Tuesday, November 26, 2013

UDHAVI...a concept note

UDHAVI  has been inspired by the number of senior citizens “orphaned” and left to their own devices without the support they richly deserve.  We are still working on statistics, but the life span in India and throughout the world has been increased, and consequently it is important that the elderly lead a meaningful enriched life without the despair and ill health they suffer with longevity.

Most of the children, encouraged by their parents to better their prospects have migrated and some of them without ensuring that their parents are comfortable. Unfortunately we do not have the infrastructure that the West has for older people where the culture is “independence” at all times in their lives. We hang on foolishly to traditional values, hoping that we will be ultimately cared for by our children, are reluctant to move into Retired People’s Homes worrying over the likely problems in a new territory.

Having closely lived and loved old people most of my life, I thought there was nothing better than creating some kind of support for older people. Whilst there are so many schemes and programmes for the young adults and children, the old are kept on the back burner as persons who have outlived their usefulness. On the contrary, old people are rich in their experience in different fields, and their knowledge can be harnessed in a productive way as specialised consultants. This raises their self worth even if they work on a voluntary basis. One does not realise how enormous their contributions could be to society.

What I feel would help is a networking base to help the elderly.  Our first meeting  of UDHAVI was on August 13 2013 in Chennai, and five volunteers offered their help. Each of them is contributing towards making a better life for the old and the infirm and for caregivers. I now call them mentors.

We need to widen our base and each of these dedicated volunteers could get more people to join us thereby creating a ripple in the pond. What could each of us do?
We locate old people who need help, to register with UDHAVI. We screen them on eligibility to find out how much of help they really need. We visit their homes to check on the safety aspect, if their homes are user friendly and the  accessories they lack.

We split our volunteers area wise, and the seniors will connect to those people in their locality.

We build a comprehensive data base, which covers doctors, nursing help, nursing homes, hospitals, and visiting doctors, and shops which provide accessories for the elderly. This information has to be held by the core group to share whenever necessary.

Each member of our core group can form their own group of volunteers from that area

Though we are starting out as a voluntary agency, we do need some funds for transport stationery etc, and we need again volunteers for managing finance.

We need to look at  groups like Help Age, Dignity Foundation and Orion to quote a few and try to give our Senior Citizens what these organisations are not able to provide.

We need to talk to geriatric doctors who  could attend our meetings time permitting and give us pointers on what to do.

Though it is not a priority at the moment, short trips or visits to certain places, movies or even arranging for shopping at malls would be appreciated.

Above all, total commitment is essential, and with the kind of networking I envisage the entire burden will not rest on a few people alone.

Talk to people, you will be surprised how keen people are to help towards this cause. Those who are good at social networking like Facebook can help us. I know it sounds ambitious but everything is worth a try!

Suggestions are welcome, so are volunteers who really want to help! Contact:  sabi.kittu@outlook.com


Have you ever stuck your head into the frig and wondered why you’ve opened it? Or frantically combed the house for your car keys just as you are leaving? Or thought of a hundred things to do and when you sit down to do it, nothing stays in your mind?  Don’t  come to the conclusion that you have Alzeimer’s. It could happen at any age…

It was about ten years ago, realising that the present day life is fraught with stress and the compression of a  million to-do things is compressed into a couple of days. The brain goes into an overdrive and it is but natural that periodic amnesia sets in very early in life! There are methods which will remove some of the frenzy you get into when you can’t remember where and what. Every day jot down the things you plan to do, and even if you tick off 60% of the list you have achieved something.

Keep things in the same familiar place. Your key rack should be  in the most accessible place and the keys hung on the nails in the same order. These could be car keys, your store room keys, your cabinet keys etc. But keys to your precious cupboards where you keep your cash, jewellery etc should not dangle in the most obvious place. Tuck the kothu saavi into your waist if you are  a woman, as I do, otherwise hide it in one particular place, and do it when your maids are not watching you like hawks. I have hid these keys so safely, that I have spent hours in a hide-and-seek game looking for them. Moral of the story…. slip it into the same hiding place. When the place has been discovered, its time to change it like your password. When you do, please divulge this to your spouse, but if he or she also has periodic amnesia, tell another member of the family who has a sound memory.

