Monday, 8 July 2019

A Short Story : Towards Darkness (Author: Barnali Roy)

I paused at the gates of the dreary building. The very thought of going in filled me with a strange kind of exhaustion, a lethargy I had never experienced before. I sighed. Let’s get the whole thing finished quickly. Dragging my feet, I stepped in and enquired about Baba.

The anxious faces around me were awaiting their turn to meet their loved ones - those who had been banished to this rehabilitation home. Those unfortunate enough to be struck with a mental affliction in our country, deserved to rot in hell like this.

In his heyday, Baba would have shuddered at such “rehab centres”. He was paranoid about social status and respectability. According to him, people like us did not suffer from mental problems….these things happened only to other “abnormal” people.

I thought of the irony of it all. At the fag end of his life, Baba was a prisoner of his own demented mind, a dark shadow of his former self, in this rehab home.

The geriatrician, the neurosurgeon, the psychiatrist, had all shaken their heads and given similar pronouncements. Baba was beyond revival or cure now. Dementia had shrunk his brain cells to such an extent, that he had lost his sense of rationality and propriety totally.

Science has not been able to devise a cure for Dementia or Alzeimer’s disease till now. And at Baba’s advanced age, the disease had spread its tentacles too far and too deep. It had unleashed a violent aggression that kept surfacing in a mild-mannered man like Baba. 

I thought about the times when we were blissfully unaware that such a disease even existed.
Baba was erudite, well travelled, and could intelligently converse on fairly any topic under the sun. As the head of operations in a prestigious PSU engineering company, he had an army of subordinates reporting to him at work. At home, he was not very involved in day-to-day matters, but as a father he never denied me anything. 

Since he worshipped the workplace, he was not prepared for the day when he would be out of it. When retirement took over, he was suddenly rudderless, clueless about what to do with his free time. 

Time stretched meaninglessly for him.

His office associates slowly stopped visiting. Ma tried to keep him engaged him in household matters, but beyond the daily trips to the fish and vegetable market, Baba was not really interested in anything. Slowly, a feeling of futility began to overtake him.

Ma was the backbone of our family. In times of crisis she kept normalcy and held the household together. She took the good and the bad in her stride. When I told her about my decision to shift to a rented accommodation, she had taken it quite calmly, with perfect lack of sentimentality. I was married for a couple of years then, and my daughter had just completed six months. Ma had understood our need for privacy as a family. There had not been a single rant on her part, against our leaving the ancestral house.

But Baba had not spoken to me for a month after that. I could see that he was deeply hurt, but I had no choice. My family was growing and I had to move out. I tried having a face-to-face talk with him, but Baba adamantly maintained a stony silence.

It was later that I realized that the distance between us was growing irrevocably, and he was getting lonelier by the day.

A year later, when my son was born, I was relieved to see traces of his old warmth and geniality surface again. He played and cooed with the child when he visited, and seemed to enjoy being with him.

And then the worst happened.

Ma was diagnosed with abdominal cancer at an advanced stage. Typically, as most Indian mothers are prone to do, she had hidden her condition and had suffered silently for days and months - the pain, the cramps, the difficulties in digesting, the bleeding. Later, she told me that she had not wanted to burden me with her medical problems, as I had my hands full with my children and my job.

So she kept the killer disease hidden within her insides, till it asserted itself with a vengeance. And then it was too late. We rushed her to the latest, state-of-the art specialized hospital, but no amount of oncology expertise could win Ma’s losing battle against cancer. After months of painful chemotherapy sessions and two futile operations, she gave in.

A chapter ended with Ma’s passing away.

The brightness and normalcy of Baba’s household instantly faded away. He became a ghost of his former self, wandering about aimlessly in the house. A full-time hired help and a cook could not ensure that he was having his meals on time or taking his insulin injections. Most part of the day, he just kept vacantly staring at the walls or dozing off.

