Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Police Encounter

She was big, burly in her cop's uniform and heavy-duty blue jacket, embroidered with her last name. Her hair was neatly tied up in a short bun, her blue eyes gazed sharply about as she stood  at the entrance to the theater. Officer E was the off-duty policewoman who was providing security at the theater in a seedier district of uptown where M was performing with her dance troupe.

There had been another cop on the previous night's show, but I had noticed little of him, beyond noting that he pulled up a chair near the coathangers and sat for the hour during which I manned one of the ticket tables. 

This day's cop was different. She declined offers from us to supply her with a chair. She stood there quietly, swaying back and forth a bit occasionally, shuffling back and forth over the length of a few feet. One of the volunteers brought her a box of samosa and pakoras, as they started boxing the snacks which were to be sold during the intermission. She took it with murmured thanks and placed it on a newspaper rack next to her standing place.

After the rush of main arrivals had slowed down to a trickle of latecomers, a  couple of last stragglers came in to buy tickets. "Has the show started yet? It's only 4:30!" I handed them the tickets noting, "The show started on time at 4."  They had missed practically three-quarters of the first half.
"Indian Standard Time", I said apologetically to the policewoman, as she raised her eyebrows over the exchange. A tiny smile passed her lips.

"Parking is really hard to find in this area, isn't it?" I inquired in a conversational tone as I settled down into a chair at the table near her. "I parked near the library and walked down here, couldn't find on-street parking in the afternoon when I arrived."
"I couldn't find parking either,"she admitted."I'm parked in a no-parking zone near a dumpster."
"That shouldn't be a problem, seeing that you are a policewoman, I guess."
"Nope, they know me around here."
 Next, assorted casual chitchat, in which I learned that she lives with her elderly parents and is going there for dinner without having to change out of uniform, that she works 4 ten-hour shifts every week and the police department will be moving to 5 eight-hour shifts that she isn't sure she will like.
'But think of how much better it will be for your health to be able to maintain more normal hours!" Her expression tells me that she is  unimpressed by my attempt to highlight its advantages.
"Don't you get tired standing all the time?"
"I'm afraid that I wouldn't be able to get up if I sat down." Yes,she does look tired, inspite of the alert stance.
Around this time, one of the other ladies came over to ask if she would like a cup of masala tea, which she gratefully accepted and sipped, commenting on how she liked its gingery flavor.

Soon after, I was called inside, and stayed to watch the second half of the show. Officer E had vanished by the time I got outside again, off to dinner with her family. The lobby was crowded with the exiting audience, excited cast and their family members.

The next day, I remembered the embroidered name and idly googled it to see to which police station she might have been attached, and came across articles about allegations of violence and intimidation by a female cop dating back to the 1990's and another incident  in 2007(both involving other cops, not regular citizens).
Was this the same policewoman who was at the theater? I can't say for sure, but the age and name do seem to match up. Maybe the 'harmless' lady cop that I had been chatting with so casually was more than she seemed, a flaming temper kept under control until an excuse came up to unleash it.

Rather like Ma Durga, I suppose, and appropriate enough, since one of the show's themes was about the Devi and her destructive as well as protective capacity!

(On a side note, I really ought give up googling people. Sometimes, it leads you down rabbit holes down which you shouldn't have gone! )

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Walking in the early morning...

Walking by rosy dawnlight,
Walking by bright sunlight,
Walking by inky starlight,
Walking by bright moonlight
Walking by baleful eclipselight.

Actually, it was quite a thrilling sight to be watching the 'Blood Moon' of 2014 as the earth's shadow moved across the moon. The moon looked much larger than the pitiful photos that my phone's camera was capable of representing with any accuracy. The final 5 minutes of my walk home were presided over a baleful orange red eye, with the peaceful creamy white having turned to a Martian red.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Vignettes from Across the Pond

The natives are not friendly.

I could count on my hand the number of friendly smiles that I might have received as I walked around for the span of three weeks. The feeling of being constantly evaluated as in 'What class is this person from?' pervades every little transaction, no matter how insignificant.

Though there was a gorgeously dressed black lady who smiled without hesitation at me as I exited the sports camp building. Must have been of Caribbean extraction.

They are polite and business-like when you have dealings with them. But there is no sense of joy in interactions with them, just a fatigued tension.

