Not That Old, Not That Fat, and Not That Lazy!

March 11, 2011

The kids are ok. Despite the coughing and snuffling, despite several slightly sleepless nights, they still get up in the morning and head off cheerfully for school and daycare. Neither place reports that they’re low on energy or otherwise out of sorts in any way. Both places were somewhat surprised to learn that they even needed to go to the doctor, they’re that ok.

It’s another story when it comes to their poor mother.

For the last few weeks, I’ve found myself unable to wake up early enough (5.15 a.m.) and distinctly lacking in energy and motivation to exercise. This morning, I turned off the alarm and stayed in bed till 6 yet again. Despicable.

Remember I made a promise to myself that 2011 would be my year for exercise? And I also promised myself I’d get enough sleep. I knew even then that doing both would be difficult.

One recent research has triggered several newspaper articles saying that getting enough sleep is important for health and longevity and that prolonged lack of sufficient sleep increases the risk of heart disease etc etc. Not that I’m particularly concerned about all that – I just want to get enough sleep so that I am not irritable and sleepy all day long; and enough exercise so that I can continue to eat those few foods that I still can eat, without worrying about my sugar levels or my cholesterol levels (I’m not even going to think about my weight right now).

As I drove in to office, the thought sneaked into my head: Was I really that tired this morning, or was I just being lazy? Have I been just being lazy these past few weeks, when I’ve been sleeping “late”?

Hold it right there, I said to myself sternly, putting the brakes on the car almost as sharply as I put the brake on the thought.

Those of you who’ve read my book already know that the most memorable time that I attributed my tiredness to “just being fat and lazy” almost got me killed. (If you’ve not read my book – it turned out to be high altitude pulmonary oedema. Yes, it’s an interesting story. Why haven’t you read it? Go read it now.) Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a while know that the last time I thought my tiredness was “just getting old” it turned out to be chronic fatigue; which, moreover, was easily cured by a couple of weeks of vitamins and a sleeping pill. If I needed any further instances, there was the whole gluten intolerance thing. I couldn’t believe that I could have put on that much weight that quickly and in the end, it turned out to be related to the gluten intolerance. I lost 3-4 kilos in a couple of months just by going off gluten.

What single thing should all this tell me? If I have any sense at all, it should tell me that I should trust my body and my self. If I think something is wrong with me, if it seems uncharacteristic of me to be this tired, this lacking in energy, or even this fat, I should sit up and take note. I shouldn’t ignore all the signs and accuse myself of being old, fat, and lazy. I know myself – when I’ve decided to do something, I’m determined, focused, committed, and energetic. I’m not young, and I’m not thin, but I’m also not that old, not that fat, and not that lazy. If I am tired, I should just accept that and let sleep win gracefully over the intent to exercise.

Moral of the story: Listen to your body and don’t be so damn hard on yourself.

Slightly Sleepless Nights

March 10, 2011

The kids have a cough.

(I’m not sure if I should say, “The kids have coughs” instead – each kid has a cough, but it could be the same cough. It sounds like the same cough. So anyway, let’s just say, the kids have a cough.)

They’ve had it for a while – three weeks or so, I think. At first, I ignored it. It was mild enough – a little coughing at night, a little snuffling in the morning and then it cleared up. After a week or so, I started the steam treatment, last thing at night. Then, if I heard them coughing at night, I’d get out of bed and go to their room and cover them up thoroughly with a big, fat blanket. That usually stopped the cough for a while. Last week, due to various social engagements, the steam treatment was more off than on. The cough had reduced a bit, but then towards the end of last week, it returned. By Saturday, I was wondering whether it was time to see a doctor, but Amit said, nah, just do the steam regularly, it’ll go away.

Then Sunday night happened. Poor Mrini coughed every 30 seconds or so right from 8.30 when she went to bed, till 10.30 when I went to bed. I gave her sips of water, a Vicks cough drop I managed to unearth from my handbag, and eventually she even agreed to suck on a clove for a couple of minutes – something she has steadfastly refused in the past – all to no avail. Each strategy provided a brief respite from the coughing, but seemed to have a significant impact on her sleep. When I left her alone, she continued to cough but managed some kind of fitful sleep as well. So at 10.30, I gave up all attempts to placate the cough, left her to her restless sleep and went to bed. Either I slept soundly, or the cough did reduce later at night, because the next thing I knew, it was 5 a.m. Soon enough, she was coughing again – still partly asleep, though.

On Monday evening, we consulted a doctor. He examined both girls and made a tentative diagnosis of nocturnal asthma. He prescribed Levolin and Allegra. A quick check of the internet says that Levolin is not recommended for children below 6. Much to my surprise, Allegra is. But… it doesn’t seem to be indicated for their symptoms; they don’t have anything like hay fever or hives. I took Allegra once and it had a very peculiar effect on me – I felt physically paralyzed, as if I couldn’t move. The doctor said I was just drowsy, but mentally I was awake and alert, just unable to move – like in that book State of Fear. It was horrible. I know that it doesn’t have that effect on everyone, and Mrini and Tara don’t even share my genes after all – but I’m still loath to give it to them.

