Thursday, December 31, 2015

Diary 1 - leaving the kids home alone

I have taken vacations. My kids have always been a part of those trips. As babies they have slept peacefully enroute and gurgled happily to strangers in foreign lands. As toddlers they have walked away hand in hand with anyone who had candies on offer. As pre teens they have kept themselves occupied with diaries, sketch pads or cameras. In short they love to travel as well. So it came as a bit of a surprise to me when this time they wanted to stay back. The reasons could be many - we were going to Kolkata and not some exotic land that was part of their 'to visit' list, Most of the trip would involve ailing, elderly relatives and the one place that held promise of joy with cousins was already struck out as 'been there, done that'.

"Are you both sure?", I asked one last time.

"Yes ma," they said in unison.

And so it was that I left my 16 year old daughter and 13 year old son for a ten day visit to Kolkata and Shantiniketan. They were not completely unsupervised. My maid stayed the nights and our dogs - all the time. That was safety enough for me. My husband seemed to think I was in charge of this decision and left me to think it through in whatever limited capacity he feels I possess.

The day before the trip :


"More like brunch, ma, we won't be getting up before whatever.."

"Okay brunch then.. any ideas of what you want me to cook?" I asked ticking breakfast off my list.

"Don't worry, we can make maggi, toast and eggs. Also we love milk and the corner store is open 24*7," said one while the other nodded consent.

"I will keep some frozen parathas just in case you feel like.." I said thanking almighty that Maggi was back in stores.


"What about dinner? Sangeetha will cook dog food and she will make the basics like rice, dal and some vegetable for you both. She will not know fancy stuff, so tell me and I can cook and freeze now,"

"It's just ten days ma, you make it sound like forever. We can survive on dal and rice. Food doesn't excite us,"

' I am sure' I thought feeling a little silly. 'Think of things that excite them and then forbid them from doing those' my instincts told me. 'Aaah so now I am being clever,'

"So what do you guys plan to do while home alone hmm?"

"Not like we can party, so just sleeping, watching movies on the laptops.."

"Hmm are you planning on calling friends over?"

"They are all travelling, well most of them are.."

"Well, rule number 1 is that you guys are not going to anyone's house and neither is anyone coming home. Okay?"


"It is just 10 days and it will pass, once I am back I will take you around,"

"Okay," they said and I walked away wondering if I had missed something.

I did take them shopping for supplies and for someone who said food doesn't excite us, they managed to buy two cart loads of junk. On the drive back home I went through the drill once again.

"Check on all the doors and windows at night. Switch on the lights after sun set, don't read in the dark, please, I don't like to think of you both in a dark house, it's so gloomy the way you just stay on and on without switching on the lights.."

 "We do switch on the lights ma, it's just that our eyes can see better than yours.. " they giggled at their joke.

"Not funny.."

"Walk the dogs and always have clean water in their bowls,"

"Will do," they said ripping a bag of chips from the rear seat.

"All the emergency numbers are stored, right?"

"Yes," they said giggling at some private joke.

"I will be in touch, ofcourse, keep your phones handy," I said not expecting a response but did catch the eye roll on the rear view mirror.

Day of travel :

We were packed and waiting at the front door for our pick up. The dogs were stressed about the suitcases and pranced about the house trying to decide which one of us was travelling and which one was responsible for their food now. They finally reached the correct conclusion and settled at my daughter's feet, vehemently licking her.

My husband hugged the kids and so did I. Mine lingered till they let go. The car honked and we were on our way. The kids waving in their night dresses, the dogs panting with tongues out and the winter blooms cheerful.

Then like a flash a thought struck me. I had in my best ability ensured that the stay here was as  safe as possible for my kids but what if our plane crashed? what then would happen to these two, alone in a country far away from everyone. My throat dried up and I knew it was too silly a thought to even share with my husband. I allowed it to tide over me and eventually pass.

An over active imagination is not very wholesome when you have kids.

Friday, December 18, 2015


Traveling to be with my cousins for 10 days. Will return with diaries of a wedding, a trip and time spent without my kids.

Happy holidays everyone. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Moms and teenage boys

Being a mother is not for the faint hearted. The journey is back breaking but let me assure you there are views to melt your heart after you have climbed the hills and crossed the mud. Even in between the cross roads you might catch a butterfly taking flight, if you have the eye for it.

But that is me being poetic, the real version in my house now is slamming of doors, seized gadgets, negotiated homework times and bedtimes, endless pep talks that leave me pepped and the children frozen. When they are not fighting with me they are fighting with each other and then there are the days when dad steps in the game and turns on the heat.

Officially at 13 I have internally declared my son to be a young man. He is hovering over manhood. On certain days he takes massive steps towards independence - both likeable and "flinchable" (I coined that word right now). He comes forward to carry the grocery for me or open doors and pull out the chair which I like, and with equal elan, on other days, he slams the door of his room on my face and stays in bed for hours at end breaking the family rules all at once - flinchable. It is a struggle for sanity and equilibrium. Puberty is a process and does not happen overnight. When I see him as the young man that he is physically, I have to remind myself to also see the child that is not completely gone yet. The two are so blended together, each taking an erratic dominant front that it leaves me confounded.

My husband doesn't understand naps, and associates them with laziness or the elderly.  If my son is in a moving car without distractions, he easily passes out asleep. On weekends, he sleeps till we are tired of him sleeping. I know that I should be worrying about this if he was 29 and living in my basement unemployed and sleeping all day but at 13, his body is telling him it needs more rest. On most days I don't remember this and I assume that the sleep is a reflection of his lack of ambition and end up feeling like the mom of the unemployed 29 year old.

He is a growing boy for sure. The fridge empties in the wink of an eye. He has his "I love.." foods but he is willing to grab anything that his hand can reach and then work his way down the shelves till even the salad dressing is empty. He can cause severe embarrassment in front of guests when I offer them goodies only to find empty packets and jars in the pantry. 

I've always been very open in our home and use the real words for sexual acts and body parts. It seems a long way from this incident and as a mother of a teenage boy I know that at some point, we come to a fork in the road. I can talk about emotions, feelings and respecting your partner. I can also hit on the staying safe parts. The how-to-actually-do-this-stuff questions go to his Dad. Really? They obviously go to his friends or youtube.

My son was one of those kindergartners who had to be carried to school. He thrived on hugs and kisses. Now he walks three steps ahead of us in public.He still freely comes up to me and gives me the odd hug. The difference of course is that he does it when no one is looking. Dads sometimes don't read the signs so well. Unlike other cool dads, his dad can't stay in the stands and watch his game. He is on the field shouting his head off - a source of incessant embarrassment.Parents, as a rule, should assume invisibility when their own teens are around.

