Health that no one talks about..

When you catch a fever or some body part aches, you take a pill to bring down the fever or relieve the pain. If symptoms get worse you see a doctor who prescribes medicines. There is no second thought when you want to share this with others. WIth all the advances we have made as humans, it is extremely unfortunate that mental health is a taboo in 2021. Nobody wants to know if you have emotional symptoms. It is a topic uncomfortable for many to talk about or share. Everyone know how a fever feels, so the listener can relate to your condition. But not everyone knows how depression feels, so it like talking about an alien on Mars, who you’ve heard about, but have your doubts on whether they exist. If you have a doctor appointment, you can tell your co-workers or your supervisor that you have a doctor appointment. Unfortunately, if you have a therapist appointment, you can only say personal appointment. I have not heard anyone say I have a therapist appointment, except my close friends. It is a taboo. I am not sure where the taboo lies, in the mind of the person who has the appointment, or is it a fear of judgement by the listener.

Understanding mental health was difficult prior to the pandemic we are all stuck in, but now, I guess more people are opening up the idea of the existence of mental health. The pandemic has affected everyone; either by infecting the person with the virus or with the fear that one may catch the bug. Many people have been stuck inside their houses finding alternatives to their “normal” way of living, or trying to establish a new normal. This has taken a toll on everyone’s emotional health. My one year old nephew puts his hands across his mouth and shows us what a mask is. It makes me so sad. My children have been indoors since March 2020, not meeting friends, not going to school and it has taken a toll on their mental health. It is an even more cumbersome task of parenting where it is my primary responsibility to ensure they don’t break down; to keep things as lively as possible. Nothing is normal, but creating a sense of normal is so essential to keep everyone sane.

I am tired of reading about the pandemic so I am going to spare you and let’s get back to emotional health or mental health and therapy. Therapy is the art of healing the mind and I cannot stress enough how important it is to ensure one’s mind is healthy. Everything stems from your mind, your happiness, happiness and love that you share with people around you. When the mind is not well, you are sad, making everyone around you sad. You have no enthusiasm to do anything, and just want to lock yourself up in a room. There are other extreme issues which I am not going to talk about. You are on your journey of healing when you realize or someone tells you to see a therapist. Unlike the other physical illness doctor who has tools to check the issue and prescribe medicines, therapy takes time. Nothing happens in one session or even ten sessions. It may take years, but be assured you are on the path of recovery. You have to dive deep into yourself and peel the layers you have unknowingly built around you, one by one. As you expose each layer underneath and talk about your situation, experience, feelings, you are able to reflect on the situation in a different light with the help of the therapist. The blurriness fades and you start to see things clearly.

As my therapist says the answers are within you, you just need to find them. One of the best gifts I have given myself is therapy. Even as I type this I have some part of me thinking everyone is going to know that I am seeing a therapist. But that’s okay; because this is important to me and is for my well-being. And it just means that I am giving as much importance to my mind as my body. I know that not everyone understands the reason or the result of therapy. It is a very personal process, where you chalk out your path but you have someone who will help you to stay afloat and keep the balance.

When a movie star like Deepika Padukone comes out in support of mental health, we read about it and think wonder why she needs it or talk about it. But we almost always miss to acknowledge ourselves or people in our house who are going through depression. It is real for you and me as it is for Deepika Padukone. We all have a mind and we need to protect it for our own sanity. I sincerely hope there comes a day in the near future when we can openly acknowledge that ‘I am fighting depression and taking care of my mind to emerge stronger’ and that people around us don’t judge us, instead listen to us when we need to talk to someone..

Destiny..

I don’t know what else to title this write-up. I am sitting here in a ‘media room’, something I didn’t even know existed say ten years ago, in Austin TX, land of the free, typing this on my Macbook. There is central AC in my 3000 sq ft home and luxury seeps out of every corner. It is nothing but destiny that has got me here and a lot of hard work and sacrifices from my parents.

My father was born in Puthur, Mangalore a year before India gained independence from the British. His father was a pujari (Brahmin priest at a Hindu Temple). His family migrated from Puthur to a small place called Shivapuram near Mattanur in Kerala. The king then granted the right to do pooja at the Shiva temple and an acre of land surrounding the temple to my father’s eldest brother. Mi padre went to the local school where he excelled in Social Studies and Malayalam but failed miserably in English and Maths. By grade 8, he was the school magazine editor, wrote plays for the school, and was involved in everything creative at school. That is when his father fell ill and he had to tend to the pooja at the temple. So he skipped school for a year and followed the family traditions. After a year he went back to school and failed grade 9. His skill was arts but the education system back then, just as it now, did not care about his creative talents. He tried again, but failed. After this he quit school.