Besides – I’ve seen plenty of asthma in my family. My mother and sister have had asthma for years. My mother was once rushed to the hospital gasping so terribly I was really frightened. I know that asthma looks different in different people, but just a few months ago I saw our friends’ daughter wheezing at the slightest exertion. Our girls don’t look anything like that. They are as active as ever, even going for tennis without coughing or wheezing. They’ve not had any incidence of asthamatic episodes thus far. Even their cough is not the same dry, rasping cough of an asthmatic. In fact, I had thought they have a cold or a bit of a viral that’s lingering on as these things do, and the most I expected was an expectorant or mucolytic cough mixture.

Amit is dead against loading the girls with medicines, especially these medicines. He wants a second opinion, with our regular pediatrician. So do I, but she wasn’t available until Thursday evening, and that meant yet another sleepless night – and possibly more, depending on what medicines she prescribes and how long they need to take effect. But he’s right of course – I don’t want to give them these particular medicines either, especially because this doesn’t even look like asthma to me.

So off we go to the doctor again. The girls love to go to the doctor because I think it makes them feel important; but more importantly, because doctors prescribe medicine and medicines are sweet. So they’re quite happy to meet two doctors in one week. It’s not so much fun for the parents, of course.

Movie Review: The King’s Speech

March 7, 2011

Much to my delight, Amit and I managed to get away for a movie on Sunday afternoon while the kids were napping and the cook was cooking. Our choices were Hall Fall and The King’s Speech and I chose the latter purely because it had swept the Oscars. It’s quite something to be watching a current, talk-of-the-town movie in a movie hall for a change. The last such movie we watched together was Quantum of Solace – yes, it’s been that long.

Anyway, I can see why The King’s Speech is such an acclaimed movie. It follows an infallible formula for success – a simple story, well told. In fact, brilliantly told. The charm of the story is that it is one man’s battle against his own limitation – against his fears, his boundaries. He has one person to help him and guide him and even to challenge him. And they both are men, not young, not handsome, and with nothing else between them except this one battle that they are fighting together. The fact that the man fighting the battle is a king becomes secondary to the battle itself – it could be anyone, fighting their own battle against their past, and trying to meet (or make, or at least take charge of) their destiny.

The acting is superb. Colin Firth expresses in his face and eyes so much of what he suffers in being unable to speak. And all of the others are good too, even the King’s two little girls and Logue’s family.

The lines are superb. I love when Logue calls the kings doctors idiots, and, when the king says they are knighted, smoothly retorts that well, it’s official, then.

The context is perfect. It would have been easy to get distracted by throwing in a lot of royalty into this movie. But they haven’t done that. There’s just enough trappings to remind you that this is, after all, a prince and a king that we’re dealing with; but you never get side-tracked by that fact. I also like the way Logue’s family is shown. They could have skipped that altogether, but it adds so much depth to the movie to have it there. I also like the fact that they end with a small victory. It’s not as if the king became a great orator and delivered a hugely emotional, stirring speech. His was a modest victory – nine minutes, without stammering. That is so realistic, so achievable. So inspiring.

Would I watch it again? Probably not. I’m not sure it would hold my attention a second time round. But if it were coming on TV some day, I’d probably wait for the “they’re idiots” line before I changed the channel. And then, maybe, I’d watch a little more.

Movie Review: Rabbit Hole

March 7, 2011

I watched this movie while Amit and the kids were in Calcutta. I had made up my mind to watch a movie, any movie, while on my mini-break and this seemed the best of the lot. However, it sounded rather depressing. It was supposed to be about a couple who had just lost their four-year-old in an accident. Not the best thing for a mom of two four-year-olds to dwell on, you’d think.

But it was a superb movie. It didn’t dwell on the death of the child so much; it was all about how the two parents were grieving in their different ways. The mom stoically practical, moving on, trying to bury or deny her grief; the dad almost relishing it, relinquishing himself to it, holding on to the past, almost as though letting go of it would belittle his love for his son or his grief over his son’s death. Both partners find it difficult to understand the other’s way of handling their grief. The dad does try to reach out to the mom, but he also seems to resent her hard, level-headed practicality, and her need to move on. She can’t handle his hanging on style of grieving. The movie is beautifully done – you can understand each person’s pain, see each person struggling to deal with it, and identify in some part with both of them. You can see just how difficult it would be for them to bridge the gap. And how easy it would be to turn to someone else for solace. Yet, the movie doesn’t go down that path – it doesn’t become yet another tale of an extra-marital affair. It also doesn’t commit that other crime against reality – the crime of showing a really superficial happy ending. The ending, as much as the middle, is true to life. It’s not a happy ending, so much as it is a small tiny step towards what might be a happy beginning, or maybe a happy resuming. I haven’t seen a movie so delicately, so sensitively done in a long time. Of course, I haven’t seen too many movies in the last so many years, so that may not be saying much, but it really was a brilliant movie.

