Story 9. Addiction.

“All of us are going around with an entire story of our lives, completely different from the story of our lives that anybody else would tell. So much of our lives never breaks the surface.” – Claire Messud in The Guardian.

I have decided to use that quotation as a mast for my story series of posts and what better way to acknowledge the power of that quote than a story from my own life. In all fairness, I must also give credit to Ursula for the motivation for this story. She wrote something powerful in her comments on my last story on The Zamindar which resonated with me and hence this motivation.

I have been quite an open book about my life and readers who have been reading my posts since long would attest to that. To a large extent, one of the influences for such open writing has been an old quotation from Sylvia Plath. “…….. everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Strangely enough, another beautiful life ending prematurely, but not before leaving behind a treasure trove of very quotable quotes.

In June, when I was visiting my cousin at Navi Mumbai, my sister in law requested me to meet a young couple and advise them about a problem that they were facing. I did. The young man was in deep trouble due to alcoholism and his wife was in a highly distressed state. I spent over an hour with them and guided both as to what needed to be done and advised them that I would arrange for someone else from their locality to visit them and assist them. On my return to Pune, I found out details about the Alcoholics Anonymous chapters there, found a member and passed on the information to him. That member met up with the young man, arranged for a suitable sponsor for him and thus started the process of recovery for that young man. That young lady started off with Al Anon too. Both the wife and the husband still talk to me on the phone and keep me updated on the progress being made by the young man.

This is one among the many such stories that I can write about alcoholics and the disease and what a stellar role that the AA fellowship throughout the world plays in saving many lives that would have otherwise ended like my friend Balaji’s did.

The point to this story is not that I was able to help but, the fact that my sister in law knew that I would be able to help an alcoholic. This story is about how I came to be associated with the AA fellowship and why I do not take cover under the anonymity part of the programme. Many people know and contact me when help is needed.

If one particular stretch of time could be isolated for being the worst that I have experienced, it was the period between October 1998 and January 2000. My son Ranjan was reaching the peak of his addiction to alcohol and I could not identify the problem.

The reason for this inability to identify the problem was that I come from a family and circle of friends where alcohol consumption is a matter of routine and just about every one drank every evening and during week ends in the afternoons too. There was and still is no stigma attached to drinking in this environment and as I write this, almost all of my family members will be having their sun-downers. Ranjan grew up in an atmosphere where alcohol was part of domestic life and there was always stock of various kinds of drinks available at home and socialisation meant that everyone drank.

I personally drank every day and my life too revolved around a social life enhanced with alcohol. I never had any occasion to black out or get involved in accidents or fights caused by excessive drinking, but was hooked on alcohol as much as I was hooked on to la dolce vita.

During that difficult period, I was commuting between Pune and Tirupur. I had set up residence at Tirupur whereas Urmeela and Ranjan were in Pune as Ranjan was in a job at Pune. I was commuting because Urmeela was unable to manage Ranjan’s alcoholism and would call me now and then to come and help. During this period Ranjan had to be hospitalised a number of times to be detoxified and it was also the time that Urmeela had her first of many strokes without having them recognised as such.

To cut the story short, I approached a friend who was very active in the AA Pune who started mentoring Ranjan and taking him to AA meetings. Ranjan was exposed to AA but continued to drink. During one of my visits to Pune when I tried to talk to him to moderate, he simply told me that I had no business telling him to when I was an alcoholic too. I asked my friend about this and he said that it would be a good idea for me to set an example by giving up alcohol myself. In the meanwhile, Ranjan decided to corner me further and gave me a questionnaire that the AA gives people who are unable to make up their mind as to whether they were alcoholics or not. On answering that honestly, it shocked me to find that I could be classified as an alcoholic. I could not believe this and rang up my cousin and physician to find out if this was really something that Johns Hopkins uses and he confirmed that it indeed was. I went into denial but decided to study further and using the AA contact got myself a copy of The Big Book. I studied it in detail while at Tirupur and as often happens in my life, another synchronicity took place and I quit on May 22 1999 about which I wrote here.

That however did not immediately have the effect that I had hoped it would on Ranjan who continued to drink. In June 1999 on one of my visits to Pune, I attended my first AA meeting to which Ranjan took me. After that meeting I left Pune with the assurance from AA members that Ranjan would eventually quit and that I should worry about my well being.

Things got progressively worse and I finally had to quit my very lucrative assignment in Tirupur and return to take charge of my family’s life and I did that by end September. I saw Ranjan at his worst between then and till he quit. I would take him to AA meetings and after the meeting, he would drink. I however got involved in the AA movement and got to know some wonderful people who readily helped during those very difficult days.

