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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Believe..

All I can say is, dreams do come true and believe in yourself, no matter what the world tells you!! There have been so many people I know and don’t know who have told me how dumb my writing is. I have had people ask me, why do you write, what is the point? There have been many many (repeated word for emphasis) publishers who have sent me automated emails of rejection without even looking at my work. There have been people who have mocked at me and said, you call this poetry? There were some who said so you wrote another maid’s story. Sometimes these comments have put me down, to be honest. I have thought maybe I am not cut for writing.

A recent workshop I attended put the devils to rest, when the group who attended the workshop and the instructor told me, that they loved my characters and content. The Writers League of Texas bolstered my spirit by giving me this signing booth. Finally I am out in the public, standing beside my books. It has taken time and a ton of resolve to stick my head above the water. This simply leads me to believe, that the most important thing is to believe in yourself. Period.

Excited to share the news that, Writers League of Texas is giving me a 45 minute signing slot at their booth during the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

From the website – One of the largest and most prestigious literary festivals in the country, the annual Texas Book Festival features 250+ nationally and critically recognized authors, 20+ venues including the State Capitol, 100+ exhibitors, local food trucks, family activities, and countless opportunities to meet authors and fellow book lovers.

https://www.texasbookfestival.org/2018-texas-book-festival…/

I will be there from 10am to 10.45am on Oct 27th!!

 

At the coffeehouse…

“You really don’t share anything with me, do you?”, I asked.

After many years Akash and I went the coffeehouse we frequented before we got married. The cashier chuckled and winked as we walked hand in hand, eons ago. The place had changed significantly and so had the people…

Akash put down the cup on the table and stretched back in his chair. He folded his hands behind his head and looked out through the window. I sat looking at his face and thinking, this is the man I chose to marry twenty years ago. He looks the same, then what changed between us?

He leaned forward and took my hands in his. He fiddled with my bangles for a bit and looked into my eyes.

“Nandu, I am moving out. There is someone else…”, I sat in silence, my eyes were welling up, why do they do that? Why can’t they wait for the right moment, maybe when I am alone? I looked up, in an attempt to send the tears back to where they came from.

I withdrew my hand. Gathered my purse from the table, my phone and the keys. Why don’t I put everything in a bag instead of carrying fragments, why ain’t I whole? My sunglasses, where were they? Oh they were on my head, holding my hair in place. As I stood up, my saree got stuck under the chair. I chose to wear a saree he got me for my birthday, a beautiful pastel green and now it was stuck. Can I make a clean exit?

I finally walked out… of the coffeehouse…

Perspective..

As I inch towards the closure of another decade I skim through the past decade to see what I have achieved in the past ten years. One thought led to the other and if you look at a life span you can divide it into 6 or 7 parts. Yes, very much like the seven ages of man, as written by William Shakespeare.

That is all it is, at a 360 degree view, 6 or 7 or 8 parts. You can condense an entire lifetime if you hold up enough fingers on your hand. And what intrigues me is how much have I progressed in each part? What does one achieve in each part? Not materialistic achievements, naaaaah! How does one grow as an individual, harnessing this gift called life?

The first part is where you are constantly learning. So pretty much ignore it. You just do what your told to either by parents or teachers. You are not even allowed to reject the food on the table, so you simply acquire basic skills, one of the greatest ones being getting to the toilet each time you need to go…

The second part is where you explore a bit. Your parents let the harness loose, just a tad bit. You can reject the food on the table and go through the consequences of that act. Wings are beginning to flutter. You want to try and fly. You learn that you have wings. So yes, that’s an achievement.

The third part is where you make all the mistakes. Some mistakes you can walk out of, some change the course of your life. You have the money, so you want to go out there and achieve something. Some are pushed into getting things done, some take flight and have their first experience of crash landing. This is the part where your parents take a step back, because you think you know everything and have seen the world enough compared to their stage of fourth or fifth part.

The fourth part is where you are done making mistakes. This is the true part where you grow into the person you were meant to be. Everything before this was prep work. By the end of this part you have set base, your foundation is strong and you are now truly flying on your own. You can recognize the mistakes you made in the earlier one or two parts and have learnt from them. This is when you achieve personal progress.

The fifth part is where you try the dives. You try to soar. You want to take yourself to the next level. This is where you want to push yourself and seek answers to your true potential. For some though, this is where you relax after four parts of hard work. You sit back on the couch of life, sip in your success and feel good about yourself. For me personally, this is where you limit your possibilities. This is where you can make the choice to optimize or give up.

The sixth part, well… If you surpassed your expectations in the previous part, maybe continue to soar or take a break. Sit down, put your feet up for a while and enjoy the cocktail of life. Take all those vacations you wanted to take, while you are healthy enough. This is the part where you truly enjoy life. You have no idea how many more parts you are left with.

