September 29, 2011



Shaina looked down, stretched herself, laid still in that position for a few seconds and made another desperate attempt to keep her eyes open. It’s not easy to spend a night on a hospital bench, even if the hospital looks as luxurious as a five star hotel!

If it was not for, the thought of patients suffering, doctors running frantically in and out of wards and the persistent typical hospital smell, this building could well pass as a super luxury hotel rather than a super specialty hospital. From the interiors, the expensive plants on the aisles and the even more expensive paintings on the walls, it was obvious that it was meant only for the richer than the richest of the people. Shaina’s dad, being an NRI was one of those!

The reason for such fancy architecture, on the borderline of being grotesque, was indeed simple, to give the depressed patients and families, a reason to feel better. And she was staring at those walls looking for just that reason.


Shaina was here because her grandfather, or as she learnt to call him, growing up in NYC, Poppy, was admitted here. He was 72 and had aged a little earlier than the family expected. Shaina’s father was a very rich and busy man. He had made a fortune in construction business in USA and was now expanding in the Middle East. But that meant not being there for his father in his twilight years. He tried to make amends in the last 3 years by moving back to India, yet seeing his father on his death bed, brought his guilt back.

Shaina was very close to her grandfather. She was 16 and had moved back to India an year before her parents. However she used to visit India, twice every year even without her parents. That, she thought, was her father’s way of overcompensating for his shortcomings as a son.

Its funny how being with someone on his deathbed is considered a way to absolve all failings of the past. Shaina’s grandfather was surrounded by many such failed people. A failed son, three failed younger siblings and a few failed nieces and nephews constituted the family of the patriarch. Shaina felt disgusted seeing the hypocrites around; the ones she was supposed to love and call family! Tonight, she forcibly sent everyone home. She wanted some lone time with her Poppy even if he was on a life support system and couldn’t open his eyes. Her father, neck deep in his guilt, however, refused to leave.

Over the years, Shaina had developed a very special bond with her grandpa that defied the obvious generation gap and cultural difference. She thought she may be a misfit in India, especially because she was staying with an old man. But she was amazed how these things never became an issue with grandpa. She had some anger for his father that he left his widower father alone in India on the mercy of servants and relatives. But she never let that out in front of grandpa, or that’s what she thought!

Seeing him deteriorate day by day had been very hard on her. She had shut herself from everyone and every update on his heath. For her, grandpa was always the same towering figure who overshadowed everyone in his company, including his super successful son. After all, he was an ex army man! Was that the reason of his father’s drift from him? Did he feel dwarfed by his father so much that he led an escapist’s life? These questions always troubled her, all the more because they were unanswered.

She suddenly felt someone was standing next to her. She looked up. It was an old, tall, frail, slightly hunched figure, with a shining face, captivating smile and eyes that had nothing but content in them.

He was her grandpa!

“What are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be on your bed?”-she asked authoritatively.

“Hey! Who is the grandfather here?”-he replied with a witty smile on his wrinkly face.

“I got bored of lying there kid, so I thought I would take a walk. The doctors and nurses weren’t around, so I seized the moment!”-he said with a wink! Guess, sense of humor never ages!

“Don’t be cheeky grandpa; this could be harmful for you. Go back and rest”.

“No kid, I need to talk to you”.


“How are you doing and how are you taking all this?”

“What all?”

“You know, me dying and all!”-he said with a straight face.

“You are not dying grandpa, you are improving everyday!”-she answered while trying her best not to look at him!

She was in Denial!

“Sweetie, the doctors beg to differ from you!”

“I don’t care!”

“But I do”

“You care about what?”

“About you dear.”

“I am fine; you are the one who is sick. Go back grandpa, will you, please! You need doctors right now.”-she pleaded.

“Yes I need doctors! But you are the one who needs a grandpa around!”

“Then don’t die!”-she stared into his eyes and said angrily. And yes, she had inherited that straight face too!

No one said anything for a while. Shaina was welling up, but she didn’t want to cry in front of him. She put her head on his chest and he embraced her.

“Honey, I am dying, accept it!”-he said after a pause

“No, you are not dying”.

“I have to, my dear.”

“What? What do you mean, you have to?”-she looked up to him in sheer amaze. What was he saying?

“Shaina, old has to go for the new to take over. It’s like a relay race; I have to pass the baton to your dad.”

