Hello… Ms Nayair…

It was Suma’s first time. She left her handbag with Rishi and gave him a long sad look before she entered the heavy door behind the nurse who opened the door for her. She knew the instant she turned, Rishi would have got back to his phone. It was not the time to think of Rishi’s phone addiction. She had to focus. She entered the hallway behind the door which had opened and closed with people walking in and out over the last twenty minutes while waiting for her turn. The nurse led her into a hallway flanked by changing rooms on either side. On one side of the wall was a locker-type cupboard. The nurse entered one of the changing rooms and instructed Suma to take off her clothes and jewelry and wear the gown with the opening in the front. ‘Undergarments also?’, asked Suma in a voice filled with doubt, shyness and fear. ‘Take your bra off and leave your panties on’, said the nurse matter-of-factly. Suma was shocked to hear the openness in the nurse’s tone. In America, all this is not taboo, if it was India, these words would have been uttered in hushed tones and whispers, she thought. Back in India, Ramu’s clinic around the corner of her street had all the medicines her family ever needed. Dr. Ramu knew everything about every part of the human body and could cure anything. This was her first time at a hospital, that too in Houston. She was there with her husband of six months. Suma had never travelled beyond her small town in Kerala. Taking a big airplane and moving to America had been a herculean task for small-town girl, Suma.

‘Once you are done, use any of the lockers outside to keep your valuables and walk down the hallway to the waiting area. A nurse should be with you shortly’, said the nurse and left the changing room. Suma closed the door and locked it. These doors didn’t have latches like in India, turning that small hinge on the handle did the job. She tried opening it after turning the small hinge, to make sure that she had locked the door. She set out to accomplish the task handed down to her by the nurse. When she got her bra off, she looked at her image in the mirror, at the sore nipple on her left breast that had turned red. It hurt to touch it. Wrestling through the night with Rishi’s maneuvers had become a painful ordeal, night after night, until she could bear it no more.

She tied the strings of the gown on her right side securely and double knotted it, just in case it came off as she walked into the hallway. She looked at herself in the mirror to make sure that everything was covered, she turned left and turned right, looked at herself up and down. She didn’t like the way her nipples showed through the gown. She folded her hands across her chest in an attempt to hide it. After wrestling through this for a few minutes, she gave up and got to the next task of putting away her jewelry in her purse, folding the clothes and put her shoes back on. She folded her bra and hid it between her jeans. That was not an object for public attention, so she was taught by her mother. She looked around to make sure that she had not left anything behind and opened the door. She walked towards the lockers and found one at the bottom with a key. It had a wrist coil roped in with the ring. She opened the locker, placed her stuff in there and locked it as instructed by the nurse. Suma wore the wrist coil around her wrist and walked down towards the end of the hallway. As she got to the end, she turned left and found a waiting area with a TV, chairs and magazines. There were three other women in similar white gowns with tiny prints sitting there flipping a magazine. Seeing them there Suma felt she was not alone in this. There were others. Her shyness vanished and she no longer tried to hide her nipples showing through her gown. She picked up a magazine and flipped through the pages, like her partners in the waiting area.