If you still don’t want to tell, open a memory book, and it will be one of your priceless acquisitions especially as an old age comfort device. Reserve it only for your memory recall jottings.  The first thing I did when we converted our beautiful home into apartments, and occupied a downsized version of the original,  was to put away lots of stuff into the lofts we so provided with foresight.  Out came my brand new memory book where I listed the lofts in each room and wrote down what they housed. That dimpled hand beaten copper sombu, the dinner service, old coffee filters, and idli pathrams…every item was listed, so I didn’t have to go into a nerve wracking ordeal of wondering where these priceless possessions disappeared to. And whenever the time came when they didn’t seem so priceless, I knew where they were ensconced and gave them away without a second glance, proud that I had evolved, and happy that I was losing my materialist yearnings to acquire or hoard these things.

Women these days keep most of their expensive jewellery in the bank. But do they know what these items are?  We keep “loaning” or presenting our children with the odd earring, necklaces or bangles. When you question them they are equally vague and say they are not sure what you gave them.  Flip the pages of your memory book and you will find the answer if you have been methodical enough to write it down. And when it comes to domestic help and advances, writing it down, together with the due  date of repayment helps immensely.

Those of us who are great planners, and consider ourselves visionaries, try to tidy our lives for our children.  We make our will, and entreat our children to take away family heirlooms which we enjoyed for many years. Alas there are very few takers among our younger generation today, and once clearance can be obtained from the inheritors, list them so that they can be disposed off or at least written off to people you would like to bequeath them to.

 How many of us write living wills? This was taught to us by a dear friend who wanted to make life easy for executors of his will.  There is absolutely no bar on writing this when you are young!  It just means putting down a list of where you keep your important documents. Like your fixed deposits. Your key to the bank safe. Passwords. Bank Passbooks. Insurance papers. Wills.  Anything at all which are very private and which should be accessible to your next of kin.

I used to wonder if the Memory Book a veritable data base of information,  should be kept under lock and key. The answer is a definite NO NO.  If it is tucked away chances are that you will not summon the energy to go and fetch it. It should be placed within your reach, easily accessible, and yet somewhere where prying eyes will not uncover your secrets.

With all this advice, chances are you might misplace your memory book like I did! To remember where you kept it, now I guess you need sticky notes on your computer and save it on your mobile, and pray that they won’t crash!






I often wonder at the wisdom of uprooting a very old tree whose branches have given shade to many lives, whose roots have sunk deep and proliferated in many directions, making a declaration of permanence. You hope it will have a new lease of life if you transplant it elsewhere in “pleasant surroundings”!

Well, here is  a true story and one that has been repeatedly enacted many times over. A very dear bachelor friend so much a part of our lives, spent all his adult life working towards the cause of the mentally challenged, and assisting many other social organisations and NGOs. With a special interest in education, he was correspondent of schools at different times, and shaped the lives of children, and to many of us he was a role model. He established  an institution, designing  many gadgets to make it possible for the mentally challenged to  work there, and earn  a living for themselves. Today it stands in silent testimony of one man’s efforts to bring sunshine into the families of those handicapped people. His services are too many to be listed here. 

With advancing years, and when an aging body could not keep pace with his young agile mind, he decided to close home and move to a retired people’s home. He meticulously planned the move, donating most of his few worldly possessions to charity, and even telling us all he would pull the curtain down rather than be a burden to others. Knowing his penchant for independence, despite his physical weakness, a remarkable young couple whom he was very close to over 50 years, decided to “adopt” him after a lifetime stay in Madras, then Chennai!

We used to get mail from him practically every other day, describing his life in the new  surroundings in a salubrious clime with stretches of bucolic green, interspersed with beautiful blossoms, to inspire him to heights of creativity in his writings and poetry. But I could read between the lines a sadness that he had left familiar surroundings, though not a word of complaint or regret was uttered. The very people who took him in had apparently advised him against the move.  But as we grow older, an obstinacy takes hold, and once the mind is made up it is hard to reverse the decision.