Ranjan’s trysts with hospitals continued but he kept accompanying me to AA meetings. Finally, he hit what the AA calls rock bottom and on January 7, 2000 he told me in the morning when he woke up that he had had enough and wanted to stop. After he went through the few days of withdrawal problems, he started off on what the AA calls the 90 meetings in 90 days and Urmeela and I went along with him to all of them.

As I write this, he too has been sober since that time as I have been. Both of us also took the 12 step programme and both of us have benefited from that experience. I also joined up with an Al Anon group.

Both of us have made some very good friends in the fellowship and the warmth and dedication that the fellowship shows is something that only members know and appreciate, Both of us are well known in the Pune AA movement and people approach us for help. Increasingly, it is Ranjan who is involved and I am very proud of the work that he does. He mentors many people of his age group and has started a group near our home which has become a popular center for recovering alcoholics who had to commute to the city center otherwise. I have stopped attending meetings due to my physical limitations but am in touch with all their activities and visiting members of the fellowship and we have mini meetings at home quite often. Many addicts of other substances too have come into our lives and with the help of Narcotics Anonymous have come out of their addiction and now live fruitful and joyful lives. We are also in touch with or aware of some rehabilitation centers to which we recommend addicts to go to for recovery.

So, Ursula, I am no stranger to denial, addiction and recovery. I just did not know anything about them when Balaji had his problems. In fact, there were many others that I could have perhaps helped had I known about the disease and the AA / NA / Al Anon programmes. Admittedly, the programmes do not have a one hundred percent success rate, but the success rate is high enough for me to suggest that it be tried and to that effect, I do not mind being known as a recovering alcoholic in the AA programme nor does Ranjan. In fact, the more number of people know, the better, as some lives may be saved.

Manjiree.

I have the pleasure to announce the arrival of a daughter into our home, Manjiree Rajgopaul nee Patwardan. Manjiree in Marathi means the flower of our holy basil Tulsi. Manjiree and Ranjan got married in a simple ceremony at our home yesterday. Manjiree was welcomed into our home with Aarti in the traditional way by Mangal. Arti is the rite of welcoming a bride into groom’s home by waving a lit lamp and applying sandalwood paste and kumum powder, to indicate the love and adoration to the bride.

Celebration lunch and dinner followed and today is for rest and recouping.

Manjiree and Ranjan

This was taken on a mobile phone. Photographs taken by a professional photographer will be posted in due course. My readers can also see a very happy Yakob in the background. Happy is not how I would call my own status. I am ecstatic. Maniiree will light up our home which has been without a feminine light for some time now.

Humour.

I hope that you enjoy reading this post on the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where eleven of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by The Old Fossil. The ten other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Maria SF, Padmum, Paul, Rohit,Shackman, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!

Funnybone

To start off, I rather enjoyed changing the spelling of the title to this post to establish that I am an anglophile not to be intimidated by the American propensity to simplify spelling. With no apologies to The Old Fossil, let me now proceed.

Sometimes my idea of what is funny is not quite what the other person thinks it is. Here is an example. Tammy in her comment on my post The Zamindar said this. “My dad died of a heart attack at 45. And he was trim and fit in every way. Every way but his arteries I guess. I think you may live to 95 and still look young as a cowboy and still be sharing bits of wisdom and folly! Wonderful!”

I hereby officially respond by quoting a very important person.

“If somebody has a bad heart, they can plug this jack in at night as they go to bed and it will monitor their heart throughout the night. And the next morning, when they wake up dead, there’ll be a record.”
~ Mark S. Fowler, FCC Chairman.

My siblings and I are blessed to have inherited one great characteristic from our mother, a sense of humour. If you really want to see a live sitcom, you must be present when the four of us are together. Our late mother survived for as long as she did despite a dysfunctional marriage because she could draw from her reserve of humour to see the funny side of things and life and all of us are grateful for that.

We grew up reading comics, they were called that because it was the genre for comedy to start with, and magazines with humourous stories in them and all of us eventually graduated to P G Wodehouse and other writers of his ilk. The first things we read in newspapers and magazines were the funnies and at least one of us developed enough talent to become a living clown as well.

All of us are known for our ready wit and laughter and that has enabled us to live beyond the proverbial three score relatively unaffected by the vicissitudes of life that everyone goes through.

