A handful of life

Early this week, one afternoon, a newly hatched pigeon chick fell down from its nest and landed on our balcony. The tiny little bird-like thing with tiny wings, pointy beak and large black eyes which were yet to open was actually quite active. It would turn its neck from side to side, tremble sometimes and sometimes roll on its back. We promptly put it in a box lined with cotton cloth and put it beside the warmest of our walls. But other than that, we were at a loss of how to take care of the tiny handful of life.

I called up a few hospitals around and learnt that there is only one at the other end of the city which not only treats birds, but also adopts them and sets them free when they are of age. In the meantime, the household was consumed with spending time with the chick, as though everything revolved around our new friend. After a fitful night of prayers (fitful for us, because the chick did not eat anything we tried to offer), we were relived and happy to see that it still moved the next day. It was then carefully handled and taken to the hospital. Its better off with a trained staff who are professional and not emotional around it.

I also learnt that newly hatched chicks can survive without food for first three days, since they eat the egg proteins just before hatching. Hence those who breed birds, often courier the chicks out within three days of hatching.

Although I would never see it again, every time I go into the room where we put the box up, I am reminded of the little moving ball. I just hope life does not let the little fighter down. My thoughts then came to all the little babies who for whatever reason get abandoned in the first few hours after birth. Some find good homes, others are taken in by family, still others are not so lucky. But those few hours, when every life form deserves care and attention, is lost to probably most babies around the world.

Life helps us cope with loss, by locking them in as rich memories. As time goes by, we smoothen the rough edges of events and sometimes forget what we don’t want to remember.

So, if the present is fleeting, and the events in the present are not long lasting, since with time, they only become more abstract in our minds, then why can’t we be more cognizant about our bearings in the present. Wouldn’t this lead to better and happier memories? Instead of those we would like to forget?

This should probably help us behave better, take better decisions outside of ourselves and laugh more, scowl less?

Memory- A poem by Prabha Trimurty

Like a shell on the beach…

My memory lingers on…

The waves carry them in…

The sand erodes their shape..

The rain buries them low…

The sun shines them gold…

A stranger picks it up…

Seals it in his palm…

Throws it back into the sea

There in the depth of time….

My memory lingers on.

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Two of swords

The road ahead splits into two

Which do I choose, which do I not?

Both have a lot of green and grey

Both seem to welcome me to stay

If I tread on one, I may never know

What life’s lessons lay in the other to follow

For I know both have thorns and meadows

A few heart breaks and a few longings for tomorrow

I ask those around me who would know

Those who have walked these paths before

I seek a sign from the skies

I sing a hymn, I close my eyes

And then I hear a little voice

It comes from within me, from somewhere

What is it that you truly desire? It asks

Both roads have the same share of joys and sorrows

Both would help me know myself more

Both would find me new friends and homes

New adventures waiting in unknown roads

I realize road to life is long

Some days filled with boredom, others with enthusiasm

It is only I who can make

My days filled with magic or stupor

It is only I who can create

Good days for hopeful tomorrows

Or bad ones with dreamless sorrows

So no matter which road I choose

I am the one to live it through

I am the one who would decide

Whether I sleep or wish to fly

 

Family based care

A friend called a couple of days ago, after a gap of several months, informing that her life has suddenly become very busy and unpredictable. A family member is terminally ill and so she is taking care of their child, in addition to her own. She is also rescheduling her work life along with her spouse, to actively care for the person who is suffering. As a result, she has no social life, along with cutting down on better growth opportunities at work… indefinitely. We may all plan our lives, but life’s learnings have other plans for us.

In spite of best hospitals and advanced medical care, we all have at some point of our lives cared for sick family members or relatives either for long term or short term or like my friend for an extended indefinite term. Unpaid contributions of family caregivers were valued at as much as US$450 billion in 2009 globally [1], and two thirds of these care givers were women with additional jobs outside home. Similarly, in India, the total unpaid contribution in health at home in 2010 by women was US$ 22 billion and by men US$ 5 billion (at a minimum wage rate). For the care seeker, family-based care is cheap, home based and in familiar surroundings. For the care giver, it will incur time management, resource mobilization (leaves at work, salary revisions) and sometimes (maybe often) mental hardship. But perhaps the biggest issue here is that no one tells, teaches or trains us of the right ways to take care of our own family members in times of need.