As the dutiful son, I dropped in everyday to check in on him. Sometimes I brought my wife, Anu and the kids to stay over to cheer him up. It relieved me to see his eyes light up in response to my daughter, Pari’s hug or my son Sunny’s antics. But such moments became increasingly rare, and he relapsed into silence and despondency every now and then.

One day, when I dropped in at noon, I overheard an awful commotion inside. I could make out Baba cursing and screaming at the ayah and the cook. And what filthy language he used! I was utterly shocked.

I banged at the door with all my strength. After some more screaming and yelling, the cook opened the door. Chairs were lying on the floor, and the ayah was cowering in a corner.

She broke down at once and started pouring out her complaints.
“Bhaiya, please settle my dues. I can’t work here a second more”.
“Calm down, Shanta, tell me what the provocation was”.
“I was helping Uncle undress to take a bath, when he started pushing and kicking me away. Then he threw the chair and….”, she could not continue.
“Dadababu, he has totally lost his mind. Please get him admitted to a mental hospital.” This was the cook.

I glared at her, but saw that she was right. Till now, Baba had been non-cooperative but quiet and sullen. There had been no violent behavior so far. But now, it was risky to leave him alone in this house.

I decided to shift him to my place, hoping that the company of my kids would cheer him up.

Hardly did I expect what was going to come. I saw how an able man was being reduced to a complete vegetable, thanks to this degenerative disease, of which his doctor appraised me.

Baba refused to wake up from bed, change clothes or take his meals. Each day became a struggle for me and his ayah. Night times were worse. It seemed he was charged with demonic energy at night. Sleep became a luxury for Anu and me. He kept us awake throughout the night with the same screaming, yelling abuses, and throwing things around.

One night after much reasoning failed to get Baba to behave, I lost my temper at him. I got the shock of my life when he snarled back at me and spat a mouthful of abuses. This time I had had enough. Lack of sleep and peace of mind had messed up my insides, and I was at my tether’s end.

In the six days Baba had been in my flat, he had managed to turn our household upside down. I saw that I had to take a decision, however unpleasant it was.

The search for a good psychiatric hospital came a cropper. The doctor kept on insisting that we keep him in supervision at home. But that was becoming impossible. I did not want my children to hear that kind of language he used, or remember Baba like this. Whatever respect they had for him was slowly vanishing, and was being replaced by fear, I knew. 

Then he had his first convulsive attack. His body went stiff, eyes popped out and he started frothing at the mouth. I was shocked out of my wits. My first reaction was to shut the door so that the kids would not see this sight. Frantic calls to the neurologist finally got him to agree on hospitalizing Baba.

But that was only the beginning of a different nightmare.

An endless rigmarole of hospital visits started for us. The hospital managed to invent all kinds of ailments that were possible for an old man to have, and initiated futile medical procedures and expensive specialists’ visits. I could see that the hospital was fleecing us. Obviously, they had smelt a lucrative opportunity in keeping a dementia patient admitted in a premium facility.

I made up my mind to get him discharged. But here, I hit a roadblock. The doctor flatly refused.
“Mr. Gupta, I would not advise acting in a hurry.”
After a fortnight of hospitalization and steadily rocketing bills, he was telling me this.
“So what is the course of treatment you propose Doctor?” I asked with some sarcasm.
“Actually, there is not specific treatment for such age-related dementia. (Hadn’t I heard that before?) But we have kept him under observation, and are monitoring his condition after the last convulsion attack he had.”
“Listen, Doctor, I frankly don’t see the point in keeping him here any longer. Since there is absolutely no possibility of his condition improving, he may as well be kept at home. And considering the mounting bills, it is becoming impossible for us financially too. If you do not discharge him, I will have to perforce take him away and continue his treatment elsewhere.”

The last was an open challenge to his authority, but I couldn’t help myself. After spending money like water, and endless fruitless visits to the hospital, I had reached the end of my patience.

Dr. Sen grudgingly let Baba be discharged, and I brought him home.

The homecoming was a gloomy affair. Anu was away from home, having deliberately decided to avoid us. There was a trained nurse and ayah at home to take over charge.

