Lessons learnt from a life lost.



I lost my father two years ago. Losing a parent is never easy no matter how old you are. Losing a parent who was a trail blazer, a public figure, a pivot on whom a huge hospital existed is even more disconcerting. To top it all, he went without a whiff of a warning. In a place completely alien to us. And left us shocked.

My parents had been to the U.K. for a conference. After the conference, they wanted to spend some time going around Ireland, which they had heard was very beautiful. Two days later, they landed in Dublin, had their dinner and climbed back into the bus, when he had a massive heart attack, collapsed and died. Just like that. In a matter of minutes. A team of doctors (including my mother) in the same tourist bus could not revive him. An ambulance which reached within two minutes of the event could not save him. They were due to return to India the next day. So my mother was left with hardly any cash, very little phone currency and absolutely no friends other than the ones on the tourist bus. And Ireland is very very expensive.

In the next few days, almost everything that could go wrong, did. In India, it was a Government holiday, so no papers could be processed. I could not get a visa to go because the embassy was not open on weekends. It was difficult to get through to my mother over the phone. A very close friend in the U.K., who started off to help my mother, met with an accident, which wrecked her car, but thankfully left her safe. My mother’s tourist bus could not stay with her, as the rest of them had to go on.

But at the same time, everything that could be called a miracle, did happen. The Kannada Koota, an association of Kannada families in Dublin, heard of his demise and came forward to help. The doctor in the hospital that my father was taken to, miraculously turned out to be the nephew of a senior doctor friend from Shimoga ( my town). The friend who met with an accident in London, was given first aid and a ride to the airport, by a cop. Somebody else, arranged for the money. Indian doctors who worked in the hospital took my mom home and cared for her. The President of Kannada Koota literally moved mountains to help get my father’s coffin back, as soon as possible. And everything started to go right.

The events that followed over the next few days and months are a story for another day, but when I look back, those days changed me as a person forever. And taught me a lot of things. Such as…

Good does exist in the world, no matter what people say.

When I first heard my mother over the phone, she sounded shaken. Our major concern was about how she would manage alone in an entirely different country with zero friends.Suddenly, people started pouring forth and helping us out, as though they had known us for ever. People who had busy jobs and families to care for, but still felt concerned about us. They opened their doors to my mother, a practical stranger to them, kept her company, took off from their work to be with her and had potluck dinners in an effort to keep her morale up. They would call up twice a day to let us know that she was fine. There were people at the airport who helped us move papers fast, old travel agent friends who helped get the earliest flights, social work organisations which helped us for the funeral arrangements and so on. People whom we had just met, who became good friends in the face of tragedy. I wonder how we would have managed without them. It may be divine providence, but to me, it felt like a reaffirmation of the fact that “good Samaritans” are not a figment of imagination. They exist among us. People who do good without the expectation of applause or laurels. I have, ever since, stopped being cynical about the state of affairs of the world.The world has hope yet. In the goodness of these people.

Life has its own whims and fancies.

Just an hour before his death, I had spoken to my father over the phone. We had discussed the work that needed to be done on many impending projects as soon as he landed base. I had started off a school outreach program just a week before they left for England. Over the past two years, priorities have changed. A few old projects shelved, many new ones started and a few more on the anvil. But now, I am wiser and less obsessive. I have realized that life’s plans and our own may not coincide at all times. Apart from getting things done, it is also important to stop and smell the flowers on the way. Because you never know what life has in store for you. I’m not saying that we need to be irresponsibly under planned, but only that everything, needs perspective. There is no need to lose sleep over anything.It is just your goodness of intent and hard work that counts. Because, at the end of the day, things that should happen, will! With or without your consent.

Good begets good.

I was never the type to believe in miracles. Two years ago, that changed. People told us, that it was literally unheard of, that we could get my father’s coffin back to India less than a week after his death. Normally, the procedure would take ages. But things went off smoothly. Help came from unexpected quarters. The people who came to help were those who had read my fathers articles in the magazines/ watched his movies, relatives of patients who worked in the police and the airport, doctors who had worked with my father as junior residents and people that he had helped over multiple projects over his life time. My parents had worked selflessly all their lives, and this I believe was the cause of all the miracles. My father had a great love for Kannada and worked in the agitation movement to help retain Belgaum in Karnataka. Who better to help him, than the President of Kannada Koota, in far off Dublin!!

How you live after, is your choice.

When an incident of such magnitude strikes, the “Why me?” questions are obvious. Around that time,I read a story somewhere about how people react to adversities. It goes like this. A boy complained to his mother about life being hard, when he was faced with problems. His mother showed him an experiment. She put carrots, eggs and coffee beans into boiling water for a while and asked the boy to observe what it did to each. The boy replied that the carrots became soft, the eggs got hard boiled and the the coffee beans, well, became  coffee. And then, the mother explained that there are people who are like the carrots. They go into adversity hard and unrelenting but come out softened and weak. Some others go in fragile like the egg, and manage to handle the adversity, but come out hard and cynical. But there are few who go in like the coffee beans, headlong into troubles, and end up creating something good  out of the adversity. Difficulties strike every one of us. We need to decide how we process it, rather than blame our misfortune. Try to look for the silver lining, however faint it may be. Realize that there are many who are more unfortunate. And then slowly, life gets better.

