblongata...ok, I am making up that last one but you never know what you might get. (All sorts of unlikely objects get lodged in the brain without being deliberately put there.)

Conditioned by such experiences, I look warily at any unknown person who comes into my room. I get the same feeling of unease that Bertie Wooster used to get when some young pest announced hat he was looking to do his good deed for the day. Some people will relax quickly after they see me and start talking about normal, everyday matters. Others will keep looking doubtfully at me and I can see that they are thinking very hard about ways to help me - a 'help' that I will dread.

I can totally identify with the street artist, Banksy's plea: "I need someone to protect me from all the measures they take in order to protect me."That is another skill that Jaya has honed through years of practice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The truth in the lie

We may not doubt that society in heaven consists mainly of undesirable persons.-- Mark Twain

A quadriplegic in the neighbourhood is the cue for various religious cults to crawl out of the woodwork and offer a plethora of miracles. A guy belonging to one such cult wanted Jaya to go to Chennai to meet his leader. Jaya told him that if I agreed to the the trip, she would go. She also told him that in all probability I will bury the idea not praise it. He wanted to meet me but knowing that I would not be interested in listening to the Deepities, Eulerian bluffs and different versions of the Courtier's Reply that these guys are adept in giving, Jaya tried to discourage him from coming home. But he was confident of his persuasive abilities and insisted on meeting me so finally Jaya relented.

He came into my room sporting a big smile - beware of Greeks bearing gifts or in this case, smiles. (Bernard helpfully informs us that the Trojan horse was actually Greek.) He tried to ingratiate himself with me with standard statements - How are you? You look healthy. You will soon be alright... He then told me that god moves in mysterious ways his wonders to perform. Having been given this stunning revelation only about a million times before, I listened to him with great interest.

He assured me that his god was the 'Real God'. (Another guy told me that he will do a 'strong puja' for me. Have you come across this term before?) Apparently he (or she or it) could perform miracles that would leave lesser gods gaping in awe. He told me about the crippled man who could walk, the child who was cured of leukemia and such standard stories. I tried to stare unblinkingly thinking that he might take my blinks to mean that I had agreed to send Jaya to Chennai.

When he showed no signs of leaving, I tried to think of some way to politely show him the door. I looked frequently at the clock hoping that he would realise that I was not interested but he was immune to such hints. He appeared determined to make me see the light and it looked as if he would leave only after achieving his objective. Wodehouse fans will recall that Balaam's Ass had a similar temperament.

I suddenly had an idea. It is said that a tide comes in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. I was confident that this idea was that tide and lost no time in taking it at the flood. I indicated to the nurse that I wanted to pass urine. After she bolted the door, I indicated to her that I was fibbing. If you prefer a bit of syllabic stretching, I indicated to her that I was being economical with the truth. She understood what was on my mind and laughed.

I waited for ten minutes before allowing her to open the door. When people leave my room after they have met me for a while, they usually don't come back. But as Sherlock Holmes says in The Sign of Four:
.... while the individual man is an insoluble puzzle, in the aggregate he becomes a mathematical certainty. You can, for example, never foretell what any one man will do, but you can say with precision what an average number will be up to. Individuals vary, but percentages remain constant. So says the statistician.
I knew what the average man will do but what this individual will do was anybody's guess. Like Jeeves, I tried to study the psychology of the individual but this did not ease my trepidation. There was the lurking thought that he might return to impress me with more yarns about the amazing prowess of his 'Real God'. It was too early to crow,'Elementary, dear Watson.'

But after a couple of minutes Jaya came and calmed my fears. Apparently he had left soon after he came out of my room.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010


I want to sleep
Swat the files
softly, please.
-Haiku by Masaoka Shiki

Many scriptures say (so I am told) that god has made everything on earth for man’s benefit but when a mosquito bites me in the middle of the night the benefit is not immediately apparent. When we shifted to our current house which is on the third floor, I thought I was rid of the scourge of mosquitoes. Surely those tiny wings are not capable of scaling such heights? But I rejoiced too soon. Third floor is not a challenge for mosquitoes.

The tip of my nose is a favourite piece of real estate for many mosquitoes. I will hope that a few shakes of my head would encourage them to leave. But hope is not a plan. Since I could not brush the mosquitoes off of my own volition, I had to think of some other way. At night, I sleep on my left side and a row of pillows is kept against the railing so that my head and legs don't hit it if I cough. I will move my head up and down and strain every sinew to irritate my tracheostomy. This will induce a bout of cough which will make my head hit the pillow and make the mosquitoes fly away. (I never knew that the acceleration and impacts of my head caused by bouts of cough could cause head injuries.)