Pari was a little wary on seeing him back, I noticed. Perhaps Anu’s dread had rubbed off on her too. Sunny was the only person unaffected, exclaiming “Dadda, dadda” with unabashed delight at Baba.
It hurt me that there was not even a flicker of response from Baba. Had he lost his normal self totally?

He slept through the day, waking up only to receive food or medicine. Surprisingly, there were no tantrums at night for the next couple of days. He seemed to be improving, and listened to the nurse’s instructions obediently.

I heaved a sigh of relief. Things seemed to be looking up.

Then all of a sudden, the demon took over him again. One morning, the noise of a sickening crash rent the air, followed by a shriek. I rushed in to see Baba throwing a glass at the ayah. Filthy abuses were flowing freely from his debilitated mouth, first at the ayah, then towards me. We tried to forcibly hold his arms and stop his crazed fit.   

He directed his venom towards me. “Who are you to tell me what to do, you worthless lout! I spit on you and your sermons! You all are trying to kill me, I know it. But I will not listen to a bunch of morons….will die of my own will….”. It went on and on, the decibels increasing.

I suddenly realized that the crash of the glass and screams had woken up the children too. Anu was consoling the sobbing children, glaring an “I told you” expression at me. I was getting the familiar sickening sensation at the pit of my stomach. This damned disease was wearing us all out.

Desperately, I rang our watchman to come up and help me. Baba was getting more violent by the minute. He thrashed and kicked with all his might. After a seemingly never-ending struggle, we three managed to pin him down to the bed. The doctor took ages to come and finally injected a tranquilizer.
The incident left me shaken to the core. I realized I would have to be cold and detached in dealing with Baba. No more indulgence. It became obvious that Baba could not stay in a “normal” environment anymore.

Primarily, I was worried for my children’s safety, shuddering to imagine them alone with Baba.

But where could I keep Baba? The hospital seemed an expensive option for long-term stay. I had no siblings and no relative could be entrusted to take proper care of a dementia patient. Then where….? 

Reluctantly, the answer came up in my mind – an old age home with medical facilities, where other people can deal with my Baba’s tantrums.

A search on the Internet yielded five names of old-age homes in and around Kolkata. I called each of them and was faced with the same response. No place had any medical facilities necessary for keeping ailing patients. They would take only able-bodied and mentally sane elders. I was stumped. 

How could they expect a senior citizen to not have any debilitating problems? This was a self-defeating premise. I had faced a blank wall.

In desperation I requested Baba’s geriatrician for help. After much coaxing, he reluctantly gave me the name of a rehab centre meant exclusively for mental patients.

Guilt kept gnawing my insides as I admitted Baba to this depressing place. It resembled a state-run mental hospital from inside, complete with stained walls, peeling paint and a sickening atmosphere. 

Patients walked around the corridors aimlessly, mumbling to themselves. No inmate was allowed to leave the rooms, and the main entrance to the hall was locked. The attendant shut the door on my face, after taking Baba in. I suppose in this country, being a psychiatric patient was worse than being a criminal.

I had a feeling I had lost my Baba forever.

But I was tired of dealing with this scary dementia, and wanted someone else to be in charge.

When I first visited Baba, two attendants escorted him and kept hovering around to check whether Baba was complaining. I was furious. How dare they intrude in our private moments? But as it turned out, such vigilance was hardly necessary. Baba did not say a word to me; no amount of probing could make him answer my anxious questions. He just sat there dozing, head lolling on his shoulders. If possible, he looked sicker after coming here.

The nurses told me he was violent and aggressive, so they kept him tranquilized most of the time. 

Wow, what a clever way of dealing with mental illness.

I met the psychiatrist in charge, who gave me a lot of mumbo-jumbo on some therapy he was following. Baba’s aggression was sure to quell, he was convinced. I was not so sure, but did I have any choice?