I am not given to personal posts. But this weekend, on my father’s second death anniversary, I was remembering those days, which were unnerving, to say the least. There are many who go through loss and grief. There is no way to come out of it unscathed. But as the saying goes “If you are going through hell, keep going. Eventually you will come out of it”. And when you do come out, remember, that in the worst of times, there is always hope, help and a lot of lessons to be learnt.







Of death and discomfort..

My nephew is undergoing  a small surgery. My logic understands that the surgery is very small with a hundred percent success rate. We know the surgeon and that he is very reliable and we have already planned his homecoming. But there is this strange feeling the whole day. And it bothers me. There’s a  tingling inside of my tummy, alongside a few mandatory butterflies, some strain in my shoulders, a sudden missed heart beat when I am in my OPD, a squeeze in the heart and a strange shiver along my spine when I think of tomorrow. Just the fact that he is undergoing something which is unnatural, increases my level of discomfort. How much ever my logical brain tries to convince itself, my emotions refuse to obey and remain subdued. It irritates me, makes me scared and wants me to delete the whole day and wake up tomorrow morning to find that it is all a dream.

In these terms,December this year, has been a month of such discomforts. Eventful, scary and sad. In the span of one month, I heard of about ten accidents back to back and lost quite a few near and dear ones in the process. Those who survived, are right now still in bad shape. A surgery scheduled in the midst of all this. And just when the dust seemed to have settled, the news of the senseless terrorist attacks in Peshawar!It sort of shook me and dragged the rug from right under my feet!

Here I am, trying to plan my future, our children’s education,my son’s birthday party and what to read this weekend when boom! You are no longer living! It sure is a scary thought. I know I am being morbid, which I should not be, as it is close to Christmas, and new year is just round the corner,blah, blah — but this whole week, thoughts of death and sickness have enveloped me. It was weird writing about this. I had never imagined in the wildest of my dreams that I would one day write about death and the like, but the more I thought, the more there seemed to be things which were queer about how we face death and sickness.

The first thought was: what exactly is it that makes you feel bad when someone suffers or dies?

Well, when you open the newspapers early in the morning, it is quite likely that you hear about at least four to five deaths. Murders, suicides, accidents, sometimes old age and ill health; the reasons are many, but a lot of them attain in death probably what they did not achieve in their lifetime- a mention! But have you ever wondered why it is that we feel bad only for a few people, and not for the rest? The answer, it seems, is a word called empathy. Empathy literally means putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes. I recently read an article in “The Week” about empathy which said that we end up feeling some sort of emotion only towards people who are similar to us in race, ethnicity, religion,education or situation! I was denying this fiercely in my mind, when I realized that I was actually doing what the article said! When I read, hear or see something bad happening to Indians, women, children, mothers, doctors etc.. I end up feeling a little more sadness and a state of understanding, than I do for everything and everyone else. I tried telling myself that I had felt really sad about Philip Hughes death, and so I am empathetic towards all! But when I rationalized, the sadness was more for his parents because they had lost a child and that loss was irreplaceable(this I can understand, because I am a mother!). I felt sad about the Malaysian Airlines tragedy a few months ago, but that was more distanced compassion and sympathy than an acute sense of grief! So you see, the article seemed to be right after all. Maybe to preserve our sanity and a sense of calm, our mind processes only what is similar to our lives and leaves the rest to a mild apathy! Try it on yourself. It is strange, but true.

The second is the aptness of reaction.

Quite a lot of times, professionally and personally, I have been in a slightly uncomfortable position of dealing with the aftermath of death. The consoling of the survivors. Sometimes, I have to go with the oft repeated ‘ It was for the best. He was suffering so badly. At least now he rests in peace’ to ‘ This was so unexpected. I can understand how you must be feeling’ and finally, when I feel most inadequate, just ‘I am so sorry’. But what ever it is that I say, I feel a sense of inadequacy, that I have somehow failed to do my job as a consoler well. I immediately end up thinking of the next few days – how dependent the survivor was on the deceased or vice versa, how their home will seem empty from now on, how photographs or familiar places will bring forth a barrage of memories and emotions –so on until I make myself miserable, and the discomfort becomes mine!

The worst was when I read about the terrorist attacks in Peshawar. I have never blanked out so badly. I really did not know how to react. Any of the dialogues I’m so used to made any sense in that situation. I crossed out emotions in my mind. Anger- no use; shame- I don’t know; sadness-woefully inadequate; fear- but for how long and where?. Basically, empathy failed me. But this horrible discomfort stayed. I could not be myself for the next three days. Then, time slowly eased me back into normalcy. Day by day, the weight on my shoulders and the tightness in my chest when I woke up in the morning eased. I started laughing more normally and became calmer about my children going to school. I used to feel that by consoling the relatives, I was helping them ease their suffering a little bit. But I realized that grieving often is a very lonely process. Kind words help, but do not lessen the grief. As time passes, and life goes on, we learn to live with it and start taking it for granted. That is when it stops hurting, but yet, it does not go away! So, a tight hug and holding on to a bad feeling inside of me,is probably the best way to react! It makes me feel that I am partly bearing the burden of their grief. It is not necessarily an overt, over the top reaction, but one that makes me feel that I have actually done my best.

I have finally made peace with the butterflies in my stomach and my nephew’s surgery. I accept the  discomfort and will hopefully understand it better.