At a time when there is a definite shift in global disease profile from communicable (infectious diseases) to non- communicable diseases like diabetes, cancer or cardiovascular and injuries; family-based care can keep the healthy out of hospitals and those at risk out of sudden need of treatment (and sky high health expenses). Could family care be an integrated process just like sitting together and having tea in the family room in the evenings and politely reminding everyone of the daily medication schedules, quantity of medicine left for consumption in the house, doctor appointments, designated drivers or transport for the appointments etc? Could there be someone designated as the leader for providing this care within the family? How well would other family members accept this designated family health provider? Is there a possibility for this designated member to be trained in providing a first response to emergency care, identifying key symptoms, understanding when to reach out to a healthcare facility?

Both my maternal aunt and her husband were bedridden for long periods until their sad demise. My cousin took care of them, all alone though and it took its toll on him. But he had to learn a lot of ways through his life’s learning in palliative care- by observation, reading and talking to medical professionals within his community, to understand what was expected of him before he could chalk out a customized care system. I cannot say that anyone in my family of my parents, myself and my child is equipped at this moment to even identify symptoms that may lead to a near future health catastrophe at home, let alone what to do in case of an emergency. Like everything else in life, perhaps health of family members should not be left out to adhoc arrangements.

There are states in India where best practices, pilot projects and examples of successful family based care exist, however, unfortunately, health policies or even guidelines in primary healthcare systems omit this most important area of healthcare. If family and community-based healthcare is made stronger, and well connected with health facilities and medical practitioners, much of our health expenses could be reduced. In a country where the out of pocket expenses in healthcare are the highest in the world and families are pushed into poverty each day due to medical expenses, family-based care could perhaps help us in many ways. For one, knowing someone in the family is a designated care giver and formally trained (beyond google!) to respond during an emergency situation would help me sleep well!

[1] Ana Langer et.al. Women and Health: The key for sustainable development (2016). The Lancet Commissions, Vol386, September 19.

Neighborhood Engagement

The roads in my neighborhood are in a bad shape. For the last month, the municipality has been digging and filling and digging them again for revamping sanitation, kitchen gas and water pipelines. Working professionals in the neighborhood had to make alternate arrangements for transport since parking and plying cars was a great hassle (especially those with small children who had to get to school by 7:30am in the cold wintry mornings!). Small businesses such as vegetable, fish, fruit, houseware vendors bore the brunt too, as practically there was no movement through the neighborhood streets. There were no flyers or communication regarding what the municipal officials set out to do, how long it would take and how we could all cooperate. Hence, like many other decisions in the past, common citizens were once again expected to abide by adhoc policies and implementation procedures that someone somewhere may have designed, keeping the community in mind, but without minding to inform them.

Why do most government programmes fail? Why do citizens often associate well designed programmes with election gimmicks? Time and time again, I have seen the same in my work area of public health too. One big factor is the total closure of communication with beneficiaries -who ultimately define the success or failure of the entire programme!

Sometimes I wish we could borrow a few learnings from the marketing departments of commercial businesses. New products introduced in the market go through a rigorous process of research evidence, pilot testing, people engagement and proper canvassing. Although many a times these can be extended beyond reason for profit making, but without proper need assessment and participatory engagement, projects are on a downhill trajectory.

However, the present irritation in the neighborhoods has not been a bad experience so far. Through this process, I recognized a few neighbors with great potential in community engagement. A reclusive neighbor from the adjacent house came out with a flask containing tea, some paper tea cups and packets of cookies for the workers on our street. In India, daily wage earners mostly work in all construction/infrastructure projects. Men and women completing the physically challenging work of digging the dirty roads, could at least spend 5-10 minutes refreshing themselves with a hot cup of tea. Another neighbor led an active engagement with the workers. Asking them how long they would take, what utilities they were covering, and informing the neighborhood of the same. It was only through his information, that I could plan out my alternate transport schedule for the 4 weeks. One other proactive neighbor informed about the application forms for the new gas pipelines, without which, our house would have been surely left out from this initiative.