The one day that I received more than an average share of 'Mornings' from the other walkers was the day I trudged home with two Sainsbury plastic bags in hand, carrying a couple of quarts of milk.  Maybe they thought that I was a local, accounting for the friendlier attitudes.
 Maybe that's what it takes to crack the serious facades.


My brightly colored sneakers must have seemed quite odd.
 An tiny grey-haired lady wearing a violent magenta blazer paired with a bright orange skirt passed by as I escorted my toddler nephew to his sports camp.
"I love your trainers', she offered with a smile.
'They're nice, aren't they?' I replied, glancing automatically at my nephew's shoes, white with green accents, flashing red with mini lights.
Then I thought, maybe she was referring to my shoes, a bright violet and lime combination, whose main attraction for me had been the cheap price for a decent brand name.
I do not like the current year's fashions of horrendously bright color contrasts and neon shades, but wear them, nevertheless.


Slugs and snails come out in droves when it rains.

We reached there during a relatively sunny and dry spell, so the green turf of the park was starting to dry out. But then the rain kicked in, with no warning other than a greyish light at dawn. It was a steady rain, falling in large drops over several hours.
The next morning, I saw a huge snail, bigger than any I had ever seen in my life, crawling across the glass door, leaving slimy streak in its wake. It must have been at least 3 inches long.
I stepped out for my morning walk and nearly squished something  that looked disgustingly like dog feces, but on closer examination, was actually moving. A big fat slug, bigger than the miniscule ones I have seen in my garden in the US, was crossing the footpath.
A few steps later, another snail with a reddish brown shell, another pair of slugs making merry.
I spent the whole walk watching for snails and slugs, and hope that I didn't squish any. There were the messy results of a few more careless walkers ahead of me to provide an 'ick' element to the walk. Poor squished slugs, unlovely though they might have been.


The British museum with its collections of treasures from far and wide, collected over the centuries of dominion.
 Assyrian reliefs, no doubt saved from the horrors of bombing of Iraq and Lebanon in the current era, massive pillars and statues lifted wholesale from ancient temples of  Nineveh and Nimrud.
In the Asian section, a Chola bronze Nataraja took center stage, and there was an impressive, five faced Vinayaka. Provenance, anyone? Will those statues be ever returned to India, as Australia did recently? I think probably not. The British museum doesn't recognize claims made for art and artifacts that were removed from India prior to 1947.
The privileges of being an empire, I suppose.


We sit exhausted in the train after the museum outing, our stop is still about 10 minutes away. I notice a man on the opposite side staring at M, or rather, leering at her. Kohl on his eyes, bearded. What a wacko! I glare at him as best as I can manage for a few seconds before I resume gazing at the Tube map above the seats, thankful that we get off shortly.
No further weird characters on the next train we hop on for the trip home. 
Now in light of the Rotherham scandal and worse, I suppress a shudder.Things that seem unimportant take a more ominous significance, as the casual leerer in the train, or the little girl who toddles away from her 'home' with noone apparently watching her.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pastoral Panoramas


I trotted downhill a couple of miles from home, trying to cover the final third of my journey. A tiny lady walked ahead of me, and as I walked past, waved and said something in Chinese(?)  I waved back with a cheery 'Morning' ( my 'Ni Hao' deserted me at that time, and in any case, might have been the wrong dialect with which to address her.) She was dressed in a dark red coat with pretty flowers embroidered along the front, and a pair of black capri pants.
We had reached a bit of a slope and I pressed on, and the ageless Grandma faltered behind me, having kept up with me until then at a very sprightly clip. I reached the top of the slope and turned the corner, glancing back to see where she was.
She was backing her way up the slope, waving her arms out to the sides. I stared. Was she alright, or having some sort of health problem. I ran back down the slope and she turned around smiling.
'Are you alright?'
She smiled again, saying something in Chinese.
'Are you lost? Where do you live?'
Again, an incomprehensible phrase, but with a hand pointing in the general direction of a few houses up the road, and a vigorous nod of the head.
She was alright, and appeared to know where she lived. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued on my morning walk.
Not lost, after all.


