“Kannil vazhigindra kanneer kaadhal solgindradhu…”
I have told you before that I started writing this blog in January 2012 to get out of the fog that I was in after Appa’s passing. I actually started writing a few months before that. I poured my heart out in an essay “The Beginning of the End” and sent it to my friend L to read. Perhaps N and Amma also read it at that time, but I don’t remember that I shared it with any others. I remember that L only responded with “hugs” but that was enough. More than enough. To dissect all the raw feelings that I had poured out there was impossible.
This morning, for some reason, instead of getting on with my work, I looked in my “Sent” emails to see if my essay was still there from when I sent it to L years ago. I have actually searched for this before and have not found it. But today I did.
So, here’s a brief excerpt from that essay, which was so painful but so essential for me to write at that time. I am sharing the most mundane part that I could find from that essay. Because the rest, after all these years, is still too raw, too sacred to share (yes, even with you).
So what makes me share this today, you ask? I don’t know, actually. Maybe it’s because Appa passed away in March seven years ago, and sometimes, it still seems like yesterday. Maybe, after all these years, I still want to tell you the full story at some point.
December 7, 2010. I had gone to the airlines house that afternoon to get some of Appa’s paperwork signed when I got a call from Amma saying that the doctor had authorized Appa’s discharge from the hospital. It wasn’t clear to me that Appa’s breathing had stabilized enough for him to be discharged. So I called the doctor to ask for his opinion. The doctor advised that he would be monitoring Appa frequently and that he “needs to be released into the community” at some point.
Driving back home from the hospital was a nightmare. Pondy Bazaar was unbelievably crowded and with the exhaust fumes from the cars, Appa’s breathing had already turned shallow. It was incredibly painful to watch Appa struggle to breathe. Somehow, we reached home an hour later. N and the kids, D chittappa and B chitti had all come to celebrate Appa’s return from the hospital. It was my doing, of course, optimistically inviting everyone over and assuming that getting out of the hospital was reason enough to celebrate. The food that I had ordered for everyone arrived but neither Appa nor I could eat a bite. I called the doctor to inform him about Appa’s difficulty with breathing and the doctor advised me to bring him right back if I wanted to.
Easy for him to say but it was not my choice at that point. Appa, who was relieved to be back home after a brief but scary stint at the hospital, was not one for going back anytime soon. And Chittappa, who was not aware of how serious Appa’s condition was, and shared Appa’s distaste for doctors, advised him to just chant “Om” and listen to a repetitive chanting of the Dhanvantri (“Doctor God”) shlokam. After pleading with Appa several times that night to return to the hospital and not having the stomach for the Dhanvantri shlokam, I fell into a troubled sleep after midnight.
Amma woke me up around 6 am to tell me that Appa had agreed to go back to the hospital to have his breathing checked again. We ate breakfast – later, when I would have time to think, I would be deeply ashamed that we stopped to eat breakfast instead of rushing Appa to the hospital. But at that point, my brain was numbed by three days of no sleep and an overload of unprocessable information. I did not fully comprehend the urgency of the situation, even after living it for three days.
We reached the hospital and checked Appa into the ER. Amma and I spent the rest of the morning sitting around in the reception area, checking on Appa, crying off and on, and comforting each other in turn. They gave Appa oxygen in the ER but a part of me was terrified that he would be put on a ventilator that day and that would be the end. That didn’t happen though, luckily. Appa was given oxygen for several hours at the end of which he was checked into the hospital for further observation and treatment.
Wandering around Chennai on my own was surreal. I, who had led a very sheltered existence there and therefore reverted back to that existence each time I visited, was suddenly negotiating the system alone. I was humbled by the kindness of strangers. An auto driver, trying to make small talk, asked me if I was a doctor at the hospital. When I indicated that my dad was a patient there, he offered to keep me in his prayers with a simplicity and genuineness that touched me. When I was at my MIL’s place, a woman called and directly started talking to “Mataji”. Mildly annoyed, I told her that I wasn’t “Mataji”. The woman asked me if I was the daughter in law, and when I said yes, she asked how Appa was doing, and told me that they had been doing group prayers daily for Appa’s recovery. I was dumbstruck.
That visit to India – watching Appa’s health deteriorate, going through difficult times like never before, having to make tough decisions, and experiencing the kindness of total strangers – made me lose a large part of the arrogance that undoubtedly defined me to that point.