A nurse walked in and out and it was a good fifteen minutes before a different nurse came out and called out, ‘Suma’ which sounded more like ‘Syumah’ as in Tuna. Suma put her magazine down and got up. The nurse gave her a pleasant smile and said ‘Hello, follow me this way’. Suma obeyed and walked behind the nurse. They walked down another hallway and entered another room. This room had a white tall machine on one side, a chair and monitor on the other side. There were a couple of empty chairs against the wall where the door was. This nurse was probably in her fifties and reminded Suma of her mother. The nurse asked her to untie her gown and asked which nipple was sore. ‘Left’, said Suma. The nurse came to her side and asked her to place her left breast on the transparent plate attached to the white machine. Suma did as told. The nurse came around and while saying ‘my hands will be cold’, positioned the breast in a certain way. Another plate parallel to the one on which her breast was resting was brought down with the press of a button and clamped her breast. As it went lower, the pressure mounted and Suma bit her lip to restrict her loud cry. ‘It’s painful, huh? Just a few seconds’, said the nurse and went over to the monitor. She pressed some buttons there and came back to release the plates. Suma breathed a sigh of relief. This process went on a few more times in different positions. It was not until another thirty minutes after, that the nurse finally said, ‘tie your gown and wait outside’. Suma fled from the room, never wanting to come back or do this again. Her breast hurt, she massaged it over the gown and felt no shame. She was surprised that within that hour, she had gone from a shy nipple-hiding woman to a rub-my-breast in front of other women. It hurt, really bad. She sat down with a thump. The  elderly lady next to her in a similar white gown with prints looked at Suma and smiled, meaning to say, ‘yeah, it’s painful’. She leaned towards Suma and said, ‘putting a cold compress helps’. Suma smiled back and said a meek, ‘thanks’. 

The elderly nurse came out and told Suma that she was good to go. Suma asked, ‘What about the result? Is everything okay?’. ‘You will get a call’, was all she got. Suma retraced her steps to the locker, then to changing room, and out the heavy door. She found Rishi drowned in his cellphone. She walked upto him and he looked up. ‘All done?’, he asked. ‘Yes’, she said. ‘What happened? What did they say?’, inquired Rishi. ‘They said they will call’. They walked out of the hospital, Suma thinking about the result, Rishi about the email he had to stop half way, when Suma came out.

It was another three days that Suma passed in anticipation of the call from the nurse. Finally on the third day, the call came.

“Is this Suma Nair?”, asked the nurse on the other end. Syoomah Nayair, Suma was used to her name being pronounced this way.

“Yes, this is her. Who is this?”, she asked.

“This is from St David’s Hospital. I am calling with regards to your Mammogram report.”, said the nurse.

“Okay, please tell me.”, Suma said, her fingers and toes crossed. The pain had been awful, she had noticed a discharge from her left nipple that morning, which she had fretted about. She told Rishi over breakfast, who brushed it like she was telling him about the neighbour’s cat, ‘we have done the test, lets see what comes out of it’.

“We had the radiologist look at the results of your Mammogram. We believe there is a mass in your left breast, behind the nipple. At this point, we would like you to meet an Oncologist. If you have a pen and paper handy, I can give you the name and number of the Oncologist we refer our patients to”, said the nurse in one breath.

Suma didn’t quite understand what the nurse was telling her.

“Who is an Onnn-koo-lo-….?”, she asked.

The nurse cut her off and said, “Ms Nayair, an Oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer. We are not saying you have cancer, we see something which needs to be further investigated by an Oncologist. Do you have a pen and paper handy Ms Nayair?”.

Silence.

“Ms Nayair… “.

Silence.

“Hello… Hello… Ms. Nayair.. are you there? Ms Nayair…”.

Silence.

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A beginning..

It started with a message on Facebook. He had said ‘Hey’. She didn’t see the message until a couple of hours later. She responded with a ‘hey, whats up?’. With the time difference between the two countries, it was unlikely that he would see her message until the next day. She knew it, yet she checked her messages a couple of times during the day. Why would he message me, she thought. She had been introduced to him a few years ago while she was at Amazon India. There were no notable conversations after that. He smiled at her in hallways and she smiled back while she was there. He was very handsome. She remembered thinking what it would be like to spend an evening with him. Why would he message her after all these years? She checked his Facebook profile and like old wine, age had done wonders to him.

She checked her messages again and saw that he was active 15 minutes ago. But he hadn’t read her message. Why wouldn’t he? Maybe he didn’t open her chat? How did this Facebook Messenger work anyways? It is during these ‘urgent’ moments that you just cannot figure out how simple things work. These dumb apps, they probably change the rules with every update, she mumbled to herself. Why was she perturbed? Why did a message from him rev up her hopes? What hopes? It was just a message. Maybe all he wanted to say was ‘hello’.