M was heading out to London to see the Lion King musical with her uncle and cousin.
'Do you know our address and phone number, in case you get separated from Chittappa in the crowds?'
It was time to grab a piece of paper and note down the essential details.
'Keep this with you, and in case you get lost, approach any lady or police officer and ask them for help.'
M looked highly insulted.
'I'm not going to get lost.' with all the indignation that her thirteen years could muster.
'You are not going to get lost. But better safe than sorry'

She didn't get lost, and got back safely home after a lovely outing to Covent Garden, crowds and fancy car displays notwithstanding.


This morning, M and I walked out looking for a bookstore. M had run out of books to read in the third week of our stay in the UK and I had promised her that I would get her some more.

A little girl with harvest gold hair peeping from under her crochet hat, wearing a pale purple dress,white cardigan,red socks and red shoes, was walking slowly ahead of us. No adult was in sight.
We walked slowly past her, as she ruminated on something, gaze fixed on the sidewalk. I slowed down even further, with an uneasy feeling about this. Sure enough,she came running after us, and kept pace with us as we turned the corner.
She started speaking non-stop, and I strained to make out her accent.

Something about the cat in the corner house, which gazes at me solemnly each morning as I walk by. I tried asking her."Do you live in that house? What's the number of your house?"
She paused her chatter and considered: "It has a seven...and a six."
"Oh, is it 76? Let's walk you back there."
She assented and happily turned around with us. As we walked, I asked "What's your mum and dad's names?"
"My mum and dad died in a fire."
I wasn't expecting that, neither was M. Startled, I pressed on with the inquiries, trying to figure out which house she might belong to. "Do you know the name of the street you live on?"
"No, I don't remember..." She drifted off into more ramblings.
"What's your favorite colour?" she asked. "Mine's purple...and pink."
"I don't have a favorite colour." I replied. A thought struck me. "What is your name?'
"Emma*", she replied, barely audible.
"And your last name?"
"Ooh, blackberries! These taste good!" She reached out and took one from the blackberry hedge at the road corner.
"How old are you?", I asked.
I formulated a plan. I would take her to my sister's house, and call the police to let them know of the lost girl. It was better than leaving her wandering around the neighborhood, especially with the dodgy characters who appeared to inhabit the bus stop bench.
We walked past three or four houses, and paused for her to try shoo the cat which had moved onto a low roof.
Just then, a woman came running up, dressed in sweatpants, no shoes, just bare feet. She gathered up the girl, who launched herself into the arms with a vengeance.
"Is this your daughter? You must have been terrified!"
Poor woman, I thought. She barely spared me a glance, even as I tried to make eye contact with her. "We live at __ , and just happened to see your child walking about alone."
"We're at __, if you ever see her wandering about again", she tossed off in a hurry, as she turned to rush back to her house.

As I recounted the incident later to my sister, she trenchantly observed "She got lucky that you found her child and that the police were not called. They would have placed the kid in foster care, if they found out that she had not watched over her carefully." Ah, the perils of a nanny state.

Lost and found.

*Not her real name.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Moth

She got the head count for the party from her friend. - sambar for twenty people. "This should be fairly easy," she thought. Having routinely made sambar for ten people, she would just double the quantities and be done with it on the day of the picnic.
The day of the picnic dawned, bright and beautiful, after the heavy rains of the previous night. No more rain was in  the forecast for the day.
The dal was simmering away in the pressure cooker and the vegetables being chopped with alacrity, when the pressure cooker decided to malfunction and release steam prematurely. She rushed to remove it from the heat and realign the gasket. Back to the stove, with fingers crossed this time that the dal would finish cooking in peace. Alas, that was not to be. It turned out partly cooked and needed an additional round of steaming in the dubious cooker.
Finally, a good half hour later than planned, the sambar for twenty was done, poured into a disposable roaster, wrapped up in plastic wrap and aluminum foil ample enough to hermetically seal it for a voyage to outer space. Time to head out to the picnic, which was being held in a shelter at a local park.
The shelter was surrounded by large puddles of water,  the picnic tables covered with bird droppings, the remnants of last year's autumn wood fires in the chimney. A solitary chickadee hopped hopefully on the table, chirping as the people made their way gingerly past the puddles and slimy mud onto the concrete of the shelter. Time to get cracking on spreading plastic sheets and setting up the food for the picnic.
Two hours later, the dingy shelter looked transformed. People filled every nook and cranny, chairs were set up in the drying grass nearby, food aplenty on all the tables as everyone brought their offerings to the potluck. The sambar shared space with the onion chutney and idlis, and a few of the younger kids had already started digging into their share of the goodies.
She turned away from her chatting friends toward the food tables when she spied a commotion around the sambar pan and rushed to investigate. She saw a lady gingerly ladling out a scoop of it, and dashing it on the ground near the post. A black and red moth fluttered to the side, and one of the other ladies nearby took it into her head to attempt to stamp on the moth.
The hostess of the party rushed up. " I must discard the sambar!"she declared definitively and loudly.  Sambar-lady looked up in horror. "Oh no, it was barely in the sambar for more than a couple of seconds. After all my effort...", she wailed.
"Oh, but everyone has seen it fall into the sambar! I know, I feel so bad about having to toss out the sambar... but..." pleaded the hostess.
 "But what will the others do when they come to have the idlis. I don't think the chutney will be enough."
"The sambar is almost over anyway", said the hostess.
"No, it's only about a third done. That is a deep pan, so you will be tossing out two thirds of it. Any way, do what you wish", despaired Sambar-lady.
 She turned away, not wishing to see what transpired with her precious sambar and walked off to talk with other friends. A few minutes later, the hostess confirmed, with much apologies that she did decide to toss out the sambar.
"Watch out for the rest of the dishes that are now sitting out in the open. There are bound to be other insects to fall into them, if we aren't careful." tossed Sambar-lady as a final quip.

