Visiting my mum

For those who follow her progress, I can report that my mum seems to be well and thriving in her home in India. Although I had to explain who I was the first time we went to see her yesterday, she’s recognised me each time subsequently. I don’t think one could say that for Winky, though, but perhaps my cousin does not have such a distinct imprint on what’s left of my mum’s fragile memory.

This is how we communicate with my mum, who no longer wants to wear her hearing aids:

We take a pad and write simple sentences in English. Nothing too long-winded or complex: no dependent clauses. She can then read them and respond. Whenever she repeats the question we can point to interactions from previous pages. Of course this communication method is only going to last as long as she can read English. I suppose the next step is sign language or simply being present with nice open, empathetic face or to sit and hold her hand, though she’s never been keen on any sort of physical contact.
Luckily I am finally managing to practise my singing. It’s and a half weeks, now, to my diploma exam and, not gonna lie, I’m fretting about it. I started practising as soon as we arrived her yesterday and, half way through Le Manoir de Rosemonde, I received a phone call from reception asking me very politely to please turn the volume of the TV or music down. I suppose that’s quite flattering in a way. Today I went to practise in the gym, which is otherwise only rarely used, I’d guess.

I’m unaccountably sleepy this evening so I’ll post this post and wish you goodnight.

Remover of Obstacles


It’s been quite a mixed day. I managed to take my mum and a carer out for a drive around the locality today. I don’t think that she gets out much, although I think sometimes her carers take her for a little walk.

The festival of Ganesh, the God of Wisdom and Remover of all Obstacles begins tomorrow. It’s very big here in Maharashtra and people are busying themselves decorating a place in their homes on which they will place a brightly-painted clay effigy of Ganesh for the few days of a festival before processing through the streets to immerse him in the nearest river, or the sea.

I had hoped to bring you a picture of one of these Ganeshas but this hotel is a little too sophisticated for that malarky, so it would seem. Instead here’s a photo of the decorated stand at Dignity Resort and a photo taken of some flower garlands in the crowded market, THROUGH WHICH WE DROVE WITH MY MUM, this morning. You know those atmospheric shots in films about India of markets thronged with people oblivious to the traffic that wishes to pass but cannot bring itself to mow them down? That was us in Neral this morning.

I’ve noticed a little pond by the Dignity resort entrance that seems to be home to some beautiful white cranes. I ventured out to photograph them this morning but of course they weren’t there. I found these delightful creatures instead. (I did have my telephoto lens on me today.) I need to look them up to find out what they are.

So, back to Mumbai. And I finally managed to be ready to take a snap of a temple by the expressway with the largest Hanuman I’ve ever seen. India can be quirky like that:

It was raining quite heavily, hence the blurring.

It was raining quite heavily, hence the blurring.

So back then to Mumbai and a gym and a decent shower.

I tend to rate hotels on the quality of their shower experiences and the Leela Hotel where I’m staying now has possibly the most fantastic shower I’ve ever come across. It’s the double heads, you see. I’m not joking, after my workout I just stood there in utter bliss not wanting to leave. I half expected Daniel Craig to appear through the steam and, well you know.

The long journey home tomorrow. I wasn’t really looking forward to this trip – there’s so much to do at home and stuff I’ve let slip – but it’s been a good trip and I’ve been struck with how much the people at Dignity really seem to care for my mum.

See you on the other side. It is not lost on me that all I have to do is step on a plane. I don’t have to risk violence, starvation and painful death for weeks to get there. I’ll be thinking of those poor refugees over whom, perhaps, I’ll fly.

“Indian summer”

Oh dear. My sincere apologies for the tardiness of posting this. I did, in fact, write it yesterday but there appeared to be no internet connection last night, which was more than rather disappointing. Anyway better late than never, I suppose:

I’ve made it to India to see my mum again. I made this journey with some trepidation, not knowing how I’d find her this time but she recognised me immediately and was very pleased to see me.

If anything she seems better than last time, though I’m not quite sure how that’s possible. Though she obviously finds it more taxing to read my written down questions and statements, she does get to the end of the sentence reasonably well and we could hold a written and spoken conversation in English and Marathi for a good half an hour before her focus seemed to tire. Of course she can’t keep anything she’s just read in her head or perhaps her brain doesn’t easily assimilate what’s being said or written.