The seventh part is about reflections. You reflect upon everything you have done in the previous parts and filling the gaps, to just do it. If you want to walk on the beach, do it. You want to eat that dessert, eat it..

Everyone is gifted with this beautifully crafted round cake, with icing and sprinkles. You take once slice at a time, with no inkling of how many slices are there. Savor each bite and fill your senses with the joy of knowing that your are blessed. There will be hurdles, there will be ditches, always believe in the moment and live it to the fullest!! Enjoy every bite…!

The little blue brush

When I was pregnant with my first kid, I got a little blue brush and comb as a gift at my baby shower. The bristles of the hair brush were so soft, they reminded me of Barbie’s hair. When my little one was born, I used that brush to gently part his hair after his bath. He was clean, hair neatly parted, a smile on his face and the world was perfect. I was perfect as a new mother.

Fast forward thirteen years. In a life of seventy or eighty, thirteen is a small number, but you ask the parent of a teenager and they will tell you, its a lifetime. Some days, that same baby of mine, forgets to comb his hair when he gets out of the shower. His hair is ruffled and he says, ‘I’m ready to go to school’. My “mother” in me, looks at the clock and determined in the snap of a second, if I should rush to get the comb and part his hair, or if I should sound a “mellow” yell, “you need to comb your hair and look neat”…

So yesterday, the split second decision was to grab a comb and make his hair look neat. As I raised the brush (a big blue spiral one, now), I had to raise my hand above my eye level. For a tiny miniscule of a second, (that is all we have to think, in the morning rush), I thought, ‘Wow!’. That tiny little thing that fit so snugly in my arms, was an inch above me.

Where the hell did the years go??

From diapers, to immunization shots, to feeding, to potty training, to daycare, to school, to books, to homework, to aches and pains, to summer camps and boom before you know it, its done. When we embark on this journey of motherhood, we feel this a life changing decision and is going to last a lifetime. As my kiddo turns fourteen, I am stressed that soon it will be time to let go. Yes, it is the bond of a lifetime, but its not that you can hold on to for a lifetime, you HAVE TO LET GO. You have to let them flap their wings and fly.

Nobody prepares you for this. All the relatives, parents who encourage you to have children, don’t explain enough. It’s definitely not about that one moment of inception. It’s not about family portraits that you can send out at Christmas or decorate your Facebook wall with. It’s not about the grades or the career, definitely, no. It is a challenging emotional journey of a lifetime. It is like you are living another person, you feel what the child feels, you are constantly in battle with yourself to do the right thing. Once they grow up, it doesn’t stop, because, technically, when do they grow up? I still need my father and I am still growing up. Marriage is more accommodating than having a child. You can talk, argue, reason, demand ‘adjustability’ from your spouse. With your child, you HAVE TO BE the bigger person. When you are not, instantly you will know.

I wonder how my parents let me go, in a world of no internet or cell phones. Today, I appreciate how brave they were to let me flap my wings and fly.

All said and done, is it fun? Oh hell, it is. It is a beautiful relationship, magical and however science explains it, it is a MIRACLE. To create a human being, nurture him/her, help him/her learn essential skills like eating, talking, walking, sleeping, watch him/her grow into an individual and build his/her own ideologies, perceptions is a whole discovery in itself.

As I watch my miracle grow, I tell myself, soon it will be time to let go. The little blue brush will be a memory I will hold on to for a lifetime. As for him, all he will remember is how his mother nagged him before he left to school!!

 

Judgemental

This word is very beautifully explained in the movie English Vinglish in the climax scene. The protagonist of the movie has overcome her inner conflict and is telling a newly wed couple of how a family should not be judgemental. I clapped at the end of the scene.

When I look back at the almost-a-lifetime relationships I have, I see that the strength of these relationships lies in the fact that the other person or me are not judgemental about each other. We may not agree about everything, but we do not pass a judgement on their character. That is precisely why the relationship has lasted so many years.

When a person passes a judgemental remark you want to steer clear of them, that’s basic human instinct, I think. They may want to help you become a better person, because they definitely see what you cannot see. But there is a sensitive way to put it across. At the end of the day what you want to preserve is the relationship and not correct that one trait.

If you are a person who doesn’t care about such remarks, good for you. Cheers! There are those sensitive, emotional, humbugs like me, where attacks on character are like that bell inside your head which refuses to shut off. At every instance of the action, the bell goes off and one part of your mind is telling you, just do it. It’s a crazy conflict to have, in time this too shall pass. Probably there are people out there whose self-confidence could be shaken.

Ever wondered why these relationships are so complicated to make and maintain? You cannot live without them and sometimes with them 😉…

To lifetime relationships, don’t judge, there is too much at stake.