As to the moth, who knows whether it survived the stomp. Sambar-lady loves to think that it flew away despite the abuse heaped on its little self. And Sambar-lady will offer to only bring bottles of pop rather than slaving away over a stove the next time she appears at a picnic, as she recovers from the tragedy of the lost sambar.

Mystical Mornings

A picture is worth a thousand words...

Mornings, misty and otherwise.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Baby Sparrow

It looked at me and turned its back, busily attempting to munch on the remnants of an oak blossom stuck to our mat. Only the picture window and screen separated us, as I knelt on the carpet about 2 feet away inside the house, while the baby sparrow sat outside on the deck.

I moved up sneakily, every time its back was turned, feeling faintly like the creepy stone angels of Dr.Who. In just three tries, I was practically nose to beak with it.It stood unafraid and continued to chirp silently through the glass, picking at bits of dried leaf now. I could practically hear it accusing me "I'm hungry, give me food!", just like my human kids coming home ravenous after a hard day at school.

"Come here quick!", I called out to M, as she tapped away aimlessly at her iPod. "You have to see this little bird." She rushed and knelt by my side, as I continued my silent communion with the little feathered friend. It chirped some more, preened its feathers. "Look at the line of down around the wings!', M exclaimed. "What kind of bird is it?"

I didn't know offhand, though it had all the markings of a sparrow. I would need to look it up later. Should I rush for my camera or phone to try and capture it, or rest in the moment and just watch it? Decisions, decisions.  The minutes ticked by, and routine called. It was time to continue getting ready for school and work and the morning rush hour.

I stepped away regretfully, and sure enough, a moment later, Baby Sparrow had flown away.

Here is a photo of a baby sparrow, though not the one I saw, just to give a feel for what my encounter was like.  Although I must say, my baby sparrow was immeasurably cuter.                  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Mighty Heart Beats No More

I raced off on an urgent trip to India two weeks ago, my father was in critical condition after suffering a cardiac arrest, right at the hospital door. He had been resuscitated in time and was recovering well, able to recognize and speak with my mother and other relatives.

My sister rushed with her family to Appa's bedside, as did I. We emerged from the planes, apprehensive of what we might hear from the phone about his current condition. All was well, we felt assured, as he responded to treatment in the critical care, and next, intensive care units where he was placed.

I regularly went to see him for the few minutes visitors were permitted twice a day in the ICU.  He was weak, but in good cheer, glad to see us and tending to speak vigorously whenever he got the chance of respite from the silence of the long hours in bed. The nurses hovered around to make sure he wasn't strained beyond what his fragile state would permit.

On the seventh day of his hospital stay, we were to accompany him on a ride to a diagnostic facility, where they would perform a scan of his heart to determine how much viable heart muscle was left, prior to a possible ICD implant for irregular heartbeat. My brother-in-law and I accompanied him, along with a staff nurse, on a harrowing ambulance ride that broke all speed records (Ulloor to Pangode in 7 1/2 minutes flat in rush hour- unheard of!)