Sitting at home, he saw an ad in the paper for a course in craftsmanship at Calicut, conducted by the Government. It was free and provided a stipend to the participants. My father applied, got in and went to Calicut with 10 rupees. The institution provided the training but he had to arrange his own accommodation. Staying away from home at the age of 16, made him uneasy. After a week’s class, he told one of the other participants, that he was leaving. He walked to the railway station to catch a train to Thalashery. He recalls how he hid behind a pillar in case someone recognized him and took him back to the training institute. As the train arrived, he dashed into the train and fled.

Back home, with nothing to do, he was called by his brother to join him as an assistant at Suratkal. The Engineering college was being built and his brother had a small contract job as an electrician. My father accompanied his brother on a train journey to Suratkal and did odd jobs handing over equipment or hammering nails helping his brother. During his time there, his brother a few others and my father went on a trip to Mookambika. As my father recounts, the national highway was under construction and due to limited resources, they walked.. barefoot. On the way, a stone pierced through his foot. A makeshift bandage around his foot, he continued to walk.

Due to some misunderstanding, my uncle stopped working as a contract electrician and decided to move to Bangalore. He told my father to go back to their hometown and wait for his call. After my uncle settled down in Bangalore, he would send for my father. My father packed their kerosene stove, and a few other belongings in a burlap sack and headed home.

After a few months he got a letter from his brother asking him to come to Bangalore. My father packed the kerosene stove and a few other things in a burlap sack and was put on a train by his father. In an old shirt and white mundu, he left to the unknown world.

At Bangalore, my uncle cooked sweets at weddings to earn his living. My father started doing odd jobs writing sign boards. They lived near Lalbagh inside a certain Munisamy’s electrical shop, behind the stairs. They cooked after the shop was closed so as to not interfere with the customers and their business. His first sign board assignment was in Natkalappa Circle, so he took the route from Lalbagh Rd, through Lalbagh to get to Natkalappa Circle. That is where he saw a young Jayalalitha dancing on the lawns shooting for a movie.

During those time a certain Saamy visited my uncle and brought the newspaper. One day there was an ad calling for artists to work at the Museum. Saamy encouraged my father to apply. He cut out the ad and walked to Gandhibazaar where his brother’s friend would help him write up the application and post it. After a few days he received the news to attend an interview. In his same old faded white shirt and mundu without footwear he walked into the Museum for an interview. They gave him some assignments to assess his work and offered a job as an intern. They asked him how much we wanted to earn. Since he was earning 3 rupees with his board sign writing, he asked for 6 rupees. He got the job as a daily wage temporary employee at 6 rupees a day.

His first day at office, a colleague came and told him that his attire was not appropriate and he should wear a pant and some footwear. That evening he bought hawaii chappal (flipflops) for 2 rupees. Munisamy gave him 10 rupees and asked him to go meet a tailer for pants. A stitched pant was waiting for him unclaimed by the owner. He bought the pants for 10 rupees and he walked the next day to office (from Lalbagh Rd to Kasturba Rd) looking like Chaplin in his new pants and footwear. This was the first time he had worn footwear, and his feet revolted. By evening that day his feet were swollen and he was in severe pain. His feet were not used to anything beneath them, except the ground. It took him a week to get used to wearing footwear.

After a year, owing to his exceptional work, the Museum created a position as a line artist and competitively offered him the job. His basic pay would be 110 rupees and monthly salary 210 rupees. After his first pay, he went straight to buy cloth for 2 shirts and 2 pants. He got them stitched to his size this time. His colleagues were surprised to see him in clothes that fit him and chided him saying, he looked like a different person altogether. After this his brother and him rented a room with a half wall separating the kitchen enclosure at 30 rupees a month.

There is more from how I got here from his one room dwelling. But that is for another time.

Now do you see why I call this destiny? Hearing these stories from him, just makes me exponentially grateful and humble for everything I have today. It also teaches me the value of hard work. It reminds me how my life is interconnected with many lives and people that I don’t even know. Like it is all a web linking the past to the present and the future.