Suddenly, I am jolted back to reality with a sound. The attendant has unlocked the door and is ushering me to the dining area, where snack time is on. I see inmates roaming about, little bowls of puffed rice in hand. A black-and-white television set is on, beaming some dull program. Someone asks the attendant to change the TV channel and is curtly told to watch what is on. The sense of despair and hopelessness is so thick you could touch it.

I keep looking at my mobile, wishing I was elsewhere. Finally, Baba totters in, supported by an ayah and a male attendant. I am pleasantly surprised to see a shadow of a smile on his face. The ayah whispers he expects to go home in a few days. He has been telling everybody that he was all right now and would go home soon.

I sense guilt washing all over me. I have no intention to disrupt my routine life with the tumultuous possibility of Baba staying with us. I don’t want to subject my family to that nightmare all over again.
I hear Baba speak up, “Dipu, I am absolutely okay now. I want to go home”.

I wonder how best I can deal with this.

“Baba, Doctor has recommended some more weeks of treatment, so you have to be here. I will surely take you home once you recover.”
“No, Dipu, take me home now. There is no treatment going on here. These people will kill me slowly. You don’t know how they behave towards me. ”
I keep quiet and look away. He guesses my reluctance.
“I will behave, promise. Dipu, I tell you I will behave. I am much better now. Please, please take me home. These people are feeding me trash. There is a conspiracy going on against me. I can’t tell you how they torture me here, Dipu.” Baba is getting more agitated by the minute.

I don’t know what to do and avert my eyes. Scenes of his previous crazed fits come up in my mind, and erase whatever love or sympathy I have for him. I have to be firm with him, can’t indulge his false hopes. He is better off in this facility where at least there are plenty of people to control him.

I look at the attendants, who take the hint and slowly try to lead Baba inside again.
“No, Dipu! Don’t let them take me away! Take me with you. I will behave, I promise! Dipu, listen to me….I will die here….”

You know that feeling when your feet get rooted to a spot and your voice is stuck in your throat? I had never felt so helpless before. I stand there silently allowing the attendants to forcibly escort him inside.

I know that as a son I have failed him again. But do I have a choice? Goodbye Baba……

Thursday, 4 July 2019

The Indian Reality: Why has it Changed?

Our country, India,  has for ages, had a rich history and tradition of assimilation and synthesis of cultures, and religious tolerance. India has been home to Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Parsis and many more ethnic and religious groups, since times immemorial. And though there have been sporadic riots and targeted violence now and then, we can proudly say that very few cultures have had such a glorious background of peaceful co--existence.

Today, however, things have changed. The word "Secular" is being bandied about as an offensive term. We are asked to take sides, to prove our nationalism and love for our country by jingoism and chest thumping. Rationality, restraint, or neutrality is passe. You are either a jingoistic patriot......., or a suspicious secular pseudo.

Recently there have been too many incidents of lynching, rape and victimization of minority groups or weaker sections of society. Much as we try, we can't shut our eyes to the reality that there is a wave of me-too nationalistic fervour that Hindus are embracing, as opposed to our venerable traditions of "live and let live".

It seems we have entered a new phase of darkness. People are being murdered for carrying beef, for buying cattle; lynched for drawing water from wells meant for "higher caste"people, or for entering temples being "untouchables"; girls and minors are being raped, filmed and blackmailed to "teach them a lesson"; writers and intellectuals arrested and browbeaten for speaking their minds.

To dissent is to perish - This has become the new normal.

#Article15, the new Hindi film, comes as a breath of fresh air in this atmosphere.It shows us the mirror to our narrow-mindedness, bigotry, and shameful biases. We have clearly divided our countrymen into "them" and "us" in our minds, with "them" being someone distant from our reality. Two low caste girls are raped and murdered, and the police try to hush it up saying "these things keep happening to these people".

The director, #AnubhavSinha (lord bless his tribe), must be lauded for making such a heartfelt film on such a topical subject. His earlier film "Mulk" showcased our deep rooted prejudices against Muslims. Hope a few more Indian film directors come forward to make such moving films. Where are you - #ManiRatnam #GoutamGhosh #ShyamBenegal #SudhirMishra ?