She was in a frame of mind where she was open to a relationship. She was seeking one, a fling maybe? Not a fling, what she wanted was somebody to tell her that she was a good person. Someone to appreciate her. Someone to love her, even if it were for a short period of time. It was nothing more for her. She was in and out of relationships, they came and went at no particular interval. This is how she liked to live life, on her own terms, in her own space. She never dated anyone from work, it was almost always a friend’s friend. While it was fun, it lasted. Once the relationship.. acquaintance maybe a better word, got serious, she backed off. She did not want someone to tie her down, she wanted to fly, fly to distant lands, freeze the memories in her camera, and write.

Her tryst with marriage and commitment and relationship had died when she divorced her ex-husband a year after her marriage. It was an arranged marriage. Her ex-husband imagined her to be an obedient, dependent person whom he could keep a leash on. He had no idea what her spirit was like. She didn’t have a choice, her independent self was trapped inside during her growing years. She just dreamt of prince charming and thought she lived in a rosy world with happily ever afters. She grew up during the year of marriage, and slapped herself awake. Once awake, she ran as far as she could from him, from her parents and from everyone she knew, till she landed in the land of freedom.

That is where Anu flapped her wings and soared.

It was not until another two days that Jay sent another message.

 

 

At the movies..

I am a movie buff.. I love everything about the movies, specifically Indian movies. I am that person who will watch a movie in any language reading subtitles in English. Sometimes I watch the movie twice, like a Bahubali, once to read the subtitles and the second time to just watch the magic on screen. I have always watched movies. During childhood it was two movies a weekend via a rented video cassette tape from the video library nearby. Pick them up on Friday and return on Saturday or pick them up on Saturday and return on Monday. My brother got to pick a Mithun Chakraborthy movie while I got to pick a Jayaprada one. As hilarious as it seems now, yes there was a wave of these actors once upon a time. My parents got to pick a Malayalam movie once in a blue moon.

I grew up watching the sanskari-type (Indian culture extravaganza) or the bad guy-good guy type dishum-dishum movies. My brother had an array of toy guns imitating the heroes of these movies, shooting down the villian. Once in college, my mother and I took our craziness to the theatres, buying tickets in black, sitting in the first row, second show, you get the grind. She was my movie-pal.

As I grew out of my last teens, like most other girls my age, I fell into the traps of the lovey-dovey type, dreamy eyes boys, frock clad girls “variety” love stories. An ancient version of today’s chick flick! Meaningful cinema happened somewhere in between where classics like Bharatham, Mr and Mrs Iyer etc crept in. This was when I started watching a lot of Mohanlal movies.

Langauge has never been a barrier to enjoy a story. And well, stories are my thing 🙂. Alaipayuthey steered the way into Tamil, Aparna Sen into Bengali, Kannada was what we spoke at home and went with neighbors to theatres, Malayalam was mother tongue so parents influence, Telugu was from Sagara Sangamam. Every Sunday Doordarshan played a national award winning movie around 1 pm after the news for the hearing impaired. This round lady with heavy lipstick sat in the corner of the TV screen reading the news in sign language. I remember staring at her trying to make sense of sign language. So coming back to movies, Oriya, Marathi, Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati blah blah movies aired during this time. All of them were award winning and slow, which gave me ample time to read the subtitles. I guess that’s where I picked up the subtitles-reading habit.

I shouldn’t miss to mention the umpteen Suraj Barjatiya and Karan Johar type films which I watched over and over again for absolutely no rhyme or reason. A colossal waste of time but pure no brainers, where a dog or a cat or a mouse would win over common sense!!