All I can say is that four and a half months in idlyllic surroundings taught this old person what family life was all about, and he experienced love, concern and caring on a day to day basis. He had his music, photography, his writing, his forthcoming book on education and his memoirs which will never see the light of day…then what happened? Fluctuating blood pressure, two or three falls, and rushing to a renowned  hospital some two hours away.  Ten days of coma and he was gone. No one listened to his fervent plea in his living will that he was not to be kept alive by tubes and life support. When push comes to shove, it is difficult to practise euthanasia or convince the attendant doctors.

As one ages, it is only familiar objects, home of many years, faithful servants,  and friends who provide  security, and you do feel disoriented moving, even though you have a room all your own,  resembling the previous one, surrounded by most of the objects that are familiar to you.

On  our last visit to Australia, we visited Retired Peoples’ Homes and talked to the management who informed us that they also ran what they called “assisted living” where you remain in your home and a team comes over to assist you to live your life according to your needs of course at a charge. And when you are too feeble you are taken to a Nursing Home where nursing staff and doctors keep you comfortable. This is possible in a developed country where the concept of independent  aged is accepted, and with the life span increased,  organisations spring up to make life easier for them.

India has a long way to go. We assume that our children will look after us. Most of them live outside India, and they lead independent lives and nuclear families exist in place of  the joint family which is practically non-existent. Builders and developers, quick to capitalise on  this enormous need for older people, advertise gated communities for retired people making it sound incredibly tempting. Unfortunately most of these homes are outside of big cities and it does call for a total move which might not augur well for all.  The children are sometimes resentful of their parents wanting to move as some kind of stigma seems to be attached, and the guilt prevails rather than bowing to the practicality of the situation.

We need to organise a team to offer help to older people, both in terms of the physical as well as the psychological,  on a voluntary basis initially, and I am determined to give it a try. We will need data bases for resources, we will need volunteers, who are active and not too old themselves. We will need connections to doctors and hospitals, and nursing staff. When and if this fructifies, we do need all the help we can, and have to remember it is for a very good cause. Some of the elderly have loving children to take care of them, and they are blessed, because it is more the exception than the rule!

There are so many programmes and organisations established for children, for they are our investment and our future. But do we disregard the old and the infirm when their productive days are over, blind to what they face? A question which each of us needs to find the answer.

If you have any ideas to share on this subject, please contact this writer at sabi.kittu@outlook.com