Monday, 24 June 2019

Be Human : Parents and Schools

Reading the morning newspaper daily is an old habit of mine. But today I couldnt read through.
The front page was splattered with the headline of a teenager ending her life brutally in a posh Kolkata English medium school. Why?
She couldn't take the academic pressure any more. Anxious that she wouldn't qualify in entrance exams, she chose to take a gruesome way out.
Slit her wrists and stuffed her own face into a polythene packet.
My question is how many more sacrifices will be required at the altar of marks and academic performance?
When will parents wake up? And stop pressurizing their wards to attain impossible goals? What happened to good old innocent childhood?
Do children have to bear the cross of unrealistic expectations throughout their growing years? Just so that parents and schools can gloat over their achievements?
What is success and how do we measure it in such narrow terms? Why don't we teach our children to accept failure, to appear vulnerable?
Why don't we just say "It's all right, child. Everything's going to be okay"? I have been a victim of this damaging education system, so it hurts me when I see the story repeating itself in some other child's life. Please repair the Indian education system and counsel the parents please. Let no more lives be lost.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

How To Hone Your Soft Skills? Is it that hard?

A question students often ask me is "How can I improve my soft skills"? To answer this satisfactorily, lets first check out what actually soft skills are. Obviously, as opposed to technical and job-related core skills, soft skills are the more non-technical, people and leadership skills.

Soft Skills are behavioral competencies
Also known as Interpersonal Skills, or people skills
Communication and listening skills,
Conflict management
Inter-personal effectiveness,
Creative problem solving,
Innovation and creativity
Team playing,
Influencing, negotiating

Get the idea?

Now, since soft skills include both #PersonalCompetencies and #SocialAndInterpersonalEffectiveness, improving these would require both #PersonalityDevelopment and #SocialSkills development.

But improving soft skills is not that hard!

  • Analysis of the deficiency areas is the first step
  • Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses
  • Seek honest feedback from close friends, don't be in denial
  • Write down five of your key strengths and abilities
  • Seek help in rectifying the problem areas and develop a plan for improvement
  • Observe your own behaviour when you are interacting with others
  • Control anger and irritation
  • Listen openly, ask questions
  • Read good books and see good cinema
  • Meditate and do some self-introspection daily
  • Write down small improvements that occur in your performance
  • Congratulate yourself when you get positive feedback
You will soon enjoy the process and become a better individual! All the very best!

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Travel Blog - Visiting Sunderbans

Have you been to India's largest mangrove forest, aka, Sunderbans? The tidal forest is a rich ecosystem with thriving flora and fauna, that every nature lover should visit. The place is famous for the presence of the endangered Royal Bengal Tiger.

Though the number of tigers has increased in recent times, the elusive jungle beasts have been losing their habitat and hunting grounds to human encroachment. The wildlife and environment department of the government has declared the entire Sunderbans area as protected bio-sphere, and have divided it into zones, most of which are inaccessible to tourists.
Which is after all, a good thing, as humans have been known to be the most selfish and reckless beasts of all. (We saw the remnants of the visits of irresponsible tourists in the empty wrappers and plastic bottles left behind).:(

We had been there this week, and cruised through some spotting zones like Pirkhali,  Dobanki, Ghajikhali etc., but unfortunately couldn't get a glimpse of the elusive Royal Bengal Tiger.
Yes, we did see a tiger and a crocodile at the local Rescue Centre, but it's not really the same thing.

What we did see, however, was the grandeur and beauty of nature in the confluence of five rivers, the rich greenery, the countless estuaries, the presence of various birds and bird-songs. 

Tigers, if they survive and flourish, will probably deign to meet us at some later time.:)

If you plan a visit to Sunderbans, please ensure you take the necessary permits (our guide took those for us), and bring a good pair of binoculars with you. Spotting fauna in the dense jungles from aboard the steamer is not possible without those.