He guards his space as furiously as his 16 year old sister. He might not demand it the way she does with a PMS sulk, and being careless and forgetful he might not remember to hide away his personal things beyond the eyes of his helicopter mom, but incidents of him busting me are more than I would like to admit. Previously it was fine to be arranging his things, looking through his books and bed. Now the same action rubs him the wrong way and hell breaks loose.

This is just the start, I am told. It is a long way ahead. The journey of hills and flowers, rains and butterflies is tedious and exhausting. I wish I had the map of Dora and could be as adventurous an explorer as her. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

Raja Rani ki bakwaas kahani (An apology of a love story)

“Sorry, she is around. We are discussing some issues plus she wants me to sleep early and workout tomorrow. Can’t chat. Later.”

She felt it like a blow in her gut. Drained of all her energy that usually built up over the course of the day to finally find a release during this time when she had him to herself. The door slammed on all of that.

“Goodnight, sleep well” she messaged and creeped out of her toilet with the phone tucked in her bra. 

Stealthily she crawled on to her side of the bed and lay down no different from the creepy crawlies of the night she so hated. Her husband of 20 years slept peacefully, or so she assumed.

The misadventure had started on her last trip home. It had been a devastating trip on every account. She had rushed to India at the news of her brother’s death and in the month that she stayed there she met the man who had left her at the altar 21 years ago. She told herself that she was vulnerable and it was natural to find solace in a man who had courted her relentlessly for years and so she agreed to one lunch and then another and then a few more.

He said he realised, now, what a mistake he had made when he succumbed to family pressure and married a rich girl instead of her, and she believed. She felt good that he realised, that he found her attractive still to say this.

They chatted every opportunity they got, reliving the past and making the present selfishly messy. The future – did not occur to them. Love they called it. ‘Reconnected’, ‘meant to be together’ were the phrases used. It suited them well; it justified the mindlessness of it all. And then she went back to the country and to the man who had taken care of her broken dreams and helped her carve out a life for herself these past 20 years.

She came home like an empty shell. Her eye was always on the phone, every beep raising her heartbeat, every request for a picture making her change umpteen dresses and shades of lipstick. The selfies with the unnatural pouts filled the gallery of her phone and she slept less and less each night. The phone that never had a password now had one. It was a ticking bomb ready to explode on all that she called her own, three kids and a devoted husband.

Her day revolved around his messages. She waited like a dog waits for a bone thrown his way. Initially he was eager, he stayed awake till the wee hours to chat with her, but now all she got was a maximum of 5 to 10 minutes a day. Curbing her self-respect she asked him why. “Busy,” he said and she believed yet again. Her life though she had blissfully changed to fit him in. She was never busy for him.

When pouts didn’t work, she played mind games. She controlled her urge to message him and suffered withdrawal symptoms like an addict. If he still did not get in touch, she sent a causal joke hoping to sound breezy and yet get noticed. She changed her profile picture and put up a loaded status message. When he did take the bait she felt like she could eat again, breathe again.

“Rajja I still love you…”

“Say it again, just one more time...”

“I checked the tyre pressure in your car and got the tank full. Going now, your breakfast is on the kitchen table. See you in the evening,” the husband said from outside the toilet door.

“See you,” she said in a matter of fact voice her fingers flying over her phone’s keypad. It was the time she had him just to herself. She was lapping up the treat that had been thrown her way.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Special - you and I

In a room full of people speaking Russian, you are the only one who does not speak or understand that language. Some are loud and boisterous, some tensed and a few roaring with laughter. What do you do? They are looking at you, pointing towards you, asking you questions you don’t understand, making gestures that you feel incapable of comprehending as they vary across cultures. What do you do?

You look for visual cues, for a kind face, a smile, a quiet place to organise your thoughts. You try and seek the familiar amongst all that is otherwise.

Every day a special child is faced with such a situation socially. He is pushed out of his comfort zone into the unknown and just like you he hopes for a kind face, a smile and a hand that says,  ‘We can try together – you and I’. If you are willing to be that face and that hand for him, he can also teach you so much more than you ever thought possible.

Just by being around them and seeing them try so hard, it becomes difficult not to exceed your own limitations. I am a quiet person. I can address issues on mail, I can write stories and I can make posters about autism awareness, but when it comes to advocacy in the form of public presentations that involve talking in front of a crowd (read more than 3 people) I panic.  That’s usually when I think of all the special children I know. I am not thinking of just their needs, I am gaining confidence from them, from seeing them try to make sense of a world that does not function in a manner they can follow. I tell myself, “Just like them, I can do this” and I let the first words flow out of me. It is a gift to be working with special children and I feel lucky that I have the opportunity.

This post is dedicated to the special people who help us to look at the world humanely. They give another angle to the debate of  intolerance, they jump out of their boxes and pull us out of ours. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Invisible strings

Sophia was diagnosed with autism just a month after her third birthday. Diagnosed as “non-verbal, low functioning” Autism. The parents didn’t know what to expect. Today, Sophia is a beautiful girl of nine and in the third grade. In class she spends a good portion of the time with her peers, reading books, and writing. She recently started doing double digit math and subtraction. Every day is a bit of a miracle and a lot of resilience.

“Being home during the summer meant being somewhere so familiar that I had long since acclimated to the sensory data of the surroundings. The lighting, sounds, tactile variations…my mind was used to it all and did not have to work as hard to process the never-ending stream of incoming data.”

The familiar is peaceful. Change is the opposite. Change means the senses are raw and exposed and under attack.  School was always that opposite after a summer immersed in the sensory familiarity of home to Edwin.

A new school year would mean not just a different setting, but one that included a huge number of different rooms and activities. The classroom had one set of sensory experiences (the sound of pencils being sharpened, the peppery scents they caused, chair legs scraping floors, etc)…the hallway had another set (rowdy kids, their echoing voices)…the playground had its own range of sensory experiences, as did the lunchroom, the bathrooms and so on.

It takes Edwin’s mind quite a while to acclimate to any new environment. And school is a dozen new environments all rolled into one. He puts up a brave front and gets on the bus every day. He looks away when his parents wave. He constantly leaves the comfort of familiar to the awkward and prickly pressures of the new. I can understand his not wanting to wave now.


“Every school day I stand by the bus as my twins get buckled into their seats. I wait and I wave. When Grandma is there she watches me and says something like, ‘Do they see you?’ or ‘I don’t think they care about waving today’ and I never answer those statements. I wave goodbye every day until the bus turns left, and they can’t see me waving,” says Patricia, mom to a set of twins, both on the spectrum.

“Have my two autistic daughters ever waved back? No, not yet, but I still keep waving, because I’m mom, and that’s what moms do. Because one day, my girls will wave back; one day, “bye-bye” will be part of their social world. Or, because one day there will be another moment, like when Angel looked directly into my eyes with recognition and pushed her tiny hand against the bus window as I waved. She kept her hand on the window until the bus turned left and I couldn’t see her anymore. So, yes, I wave. I wave every day.”