Who can blame her, though? It must be very difficult for her to take on board that she’s now 81 and that her grandson goes to university in Canada. These are quite difficult abstract concepts to get to grips with, if you think about it. Having said that, I have clear memories of my own grandmother, my mum’s mum, gamely toddling around Venice in her 9 yard sari and playing in snow she was seeing for the first time in the Italian Alps at the same age. Her brain did not seem to degenerate until several years later. This is a better memory of my Aji, come to think of it, than the last one I have of her sitting vegetating on a bed while her family bustled around and largely ignored her.

Sadly, a slight deterioration in my mum’s condition became apparent when she failed to identify a toy elephant and lion that I’d brought over for the Nightingale Unit on a previous trip earlier in the year. Perhaps it’s because she has no childhood memories on which to hook the lion but I am sure she must have seen elephants around as she was growing up: you still see them in traffic-congested city streets from time to time.

And the rain is still coming down. Last year I came fully prepared with a specially-bought pink raincoat – one feels completely wrong wearing dark colours here – which has never had to resist a single raindrop. The monsoon rains were quite sparse last year. This afternoon, though, it’s bucketing down, evidence of a strong El Nino perhaps. (I always question the English expression Indian summer: summer falls in March – May hereabouts, and September is still in the monsoon season.)

A note to self, though: there is absolutely no point in catching an earlier flight to arrive here at 8.10 to go shopping since the malls don’t open until 11am. Setting off from London at 3pm and arriving in Dubai at midnight, with an onward connection at 3.30am is a way of ensuring that I get virtually no sleep and no breakfast, unless I count the 4.30am espresso and croissant on the plane. No wonder I was sitting in the food court at the mall trying so hard not to nod off before the Donut shop opened and I could have some coffee.


Nevertheless, shopping has been achieved and my mum has some lovely new shoes and Shalwar Kameezes and I couldn’t resist these, though the hard sell from a shoe shop salesman with Rupee signs in his eyes was not really what I wanted.


But look @Olympians! Organic Quinoa at £6 for 500g! I don’t know how that compares with the price in Waitrose.

On the road home




Good evening from Mumbai

Here I am in another hotel very near the airport and so far it’s a good one. We’ll see whether I have an uninterrupted night’s sleep, which would be nice for a change. All I need is for those drums floating up from pavement level outside, celebrating Ramadan fast-breaking perhaps? – to stop in the next hour or so.

I haven’t got a huge amount to say tonight: I took my leave of my mum this afternoon with the usual mixture of regret and satisfaction that she is being well and nicely cared for at Dignity.

I try not to over-dramatise things but I always wonder if each time I take my leave of my mum is the last time I’m going to see her. I’m pretty sure this is not the case now that her health seems entirely stabilised but it’s only 15 months since the poor thing was parked on her Shortlands sofa riddled with infections, her dementia on a steep downward trajectory and when I popped in in the morning I wondered whether she would make it to the afternoon.

But what does she think, my mum? She doesn’t seem to be aware of time: when I saw her yesterday she was under the impression that she had just arrived at the unit that morning. I’ve popped in to see her three or four times on each day I’ve been there and she never remembers my previous visit. Minutes, hours, days, months, all time seems as nothing to my mum. Considering how much I rely on marking my days with this abstract concept, I can’t get my head around this at all.

There are times that she’s fairly lucid and can almost hold a reasonable conversation for a couple of minutes. Since she’s almost completely deaf, and apparently refuses to use her newish hearing aids, these conversations are carried out by me writing short, clear sentences on a notebook in English and her reading them and replying in Marathi. So far she can still read but I’m not sure how we’ll manage to communicate when that power fails her.

At other times my mum will repeat the same question over and over again at intervals of a minute or two. She was getting to be this way when she still lived in the UK and her Wednesday afternoon visits were excruciating. In those days I became frustrated and angry because I didn’t feel she was listening to me. Now I know that it’s just the disease: she has lost almost all of her short term memory.

Once in a while she might refer to her family or a poem learnt by rote decades ago but this is less and less common. I think she has little long term memory left now.

From time to time the sounds coming from her mouth are garbled burblings but the staff at Dignity all treat her kindly and indulgently really, teasing her from time to time as one would tease a three year old child.

So I shall return calmly to my bombsight of a house tomorrow and book my flights for the next India trip, planned for mid-September. I’ve heard tonight that my kitchen might even be finished by then. Who knows It’s just as well I didn’t go ahead with the joint birthday party we’d planned for our new kitchen and garden. The way things are I expect we’ll have to do the Indian thing and celebrate 51 instead.



Maharashtra in June

I’m writing this post on June 22nd 2015. I’d like to make that clear: I’m not going to be able to post this on time tonight and I’ll have to wait until tomorrow morning.

