Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Self-captured, Nalanda
Old age is a crippling situation. I do not mean to imply that it need be pitied. Far from it! I know of many fiercely independent & strong-willed oldies (my grandmother included) who'd put youngsters to shame with their grit & zest for life and would hate to live life as a liability or an extended limb. However, the deterioration of bodily functions that afflicts one in old age is something they cannot fight and that's where they need our love & concern rather than our pity. But what brought about this rumination, you might ask? It was perhaps a series of events involving strangers & loved ones that occurred in the recent past.

Just the other day, an old gentleman collapsed on the street as I was buying breakfast. The generous people of Mumbai came to his aid (as they always do when someone's in need of it, God bless them). High blood pressure, someone said. Low blood sugar, said another. Someone used onion-therapy to bring him to his senses & another rushed to fetch his relatives from the neighbouring street. Yet another person arranged for him to be taken to a Doctor & offered his vehicle for the same. While I couldn't help but marvel at their magnanimity & presence of mind, a vortex of sadness engulfed me to see the helplessness of this old gentleman, shuddering at the thought of what would've happened if this had occurred elsewhere, where help was not so forthcoming.

On the same train of thought, a hospital visit genuinely humbles you. I've studied & worked in a Dental hospital for 6 years and even though it is quite an experience, it does not prepare you for a medical ward, neither as a Doctor nor as a patient. It shows you how massive a responsibility the Doctors carry on their shoulders, how strong a medicine hope is but also how some things are beyond our control. There is absolutely nothing a human being can do against the onset of old age & disease. Which is why I was in a distracted state of mind when I recently took my mother & grandmother to a town-side hospital for a medical check-up. Mercifully, there was nothing to worry about. But just to have to go there is daunting indeed. To see your loved ones who've lived life king-size and on their terms suddenly frail & unsure of how long their bodies can withstand the rigors of daily life is heart-wrenching.

I'm sure you feel the same sometimes. You worry for the aged around you. Which is why I appeal to you to lend a hand. Take care of your elders. The smallest of gestures make them happy beyond anything you can imagine. No matter how melodramatic it sounds, do this good deed! You'll only realise it's value when someone returns the favor in your old age...


My Grandmother with the youngest member of the clan: my cousin Shih-mei
I guess the ruminations above were also initiated by something that happened just the other day. As I shot this series of pictures of my adorable naani & her grand-daughter (and my youngest cousin), I realised what a gift of happiness this moment was for her. With all her children in different cities and me not being to able to spend much time with her either until lately, it is but obvious that she must feel extremely bored & lonely at times. So when we had some relatives visit on us on the occasion of the Chinese New Year, she, like a magician, produced some letters dating back to 1991 written by me to her. Full of crooked letters & innocent banter, they were yellowed but preserved otherwise by her in mint condition, as if posted only yesterday. And then she took out what seemed like folded chits of paper no bigger than conventional post-it notes. There were childlike illustrations of comic book super-heroes, only one on each carefully folded piece of paper. And when she told me the story behind these seemingly innocuous caricatures, I had a tough time holding my tears back. 

Apparently, as a child I could sense that my grandmother must get very lonely when the other family-members weren't around. So on one of those vacations in Mumbai, I decided to do something that would help her pass time & brighten her day. I sketched anywhere between 50-80 caricatures on pieces of paper, folded them with an instruction of "open from here" on each and told her that these were to be opened whenever she'd get bored, one for each time when she'd feel the need for company....

Did I really do that for her? I was pleasantly surprised at my childhood capacity for compassion, and deeply embarrassed by the Me who stood there, reading those letters and knowing that I would perhaps never again go out of my way or out of the box to show my love to those near to me. Oh, where have those innocent days gone, when we would give our unconditional love to our elders without expecting anything in return? Where are those days when "I'm very busy right now" would not be used as an excuse? When did work, ambition, money, peers, time-tables, schedules & deadlines become roadblocks in the path of love? And why?

We may be God-fearing people and good people too, but none of us really survive the corruption that engulfs our lives. In this slowly spreading malaise, the biggest casualty is our only defense against moral ambiguity: our innocence. The world is still a beautiful place because of the innocence of children & a handful of good people, and I only hope that it can remain so for the longest time before we forget what it truly means...


Image sourced from the Internet
How inspirational can a basic conversation with certain individuals be? Very, I'd say. The someone in question here is an extremely versatile Indian vocalist who's super-successful & has endless flattering adjectives trailing her illustrious name. And yet, she remains at heart, a child: sharp, smart, ambitious but innocent. You could call us friends, I guess. We have worked & hung out together. But in an industry where everyone is everybody's friend, the lines usually blur and it is tough to separate friends from acquaintances, cling-ons & the yes-men. From a fan's point of view, I have nothing but immense respect & admiration for her. I often wonder how she maintains her humility & composure in the face of gargantuan success & adulation. Which is why, a very basic conversation about life & work in general with her turns out to be anything but banal. It becomes a gift of experiences, anecdotes & lessons, one to be absorbed & applied in life.
Picture by Ritika Mittal, Bodh Gaya

They say you can gauge a person by the way they speak. From the few times I've conversed with her, I'd like to think she's blessed; not only with a voice so strong yet soulful that it sets the tone for any emotion (you already knew that!), but also with good values, earthiness & a love for family and all things simple. Many a talented people lose their way owing to a failure to understand that success is transient and that good karma is the only appropriate beacon in life, hence highlighting the importance of people like her even more. So without sounding too syrupy-sweet in an industry that sustains itself on mutual admiration, I'll end here, wishing there were more like her around. It'd be good to maintain the balance in this make-believe city of Mumbai and a pleasure for the people who have the good fortune of knowing her.