Appa

If you are still not able to visualize amma, all you need to do is to visualize appa and reverse everything you see in him. You get amma.

Appa is 85. He has no known diseases. He takes no prescription medicines. It has been more than five years since he has visited a doctor even for a common cold or fever. He has thinned considerably in the last few years and occasionally has incontinence, but those are the only symptoms I can see of his old age. He does not walk a lot anymore – but it’s a toss up whether this is owing to his old age or his laziness.

He has been hospitalized only once in life, over 30 years ago, for a water-borne infection. The only other time we tried to hospitalize him was due to a wrong diagnosis that he was having a heart attack. He was discharged within an hour with a stern warning to us from the doctor not to waste his time with perfectly healthy people. 39

Appa is a really smart guy. While listening to him talk, I had often wondered why he had not done much better in his life and profession – he worked as a clerk in Indian Railways. He was perhaps born at the wrong time. Or more likely, he had been chronically unambitious, another aspect where amma was very different – she was gung ho all the time.

Cool as a cucumber applies perfectly to appa. Amma had hypertension, appa’s BP has never gone beyond 110/70. Where amma had a fierce temper, appa just took it cool. Where amma would worry about every door and window in the house being shut properly, with appa you could keep the front door open at nights with a sign “Robbers Welcome”, and he would find it an amusing idea.

Where amma wanted every one of us to follow her every command, appa mostly just made gentle requests.

Where amma was busy as a bee and hardworking as an ant, appa is a fairly lazy guy whose motto in life could well have been, “Let things just happen.”

Where amma was keen to explore the world, appa philosophically considered the house to constitute his world. In 2008, I had arranged a personal trip for the three of us to visit my sister’s family in the US. Right from the start, appa had indicated his disinterest in joining us in the trip, but I and amma forced him to agree. The morning we were supposed to fly (by a late evening flight), appa started claiming that he had severe chest pain with helpful hints that it could be a heart attack – though how he could correctly identify a heart attack when he had never had one was a puzzle. We could see nothing wrong with him, but civility demanded that we stopped packing our bags for a pleasure trip while one of us was claiming he was about to die. I cancelled the tickets at the last minute – and lost a lot of money. Appa refused to come to the hospital with me stating he was weak, and the very next morning claimed he was absolutely fine. There was no doubt at all in any of our minds – and we let him know this in no uncertain terms – that he had feigned illness to skip the trip.

It is perhaps the dream of every Indian middle class parent to travel to the USA to visit their offspring, but here was a bloke who was so thoroughly satisfied with his life that he made every effort – hook or crook – to ensure he did not travel to the land of dreams.

I and amma alone travelled to the US later that year.

Uncharacteristically perhaps, appa was a lot more circumspect than amma about how I made money. Many years back, working from home, I put up a few high-traffic web sites and started earning a reasonable amount of money every month through Google AdSense. Every time I received a monthly check from Google, amma was just happy seeing money, while appa started wondering. He wanted to know how I was making so much money without ever walking out of the house. I think he suspected – and hinted as much – that I was doing something criminal.  Fortunately, I had my cousin working at Yahoo visiting us, and he convinced appa that Google was a big company and it was highly unlikely they were involved in a fraudulent business with a small time guy like me.

I have rarely heard amma tell jokes, not at least jokes that make one laugh out loud. On the other hand, every third sentence from appa will make me smile, and perhaps every fifth, let out a real laugh. He used to act in plays when he was young – perhaps he was a comedian in those. His sense of humour however extended to sarcasm many times. While amma rarely commented when I played what I thought was enchanting music on the guitar, appa would frequently complain that he was tired of listening to funeral music – and could I learn to play something better please? 40

Amma was a stickler for discipline, cleanliness and near-perfection. Appa’s views were more utilitarian and went by the motto “All’s well that works well, or reasonably well, or at least works.”



Fig 12. Amma and appa right after their marriage (1964)



    Fig 14. Appa and amma – 2019


   Fig 13: Amma and appa in 1983





















Imagine these two precise opposites living in a small house for decades, and interacting with each other every day for numerous things.

Appa termed it 24 hours of non-stop torture. Amma considered it 24 hours in which not a single useful activity was performed by the man of the house (appa, not me).

Many times, I got caught in the crossfire (fire from amma, and appa on the cross) between the two. During such occasions, when a situation arose for me to take sides, it was a no-brainer whose side was the safest to take.

Thinking back, it was far more fun having a husband-wife pair who were extreme opposites.

Both being dominating would have been hell. Both being patient could have been terribly boring – and that’s worse than hell.

But how little we really appreciate the depth of feelings one has for another! I knew appa cared for amma, but how deeply he did was obvious to me only in the days after she died. 

On the morning amma died, appa had fallen down inside my house, around the same time that she died. As I was at the hospital, he was alone at my house and my relatives living next door had to break open our back door, only to see him sprawled on the floor. While he fortunately had fortunately no serious injury from the fall, our maid’s husband who broke the door told me later that, looking at the way appa was lying on the floor, he thought he might die that day.

His falling down around the same time amma died was perhaps just a coincidence. Perhaps.

Appa still cracks his jokes. And I’m glad he does. Else, given his deep feelings for amma, he could have gotten into a bad shape after amma’s death. 

(PS: I wrote this post originally in Jul 2020. Appa passed away on Apr 24, 2021, 86 years old, in a way completely befitting his personality – relaxed, with no fuss whatsoever. He was normal until 30 minutes prior to his death, had no symptoms of anything gone wrong, seemed to have had no pain, and literally faded away to death over a period of about 15 minutes, in his own bed, of causes unknown. His last words to me were – in English – I want to die. Take that!)

Fig 15: Amma and appa – poles apart. The illustration above shows amma and appa were poles apart from each other in almost every aspect, with me being closer to appa than amma on many of these.

Every amma is a story <= Appa => TICKING TIME BOMBS

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Notes

39. Remarkably, amma had her first aortic dissection the day after appa was wrongly diagnosed with a heart attack by a local hospital. Based on a referral, we took him to a cardiac specialty hospital which found that there was nothing wrong with him and promptly discharged him. I was so impressed by their efficiency and honesty that when amma had a severe heart pain the very next day, I rushed her to this hospital again, and they saved her life.

40. I actually don’t know how to play the guitar, as I only learnt to play the Veena, an Indian classical stringed instrument, and that too only informally. Because I just for fun bought an electric guitar and did not have a veena at home, I started playing the guitar as I would play a veena, making me perhaps the only person in the world who plays the guitar like the veena, perhaps not to very mellifluous effect.

…….

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SECTIONSAMMA | TICKING TIME BOMBS  | AMMA AND ME  | LEG PAIN  | COVID AND AMMA’S LAST DAYS  | HEALTH AND MEDICINE  | THOUGHTS

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