Sunayana’s Blog

Archive for April 2010

This is an article by my mother, for my grand-uncle Jayaram’s 75th birthday. A modified version of this has appeared in Chicken Soup for the Indian soul.

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I was seventeen years old, studying in 12th standard in a boarding school and harboring dreams of becoming a famous doctor. My medical dreams were influenced by the fact that my family had a plenty of doctors and medical students.

The October holidays were upon us and I could not wait to see my parents, Jayaram (my father’s brother), and his family who were living in the US and were visiting us. I thought I would surprise them by arriving earlier than planned. While sitting in the bus I visualized how my cute little cousins would look and speak and what Jayaram would say to me. During my childhood and teenage years, I had enjoyed listening to many interesting stories about my father and his brothers’ childhood and later years as narrated by them all of them. I was always in awe of them all especially Jayaram. He had left India and his family when he was 24 years old to become a famous plastic surgeon in the US. Whenever we received news about his visit to India to be with us all, his arrival became the talk of the town. We children would be curious about how he looked, what he would say to us, and what gifts he would bring for us! The period during his visits would be celebration time for the entire family. He would describe at great length how life was in America and we would listen to him in rapt attention. I would build my own pictures of all that he described. I remember the day when he gathered the whole family and gave us a slide show of his life and work as a plastic surgeon in America. We were SO proud of him!

On the way during my bus journey, I also went over some questions in English grammar and physics problems that I needed help with, knowing that my father would be ready to guide me. I smiled at that thought. What a wonderful teacher he was! So immersed was I in fantasizing about my parents’ reaction on seeing me that I was oblivious of the stiff breeze blowing on my face.

My mom opened the door and almost screamed in excitement! Her face clearly told me how much she had been missing me! Meeting Jayaram, my aunt and my cousins was so exciting. I soon got busy talking to them that I did not realize the time passing. I asked where my dad was only to be told that he had gone to the florist regarding my sister’s wedding. He had taken his brand new scooter for the purpose. I waited for my father eagerly, planning to stand behind the door so that I could pop out and shock him! A bigger shock awaited all of us…

My patience was wearing thin. Why was he taking so long? The doorbell finally rang and I quickly got ready behind the door. Mom opened the door, but to my surprise and disappointment, it was not dad, but a stranger. I heard him say that the ‘master’ from this house had had an accident and was being taken to the hospital by some passersby.

It was a lucky coincidence that Jayaram was with us on the day of the accident. I vividly remember how, realizing the urgency of my dad’s situation and not wanting to waste even a minute, he had not even worn his footwear while rushing him to the hospital.

Dad had a brain hemorrhage due to the head injury he had sustained and as a result, was in coma for several days. The helmet system was still optional those days. He was such a careful a driver; how ironic and unfair that he had to suffer due to somebody else’s fault! The neurologist was not too sure of his chances of survival. We prayed desperately as we waited for him to come out of his coma, hoping that after that, everything would be normal again.

Jayaram was by my father’s side day in and day out. Then there was my cousin Murali, a doctor, who worked tirelessly alongside Jayaram. My brother, who was a medical intern at that time, was there too. How can I forget my other cousin Madhu who was also there for us?

Jayaram stayed back with us for more than a month looking after him, often skipping meals, and hardly ever sleeping. It was as though God had sent him just to save dad. There were many occasions when the neurologist had given up hope but Jayaram, with his grit, determination, presence of mind and hard work brought his brother back to life. Almost single handedly, he went to great lengths doing every possible thing that would save dad and brought him back to our home after a month of hospitalization. My aunt and the kids had to miss a major part of their holiday because of the accident. Observing Jayaram during that month made me realize that he was not only a very capable doctor but a wonderful human being as well! I understood how much he loved and respected his elder brother and my mother and what a strong emotional bond they shared.

While still in the hospital, Dad woke up, opened his eyes, and moved his arms and feet by a few inches. After the agonizing wait, our joy knew no bounds when he managed to focus his eyes on our faces. We waited for him to smile and call us by our names and talk to us. Alas! To our disbelief, he could not recognize any of us, not even my mother! It took him close to a month to identify us but he had forgotten everything. We waited patiently as he slowly relearned our names; whenever he wanted to call us, he would look up his notebook where he had had our names written. He had lost the ability to form meaningful sentences and yet, the daily speech therapy sessions hardly helped. And, that was not all. At the time of the accident, dad was the head of the weaving department in a textile industry, but now he had lost the skills that were necessary for his job. After a few months, it became obvious that he had to resign. We packed our bags and moved back to Bangalore, our hometown. Dad could not believe that he could not go to work like before and it took him more than a decade to accept this hard reality It had long lasting effects on all of us.