Today’s post is my gift to all mothers of children with milestone delays or delayed development. They strive every day to teach their children, to presume competence, to hold their expectations high enough, to embrace their child’s differences and yet carefully recognise the fact that it could take up to 2,000 repetitions for a child with special needs to learn something that a typical child will likely learn in 200 repetitions. They balance expectations every day — not too low, not too high and realise that in addition to being Moms, they get to see miracles at work and play.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Two lives

She works hard from daybreak to nightfall. Some households treat her well, give her a cup of tea when she looks frail, others not so. She still wishes them each day for her bread is earned from them.
The children go to school because of her. The daughter is quite a good student and has dreams, the son is not too keen, a bit spoilt like in most households.

She walks home through the shanty town alleyways with a small bag of vegetables and a bottle of kerosene. Street fights, drunken brawls, cat calls and leering gazes greet her. She dreads to think that her daughter faces the same. Her little corner of the earth is visible now and her steps quicken.
The metal sheet that serves as a door is ajar. The fragrance of fresh garlands and incense greet her. Her son takes the bag and the bottle from her hand talking a dime to a dozen.

She looks towards the stove, her husband smiles. His legs paralysed after a factory accident, he is cooking their frugal meal. He gives her a glass of tea and a fresh jasmine string for her hair.
The evening sets into a multitude of stars.

The deal had been successful. A big round of applause and firm hand shakes mingled with tinkling crystal. Soft laughter and polite conversations matched the heady opulence of the decor as well as the wine list. She felt at ease here. Suitably cocooned in her Prada suit and Jimmy Choo stilettos, she felt confident.

Her mother always said, "If you don’t study, you wouldn’t get a job and end up marrying a man who might not respect you. A woman dependent on her man for livelihood is no good than the flesh at a butchers shop."

She had done better than that. She savoured her moment with a sip of the finest champagne. Her mother had long passed away but maybe she would have been proud, maybe not. She had always been tough to please.

Between the serve and volleys of casual flirtation and the negotiations on budget approval, she decided to call it a night. The drive back home for her, unlike the others, was a long one.

An hour's drive at a steady pace of 120 kmph got her home. The bedroom light was on. It was past 1 am by her watch. She smiled as she unlocked the door and walked through the foyer and up the stairs. Walls lined with memories of baby squeals, awkward teenage years and smart graduation celebrations unfurled upon her.

She softly opened the bedroom door.
"You are awake, " it was not a question, just a pleasant surprise.
He looked up with no recognition in his eyes. She was already going through the process of undressing him.

Gently the tie came off first, followed by the blazer, the socks and the shoes. She spoke to him about her day and he sat there looking at her trying to make meaning of her words.

"Let's go to the toilet, shall we honey? and then we will be ready for bed," she led and he followed.

She slipped the brochures advertising the care homes for alzheimer's patients in the bin by her bedside, turned off the lights and put her arms around her husband.

She could be at ease anywhere but she was home only where he was.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A journey - final part

That night she and Bob went to a pub that played karaoke every Thursday. It was a lively crowd and they sat getting acquainted with each other. Bob had never been married. He was American and had long retired from his army career. He owned a  sail boat and a small place by the ocean. He had no regrets he said.

"Decide on a song from the list Alanah. I would love to hear you sing."
She was going through the list offhandedly since they had been given the list. She looked up and smiled. And wrote a number to the bartender.

Now you say you're lonely
You cry the long night through
Well, you can cry me a river
Cry me a river
I cried a river over you

Her voice was mellifluous and carried the poignancy of the lyrics beautifully. Bob was quiet after the song.

"What happened to Pegaso?" he asked as he drove her home that night.
"Another day maybe. If we meet again." she smiled
"A man can hope," he said as he stopped at her gate and she got off and waved.

The next morning Lila arrived.

"Mom you seem distracted, are you okay?"

"Distracted, how do you mean?"

"Well for one, you have not spoken about Hazel like I thought you would."

Lila seemed upset. Alanah looked up from the plate of salad at her gorgeous daughter. Youth glowed on her face. The skin aflame, the eyes ablaze, how beautiful Lila was she thought.

"I am not talking about Hazel because I don't want to upset you more than you already are my angel,"

"No, it's something else mom, I can feel it. You would have been distraught, besides yourself, but you are not. Your mind is not even on our lunch date. You are elsewhere Mom. Talk to me," lila coaxed holding her mother's hand across the table.

"Well , if you really want to know, I have met someone," Alanah shrugged with a smile and an eye roll.

"Good for you Mom. Do you like him? Who is he, is he from these parts?"

 Alanah nodded to all the questions but kept looking down at her plate. She felt she needed time before she could really talk to her daughter about this. But Lila was excited and that was her age.

As they walked inside the house after Lunch Lila asked if she could meet Bob on this trip.
"We will see," Alanah said casually. She had not allowed herself to take it to any other level than karaoke night.

"Will you unpack the boxes in your room sweetheart and take the things that you care for. I really must sort things out and clear out unwanted junk. The boxes have been there for ages," Alanah told her daughter. They were sitting in the patio looking at the sun set over the sea.

 "Lila nodded and got up, " better late than never Mom," she smiled and went in.

It must have been a while before Lila's voice woke her up from her slumber. She had dozed off in her rocking chair on the patio.

 "Mom look what I found,"
She was holding a picture of the three of them. It was taken in this patio and everything was the same including the furniture placement. Only time had passed. Alanah looked younger than Lila was now and Lila was a baby gurgling in Pegaso's arms. It was a very happy picture.

Putting on her glasses Alanah took the picture in her hand and looked at it. She made her daughter sit beside her on the sofa and said, " I loved your dad. You know that, don't you?"

"Of course mom. You were the best thing that could have happened to him and to me."

"I still love your dad sweetheart, I always will. No matter what I choose to do in the future. "

"Mom I am surprised that you didn't like someone earlier. I am delighted for you Mom and please don't think otherwise"

"Dad left you mom. He went away to find his happiness. He chose someone over what he had with us. You deserve the same. I don't know what took you so long mom,"

Alanah laughed softly at her daughter's youthfulness, "Life is a bit more complicated than that darling, and love, well, love is a different game altogether. There is no place for spite in it. It flows in and out of your life like a river with a mind of its own. You cannot control it, only accept it when it comes knocking on your door. You will realise one day."

Bob and Alanah waved as Lila went in the airport to board her flight back to Ireland. As the airport gates closed behind Lila, Bob put his arms around the frail woman beside him and kissed her softly.

"Would you like to go sailing with me?" He asked.