There’s a Limit to Tolerance

March 3, 2011

I don’t like Shivratri.

Up until now, I had no reason to like or dislike the festival. In fact, I would have tended towards liking it, because I got a mid-week holiday on its account. What’s not to like?

And it was a nice day too! Many offices were working and the kids’ daycare was open (school was closed, of course) so I packed off the better half and the kids by 9 a.m. and had the day to myself. We were having guests for dinner, so I was worried that if the cook didn’t turn up (she hasn’t been well) I might have to spend the afternoon cooking (sigh) but she did turn up, so I was spared even that effort. Consequently, I spent a relaxed day browsing the net and reading a magazine.

Around 6 p.m. the temple started up. The temple is diagonally across the road from us, altogether maybe two houses removed. We can see its fairy-light-bedecked outline clearly from our bedroom. Temples have always been anathema to Amit. He eyes them not just with suspicion, but with positive antagonism. I’m a little more tolerant. Temples, I believe, have their place in society, and if they don’t trouble me, I am not troubled by them. But last night, Amit’s mistrust was completely and thoroughly vindicated.

All day, cars had been lining up on the roads outside our home, as people went to the temple. That didn’t trouble me. When the noise started up at 6 p.m., it still didn’t trouble me. Evenings are permitted to be a little noisy – there’s traffic noise to contend with already; temples and barking dogs go unnoticed in the din. And I was too busy getting the children fed and watered, waiting for the guests, getting them settled, putting the kids to bed, and organizing dinner (reheating everything and making rice) to bother about a little background noise.

Our guests left after 10, so it was well past 11 before I got everything sorted and was ready for bed. This didn’t trouble me either. I normally find it difficult to stay awake past 10 p.m. and I jealously guard my early bed-time practice; generally interruptions at bed-time are dealt with curtly. I need my sleep – all seven hours of it. But if friends (or, as in this case, family) come over for dinner, then I don’t mind how late it gets. 11.30 was not very late, anyway. The trouble was, the damn temple was still blasting away. Its loudspeakers only seemed to have got louder as ambient sound died down and people went to bed and turned out the lights. It was loud enough to either scare away or drown out the barking dogs – and that’s saying a lot.

I was tired, so I went to sleep anyway. It was a troubled sleep though, punctuated by the insistent “namo-namo” pounding against my eardrums. Around 3 a.m. I woke with a start. Something different was happening. The chant had changed from droning male voices to frenzied female shrieking. The frequency and decibel level climbed until I thought either the glass windows or my eardrums (or both) would shatter. Then all was silent. “Good riddance; it’s over,” I thought to myself and tried to go back to sleep.

But it was not to be. After a brief spell of silence, the “namo-namo” rubbish started up where it had left off. And this time, it went on straight until 5 a.m. I got up eventually to close the doors and windows in the hope of sound-proofing the room, but a thin sheet of glass is no match for a determined loudspeaker so we continued to be bombarded by the wretched “namo-namo” until 5 a.m. when, just as the chanting stopped, the alarm went off, notifying me that it was time to get up.

What kind of productivity can I achieve on three hours of sleep?

If there must be a Shivratri, then the holiday should be not on the day of the festival, but the day after, so that us poor souls who don’t really give a damn about it have a chance to catch up on sleep. Better still, the festival should, in my opinion, be banned, and anyone using a loudspeaker past 10 p.m. should be rounded up and thrown into the non-existent dog pound along with the yowling street dogs. One night spent sharing a cage might teach them the joy of being forced to listen to someone else singing loud enough to keep you awake all night.

It’s Worth a Shot, He Says

March 2, 2011

The other day, after the book reading in Koramangala, Chris and I walked into Sapna, where Chris picked up 3 of the 7 copies they had of my book. The salesman told us they’d got 15 copies and sold 8 already. That was nice to know – eight people whom I may or may not know had walked in and bought my book. (Or, alternatively, one person may have walked in and bought all eight; but if so, presumably would have bought them for eight different people.)

Of course, eight is a very small number. Not even double digits. A drop in the ocean. But still – at least somebody was buying my book.

Various people I know have bought my book, of course – friends and family. That’s important to me, but in a different way. Unknown people buying my book is thrilling in a different, somewhat inexplicable way. Maybe it’s because it’s only when unknown people buy your work that you know whether your work has a wider appeal or not.

So it was very satisfying to read this review, by someone I don’t think I know. It’s even nicer to see that it’s a pretty positive review.

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