Fresh eyes

When I was in grade 8, I couldn’t read the board in the classroom. I told my teacher and she moved me to the front of the class. I told my parents and they took me for an eye exam and fit me with these big round black glasses. The first feeling is Wow I look intellectual now. It’s like a fashion statement. I’ve got something you ain’t got kinda feeling. Years pass, every year you go for that routine eye exam and every year the vision gets blurrier and blurrier. First think after you wake up in the morning is to find those glasses. It’s like your arm, you cannot move without it. The thought of losing your glasses scares you. I just couldn’t see anything 5 feet away without my glasses. The springs on either end got loose so often, and I would find a small edge to tighten it or keep shoving them up my nose. The initial fashion statement had worn off. School was okay, but when I went to college, I wanted to look pretty and to me that was not wearing glasses. I presented my case and my parents were supportive. They took me to an eye clinic close to home (near Hotel Woodlands) and there this female doctor fit me with contact lenses. I was tearing up from the foreign object in my eye and from happiness. I remember sitting outside that doctor’s office on a bench with my mom and telling her, “I can see Ma.. I can see with my own eyes.. “. This was in 1995 I think, so the soft lenses weren’t fashionable yet. I was given semi-soft lenses and taught how to use them. Over the years it felt good to be able to wear contact lenses and wear eye make-up, pose for pictures without having to remember to take off my glasses. I could just say cheese and click!

After the initial excitement wore off, wearing lenses became cumbersome. Washing my hands before touching them, rinsing them out, ensuring they were moist all the time. Phew, it was so much easier to find those glasses and put them on. Shoving them up my nose seemed easier. I fell out on my loyalty to contact lenses, yet I tried. That is when I started working and met this girl who I didn’t think wore contact lenses until I went to her house and saw a lens case on her dresser. I was surprised and admired her diligence of keeping those big glasses away from the crowds. I restarted with renewed enthusiasm and imbibe some of her diligence, yet me being me…. it was glasses again.

When I moved to the US, I got better at wearing lens and met this person at work who had undergone LASIK. I inquired about it and he said it was easy peasy. My family (not my mom) however discouraged me and instilled this fear that I could go blind. I put it off until two weeks ago when I thought why not. I have a renewed sense of self-confidence in the past few months and I am finding my old self who believed in ‘just do it’. I found a center and made an appointment for a virtual consultation. You know those times when you want to do something and you get these signs that match your need? I found a random LASIK center and after that when I checked my vision insurance, this was an in-network provider. I thought wow, thats a sign. From nowhere LASIK ads started to appear on TV. I got my evaluation done and as I waited with anxiously to hear the result, I prayed, to all the Gods I knew and to my mom, ‘just make me the right candidate’. And lo and behold, the doctor told me just that. My eyes are healthy enough to undergo LASIK. I still needed a sign I guess. Today’s Daily Themed Crossword Puzzle (part of my daily morning routine), had a clue – technology used in eye surgery – yes, LASER!.

With all the stars aligned and signs evident, to finally rid me of glasses and contact lens, I am scheduled for LASIK next Friday. I guess thats what I will say when I open my eyes the next day ‘I can see with my own eyes’. A fresh pair of eyes, a fresh perspective just as I embark on a new chapter in my life…

Darkness

There is something calming about darkness
A perception of silence
Like closing the door to the outside world
Will shut them inside your mind
It is darkness that I seek
To hush the jumping eels in my head
There is a tiny light seeping through the door
Reminding me that its all there
The abysmal thoughts waiting to rush in
For this moment let me sink deeper
Without fear, within
Deeper.. and deeper…

Brussels

The routine is getting mundane
With no sight of the end
Usually there is light at the end of the tunnel
This time the tunnel stretching more than it should
Moving from room to room is a journey
Dishing out trials on plates the sense of achievement
People in boxes sans touch, the new social
Beating boredom the third war
Words being said, perspectives being thrown
The mind pushed and shoved in all directions
Nothing like this has man seen before
Not the previous or the one before that
Stuck in our walls of brick and mortar
The mind freezes within its walls
It will change, some say
This is the norm, say others
Will I be able to hug you my friend
Hold your baby in my arms
Sit next to each other picking the brussels
Laughing without masks and gloves…