The four of us, my brother, my sisters and I, were still studying. Life, as we knew it, had changed drastically for all of us. Dad spent most of his time at home. Mom shouldered the new responsibilities that had been thrust upon her in addition to the ones she already had. It was a painful realization for us that dad was no longer the same person we knew. Nevertheless, we never gave up hope that someday we would get back the father we knew.

We quickly learnt how to live simply and without any luxuries. We went through innumerable unpleasant and awkward social situations whenever people openly showed their pity.

These factors influenced the kind of person I turned out to be. Though I always got excellent grades in school and was confident of securing a medical seat, I had to take the entrance exam in Coimbatore where I had been studying. Taking the entrance exam meant that someone in the family would have to accompany me all the way there and back. Also, studying medicine was going to be expensive. At that point in time, the two immediate priorities were looking after my father and fresh arrangements for my sister’s wedding. I thought that my family was already struggling to make ends meet…how could I possibly demand more of them.

I was not aware of whether dad had enough savings to support all of us for such a long period. These discussions were meant for adults in the family and therefore we were never part of them. I always wondered how my parents managed to provide for all our requirements and asked mom several times while in college and even after I got married. Her silence always puzzled me. It was only many years later that mom revealed the truth to me. She described how Jayaram and Satya (another younger brother of my dad) had secretly made financial arrangements so that every month we had enough money in the bank to take care of all our needs. In addition, she also told me that they (along with other brothers) also made big contributions for our weddings. Oh my God! I spent several sleepless nights when I came to realize the naked truth of our lives. The thought that we were depending on them for our financial needs was unacceptable to me. They had already done so much for us at every stage, and now the fact that we had burdened them even financially for so long troubled me a lot and took me a long time to come to terms with. It seemed like God had sent versions of himself to be with us. Jayaram saw to it that we led a normal life and satisfied all our needs by always being there for us secretly.

I could not fulfill my ambition of becoming a doctor. Though it was a huge disappointment for me, I focused on excelling in college so that I could make a career for myself as quickly as possible. I topped Bangalore University in my subject and thus earned a scholarship for my M.Sc. course. I completed my post-graduation in Zoology, once again getting the first rank and thus receiving the gold medal. I started teaching in the same college where I had earned my degree. I declined the research fellowship that I was offered since the stipend amount was less than what my job as a lecturer offered.

All through these years, I missed talking to dad. I had always discussed academics, my goals and how I would go about achieving them, with him. Though he was there physically, I could not reach out and connect with him in the same manner as before. Today dad is eighty-six years old, and spends most of his day trying to read the newspaper and understanding it.

I was always close to my mother too. It was from her that I learnt what it meant to lead a selfless life. She took all the hardships life had thrown her way and concentrated on her duties towards dad and all of us. What surprises me most is the way my mother looks after him. She is still as patient as ever and in spite of her own deteriorating health, showers him with all the love she can by doing everything within her means to make him comfortable. I cannot help but wonder where she got the strength to continue despite the trauma she must have gone through. She was and is a giver, without any expectations in return. Today, two people are my idols – my mother and Jayaram, the people I love, respect and admire the most.

It took me decades to come to terms with how life had changed for us. Despite all that we had to go through, none of us let our heads fall. We all had our individual goals and persevered to reach them successfully. Our grit and determination to make the most of whatever opportunities we had were only strengthened by the situations we faced and the experiences we gained. Indeed, life’s most difficult lessons were also the richest, making winners of us all.

It is true, my dreams of becoming a doctor were dashed, but today, I am not just happy being an educator but also extremely excited about my work; looking for innovations all the time and thinking up ways and means of improving my lessons and making my students smile. The sparkle in their eyes assures me that they enjoy learning, and whenever my old students write to me, or come to meet me and touch my feet, well, these make for the most precious and touching moments in my life.

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