"Yes," She nodded and they walked back to the car hand in hand.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

A journey - part 4

"Why don't we girls take a cruise? Who all are game?"

"Hmm, sounds interesting. What month do you have in mind Carol?"

"How about next month? There is a cruise ship stopping here, we can book tickets. A month long cruise with the best luxury money can buy. Aaaah, I think it is well deserved."

"Count me out, I get terribly sea sick," said Rosa.

"Alanah why are you so quiet? something on your mind?"

It was the regular bridge and lunch date the women had at the retirement complex up the golf greens. Alanah usually enjoyed the company of her friends. Today she was occupied with thoughts of the past and the future.

"Hmm no no. I am right here with you all. What was it you were discussing? A cruise.. heavens no! I am not going on any cruise. Especially with cantankerous old ladies like you," she laughed gently and evaded the topic.

Her eyes met across their table to a man seated at the far end. He had grey hair, a weathered and swarthy tan, smoking a pipe he sat reading the newspaper. He tipped his head at her and smiled. She looked away and chided herself at being so childish. The rest of the afternoon was smooth with laughter, shared memories and some community gossip.

"Hello there, I hoped to speak to you back there,"

"Oh hello. Yes, yes, I did see you at the greens the other day,"

He smiled. It was a gentle smile not revealing much apart from white, even teeth.

" I am Bob, I am new here. I was wondering if you would be free to have lunch with me?"

Alanah looked at her watch, "Oh hi Bob, I am Alanah. Uhmm it is time for lunch, why not," she said.

He laughed a hearty infectious laugh, " No, no. I didn't mean now. I will ask you out properly. This is no way. Give me your number, I will call you,"

A bit taken aback, a bit flushed, she felt also a bit foolish. Yet the laughter pulled her and she decided to get into the game. "Do you have a pen?"

"No, but I have a great memory,"

"Well then, here goes, 99-563-8435"

"I will call you," said he as he drove past.

She smiled and entered the supermarket for her weekly groceries.

It had been fifteen years since she had been out with a man. She had not missed the company. The initial years she was busy with the upkeep of the garage and Lila was young as well. She had her hands and mind full and the hours in the day seemed less. But now things were different.

She had sold the pump to a good price and invested the money wisely. Lila had a life of her own. The days were long but she prided in sticking to a routine and kept herself physically and mentally occupied. She had her garden, her friends and most importantly, she had Hazel. The thought of the dog made her sad. Hazel was not keeping well at all. She would have to take her to the vet and put her to sleep. Alanah was preparing to mourn again, to say goodbye.

She put on a record that evening. She had forgotten how well she sang and how much she loved music. With Pegaso at home, music was never far. There was always a record playing, or he teaching the Ukulele to Lila. She missed it, she thought now. With her wine she sat in her kitchen going through the old pictures. Hazel sat on the rug, eyes closed, laboured breath. She would miss her pitter-patter steps down the stairs, following her around the house, getting the newspaper, her snores on her bed, her warm coat and her soft breath. She continued to look at the album and she let herself get lost in those faraway memories.

The ring of the phone startled her. She looked at the watch, it was 8 in the evening.

"Hello," she greeted, keeping her voice steady.

"Hi Alalanah, this is Natalie from the vet clinic. Have you decided yet? I am sorry to rush you like this, but the more she stays, the difficult it will get for her. I hope you understand,"

"Oh yes of course, Natalie. I am sorry, I did mean to give you a call today, I guess I have been evading this. Uhmm, I will bring her in tomorrow, is that okay? One more night with my Hazel"

"Yes of course. I will set things up for 9 tomorrow morning. I am sorry Alanah. Goodnight."

She put down the receiver, closed the album, checked the doors, switched off the lights and slowly walked up the stairs with Hazel. That night, after many years, Hazel put her head on her lap. She had stopped doing this since she was a pup. Alanah was awake most of the night, talking to Hazel, telling her about the wonderful new place she would be going to.

She woke with a start, it was just before 6 in the morning, her alarm had not set off yet. She must have slept off. She looked around her. "Hazel, Hazel" she called out gently. Getting out of her bed she walked down the stairs still calling out for her.

Hazel lay by the door, alone. she didn't move, didn't look, just lay there with her breath coming in spurts.

She was a big dog to carry, but Alanah managed. While driving to the clinic she called Natalie. They were ready for her when she reached. She got time alone with Hazel to say her final goodbye and then they injected her to ease all pain.

It was a totally empty house Alanah came back to. She put down her keys, her sunglasses and her bottle of water on the table top near her front door. She removed her coat and hung it and all the time her ears were alert to the footfalls of an eager pup who ran to welcome her in , familiar to the homecoming sounds. She took the small, ornate box of ashes that she had got back from the crematorium and put it up on the mantle next to the family pictures. Hazel would stay there from now. She must call Lila and let her know, but not yet. Let her have some more time.

It was then that the phone rang. She looked at the time, it was 9.

"Hello Alanah, Bob here. I did remember your number," He laughed a soft laugh.

to be continued...

Monday, October 19, 2015

A journey - part 3

She had let go of her country and her family, but she could not let go of her penchant for Irish stews. Every night whatever be the weather, she made a pot of stew. It brought back memories of her mother and cold Irish nights. She sat outside with her dinner, the courtyard looking out to the sea with fairy lights twinkling on the fence. On nights like these Pegaso didn't seem gone. She missed his salad of potatoes and feta that complimented her stew so well. She missed his dark tan, unruly black curls and his broad, unlined face. 

Alanah had been happy in her marriage. Pegaso was not lazy like his other friends. He did not waste time at the local bars. He had his moods, but he also had his endearing ways. He loved to sing, he played the ukulele to Alanah often, he cooked for her whenever she was over-worked, and he was patient with her on nights that she cried for her parents and family back in Ashbourne. He loved to play with her long red hair, arrange bluebells in them, braid and un-braid them till he was asked to stop lest they got tangled. 

Events had shaped her life throughout. Some she had an active hand in, others she stumbled upon. After six years of leaving Ireland, Lila was born. It had been a very difficult pregnancy. Even the birth of their grand daughter had not been able to soften her parents stand. It had been a busy time, but a happy one. 

The ring of the telephone broke Alanah's reverie. 
"Hello, mum. Where have you been? I left so many messages for you. You did not call back. Are you okay? I got worried"
"Oh Lila, yes of course, sorry, I just forgot...."
"Oh well, so is it okay if I come to visit? I umm need to book the dates"
"Yes, yes, it is. Please do come. It has been a while since you visited darling."
"Okay mum, see you soon. Did I interrupt your dinner?"
"Not really sweetie, I was done. See you soon."
"Well then nighty night"
"Good night darling."