My young woman years delved into the deeper off-the-shelf romance adventures like Ijaazat, Sindhubairavi etc. Feeling the film became a big thing where I would wake up the next day with a hangover from the film. The characters stayed with me for a few days and that became the yardstick of a good movie. If the characters stayed with me, I had had a wonderful movie experience. There are a few films like Pursuit of Happiness, Life is Beautiful, Fashion, Arjun Reddy, Mahanati, Iti Mrinalini, Mr and Mrs Iyer, Vikram Vedha to name a few; which elevate you to a different level.

Then there is ’96!

The feel the movie created is like it went right into your body and gave your heart a warm squeeze! I don’t think there is a more beautiful and rustic narration of destiny in a movie. It simply says that if two people are not destined to be together, it just will not happen. Period. The subtleties, nuances, every touch has a meaning, every look says more than the words uttered. The music carries you in the sway, like drenching you in a drizzle, like the wine slowly soaking your gut.. like they say in Tamil.. sema feel!!

To life like stories and narrations, cheers always!!

Either left or right…

I was driving to work this morning and as I got onto Lamar Blvd, here in Austin, I hit a red light. There were quite a few people on either side of the road waiting to cross the road. As they were crossing, I noticed most of them were in athletic wear, shoes probably taking a walk or jogging. One had airpods, one had a good grade water bottle, Nike shoes, probably branded clothes… My first thought was, I am driving to work and these people are taking a stroll??!! What do they do for a living? Probably retired or telecommute-blessed people… maybe? My morning had been the regular pack three lunch boxes, breakfast, get ready, hit the road, freeway traffic, 45 minutes to get to work… the same old, you know the drill…

The light turns green, my reverie breaks and I drive on. I am on the left turn only lane at the next light waiting for the cars in front of me to drive ahead. There is a long median along the length of the left lane. As I drive into the left lane, there is a man in old dirty clothes, torn here and there, unkept beard growing from everywhere. He has a handwritten sign clamped to this chest which reads ‘need money for food’. He is walking up and down the median, looking at every car passing by. When the light turns red, maybe there will be one or two cars, who will pause their music, roll down the window and pass a one dollar bill. As I am about to turn into Barton Springs Rd, there is another elderly man starting his walk along the median in the hope that he can make one meal today.

This is the world we live in, extreme to its core. Extremism is the order of the day, be it politics, religion, livelihood, opinions. People vote a party into power and the losing party does everything it can to make the government dysfunctional. There is no need for a world war three to ensue, because we are already living in it. Every country has an ongoing war between the ruling political party and opposition. When will you do the country any good? Religion is maligned with extremists and their opinions. A place of worship has become devil’s kitchen – be it the churches where children are abused or the Hindu temples where judiciary and government are poking their nose. Leave the places of worship to the believers. Don’t turn it into a battleground. Media fills us day in and day out with discussions of left and right parties. Media is such a powerful tool, but to them, throw everything at the viewers face, and let the viewer take sides, has become the TRP mantra. They are the catalysts in this war. In this war of blowing up “my extremist opinions”, we’ve killed everything in the process, balance of life – richer are becoming richer, poorer and middle class are well, hanging from somewhere, the forests – literally destroying them to make more money and make the divide even stronger, animals and their habitat because humans are so greedy, they want everything, water – clean drinking water is one of the greatest blessings of our times, air – fart pollution into it as much as you can. When will people start sitting across the table and actually talk to make this a better place? Maybe never! Everyone just wants to make their booty bigger, take sides, switch sides and what not…

I still go back and blame the technology and internet boom, which brought information to our palms but screwed up our minds. I don’t have an opinion is not acceptable anymore, you have to take sides. Everything is becoming more and more binary, either 1 or 0! Well that’s what this entire gamut of technology splurge is based on, the presence of absence of pulses, leaving us humans more inhumane, day by day.

Michael Jackson’s ‘Heal the World’ released in 1991, we are twenty seven years after the fact, governments have changed, people have come and gone, we are simply getting stuck stronger to our extremist thoughts… Now probably there is no point even trying to…

Texas Book Festival

2 days to go to the Texas book festival.. find me at the Writers League of Texas booth!!