My grandmother’s house

I have spent about seventeen summers there, the house now long gone, the memories coming in flashes now and then. Like the sun peeps from within dark clouds, my gransmothers house was nestled between tamarind and jackfruit trees. They waited for my mother, my brother and I to arrive to bring down the sweetest yellow fruit I had ever tasted. I touched the outer skin and felt the prick, as they cut it and scooped out the fruit, I saw how skillfully they tackled the gum inside. The raw ones were chopped to make chips, the ripe ones eaten faster than they were plucked. The gates to my grandmother’s house were not metal. A few feet from the road, you went up and down some boulders to reach the three horizontal wooden logs supported by two more on either end. The tiny tots were lifted across the fence. If your legs were long enough you crossed them like a hurdle, one leg at a time. For mid-range people, you could move one horizontal log so the hurdle was shorter. There were two steps stacked of mud before you landed at another rocky terrain, the sideyard of the house. If you looked from here, you would see a two storey rectangle, with six equally spaced windows, the wall was a white and faint blue, the roof was a dark brown tile. It had seen better days, but as we aged, the house aged as well. There was a side step all along this side, the spot where we sat as an extended family while my father clicked pictures.

You walk to the right side to get to the entrance. Before you could reach the door, there was an ‘ummaram’, a roofed space with a half wall along three edges for people to sit and talk. The floor I remember, was a black colour, a variant of red oxide flooring. Right above the door to the house was a picture of guruvayoorappan. Surrounding him was a picture of my grandfather and pictures of us as children, neatly framed, gathering dust. Sitting here you could see the wooden fence entrance to the right, a huge tamarind tree in the front and a grove of mango trees to the left. Sitting here felt like sitting in a nest. My cousins and I played under the tamarind tree, every summer a swing was attached to the strongest branch with a rope and plank of wood. I remember my father taking afternoon naps under the tree. Right behind the tree was the walkway to the temple. Everyone who went or left the temple would stop to talk to anyone sitting at the ‘ummaram’, To the left side of the ummaram was a side-step, the place where my aunt powdered rice in here ‘uruli’, or we sat around her as she plucked jackfruit and threw them into the bamboo tray. There was an imaginary line beyond this point which we were told not to cross, as a huge well was there covered with a fishing net.

Inside the house was a wooden staircase to reach the only room on the second floor. It was my mother’s younger brother’s room. The staircase had no railing to hold onto, so coming down was scary. As I grew older, I mastered the art of going up and coming down those stairs, feeling proud of my accomplishment. As a child, we needed an adult to hold our hand or carry us down. On either side of this staircase were two rooms. One belonged to my uncle and the other my grandmother. In her room was a wooden box with hidden treasures. My mother always opened that box and went through the contents of the box. It usually had a new ‘set-mundu’ that my grandmother had got from someone for someone’s wedding. It had photographs of my parents wedding, a copy of the Manorama magazine on which my mother’s photo was published on the cover, letters that my mother and aunt had written to my grandmother from Bangalore and other nicks and nacks.

Beyond this room was the kitchen, it didn’t have a door, but a step, my favorite part of the house. I loved sitting there, from here I could see what was happening in the kitchen and look straight at the entrance door to see who was in the ummaram. On one side of the kitchen was a ledge with two fire kilns. They blew through a tube to kindle the fire as food was cooked in mud pots. In one corner of the kitchen was the bath area. It had an aluminum sheet door, fastened to the wall with a metal hook. A window from the bathroom had the pulley to the well. To take a bath, you drew water from the well, filled the buckets, closed the window and went about your business. The toilets were outside the house, which made night visits scary with the sound of crickets.

There was a back door to the kitchen which led to the side step with the grinding stone. The round one for dosa batter and the flat one for chutneys or spices. Behind here was a gooseberry tree, the small variety. We plucked those on some afternoons, dipped them in salt and squinted our eyes as we relished the first sour then sweet berry. A few mud steps from here led to our cousin’s house, a call away from my grandmother’s. 

The back, side and front yards were covered with mud. If the monsoons started before we returned to Bangalore, then the sound of the rains, the trees rustling in joy, the splitter splatter of raindrops in the mud, was heavenly bliss. The Hawaii chappals soaked in wet mud left marks on the side step. As the rainwater poured through the edges of the roof, we put our foot forward to wash the mud off our chappals and feet. 

This was my mother’s favorite place, the house she grew up in until she was eighteen. I can see her walking from the door, towards the ummaram, in a set-mundu, with a thin red border and a red blouse, smiling and brimming with happiness. Or she is sitting on the wooden plank swing under the tamarind tree, holding to the rope with one hand, and holding my brother on her lap with the other as she sways nested in the warmth of her home.