She smiled as she put down the receiver. Who would have thought that Lila would choose to live and work in Ireland, a few hours away from the street she was born and raised in. She listened to
the radio as she tidied up the kitchen. Taking a glass of wine she slowly walked up the stairs to her bedroom. Hazel followed a step behind. The window of her bedroom overlooked their garage and pumping station. It stood proud, a testimony of her hard work and determination and also sadly the venue of another defining event of her life. But today she would not think sad thoughts.

Alanah opened the book to where she had left off last and patted hazel. She perched her reading glasses over her nose, sipped from her glass and started to read.

to be continued...

Friday, October 16, 2015

A journey - part2

The house was silent except for Hazel snoring. The early morning light filled the window frame and the sea glinted blue at a distance. The alarm buzzed like always, it was 6 am. Alanah woke up and patted hazel, "Did you sleep better last night?" she asked the dog. Hazel was getting on in years and slept uneasy mostly.

Climbing out of the bed, Alanah pulled a cardigan over her  shoulders and knotting her hair she stood at her window looking out at the blue bell sea. It never failed to take her breath away. She had lived a lifetime beside it. Hazel followed her down the stairs to the kitchen. she let her out and put on the kettle. The phone was blinking and she switched on the voice mail to check for messages.

"Hi Ma, I was wondering if it was okay, umm, if I came home for a couple of days? I got a free ticket against my frequent flier miles and umm thought of using it to come and visit you. Will Tuesday be fine? lemme know okay.. bbbyee"

Alanah smiled and went to the patio with her tea. She had always loved the mornings. Her days started early and the freshness of the flowers and the view of a beautiful new day being born cheered her up. Lila would be thirty soon. Gorgeous Lila with her clear blue eyes and dark hair, so different from her own. Putting down her cup she rose to start her walk and Hazel followed. Both lived a life of solitude and routine. They had come a long way together. Steady steps downhill to the town, a woman of sixty with more salt than pepper in her wild mane carefully tucked under a sun hat now and a Labrador retriever of 12 with painful joints but an eager heart. The quaint island of Lipsi stretched out languorously in front.

"Hey there, I knew I would catch you around here," waved Rosa,"will you come for the event tonight at the club?" she panted walking towards her friend, " Carol and Lucy will be there too, it will be so much fun. I just can't wait myself."

"What event," smiled Alanah, "oh, you don't mean the twenty second dating game do you? For heaven's sake Rosa spare me."

"And why would I do that? It is fun, it is called socialising. We meet men who are our age, we chat and heaven knows, we might come across one that we want to talk to for more than twenty seconds. What is the harm in that?"

"No harm, no harm. Just leave me out of it please, will you. I will see you girls for our regular bridge session. You can fill me on the juicy details then," Alanah smiled with a twinkle in her eyes as she patted her friend's hand and walked on.

Life had not been easy, but it had given her enough. She was not searching for anything anymore. She was at peace with her existence. "I must not forget to call Lila," she reminded herself. Hazel followed her at a much slower pace and she had to wait once in a while to prod the dog along with her gentle words. She remembered the day Lila brought her in, a few weeks old ball of fluff that blinked at her with her toffee coloured eyes. They had bonded instantly.

It would be extremely difficult to part with her, but as the vet kept telling her, it would be soon now. She must be prepared to let go. She smiled at the thought. letting go, she should be an expert by now on that. She felt a oneness with the island she lived on. Like the cruise ships that came and left its shores, so had people come and gone in her life. She had loved and she had let go.

Starting with her parents back in Ireland and of course her sisters. She had tried for many years to keep in touch, sending them pictures and letters along with her monthly payback of the money borrowed. She had never received a reply. Her brow creased as she thought of her father having left the world without giving her a chance to say goodbye. Her mother had been kinder, she had spoken over the telephone with her, though in short, hesitant tones. It was the only call she received from Ireland in all the years and soon after her mother had passed away too.

At a distance she saw the greens of the retirement home and the adjoining club. She smiled at the thought of her friends and their excitement about the event tonight. "Was it possible to love again, the same way that you did the first time?" she asked herself, "Was it possible to see Pegaso in some other man? To hear the tunes of his flute, to see the crinkle of his eyes, the dimple in his chin? Would the flowers always be blue bells? Would he know that she liked her tea with a bit of lemon and no sugar? Was there time to find out anymore?"

"Come Hazel, time to go back home"
The word home always made the dog trot a little quicker, her eyes gave the toffee twinkle and her mouth broadened into the sweetest grin ever. Yes home was a joyful word.

to be continued

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A journey - part 1

The room on the first floor was her favourite. It was always warm and smelt of books and memories.

“Alanah,” her mamma called from the kitchen, “come on down now lassie, you will be late.”

She collected her things and swept another look at the room, taming her wild, red hair into a presentable form, she flew down the narrow steps to the kitchen for breakfast. The others were already halfway through the first meal of the day.

“Late again, my little one,” smiled her father, “now you will hurry with your porridge and leave it unfinished.”

“Look at all your friends, this summer they have all shot up and filled out. And look at you- all that is getting any nourishment is your hair,” said her mother from the counter packing apples and bread for her children’s lunch.

“Rapunzel,” teased her siblings. She had two older sisters.

The little town of Ashbourne was where the O’Rourkes lived, a regular, religious, working class Irish family. The usual banter of the morning always had Alanah taking part with witty repartees but things were a bit different now.  She had met Pegaso. He was from beyond the land of her text books. He was from Greece. Tall, dark and unimaginably handsome, Pegaso was foreign to her part of the world. The mystery along with his looks was intoxicating.

Pegaso worked at the nearby garage. She saw him every day on her way to school. He was exciting, nothing like the boys in her class and he always had a ready smile for her. One day as she passed the garage, he stood there with a bunch of wild flowers.

“For you pretty girl,” he said in a faraway accent.

Unsure of herself and conscious of her friends, Alanah walked away without a backward glance. Evening saw those flowers on her doorstep, a sweet reminder of the morning. His words played on and on in her mind as she helped her mother set the dinner table, as she studied, as she sat listening to her father talk about his day. Never once did the smile or the blush of her fair skin abandon her.

There was nothing much that interested her since then. Her world started spinning around the morning smiles. She hoped to have a lone chance meeting with this stranger, but never once did her cackling friends leave her side.

“I am running late today, you all carry on, won’t you? Will meet you later’” almost begged Alanah to her friends
“It’s alright lovely; take your time, it’s just school we have to go to, not a party. There’s no hurry,” said her friends.
With a sigh and a grunt she met them for her walk to the school. Love can be many things, it can affect the young heart in many ways, but it is always beautiful in its first tentative steps. And so it was for Alanah.

