Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Saturday, 19 October 2013

Loneliness and the Old

Jeremy Hunt talking about family. Well, his family, including Bottomley propped him up nicely. So he can't complain.

   He was talking about the elderly and loneliness. I have lived alone in remote places, without water and lights some times, and the books and the music have kept loneliness at bay. If I ever thought about it. I was of course much younger, just fifty.

   I remember the nights in Makeni where the campus generator went off at nine. I would light three candles behind my bed and read by its flickering benediction. It was actually a contended time. The bed cool and snug, the book at the end of a long and hard work-day, the music on the transistor ( I remember listening to Billy Joel on it - in 1985, while the cockroaches came out for their nightly game of 'find-the-bread' in the kitchen.)- what was there to make me feel isolated? All around me was the campus, the evening chorus of families putting children to sleep, washing them in scarce half-buckets of cool water at the pump, Philip Kargbo shouting at his wife...

   In Makeni I was not lonely. I built a small comfortable cocoon in what had been a Catholic monk's cell once upon a time, and the world around me was friendly, if not near me.

   Freetown was another story altogether. Now I had lights and water 24-7. On the British High Commission compound the generator, big as a house, hummed its way right through the night. Air conditioners came on even in flats where the occupants had gone on furlough a month back. Nobody complained and the British tax payer paid.

   But I was lonely. In that expatriate island, nobody looked my way. I didn't hear the domestic voices from the houses set far apart from each other on that diplomatic compound. It was eerie. I now lived in a huge house and I walked the hallways and thought about being alone. I had the books, the music and the comforts, but no one human being near me. And, in that luxurious compound, I was, for the first time aware of being on my own. 

   When the British Council tried to persuade me to stay for another two years I refused. A gentleman boss visiting from London threatened me: 'You will be unemployed back home, you know.' 'No,' I said proudly. 'I am after all a Maths teacher and there's always some school that needs a Maths teacher.' I thought he was a very silly man and a bully.

   Here in England I do see many old people dragging their shopping home in plastic bags, listing to one side. I think, where are the children, the friends, the neighbours? In India, some one would run to the rescue. Here also, this happens - occasionally. Once I was on an escalator in the Underground, looking down on the steps in front of me, and feeling giddy. 'Are you OK?' A young man asked from behind me. 'A little woozy,' I answered. 'Here, let me,' he said. He came down to the step in front of me shielding me from the long descent. 'Here, have a toffee,' he offered. 'Makes you feel better.' I took one. 'Keep the packet,' he said. 'You may need it going back.' He smiled as he left the escalator at the bottom. So there are people who will help the old; it is just that it is so rare.

   Not to talk to another adult for a whole week is a kind of incarceration, of dying. 'This life seems pointless,' an old man on TV said. Alone in his little front-room full of cushions and rugs. Then again, you don't have to be old to be lonely.

   Jeremy Hunt praised the Asians for the way they look after their old. This is true; there is more respect and more care in China, in India , in similar countries in Asia.. But this social fabric is slowly disintegrating with the young going to far-away countries to work. From the United States they come home for two weeks leave in a year. They rush around from one relative to another like a video on fast forward. The parents watch their goings and comings and after two weeks they wait for the phone calls again.

   I live with my children and consider myself lucky.They could have been in Australia or Canada. In my father's life, I was always far away when he needed me, seeing him rarely, not managing to travel to India often on my meagre teacher's salary. He was in a bad place, I think.

   Here, the closed front door makes it impossible to sit on the stoop and be part of the world outside. The television is no substitute for real people even if they are only acquaintances. A group of old men have solved this problem by forming an old people's club, where they meet and enjoy the presence of others from the human race. Perhaps the women should do the same.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Learning Survival Skills

I walk slowly these days. My knees say, slow down. I picked up my granddaughter from Primary School today. Six years ago, I'd carry her all the way from the nursery, five minutes away. Two years ago , I could still sprint after her when she showed signs of straying on to the road or running away to the back of the school. Today she walked well in front of me pausing to wait now and then, while I caught up.

