I finally understood what “surreal” is all about.
My birth family is top heavy – there are more people on the senior-citizen scale than there are at the junior levels, thanks to the single-child, children-elsewhere and no-child policies adopted by the earlier generations. This has left fewer of us in the prime age group as against a battalion in the adult-diaper section. Thus far, my unbelievably generous cousin has been the sore caretaker of all the orphan oldies in the family, but she sought me out recently because the ratio is unfavourable on her time and energy. Given my own familial and professional commitments, I have not been able to do much to ease her burden.
Today, two aunts, both of them under tight grips of diabetes, had to visit their doctor. The cousin was tied up with other commitments, and I offered to take her place. Thus, I shepherded two aunts (79 and 74) and one uncle (84) to the doctor. Of the three, one is deaf (but prefers to call it “hard of hearing”), one is senile and the third is cranky. And the three attempted to have a conversation in the car.
“What did you eat this morning?”
“Isn’t it? The heat is much no?”
“No no, she is asking what you ate?”
“why are you getting annoyed? I am talking to manni, no?”
“Did you see Velukkudi’s upanyasam on television this morning?”
“Why is LG looking so thin?”
ME: “Periyamma, I put on 5 kilos in the past year…you need your eyes checked”
“I keep telling her to get her eyes checked. she can’t see a thing. She never listens to me. See what LG says? you won’t listen if I tell you ?”
“Why are you yelling at me? I am talking to manni no? Why can’t I talk to manni without you yelling?”
By the time we entered the clinic, I believe the hospital workers had an argument on who the patient was – one or more of the oldies, or the very frazzled looking younger woman with them. As if their cross-talk was not enough, in the hospital the nurse kept addressing the two aunts as mother – “amma” being a generic term in our part of the world, suitable for use with any older woman. So the nurse goes “did you take amma’s weight?”, and I go “which amma?” “your amma” “but my amma is dead” “oh then who was the amma you came with?” “I came with two ammas” “but didn’t you just say your amma was dead?” “yeah, but I came with my aunts – both are my periyammas (father’s brothers’ wives), so which periyamma do you want?” I could see the nurse imagining whacking me on my head with the two files.
The four hours gave me infinitely more satisfaction than anything I have done ever in my life so far. I can hear a calling – it is faint, but there is a definite ring. There is a faint voice in my head saying – this is what you should be doing, LG…this is your destiny. Is it really my calling or just a figment of my imagination?