Thursday, September 19, 2013


Most of us have been in the ICU of hospitals at some time or the other. An intensive care unit (ICU), also known as a critical care unit (CCU), intensive therapy unit or intensive treatment unit (ITU) is a special department of a hospital or health care facility that provides intensive care medicine. These Units cater to patients  who suffer from life threatening illnesses and/or injuries and when the condition warrants  close monitoring and support from specialist equipment and medication in order to improve the patient’s condition. The ICU is supposedly manned by  highly trained doctors and critical care nurses who have been trained  in caring for seriously ill patients.
If you are admitted in a comatose or even semi comatose condition, it really does not matter what happens around you.  But when you are not all that ill, have your mental faculties intact, and have had the misfortune to be kept in the ICU, just “for observation” for the night or the next day as I was on two occasions, the miseries are manifold.
Firstly, you are moved from the emergency to the ICU and instructions go back and forth between the ward boys and the nurses over your head and you sigh in relief as you are wheeled into a refrigerator. Ah yes, you have to wear the hospital gown. Gone are the comforts of thick cotton gowns with tapes at the back. The ones you are given are paper thin, translucent, and you guessed it, eco friendly and disposable without the headaches of laundering. They are fastened with Velcro at the back, which hurt as you lie flat, and with maneuvering and twisting like I do, the fastening comes off. Fortunately or unfortunately you are surrounded by co-patients who don’t have the energy to ogle, or see you in a half clothed state. Uniformity persists and at times difficult to tell a male from a female, so you are cloaked in anonymity. It is easy to contact pneumonia in these surroundings!
Lowered on to a waiting bed,  the monitors and tubes are all in place as your progresess is recorded and your fate described electronically. There is a file on you, and interns and young doctors enquire politely how you are, and  ask what exactly is the problem. The problems? “Innumerable”, I want to say, as I clench my teeth in an effort to keep them from chattering. “It is i..i.cyc..c..cold”, I venture. My toes generally go into a cramp if they are chilled, and dash it I forgot to bring those warm woolen socks knitted for me by Sue, my sister-in-law, who believes that woolen socks should be part of ones wardrobe and her insight is to be lauded. They bring you blankets, cotton blankets, one at first. When I still chatter, they place another one on me. “She must have fever,” say the nurses and check my temperature which is absolutely normal.
Since I was conscious and mobile I did not want a bedpan. I was however assisted by a kindly nurse, and I felt a rush of cold air behind, and realized the back was fully open. Giving up futile attempts to cover my behind, I shuffle to the loo which has bedpans, urine bottles, beakers and other stuff.I asked if I could read, and in a moment of weakness the sister gives me the newspaper which I could not enjoy, as the light was dull and the headlines screamed murder most foul, theft, and other heinous crimes including rape. Enough to depress even the most cheerful person around.
When the Chief comes on his rounds, there is a bustle of activity as files are updated and every comment of the Doctor is recorded and hopefully carried out. Your fate (read stay in the ICU)rests with the good doctor.
End of the day but the ICU is  forever night with artificial lights, and you lose sense of time though aware that it moves ever so slowly. You welcome the night, as the end of it you will see the day, and that means discharge or at least a move to a ward where you see life around you. But you are not prepared for the night and the surprises it brings.
The handing  over begins as the shift changes. The nurse-in-charge loudly tells her takeover counterpart every single detail of the patient, his or her physical condition, through the well worn file. By now you know your entire history by heart. Lights are dimmed and you are gently asked to sleep.
That’s when the fun and games begins. I thought ICUs would be silent zones where soft footed medical staff would be Florence Nightingales .Not so in your wildest imagination. Cries of “Narayana, kadavale!” rent the air, as one male patient believes he is being assaulted. “Thatha, don’t shout”, says the young nurse as she runs to placate him. Two beds away another man who has been relieved of his tubes sleeps but lets out the strangest of noises and loud snores oh so familiar. It makes me terribly homesick.
The interns and nurses discuss their day with gusto. They talk about in-laws, out-laws, the state of economy in the country, the corruption, politics and various other subjects… and the emphasis with which the discussion goes, pales  drawing room conversation  into insignificance.  They joke and laugh loudly and in my disturbed dream, I imagine glasses clinking and people laughing in a half drunken state. I sit up in bed, call a nurse to my bedside who “Ennama”s me, and I tell her in no uncertain terms what discourtesy it is to such sick patients, and that I would write about the attitudes here and complain. Very deflated the matter is reported to the doctor, and silence persists for sometime before the cacophony begins again.

The next day I am cheerfully told I could “go” and I feel that I have been released from jail.Though moving to the ward is another process which you suffer  there is the promise of your own gown, and the warmth of family attenders and then home. The ICU is the loneliest place in hospital hell, where you lie removed from family and contend with tortuous thoughts. Recovery when you are not so seriously ill, is faster in your own home, with nursing staff and the comfort of familiarity. Ah for midway nursing homes  where you could just lie back and allow yourself the luxury of relaxing, without the endless disturbance of hospital routine!