     Mind you, I have to admit, even in my tennis days I avoided running to the ball; the ball had to come to me. Allowances have to be made for laziness.

   'Sorry, Baby.' I said to Asha as she walked to the car with me.. 'Ammamma is slow today. The knees are not so good.'
   'You're perfect,' she said, taking my hand to cross the road. Who is looking after who?

     I suppose most people my age have the same problems: wonky knees, stiff hips, a tendency to sway back or to the side. And then the sullen digestive system, which has its own agenda. When I stay with friends my age, their bedside cabinets are the same as mine. They contain: ointments for knees and hips and weary shoulders, balms for chest, pills for constipation or for acidity.

     When we travel a large part of our luggage is daily medication. I think we should just phone each other to check whether the same medicines are in their houses too. Like asking a friend whether we need to bring towels and tooth paste when we go for a weekend.

   When I meet up with my College mates in Chennai a large part of our day is spent talking about our various degenerative ailments. Tremors, constipation, anxieties, arthritic bones, all these figure prominently in our conversation. We are light-hearted about these as nothing much can be done about all this. Age is irreversible even when it does not show very much.

     One or two have died. Like being air-brushed off, without making a noise. One or two have cancers; they deal with it with dignity and humour. After all, we've got this far, they say. I hope they are totally cured and I feel sorry about the chemos and the radiations that leave them tired and with loose teeth.

     These friends of mine have beautiful skin, though nearing eighty years. They laugh like girls. But we eat small quantities of food, we can't read the small-print on packages in the shops when we go shopping, and we tire too soon.

     I have noticed though, as the world has started to become less respectful of me, I have become more demanding. The nastiness buried deep in us comes out as a survival skill. If a stranger assumes I am stupid because I am old, fat, ugly or slow, I hit back. In England being all these and Indian too does not help. 

     Our heads have not quite caught up with our ageing bodies. The hiatus shows.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

RED ED

When Cameron runs out of ideas, he falls back on personal insults. Red Ed, my foot.  Find a better one, Dave.

   To begin with, what's wrong with being Marxist? I'd like to know. Now all of us from Kerala have first hand knowledge of both sides of Marxism, Naxalbaris, Indira Congress and everything in between, that silly Pinarayi included. Marxism has always been a well-meaning philosophy if you separate it from the methodologies attached to it. Remove the 'End justifies the means,' for instance and you can tell Soviet Russia where to get off. It's been done, I hear. By Gorbachev, was it, or did they do it all by themselves?

   Wasn't it Harold Laski who said that Jesus Christ was the first ever Communist? From each according to his means, to each according to his need. What's wrong with that? I think Christianity talks of a tithe. Either will do. C'mon Dave - tax those big businesses, discuss their tax status when they come to lunch at Downing Street like the CEO of Google did. The lot of them - McDonald's, Google, Microsoft... Watch them. See who is stealing from the people of the United Kingdom, stealing the food out of their mouths, the rooms out of their shelter.

   I know that you collude with them, Dave, because of the bedroom tax (but not the Mansion Tax), the wiping off of benefits, but not the bank bonuses. Dave, what do you think you are there for? Power an end in itself? No-no.no. You are there representing the people, all of us, not just the conservatives. And not just big business and the rich. So, please. get off your back-side and attend to the country. Forget you majored in Public Relations. Or you will end up on your backside come 1915 and I shall enjoy the spectacle.

   Ed nudged Labour a little to the left within sight of the poor of this country who can't afford their fuel bills or shoes for their children. He warms the cockles of my ageing heart. (whatever cockles are.) So what do you do? You nudge your party a little to the right. Now the battle is joined for 2015, eh? 

   Will you also team up with UKIP without quite mentioning it? I hear you are against it. Let's see if you'll stay that way when Ed pulls away in the polls.

   My provenance? Definitely Labour. So's you know. There used to be a decent country here, but the money-men and the so-called entrepreneurs, have ruined it. Now we have Rip-Off Britain instead. You can't trust anyone. Pity!

   Have I done mouthing off? Almost. Except for what you have done to the Liberals. Maybe they did it to themselves too. That abrogation of simple humanity.