On days she saw him cycling behind her, at a safe distance. On certain nights if she looked out of her window she spotted him looking up at her. She often imagined a meeting with him. She thought about all the things they would tell each other. She wanted to know so much about him and yet it never happened and she didn’t know how to arrange a meeting with this mysteriously beautiful man.
 Irish winters are known to be mild. But that year the nights turned icy. It had been quite a few days that Alanah had not seen him. She was worried. Had he left? Was he ill? She could not stop thinking. On a cold, dreary night Alanah gathered her billowing skirt and her courage and swept across the streets from her home with a blanket tugged under her arm. She reached the garage and knocked at the side door with a drum beating in her heart. The door opened and Pegaso filled its frame.

He smiled, a lop-sided grin that crinkled his eyes and she was at a loss of words. Her imagination left her. Holding onto the blanket she stood there; a funny, little picture.

 “What have you here little woman?” asked the strange accent. “Come on in, let me make you a cup-o-tea, its cold out there,” the voice continued.
 Alanah managed a shy smile and thrust the blanket towards him and ran into the darkness, her hair a halo behind her.

Unknown to her, life had taken a turn that night. She would grow with this, she would learn, she would travel outward and deep inside, she would gain, she would lose, she would reach her core and grow again. She did not know all this then. She was not even 18. Her pale cheeks had a glow in them. Her eyes shone like emeralds and her hair carried the spring of Ireland in them while her heart carried the love of a stranger.

Spring turned to summer and before she knew it, the school finals were looming in front of her. At times when you love someone, you distance yourself from every other relationship. It’s sad, but it happens. Love can be selfish in its naiveté, love can be ruthless in its single mindedness and love can be foolish in its blindness. Alanah had set her mind on travelling with Pegaso to Greece. Exams were not on her list at all. Her friends tried to talk her out of this, but to no avail. She fought with her mother. Her father was quiet, ashamed that his offspring could betray his trust in such a manner. He distanced himself from Alanah. It hurt her to see this and yet she continued.

“What is Greece like? Is it as beautiful as Ashbourne?” asked Alanah one day.
“It is like the bluebells I pick for you,” said he as he clipped one on her hair “Like the sky of the summer afternoons here”
A dream was being spun on a spindle with blue and white yarn. Alanah was determined to start her life in Greece.

Every evening at 7:30 a bus left for Belfast. The summer of 1970 saw Pegaso and Alanah take that bus out of Ashbourne. He had a small case, he gathered no moss. Alannah had a big bag plus a case. She had taken all the money her father, a school teacher, had saved for her university education and marriage. She would return them, of course, as soon as Pegaso's petrol pump became a success in Lipsi, the island in Greece he called home. The island that would be home to Alanah much more than Ashbourne ever was. Her friends and also her sisters had come to see her off that day; they gave her cakes and sweets for the journey and wished her well.  Her journey began the summer she turned eighteen.

 To be continued

Friday, October 9, 2015

Raising hell

Being a teenager is hard they say, but nothing is harder than being the parent of a teenager. The angelic kid of yesterday now has horns like prickly pears and skin that breaks out into a rash every time I enter her domain. I feel like I am constantly looping in the wheel of her rejection, neglect, or artful critique. Let me add, being pushed away is only the half of it. Raising teenagers becomes that much more stressful and confounding when teenagers interrupt weeks of frostiness with moments of intense warmth and intimacy.

It goes something like this. My daughter gets so busy with her friends, schoolwork and activities that I hardly see her for days. When I do connect, it’s only because I’ve cornered her to run an errand, which she does with an eye roll and a sigh or she has recruited my help with what might literally be a thankless task. Then something knocks her off balance – a run-in with a friend, an unexpected defeat – and she comes in close. Like a swimmer grasping for the edge of the pool after a rough lap, she clings to catch her breath. Bonding supplants eye-rolling, and she shares details about her trying day instead of the usual one-word report. She entertains my advice and may even throw in some gossip. I touch her hair tentatively to feel her horns; they surprise me with their purr. It feels like a dream, almost sinful. She is listening to my words of wisdom and drawing comfort from my physical presence, yes, totally sinful.

Then she pushes me away, hard. She has her breath back and wants to return to the water, her world away from me, and she gets there by pushing off the side of the pool. She might pick the dumbest-fight-ever or criticize me in her sarcastic best (almost gold medal worthy, if there was a competition), or abruptly walk away mid conversation. I might still be stretching in my glorious and sinful dream but she needs to push away as soon as she is restored. To linger feels babyish, which is just about the last thing any normally developing teenager wants to feel.

I sulk, throw a fit, behave like a teenager and slam a few doors. I ignore her and praise the son; over feed the dogs, have conversations with my husband, I do it all and then some more. I muse on becoming unavailable to her during her need. “Why am I doing this to myself,” I ask, “Let her notice my absence, let her want for my company. But being unavailable comes at a cost. Do I really want to miss out on some wonderful, if brief, moments with my daughter? Worse, should she be left without a wall to swim to and have to navigate choppy waters all on her own? I can obtain a measure of protection by readying myself for the kick that will certainly come. When it does, I can strive to be the adult and say, “Hey, that’s not nice”.

I’ve heard exasperated parents refer to their teenagers as “toddlers on hormones”. Nothing seems more difficult than coping with adolescents who are trying to liberate themselves. It tests the strongest of us, even on good days.

With my daughter’s horn changing shade and texture every month, I am set now to see my son grow his own pair of stubbly horns. Is the second time around easier? Will I be more prepared, more accepting perhaps?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Up, up and away...

The photographs are courtesy my husband, Sanjoy. An avid traveller, he also takes pictures as a hobby. These are his thoughts penned by me.

People don’t do this where I come from. They don’t go backpacking around South East Asia and they don’t go chasing lost civilisations across the atlas. The reasons for this are many and complex, to sum it up it is simply not in our culture.
The photographer at Huen Tsang Temple. Sun Moon Lake, Nantou District, Taiwan

I have been living away from home for far too long and the novelty, maybe, of luxurious resorts and touristy locales have lost their charm to me. I wish I could say I did everything I ever wanted to do, but that would be untrue. I only got to fulfil a small fraction of the dreams I held, and in an ironic way, it seems that as I go about ticking things off my ‘bucket’ list, I add up more and more at its end. It is wonderfully addictive, in a very fulfilling, worthwhile sort of way! And although my ‘bucket list’ is now, four years later, much longer than when I started, that is because such experiences change you in your very core, teach you things about yourself, your abilities and desires you had no way of ever knowing before. I consider myself privileged and feel extremely thankful for everything that led me to the eye-opening experiences I had, the people I met and all the marvellously diverse things I learnt from them.

A photograph captures not only a snapshot in its best light, but it also captures memories of the grains that come off the temple walls on my fingertips as I trace the etchings, the Buddha face, the teeth of the Guardian Lion, how hot the sun felt as I climbed the steep and uneven rocks to capture a sunset. A photograph is all of that and more.