Frickin’ Fourteen

Being a mother to a fourteen year old is one of the most difficult phases of my life, well, so far. I know other moms going through these struggles will agree with me. Like my friend said, “adolescence tantrums”. What are they cribbing about? The boys, I mean. They don’t have to choose bras, sanitary napkins, go through the obnoxious pain of periods, then what the hell are they so icky about? It was so much easier when they rolled around in their diapers or just tagged along holding our hands, wasn’t it? Their mood swings to top it all, my goodness, is that even allowed?

How many times have you heard, ‘you don’t understand’ or the more polished lingua ‘you don’t get it’! I get it boy, I really do. I went through your age, I was not born as a 40 year old. I went through this without a frickin’ cellphone and internet!! Every time I rant the same gyaan over and over again, I must admit, I get bored! I see the listening switch going off on his face so clearly. I must admit, I am one of those mothers who doesn’t want to be traditional too much, yet want to be a buddy to my kids. I hate it when I nag, but do they even give us a choice?

Text in capital letters, anyone? Oh yeah, I get it. The happy face, kiss, hug emoticons come only, yeah ONLY, when I increase screen time. How did I solve it? You will not get a response if you text me in capital letters. Seriously? We are solving texting issues? How many times have I wanted to throw the cell phone from the tallest building around!

My husband introduced and implemented and monitored (yes, more credit to him, I do that on rare occasions), no-screen-on-weekdays! Yup, for many years now, the boys get to do any screen (expect educational material) only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. It is so effective that Friday evening when they get home from school, they won’t even notice if I am not home. Oh and screen does not start until a certain time in the morning and ends at a certain time even on weekends. Amreekan bouy says to village-born Indian mother, ‘Who does that Amma (he still calls me that), all my friends get screen everyday!!! (note the exclamations, its unending in his head, I know)

To add to my woes, iOS12 introduced “Screen Time” and I set that up on my fourteen year old’s phone. Everyday, believe me, e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y  ‘my friends don’t have this’, ‘why should I have it?’, ‘I need more time’, ‘my friend’s get to do screen everyday’, with that what-did-i-get-into look on his face. Probably worse, why-did-you-put-me-in-this-family-God? I too have said it, once upon a time. He plays on his phone in the bus, on the way to school, back from school, thats the trend you see. If you don’t do that, you are from the Indus Valley civilization, is what I am told…

Screen-time-activist – I showed my friend that I have screen time and he asked me, don’t your parents trust you?

Ouch!! That went right in…

Village-born mother – its not about trust, its to regulate the time you spend in front of that, playing games.

To top it all, my hero has braces. I have revised my counting to ten thousand (haven’t done that since junior school), by telling him to brush and put his bands on. The money I pay to the orthodontist dances like that devil in the sky, while I continue my rant of ‘put-your-bands’. I feel like I should just record these repetitive statement and just play it in the house, placards maybe?!?

His best or worst attitude is, no attitude. Something didn’t happen, it didn’t happen. Something didn’t work out, it didn’t work out. Missed out on something, so what. The chap is as calm as a cucumber. No hurry to get anywhere, except to his phone and FIFA on PS4 or to the dining table. Do they sell accelerators for people anywhere?

It’s not all a dance of the devil, there are blessings as well. As you see the tiny thing you created grow up next to you, such that you look up (literally) to him. As you revel at his handsomeness, his kind demeanor with people and you think, I must have done something right. I give it to him, for very smoothly handling a riot like his younger brother. Although sometimes he asks, ‘from where did you get this guy?’..

Should I wait for fifteen? Guess its pretty much the same or even worse. Every parent thinks, maybe the next phase is better till you realize the previous one was way better.

Wonder when the girlfriend will make her grand entry… Ooooh myyy God! (Janice style, remember F.R.I.E.N.D.S?)

It’s all frickin’ teens!!

For the record… I love being a mother, it’s my absolute favorite role!