“You have already done that grandpa and he has taken over the family. He takes care of the aunts and the uncles. He is the father figure to them. “

“Then, what’s my point of hanging on anyway?”

“For me, Poppy!”-she said in a louder volume, though that made her conscious about her surroundings. She sounded irritated now. These reasons weren’t enough for him to give up, she thought.

“No sweetie, you don’t want me live like this.”

“You will be ok”-she sounded more doubtful than re-assuring!

“No I won’t be, trust me. If there was any hope of me leading a normal life again, I would live, for you! I am an army man!”

“Do you understand circle of life?”- he continued after a pause

“Yes, but today, I refuse to believe in it”.

“Well, it’s not your choice you know! I have completed my circle of life Shaina. When a baby is born he can’t speak a word, cannot walk and he is totally dependent on people around him. Today, I can barely talk; half my words don’t make any sense to people; I have lost my mobility and…..”- he paused

“And, what?”

“And I am on diapers again dear!”

Shaina looked at him in shock. For the first time in the entire conversation, she could empathize with him. Last month she had a hair-line fracture in her foot and her mobility was affected. It was not the pain, but the frustration, that drove her crazy. Even though she needed help just while getting down from the bed, the idea of needing someone around all the time was choking. She lowered her eyes as she didn’t want him to feel embarrassed. But she had to re-kindle the flame in him; the flame that saw him through years of loneliness and family apathy.

“I am sorry grandpa; I didn’t want to embarrass you.”

“Don’t worry kid, you won’t embarrass me! I know how much you care for me. You are my Angel! You are the reason I could survive for so long.”

Survive; bingo! He said the word. She is not going to let this go!

“So, what happened now? Where is that zeal? Where is that Colonel’s attitude? You are just 72!”- she said as she was interrogating him.

“Ha Ha Ha!”- he laughed out loudly in a typical style reminiscent of his army background. She swiftly signaled him to be quiet by putting her fingers on his mouth. He grinned sheepishly and continued-

“You sure know how to convince someone!”-both smiled! Just like the good old times!

“Tell me something”- he continued in a serious voice- “how did you feel when your parents moved here? What bothered you the most? Be honest!”

“Well, my whole life was there! My school, my friends, my routine; everything! I still miss them sometimes.”

“How many of my friends have you seen visiting me in the last 3 years?” he said with a sigh, trying to look away. Now, he noticed the walls too!

“None!”-she said in a low voice. She knew where he was getting at. She didn’t want him to get there!

“You know why? Because they are either dead or sick or so far that I can’t travel due to my ripe age and same for them. Now, I know, at this age, with a beautiful family around, I shouldn’t be complaining. But, kid, sometimes I have to be selfish.”

Beautiful family! Really!” she said in disbelief, stressing on the adjective he used!

“Aha! There comes the taboo topic. You think my family has failed me, including your father. Isn’t it?”

She didn’t say anything. She was about to accuse her father. She has avoided this talk for long, but now was the time!

“Yes!”-she finally gathered enough courage to have this conversation.

“Ok! Let me get it straight Shaina. They didn’t fail me. You can trust me. I needn’t protect anyone because I am dying. I wasn’t perfect either dear. I always put my duty before my family. I wasn’t there for him for most of his childhood and youth. I tried to be a part of his life later, but by then, I guess, I had already inflicted enough pain. And the rest of them, I really don’t care, neither should you!”

He tried to convince his granddaughter how bad a father he was! Talk about caring!

“But dad tried to get back at you by leaving you alone here”

There it was; the final blow!

“No kid! Initially, he wanted me to move. It was me who didn’t want to come out of the comfort zone. Then, he gave up.”

For the first time Shaina saw her dad in a different light. She could now interpret his quiet and self-indulgent escapist behavior. No one was at fault; neither her grandpa, who was just serving his country, nor her father, who was coping with an empty childhood.

“He used to force me to visit you.”- she said in a low voice, though smiling. “I know! He is a good kid. Shaina, don’t resent your father. He could take my indifference while growing up, but he wouldn’t be able to take the same from you when he is ageing.”- he said with a heavy voice.

Shaina nodded her head in affirmative. The silent gesture of gratitude by her father towards grandpa was now becoming clear to her.

“Shaina, one more thing.”


“Let go, Angel!”