Some of the mosquitoes that fly away might settle on a part of my body where I cannot disturb them. (There is a word for the part of the body where one cannot reach to scratch. Who knew?) By now I will be too exhausted to try and stimulate another bout of cough and see what happens. At such times I will have no option but to be another link in the food chain. Unlike D.H. Lawrence, I am not 'mosquito enough to out-mosquito' them. I will only hope that they will not leave me the baddest of all Apicomplexans as a parting gift. (I came across this expression last month and thought that it would be fun to make you click that link to find out what the hell I mean.)

I can understand Alfred Russel Wallace's feelings about the living conditions in Wanumbai in Indonesia (As quoted in The Song of the Dodo):
"Instead of rats and mice there are curious little marsupial animals about the same size, which run about at night and nibble anything eatable that may be left uncovered. Four or five different kinds of ants attack everything not isolated by water, and one kind even swims across that; great spiders lurk in baskets and boxes, or hide in the folds of my mosquito curtain; centipedes and millipedes are everywhere. I have caught them under my pillow and on my head; while in every box, and under every board which has lain for some days undisturbed, little scorpions are sure to be found snugly ensconced, with their formidable tails quickly turned up ready for attack or defence. Such companions seem very alarming and dangerous, but all combined are not so bad as the irritation of mosquitoes,"
On second thoughts...centipedes, millipedes, spiders, scorpions...h'm. Enduring stings is not a 'happiness skill' that I am eager to cultivate. I wouldn't have liked to be in the room when Bill Gates pulled this stunt during a TED talk.

Mosquito mavens will be chagrined to learn that at one time, I thought that a world without mosquitoes would be close to the best of all possible worlds. But that doesn't seem a good idea.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A typical day

By about six in the morning, most people in the household are up and about and I will also be up by this time. Danny Nevrath said,"The only problem with the speed of light is,it gets here too early in the morning." I don't have this peeve. I am usually up much before the others.After some exercise, feeding, sponging etc., I watch T.V. or lie quietly for a while during which time the nurse finishes her daily activities. By about 11 o'clock, I will be shifted to the wheelchair after which my day really begins.

By this time on most days I would have tried to exceed memory limits (no doubt unsuccessfully) - some word meanings have to be checked, I will get some ideas for future posts, there may be something to show Jaya, etc. I will quickly take the appropriate actions before I forget something. After that I will begin my usual mix of browsing and reading books.

Dwight D. Eisenhower said, "In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable." Similarly I also make plans but am alive to the fact that none of them may work out because of some unforeseen developments. For instance, one day I thought that there was plenty of time to publish a post but my plan was scuppered by a telephone call just then informing us that a few relatives were coming for lunch and Jaya had to run to the kitchen to prepare something.

Sometimes when I will be reading something about the economics of climate change or about 'useless inventions' or listening to some political humour, Sujit will ask me some doubt in his homework. I will try to clear his doubt to the best of my ability. I will also try to find some diagram or video on the web which can simplify my task. Often I will first explain to Jaya who will then explain it to Sujit which takes time.

Sometimes the nurse will be busy in some other activity and will not be free to manipulate the mouse for me. If I can predict these times, I will switch to listening to some podcast. Sometimes the interruption happens too quickly for me to react and I will have no option but to sit quietly and admire the monitor. A problem with audio is that I may miss part of it because of the sound of a passing truck or some other disturbance.

I will be shifted back to the bed at around 9 p.m. In the ten hours since I was shifted to the wheelchair, if I get to read for about four hours, I would have had a good day. The remaining time would be spent in physiotherapy, helping Jaya in her work, helping Sujit or sitting idly because the nurse is busy with other work. By about ten thirty the lights are switched off as everyone goes to sleep but don't be surprised if I think about The Cupertino effect or about the impact of Wikileaks for a while before I gradually drift off to sleep.

I once heard a podcast in which the speaker said that life is about finding a balance between chaos and order - if life has only order, it is boring; if it has only chaos, you become neurotic. I had a balance between the two before my stroke. After the stroke, for a time, there was more of chaos. Now there is another equilibrium between order and chaos which has been working well so far.