I’ve completely given up trying to secure Internet access via a Sim card and dongle – the lengthy paperwork to register and buy a Pay As You Go 3G SIM, after waiting uncertainly for ages for someone competent and confident enough to serve me and all my tech, is all negated after three months for foreigners anyway.

I no longer spend the afternoon recuperating in Mumbai before venturing out into the countryside the following day: it was making me feel too guilty that I was wasting my time in luxury rather than going directly to see my mum.

I’m sure the nighttime staff and security guards here at the Dignity Lifestyle resort would be only too happy to oblige the internet cravings of this peculiar creature who travels on her own, seems to understand them, but only replies in English. Frankly, though, I’m just feeling too knackered to put on my churidar, trying through the fug of tiredness to arrange the churries into some sort of order, to take my laptop down and sit outside Reception whilst they go and fetch the router from the euphemistically-named Internet cafe.

Why are you so tired Gita?” I hear you ask. Surely splashing out on a business class ticket for your trips to India would secure you, on Emirates Airlines at least, a lie-flat bed and a comfy mattress on board the A380, a futuristically comfortable flying experience?

Well, that would be my thinking too, and, to be fair, despite being notoriously unable to sleep anywhere but in my own comfy bed, I usually manage to catch some rest on the overnight flight to Dubai. Last night’s plane however, had the ventilation system roaring away at full tilt when I boarded the aircraft with the result is that most of my part of the cabin was up all night sneezing, blowing noses, snorting away and generally trying to achieve more comfort for their desiccated respiratory systems. As an asthmatic and suffer of hayfever my delicate nasal mechanism is under stress at this time of year anyway and the dry cabin air played havoc with my sinuses. It really wasn’t stylish. Still, enough about me and my illnesses.

India in the monsoon is a completely different landscape proposition from the rest of the year. Western Maharashtra, the bit down the coast anyway, is commonly deluged, and floods are a fact of life here in the monsoon period from June 15 to October 15 every year. Everything is suddenly washed with green. As I type, a warm breeze is gusting outside my window. It’s really refreshing.

I find that the new road networks that they’ve been carefully laying thought the last year and a half since I’ve been coming here have had parts of them washed away and large potholes have appeared in tarmac that was only tamped down by vast rolling machines a few months ago. Unlike in Britain however, Health and Safety does not appear to be king here, and roadworks are carried out in the middle of brisk and crazy driving on the four-lane highway, with only a few metres in the middle-of-the-road coned off while workmen stand about watching the repair machines do their work.

The animals are out as well. I’ve never seen so many street dogs around. Of course I’m aware of their presence at other times year, but normally they confine themselves to stretching out in any shade they can find from the glare of the sun, intermittently grubbing around to find food while dodging rickshaws and Public Carriers that vomit clouds of black diesel fumes.

Once, in a taxi driving through Pune, I caught sight of a dog wandering into the middle of the road in the midst of the chaotic traffic to squat and defecate. An example of efficient recycling, his huge poo was immediately splattered and cast to the four winds by a BEST bus.

Death is inevitable though when the dogs are enjoying the freshness brought by the rains, and the sad sight of the bloodstained, splattered corpse of a puppy at the side of the road, as we would see a fox cub or badger, make me long to be with my own beloved pooches.

There are calves around too and it’s true, they do wander in the street. The traffic always swerves to avoid them. On my arrival here at Dignity this afternoon I caught sight of the brilliant blue wing flashes of some sort of bird. It looked too large to be Kingfisher and I didn’t catch sight of its bill to identify it but perhaps that’s what it was.

I dropped my bags in my room and went immediately to see my mum. To my delight she recognised me immediately and seemed almost cogent for awhile, asking me when I’d come; where I was staying; how I’d got here. She’s obviously very pleased to see me.

Today she was wearing a pristine Churidar kurta, her fingernails painted in a sparkly orange nail polish, possibly one of the ones that I brought last time. Among all the other sitting, wondering old ladies I briefly considered whether her dementia is not sufficiently advanced prior to be locked up in this place. But that feeling didn’t last long: she soon reverted to the endless repetition and confusion to which I have become accustomed.

It seems that the downward trajectory of dementia is not a steady curve, rather, it goes down in sudden, steep, steps. It look like my mum is still on the same step as last time. She looks well, however. Her COPD seems well-managed and there are few traces of the arthritis in her knees that caused her so much pain in our damp, cool, overcast country. I’m hugely thankful for this on her behalf.


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