She looked at him. No words were required. Think about what you are asking grandpa, she wanted to say. You are asking me to keep this mental image for the rest of my life and that’s all. But for the first time she could see a content old man in the strong image of her grandfather; the old man who, at this point, was asking for death from life; the old man who could see positives in all the negativity around. He wanted to meet his old friends and his wife; he wanted the ability to take control of his life, in a strange way though. From the helpless state of immobility he wanted to transcend into the state where he could fly! It was time for her to grow up!

She started crying and hugged her grandfather. She wanted to hold him tight, even though she knew he wanted to escape, forever! She fumbled for words but said while being in his embrace-

“Yes! I would let go grandpa, for your peace, when the time comes. But promise me, you won’t give up. Now, please go back and rest, or rather fight, my army man!”- she smiled at her last word.

“Shaina, look around, where am I?”- he lifted her head up.

She was shocked at his question and looked up unsure what was she looking for!

“What do you mean? You are sitting in front of me!”

“Then who is that person lying on the bed?”-he pointed at a room

There was a man lying there, with tubes and machines all around him. He looked as if he was in deep slumber, unaware and peaceful. Her dad had fallen asleep next to him, holding his hand. He looked like her grandpa! She looked over the glass door and then looked back the person sitting in front of him. They were the same people!

“What is happening grandpa?”-she asked in disbelief.

“I am already dead Shaina, but I couldn’t go leaving you in denial and resenting your father. I couldn’t have handled that even in the beyond. I had to wait.”

She was taken aback. Was she dreaming? What was real?

But it took her only a moment to realize that it was her grandfather’s love and care for her that even after his “death” he couldn’t leave her reeling in pain and loaded with questions. Most importantly, he had to convince her that letting go was best for her.

She looked up at him and tried to say something but could manage only a few tears! Seeing her getting lost for words, he said calmly-

“Now, I can go peacefully. Take care of your father kid!”

He kissed her forehead, got up and started walking. She kept looking till she lost his sight.

Grandpa was gone. Grandpa was at peace.


“Shaina!”-someone called her name. She wiped her tears and looked around, it was her dad.

“Shaina, grandpa is gone”-he said with a lump in his throat, fighting back his tears.

“I know dad”-she said composing herself, “and he went peacefully”-she added while looking over her shoulder in the direction where he walked off and mumbled- “rest in peace, Poppy!”

She hugged her dad who couldn’t hold back anymore.

“Let it out dad, let it out! I love you! “

She looked at the paintings on the wall again. Now she knew, they were there for the departing souls too!

Vote for me now!

September 25, 2011

Two Walking Sticks

By: Venkatesh Sathyanarayanan

It was a temple. A very modern one built with marble floor tiles having electrical bells for aarthi, direction boards detailing where the various gods are, running messages about auspicious days and the schedules on LCD displays etc. It was one such auspicious day and one could see the place buzzing with activity, the priest distributing the Kumkum and Tulasi, a group of people mumbling prayers fervently trying to reach out to the almighty, another group trying for the same by circling around the main deity and yet another group chanting the beautiful sounding sama veda.

A bit away from this scene you could spot a queue in front of the cafeteria (madapalli) which was my next destination. One can get the greatest tasting food at the lowest price with the food served in the most innovative bowls, one made out of leaf which is recyclable, cost efficient and user friendly. As I got the food I wanted, I settled down in a quiet place in the verandah. Facing me were the vivid paintings on the wall - detailing the acts of god as told in the scriptures. I was engrossed in those paintings when a young man came that way and sat beside me with prasadam in hand. He must have been in his late twenties neatly dressed in a white shirt and a khaki pant and with the ashes applied across his forehead. He was lost in thoughts with signs of anxiety on his face indicative of some troubled times in life. He seemed to be trying to find answers for his current state or just seeking divine support to cross through the period, and he was completely oblivious of me noticing him.

A good ten minutes later a shabbily clothed, very old gentleman was walking past us literally trying to drag his body along. I started sympathizing with the old man’s plight. When the body loses all its vigor, tired after decades spent on the rhetoric pursuits of life, it needs a support to cling on to, to enable itself to do one of the simplest things in life – i.e to walk. I made it a point that I would get him a walking stick the next time I come to the temple. As I was pondering, I realized that the young guy also needed a walking stick – one for his mind for it not to limp and cross through periods of trouble in life. I sat next to him and started a conversation.