Driving Miss Daisy

My driver, let’s call him Sam… doesn’t drive Miss Daisy, he drives me… crazy.  And yet we can’t do without him. Sam doesn’t drink. Or smoke. He is a skillful driver and used to traffic gridlocks weaving in and out of heavy traffic without a scratch on the car. A good psychologist he knows when someone is overtaking him on the left and when pedestrians are about to cross the road. He doesn’t swear at rule breakers except to say  “Dai Somberi” a catchy phrase picked up from his employer. No litany of abuses thank heaven.
My husband and I having been driving for decades.. When we realized that driving through Chennai traffic requires uncanny skill, and nerves of steel, we decided to hire a full time driver. A painful decision for my husband  aman reluctant to share his well and maintained vehicle with anyone save  his wife..
Good at handling personnel, or rather my diminishing domestic staff, I was still perplexed as to  how I would handle this new entrant. I decided that Sam would be in my huband’s domain. “But I hired him just for you,” was his  remark, and I did have a sneaky feeling he was trying to pass the buck. I rushed to my library and scoured the shelves for self-help books to see if there was a chapter on “ How to Handle your New Driver.”   It was a futile exercise and putting on my sternest countenance I decided to meet the challenge head on.
The salary was fixed, though we both knew that we were overpaying. I told Sam that there was not much of driving, but he had to do all the odd jobs like the vegetable market and the groceries. And of course the bank, repair shops, collecting the laundry etc. Every month he would have to cobweb the place, clean the fans  and the lofts occasionally and garden help. Sam nodded his head very emphatically. I always look for chinks in the armour, and years of experience have taught me not to swallow the too-good-to-be-true situation.
Soon enough we found several chinks. Sam’s mobile is his lifeline, he receives more calls than we ever do. When we are ready to go home, we call his mobile and find it is “busy”. We have learnt to say a prayer and hope he will answer our call. Sam is a sneezy wizard. He sneezes if there is dust, he sneezes during every cleaning job we give him. He is allergic to the AC. You will never find him idling the time sitting in air conditioned comfort in the car, with the music in full blast. He will stay outside despite the sweltering heat, communicating with his buddies on the phone or outside.  When we travel long distance by car, he begs for spells of non AC, will lower the front window and stick his head out like a puppy. A  teatotaller he will never stop for cups of tea or coffee.
Sam is a pro when it comes to the Disappearing Act. He has this uncanny knack of scooting as soon as we reach our destination. He finds a friend everywhere he goes, and when he does, he leaves the mobile in the car. We stand outside and cool our heels, rave and rant about his inconsistencies till he spies us long distance, and runs like the wind to reach us.
Sam is clueless about punctuality. Getting a watch for him did not help. He leaves it at home. When we have an appointment in the morning, we cry ourselves hoarse on his reaching us in time and making calls to his home is useless as the mobile is never picked up.
Plus points? Plenty. He has the kind of social networking which will put Facebook to shame. Even in absentia  he will know where we went and how long we stayed. Recently we went  to the hospital to run tests and hired a call driver as Sam let us down. The moment he reported for work he said he knew how many hours we spent at the hospital and thatthe dadipayan(fat slob) we hired slept peacefully in the car with the aircon on, and  a lullaby from the sound system.
Anyone wanting a good driver and Sam will get one for you. Looking for domestic help? Someone will report for work, irrespective of whether they will stay on for a day  or a week. He will explore their background and give you the relevant details. He will never let anyone of us go unescorted to a shop, restaurant, or the market. He will offer his arm whether taken or not, when we have to negotiate over broken pavements, and steep steps without a hand rail. If anyone of us is sick, he will  press his chest to control his so called palpitations while his eyes would fill with tears.If there is a street fight or a small accident he will have no qualms of abandoning me to run  to the scene of crime, and participate actively..  I resolved to take a spare car key so I can drive off and leave Sam to his belligerent activities.
I cannot conclude without a small anecdote.. Every Thursday Sam drives my husband to the Gymkhana Club.. Originally Sam sulked at the late nights since the week could have other activities like plays, the occasional movie and weddings. Never mind the extra tip, he liked to be with his family. I  was surprised to see a gleam in his eye and an energized Sam take off with my husband every Thursday to MGC. As it happened one day my husband decided not to go. Thinking I would take his help for other chores I looked for him.
“Where’s Sam?”
“ Oh he’s gone to the Gymkhana Club,” said my husband, most matter-of-fact-ly.
“WHAT? Without you?”
Sam had taken a local train, visited the Club and returned after meeting his weekly buddies for a while. “They would be heartbroken if I didn’t turn up…” he explained.