Apsara dance at Seam Reap, Cambodia

The exquisite ancient sites litter our planet like treasure maps to our past. Be it the relics of temples on the Nile or in forests of Cambodia, their artworks, architecture and artefacts remind us about our humanity as well as our mortality. One of my personal favourites among the lost cities that I have travelled to is Petra in Jordan. This desert city flourished on frankincense, myrrh and spices until an earthquake destroyed its water system. It was lost to Western knowledge for 1000 years. Petra's architectural mix of Roman, Greek and native Nabatean buildings are carved into the hillside's red rock.

Hindu mythology on the walls of Angkor Bhat, Seam Reap, Cambodia

Ruins of Luxor, Egypt

Facing history at Petra, Jordan

One of the pleasures of my travel is meeting people and getting acquainted with different cultures. Many are alarmed by some of the countries I have visited. They only hear negative stories and stereotypes perpetuated by the mainstream media. And so, it bears repeating: traveling illustrates the inherent kindness in the world. Yes there are dangers out there, but the friends I met these past four years have welcomed me into their homes, and generously offered their time to share a piece of their culture with me. When I take candid shots of people from various cities of the world, they remind me of the generous hospitality I received in that country.

The tattoo guy of Vigan City, Phillipines

Walk on the Great Wall, Beijing, China

The Terminal, Subarnabhoomi International Airport, Bangkok, Thailand

Early morning at Old Quarter, Hanoi, Vietnam

Architectural wonder, Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abudhabi

Supervision, old lady, Vigan City, Phillipines

Last but not the least; travel is not complete without the wonder of architectural splendour. Each country offers a variety of landmark monuments steeped in rich cultural heritage and also in trend setting modernity. From the mosques of the mid-eastern countries depicting the geometrical symmetry of Islamic architecture to the Zen like minimalism of clean lines and monochromes of modern buildings, travel shows us all.
Rolling hills of Batan island, Batanes, Phillipinesiew from the top, Halong Bay, Vietnam

Misty morning at Sun Moon LAke, Nantou district, Taiwan

Rolling hills of Batan island, Batanes, Phillipines

Travelling has taught me to respect how different our lives can be, but even more the shared commonalities. Travel made me look at each new conversation and experience as a chance to learn something new and carry home a nugget of wisdom or a nuance of culture from foreign shores.

Traditional Balinese dancer, Indonesia

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Travellers of the sand

They come silently out of the desert – a herd of camels padding across the sand, snaking in single file through the darkness. The first lifts its head, sniffing at the smoke of our car engines as we turn it off and wait. Then, just as quietly as they had arrived, they all move off, until there is nothing but us, the endless dunes of the Empty Quarter and a sandstorm up ahead.

The al-Hajar Mountains form the towering gateway to Oman's interior. A silent testimony to a time of geological chaos and immense volcanic activity, the range soars dramatically from gravel plain. Climbing precipitous tracks, our jeep heads into a wild rockscape of giant ophiolite rocks, limestone and splintering mudstone. We head towards Snake Canyon and the Wadi Nakhar gorge. Fakhir, my bedu navigator of about 18, points to my left and I see goats graze precariously on the rock face, feeding on clumps of acacia, wild olive, aloe and grasses. In his broken English he talks about his nomad family and adds that his mother makes the best kahwa, the kinds of which even the hotels of Muscat cannot match.

After hours of nerve-racking driving, we reach the lofty canyon rim. Ahead of us is Jebel Shams – the mountain of the sun. At more than 3,000m above sea level, the peak is one of the highest on the eastern Arabian Peninsula. A vulture circles silently above the chasm. We teeter on the edge, gazing at this vast panorama known as Arabia's "grand canyon". At a distance I can see a couple of black and red canvas tents flapping in the breeze, tightly pegged to the sandy terrain.

"Millions of years ago, all this was ocean floor," says the boy. Had I not known this to be a fact I would not have believed him, it seems impossible even to imagine. Hopping of the car, I follow him to a tent. A little girl of about six emerges gesturing excitedly. Her eyes capture me, the kohl is dark and heavy, heightening her brown skin and making her look wise beyond her years. She has her hands full with colourful bracelets, and mountain sandals woven from goat hair, probably she thinks I am a tourist and she is ready with her sales pitch. In the distance the yellow-ochre dunes line the horizon. Sand edges onto the forecourt of my destination of the night.

I get busy with my camera trying to capture as much before night descends. All over the terrain I notice tracks come and go, but Fakhir knows these strange billowing sands well. Those taking self-drive tours often get into trouble here, he tells me. "If you are following the tracks of another vehicle and the tracks disappear, stop immediately." He points to a large patch of sand that looks identical to the kind we are crossing. "See there, quicksand. It's younger and paler than other sand." I can't see any difference.

Slowly darkness sets in and brings with it a fierce breeze that makes my shirt flap and pulls at the turban I have around my head as protection against the sun. Salma, I now know her name, brings me kahwa and I can tell she is fascinated by my equipment. I am too, of her. We sit side by side, with a wall of language between us. Letting her fiddle with my laptop allows me a glimpse into her life as she slowly opens up in her limited English. She shares her spartan tent with her parents and nine siblings, she being the youngest. She and two of her siblings walk 2kms every day to the nearest school where they learn to read the Quran and also numbers. Fakhir walks in with dates. He now has changed into a long white dishdasha robe with a traditional embroidered Omani kummah, or cap. On his waist is a sash, and tucked in it, a curved knife, called a khanjar. A tassel dangles from the neckline. The oldest of Salma’s brothers, he is ready for marriage as I am told by the excited sister and then his wife can add a few drops of perfumed oil on his tassel, she adds with a laugh.

Shooing away his sister, Fakhir sits down and explains that often there is no water to be found on their journeys, and they drink only camel and goat milk. “Sometimes, when there is a thick fog at night, we put out a cloth over a tree and the next morning, we squeeze out some water”. He loves his camels, meeting friends and family and enjoys the beauty of the shifting dunes every single day. He can tell from a hoof-mark how long ago a camel walked by, if it had a rider on it, or even if it was pregnant.

Later in the night I meet the mother of Fakhir and Salma, a mere girl she seems. Light footed and gorgeous, she is shy and has her fingers twirling around her brightly coloured, multi-patterned clothes. Her face, except her eyes are covered with a cloth mask. On prodding for the reason of this veil, she talks to Fakhir in a sing song voice which he relates to me. “The world is open for me to see, but I choose who sees me”

A reticent woman, she leaves, before I can ask her more. The generosity of the Bedouin people is legendary. Sitting amongst them, sharing their lifestyle beneath countless stars and towering dunes, I am struck by the contrast between their gregarious nature and the forbidding hostility of the desert. And no doubt, when out in such enormous space; be aware why this kind of pleasure in company has developed.