It was the last substantial chunk of time that I would spend with him. The nurse and I clutched at his leg for dear life, to keep him from shifting on the stretcher where he rested, as he grimaced and clutched whatever nearby object he could as well. The siren blared deafeningly where my brother-in-law sat next to the driver, while we were shielded inside the ambulance patient transport cabin.

Two days later, just as a date had been set for the ICD implant, he experienced heart failure episodes. When I went to see him at the 4 pm visitors' hour, he spoke little except to ask me to open a tetrapak of apple juice, insert the straw and give it to him. He slurped it up quietly, and waved me to leave in a few minutes.

Later that evening he collapsed with a second cardiac arrest, even as he was talking with the doctor. This time, he was not so lucky. Despite every effort by the hospital team to resuscitate and stabilize him, several hours later Appa ended up with strong heart beat, temporary pacemaker, mechanical ventilation (with no patient breaths) and minimal neural activity.

Every day next, we would take turns during visiting, striving our best to wake him up from the deep sleep of coma. But he did not respond. We called, tapped his arms, pleaded, pinched. My aunts and uncles (doctors with varied specialties) arrived and tried their best as well to elicit a response. But four days later, we sat defeated. There was nothing beyond the strong heart beat. No patient breaths (as his brain stem that controls that had been damaged during the cardiac arrest and loss of oxygen that occurred till they could restore the heart rhythm). No neurological responses beyond some minimal artifacts that were promoted by the mix of dopamine and other drugs they were giving him. Waxing then waning kidney function.

It was time for tough decisions. Would Appa want to continue to live like this for whatever duration, tethered to a machine to breathe for him? We thought not. We made the request to the doctor to discontinue ventilation. But he said he could not remove it, as it would be against hospital policy and tantamount to euthanasia.  We were at a loss as to what to do.

My sister and I asked for a meeting with the doctor, after a hurried conference with our aunts and cousins (doctors all). I asked about the pacemaker, which the doctor assured me was in 'standby mode', only there to support the heart which he said was beating strongly on its own, set to 65 beats per minute.  He didn't think it was doing anything to sustain the current comatose condition. My sister asked about the drug cocktail being given, especially the dopamine. The doctor conceded that since there was no hope of recovery, there was not any point to continuing them. He still seemed a bit unconvinced by our request to have those discontinued, as well as turning off the pacemaker.

Who knows what went on in the doctor's mind? A couple of hours later, he quietly acceded to our requests, ordering the stoppage of drugs and allowing the turning off of the pacemaker. Over the next two hours or so, Appa's heart slowed down, drifting below the 65 bpm that had been programmed for the pacemaker to kick in. He went into bradycardia resulting in a final cardiac arrest. The time was 7:25 pm.

We were outside the ICU when the doctor confirmed his passing. It was a bittersweet moment. We each had our roles to play in easing his passage, difficult though it was for us to say goodbye.

And so the mighty, generous heart that had beat so long, striving to overcome all the weaknesses that beset it, especially over the last few years, beat no more.

Appa, fare well on your next grand adventure. Resting in peace is not for you.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Deep Freeze

Or Polar Vortex, to mimic the media's latest buzzword. It does have a cooler ring to it than merely saying 'It's cold!'

I don't recall seeing these kinds of sub-zero temperatures since the last twenty years. The first time that I did, I was a new mother with a jaundiced new-born, necessitating daily trips by bundled up nurses to test his bilirubin levels. The cold weather left me unshaken, cozy as I was in our overheated small apartment with heaters blasting out a balmy 75 degrees fahrenheit.

Now, it's all I can do to exhort a newly-minted non-teenager to dress appropriately for the sub-zero temperatures as he returns for the 'spring semester' in college.

How do the birds survive this bitter cold, I wonder. The birdfeeder on the deck stands sadly empty, a large hole rusted the bottom out entirely, and I haven't had the time  to go and get a new one. I should do so pronto, maybe even tomorrow, urged on by the tips on this website. Water and high-protein feeds, that's the key to providing the few birds that remain in the area with some sustenance.

Sorry, Deer. You are out of luck the next time you approach the bird-feeder for a snack. I will have replaced the rusted one with a brand new one that will not yield this year to your depradations ( I hope.)
But wait a few days longer and this Polar Hell will be gone, with balmier temperatures in the 20's returning by the end of the week.