A mini Club for drivers at MGC?  What fun!

The Horror of Rape


With stories of rape coming in from very quarter, every one of us need to protest and raise our collective consciousness.  Rapists seem to stalk our everyday life. No one is really spared, the middle aged, the young and even toddlers. When Nirbhaya, a young woman died in Singapore of rape, of brutal assault, and grevious injuries, the nation  went beserk. Moving her to Singapore in her condition was a political decision. A 1000 crore Nirbhaya fund was announced in the Budget for the safety of women. Is it functional yet or is the Government still dragging its feet?Soon after, several rape cases from across the country were reported, many of them gang rapes.
When five year olds and two year olds were raped, sodomised, injured and tortured, our insides burned. The sadistic and horrific sexual assault on a five-year-old in East Delhi  in April, shook the nation and  I could hardly read the reports as my eyes were constantly blurred with tears. Death sentences are too mild for perverted rapists like these. What then is the solution? Are we getting more aggressive and perverted? Is it the rise in the rural- turned- urban population which escalates this figure ? Or, is the media uncovering every one of these heinous crimes, shocking us as never before? Were these incidents very much there in the old days, but covered with a veneer of respectably, while the skeletons of child abuse rattled in the cupboard?
While we are merely addressing the symptoms of this rape epidemic in our country, we are not sufficiently probing into the actual cause of  the persistent disease which has to be stricken from its very roots. I see pornography as one of  the causes, raising the male libido to a great level. Where  porn was available in the form of blue films officially banned but nevertheless surreptiously watched, today it is a free for all, porn sites are there in plenty accessible to young children and teenagers. Some of our movies are violent, holding up killing and aggression as heroics.  And last of all though I might sound very old fashioned or prudish our young girls today, even in a conservative city like Chennai wear shockingly revealing clothes. Mini shorts or skirts, spaghetti tops, low cut blouses  to reveal  the cleavage are just some of the modern attire.
I frequently tell the young girls in my family that they have to be careful what they wear when they are using public transport or walking on the road. You cannot afford to be provocative.  Men of a different class view the girl who is scantily dressed as one who is inviting a sexual dalliance, as they are not used to seeing women dressed immodestly. This does not rule out men of a  higher class who views the modern woman as one who is sending out subliminal cues through her dressing like “Look at me. Catch me if you can.”
The dressing down craze is creeping into the minds of young maids. Nobody wants to look outdated, so they switch to the ubiquitous salwar kameez which proclaims modernity, but covers the body. Now the necklines have started plunging and “low backs” are a must. My maid who is extremely fashionable, laments the fact that I wear high necked blouses and brushes off my age as something insignificant. Her back neckline plunges so low that only two inches of blouse are seen and oodles of flesh revealed…. thankfully restricted to her back. I insist she drapes her pallu over her back if she is walking home unescorted.
There is something graphically wrong with a society which cannot guarantee the safety of its women and children. Our tourism will ultimately get sorely affected when people realize that India is not a safe place for women as in the recent past, foreigners have been at the mercy of rapists.  We have unfortunately a broken system where the initial horror and public outrage converges into a placidity and drawing room conversations before dissipating totally.
You don’t have to look carefully to find that the law and order system, beginning with the judiciary and filtering to the police, is quite flawed. The Government needs to take up some responsibility and introduce fundamental reforms which will include counseling, delinquent homes, psychiatry and stringent laws to enforce discipline. Legalising prostitution with protection for the sex workers may be another solution where lust can be vented.
Sociologist Manas Ray from the  Centre of Social Studies Kolkatta says the rise in rape can be partly interpreted as the anger of the urban poor where women and children become easy targets. “It is more a power issue than sexual gratification”, says psychiatrist Aniruddha Deb of Kolkata.
What can the common man do? Protect your children and women. Don’t invite trouble, we can’t afford not to be too careful.  Protest in any form that you know. Bring to the attention of the media/ police/government any cases that you personally know. Don’t adopt the “nothing works” attitude. Let your voice be heard.

By safeguarding your women and children you are safeguarding the nation.