Ready to finally call it a night, I am led into their half of the tent by Salma. This half is for the women, children, cooking utensils, and storage. The other half contains a fireplace and is used for entertaining. The women do most of the work, while the men socialize and make plans for the group. The material culture of the Bedouin is limited. Their tents are their main possessions, and animals are very important for their nomadic lifestyle. Camels are their main means of transportation, while sheep and goats are bought and sold. They weave baskets of palm fronds and carry dates to the market in them. From where I lay, the night sky was a rage of glittering stars and with no city noise to disturb, sleep came easy.

Shunning modern existence, these nomadic denizens of The Empty Quarter live as they did centuries ago, herding their camel and goats, living in tents made of palm fronds, and animal skins and wandering in search of water. To them, an unfettered existence, freedom under the stars and the continuation of tradition far surpass the lure of twenty-first century conveniences. They bear allegiance only to their families, their tribe and to the crescent moon.

Travellers of the stars,
They weave dreams of straw in the day.
Peeping into their lives from the city,
Wretched it feels.
Living in their threadbare tent, sipping their tea,
When I view my world outside,

Just as wretched a deal.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Wings of hope - Saroj Gupta Cancer Centre and Research Institute, Thakurpukur, Kolkata

Cancer kills. But that is not the worst, it strips a family bare till what is left is the indignity of it all. The disease and the corporate hospitals have ravaged my family a number of times. Within their sterilized walls and behind their stiff linen they have played on sentiments by prolonging the inhumanity of the disease they well knew was beyond repair.

But then each incident is a step on the learning curve, and I have had quite a few, so it would be pretty dumb of me not to scratch beyond the flower vases, the elegant cafeterias and the smug doctors. Fortunately for me, I managed and learnt with great joy that cancer though quite a killer, need not always unhinge the likes of me.

Here is an account of a place that I saw and liked. It has been almost a year that I am volunteering for them and I am yet to see feet of clay. The simple fact that cancer care is affordable and not all hospitals charge medicines on mrp was the starting point of my journey into this facility.

Take a look at their children's centre for cancer care and spread the word.

She is making friendship bands. A little girl of seven, she weaves the multi-coloured strings with concentration. The room, a cheerful pink and purple is full of natural light. If it was not for the give-away face masks, it would be impossible to tell that Shreya and the other children in this room, so engrossed in activities, are actually undergoing strenuous cancer treatment.

Anjali 10 was diagnosed with leukaemia. No one in her family had cancer, so her parents were shocked when the body aches and fever she had for a few days turned out to be cancer. Her mother thought, at worst, it was rheumatoid fever, which was in the air around that time. A blood test showed Anjali had acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, the commonest juvenile cancer—fatal if not treated quickly, but with very high chances of a cure if diagnosed within three weeks. She spent the next few months in and out of hospital for radiation, chemotherapy and injections. “If it had not been for the expertise of her doctors and the therapeutic approach towards Paediatric Oncology that we received at Saroj Gupta Cancer Centre and Research Institute (SGCC&RI), Thakurpukur, Kolkata would have been a lost battle for Anjali,” says her mother. 13 now, Anjali has regrouped to her usual routine of school, art and dance, with fond and not grim memories of her hospital stay. She visits for follow ups only.

Celebrating 24 years of exemplary existence in Kolkata, India, indira Manik Children's Hospital, a part of SGCC&RI was inaugurated by Mother Teresa in 1991. Modelled on the lines of Disneyland, the hospital stands amidst an amusement park, vast landscaped greens, a fountain and a functional toy train around beautiful water bodies.
Creating patient-centred cancer care

The founder of SGCC&RI Padmashree Dr Saroj Gupta is recognised worldwide as a legendary figure. His life was dedicated in providing the best possible cancer treatment for all. In early 1973, seeing the plight of cancer patients who failed to get even a bed, not to mention cancer care, Dr Saroj Gupta, then a young radiotherapist, formed a Society with a group of doctors, social workers and philanthropists.  His mission was to form a Cancer Centre for the afflicted patients and their families. SAROJ GUPTA CANCER CENTRE and RESEARCH INSTITUTE was conceived initially to provide a sojourn to the distressed cancer patients who came from remote villages for treatment.The first fund-raising event was a drama staged by a group called Sikha, based on a story written by Dr Saroj Gupta, where he himself enacted the role of a poor cancer patient who was denied a bed in the city hospital. Many in the audience became a part of the Society and joined hands with Dr Gupta to help him with his fight against Cancer.

His vision is carried forward by his sons, Anjan Gupta, honorary secretary, SGCC&RI who left a flourishing architectural practice in America to volunteer his services to the hospital and Dr Arnab Gupta, one of the best surgical oncologists in India and director on-board, SGCC&RI.

“The best is what we believe in and we do not compromise on that vision. We are confident of our holistic approach towards cancer treatment that minimises the emotional and financial drain that families afflicted are forced to undergo,” says Anjan Gupta confidently.

With world class amenities and a gifted team we help in treating
·       Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
·       Acute myeloid leukaemia
·       Ewing’s sarcoma
·       Germ cell tumours
·       Hodgkin's disease
·       Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
·       Osteosarcoma
·       Tumours of the central nervous system
We also provide:
·       Bone marrow transplantation
·       Non-malignant haematology

Patient support services
Specialists take care of children and young adults across a wide range of different conditions. The actual treatment is supplemented by various therapies, psychological as well as occupational. Teaching staff are available to ensure that children do not miss out on school work inspite of long hospital stay. Mothers stay free of cost with the child. A serene surrounding in the lap of nature allows abundant fresh air and sunlight to the children. The ones who are not confined can enjoy toy train rides and the benefits of the amusement park. positives reported by patients include pain reduction, relaxation, increased energy and a reduction in the side effects felt from other aspects of treatment.
Dr Arnab Gupta with his child patients

 My thoughts found an echo here. “Cancer robs people of their mental peace. Especially in case of small children, it is agonising for parents to see the undeniable pain the little ones have to suffer, the ones that should not have to bear anything beyond grazed knees and scraped elbows. Our team is continuously trained to keep the children healthy mentally as well as physically and ensure they are battle ready,” says Dr Arnab Gupta as he hops on to the toy train with his patients.

·       Studies show a direct link between increased urbanisation and childhood cancer worldwide
·       Only 5 per cent of childhood cancer is hereditary; 95 per cent of the causes are external factors: viruses, pollution, radiation etc.
·       The commonest childhood cancer is leukemia; lymphomas, brain tumours, tumours of bone and soft tissue rank next
·       Perhaps the only good news about childhood cancer is that, unlike adult cancers, the cure rate is high: 75 per cent of childhood cancers are completely curable.