There are some decent resorts for boarding and lodging. Don't go looking for star hotels here though. The place is yet to become touristy.

And remember to leave nothing behind, except your footprints, on the marshy lands of Jharkhali, Dobanki, and other accessible islands. The tiger may reward you with a darshan perhaps.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Towards Better Communication

In my previous post, Communication: What Goes Wrong?,
I had written about various barriers that hinder communication. Most common are faulty methods of communication, conflicting body language of the speaker, and perception barriers in the minds of both speaker and listener.

#CommunicationEffectiveness #GoodCommunication #Listening #Feedback

So how do you ensure that what you say or write gets across clearly to the recipient?

Simple. Take #FEEDBACK.

The process of communication starts with the intention of communicating in the mind of the sender, and is completed by when the receiver of the message acts on it. 

If the action is not as per the sender's intention, then the process has backfired. 

So, that stresses the importance of feedback in the entire process.
Let's not forget:
  • Meanings sent are not always received
  • Filtering takes place at both the sender’s and receiver’s end
  • Meaning is in the mind
  • Because minds differ, message meanings differ
  • The symbols of communication are imperfect
  • Improving communication requires conscious and continuous effort
  • Listening skills are as important as speaking skills
Remember to:

}Listen carefully
}Keep an open mind and not form judgement quickly
}Use proper channels or means of communication
}Work on language skills (This is a continuous process)
}Read thoroughly as reading enriches vocabulary
}Work on voice tone and clarity (Tone should not be too high or low)
}Check speed of speaking (Not too fast or too sluggish)
}Use non-verbal signs like smile, eye contact, nodding of head, hand gestures to complement oral communication (body language should not conflict what you are saying)
The importance of listening well in the whole process cannot be over-stressed. 
Listening is critical to communication.
}Practice active listening
}Stop speaking
}Resist distractions
}Focus on the meaning
}Keep a check on your emotions
}Give non-verbal cues like nods of head, eye contact
}Ask questions
}Give feedback

Let's speak and listen to communicate, not to conflict. 

Happy communications to you!

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Faulty Communication: What Goes Wrong?

How often it has happened that you wanted to say or mean something and it was totally misunderstood by the listener/reader? When you meant something and something else was conveyed.

#FaultyCommunication #BarriersToCommunication #CommunicationFailure

Different types of barriers distort communication and twist its purpose. Let's see what they are.

The following kinds of barriers generally occur:
  • Situational barriers or barriers in the process of communication
  • Barriers in the mind of the receiver or perception barriers
  • Barriers in sending or transmitting the message

The barriers are explained below:

#Perception is the ability to comprehend reality. Each person’s perception is different, so the interpretation of communication will be very different in each person’s mind. Further, negative emotions such as envy, anger, hurt, attitudinal and behavioral problems colour and distort communication. Hence, extra effort should be taken to make sure the message is properly understood, and comprehended by the recipient. Taking feedback from the listener/recipient is one way to ensure the message goes home. Clarifying the message and using simple language also helps.

#BodyLanguage or non-verbal cues, signals, and gestures play an important role in complementing the spoken word. If body language is not appropriate, the impact of the message is lost. 

Similarly the space and time of communication is important. 

#SituationaBarriers can also arise out of difference in formal position or role of the sender and receiver.

#CommunicationMedium, i.e., faulty telephone or internet lines, disturbed voice message recording, noise and physical disturbances also bar communication effectiveness.

One of the main barriers to communication is a distracted or preoccupied mind and lack of concentration on the message.

#InformationOverload or too much information can also harm communication. The listener gets confused and the message gets lost. Using too many technicalities or specialized terms in language also distort the effectiveness of communication.

The barriers that block communication or distort it may situational or semantic, physical or psychological in nature. These can be minimized by continuously working on improving  our own #CommunicationSkills, which we all must practice doing.

I will continue in the next post on what tricks or hacks can improve verbal and non-verbal communication.