Although my neighborhood is covered in a mass of dust and people are constantly sneezing, coughing or both, and although we are on a make shift time plan, scampering around making last minute arrangements for keeping to our daily schedules, I am more or less happy to see that there are definitely some leaders in my neighborhood who act when the time comes with spontaneity and grace. While my contribution to the entire process may be limited to admiring them from my balcony and highlighting them on my minuscule blog or for voicing the lack of information at my neighborhood gossip sessions, the feeling of belonging to a community, of being part of a proactive neighborhood is motivating and cheerful.

A ‘Christmas’ moment

End of the year is not a very happy time for me. It brings with it the assessment of my ‘happy meter’ for the year gone by and in some year the meter is not really turning in a clockwise direction. This year things are a bit different, with a promise of new venture and new direction in the new year. Although there is no surety of these taking the happy meter in the right direction, but one can only hope for the best before starting on a new journey.

Today is Christmas, a festival I have always associated with peace and warmth. Like all festivals, it brings together family members connecting them physically or in spirit over long distances. The perfect Christmas moment for me today was when I sat down with my family to eat a hot breakfast in the morning. It was a very simple semolina porridge that I had made, with aroma and spices from my childhood spent in southern India (and a little help from YouTube). But the togetherness and warmth of sharing a meal was hugely satisfying.

At that moment, I also wished that each and every one of us experiences these simple happy moments. Irrespective of our needs, aspirations, lacunae in life, of facing life’s challenges alone, or with friends and family; deserve these tiny flashes of positive energy to help us tug forward.

This weekend I also watched a few mini series on Netflix. One of them was the British detective drama, Paranoid. I loved the character of Lucy, who had changed her life from one of self indulgence to self realization. I identified with her and the happy zone she was in and the process of change that she practiced. Life changing experiences help us grow towards a more inclusive environment. I haven’t yet understood the ‘present’ moment concept of Buddhism, as past is important to me, but I value the present moment, as each of these are opportunities to make a balanced choice, a balanced decision. Each present moment is a chance at moving towards a higher self, irrespective of the baggage of the past that we all carry with ourselves.

And hence, simple happy moments in life reinforce the power of hope. Tomorrow may not turn out to be as bright as today, but the day after holds the promise of being better than today, isn’t it?

Who knows how 2018 will shape up for each one of us, but as long as we all tug along on a path of hope and acknowledge each of these simple pleasures in life, our year wont be too bad, would it?

Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings and Wishing everyone a brilliant year ahead!

 

Regrets

I have come to realize that the only regret I will ever have when there is a loss in communication with people whom I had once known in the past, would be the inability to share my happiness or sorrow when I need to, in the present time. Relationships change and distance, death, differences of opinion create gaps, hollow vacuums. New people, new circumstances slowly reinstate the balance. But it is difficult to let go of familiarity, of knowing that someone who is no longer with you could have understood your view, understood you exactly the way you wanted to relay it.

This wall you have built around you,

That which now exiles you,

Does sunshine pass through on its way?

For, the same sunshine has warmed my heart,

Before it passed to you, through your wall

Hence, we are bonded in some way

Sometimes, little thoughts of delight

And sometimes, those that I try and fight

Stop me in my steps, midway

And then I wish I could share

These small things with those gone by

With whom I had traveled once

This road of life, for a short while….

MD

Sribble, Srabble….

Journey Home….

Tiny feet, tiny toes, delicate fingers, dot for a nose

Curly locs, cutest smile, brownest eyes with specks of starlight

While you sleep on my lap, sighing sometimes, without a care,

I wonder if you will find my home, to your liking, worth your share

Would you accept me as your mother, my darling little pixie glow?

For I have always known you are the one, from where I came and where I go

We have woven our dreams together in the past, with threads of hope, with desires to last

And even though I haven’t nourished you with my blood and with my health

I will raise you, as mine, with all my soul and all my strength.

But while you sleep on my lap, sighing sometimes, without a care,

I wonder if you will find my home, to your liking, worth your share….

-M

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

You are seven

This year you are seven and soon you will touch eleven,

and then a fine woman you will be, with truth in your step and courage in your hair

through all this though, I wish you joy, for a life that matters, a life that cares

and through it all, I wish you love, a love fulfilling, a love with dreams, with hopes to share

and most of all I wish for you, a life without a hint of pain

For all the pain should end with me, all hardships I am ready to gain

May the sadness in my eyes, never touch your sacred space

For you my darling pixie glow, may only laughter and tenderness remain!

-M