Sometimes, only sometimes though, my propensity for flippancy results in a spoiled relationship. This usually happens when the other person lacks a sense of humour and that is one lesson, I do not seem to be able to learn despite those experiences. I simply am unable to understand how anyone can be without a sense of humour. My shortcoming, but I am now too old and set in my ways to bother and take corrective action. I would rather continue in my flippant ways. I am convinced that I am thriving in my life now.

My son has this obituary announcement in his mind when I finally go to join the cricket team up there waiting for another opening bowler. ” He laughed his way to his death.”

Tammy, whether it will be when I am 95 or before or after, will be decided by the captain of that team. And my apologies for editing your comment with capital letters.

Timepass.

Homer-Asleep-on-a-Sofa--37122

Wisewebwoman, who I call WWW, has this very entertaining post No No Days in her blog.

We exchanged comment and response as follows.

Me: Every day is a no no day for me WWW! You will inevitably find me at home in my lungi and vest and quite content. The world comes to me and I am unapologetic about that life style. I find it tedious to dress up and go out!

WWW: Ramana: I doubt if you do nothing as in don’t read or talk or exercise or cook or write…..

Me: You are quite right. That would be impossible. What I do do is what we call timepass here!

timepass

That exchange triggered off this post.

There was a time when I used to travel by train to and from Bombay by train. One of the endearing memories of those trips was how one vendor used to board the train at one of the stops to sell roasted and salted peanuts by muttering to attract the attention of dozing commuters – “Timepass, timepass, chana phalli, timepass.” The chana phalli was Hindi for roasted chickpeas and peanuts. I used to be bemused by his calling that consumption as timepass.

Timepass is so commonly used by us in our everyday conversations that I cannot imagine a day when I do not use it in some conversation or the other, mostly as a response to questions on the telephone as to what I was doing.

To come back to WWW’s post, I don’t have to cook except when our help plays truant and that too now a days, I prefer to either send for something or the other from one of the restaurants that are conveniently located in our neighbourhood and who deliver at home, or less often, simply go out to one of them to eat. Since I eat only one cooked meal a day, I do not have to reheat anything unless there is a lot of leftovers from some party that we had had the previous day.

Since that one bit goes off the list, I do not work up a sweat at all over the things I do for timepass. Reading newspapers, solving crossword puzzles, internetting, reading books, watching movies on DVD, answering phone calls and chatting with the odd visitor. And most importantly, the post lunch siesta is timepass of the best kind. Time passes so fast that I really get very tired by evening and sleep very well in the night.

The only exception to the no sweat lifestyle is my exercise routine of an hour every day, but on my no no days, that one hour is usually spent on some other more important activity.

I hope that I do not get any creases on my face and manage to look after myself till I pop off, but I don’t want to live to be 95! If anything, I am ready to go now without any regrets whatsoever.

Story 8. The Zamindar.

Varanasi

“All of us are going around with an entire story of our lives, completely different from the story of our lives that anybody else would tell. So much of our lives never breaks the surface.” – Claire Messud in The Guardian.

Before I sat down to write this post, I was visiting Facebook when Nick’s post caught my eye and I could not resist the temptation to include it here. Thank you Nick. I wonder what someone who has known me will write about me!

I met Balji Raju way back in 1961 in Hyderabad. He was engaged to be married to Shakuntala who was my then girl friend T’s close friend and classmate. Balaji, a few years older than the three of us, was also studying for his Masters in Hyderabad. Both Raju and Shakuntala were from the same Raju caste and the engagement had been arranged when they were both teenagers. While Shakuntala was staying in a girl’s hostel, Balaji’s family had taken a full house for him to stay and had equipped him with a servant, and a body guard cum driver and a Hindustan Landmaster car for his use. One of my unforgettable impressions of those days was how the driver, Venkaiah would bring hot lunch for Balaji in the car and serve him, while he sat in the back seat. The four of us would often go on double dates to cinemas and on picnics and all was as well as it could be for young people in those good old days.

I attended Balaji’s wedding in Vijayanagaram in 1962 and lost all touch with him till 1968 when I was posted for a few months at Hyderabad. By that time much water had flown down the Musi and both of us were very different people. I had acquired a BA, and an MBA and was working towards a career in a reputed company and was courting Urmeela. Balaji had settled down in Hydearabad as he did not like to live in his village where his father was a Zamindar. Like many such families, his family had extensive urban properties in the cities which were important for them to visit like Hyderabad, Madras, Vijayawada etc. By that time, zamindari had already become a joke with dwindling agricultural holdings, and Balaji was in the process of encashing what he could of his family’s estates and investing in urban properties. He and Shyamala were living in the same house that Balaji had stayed in while studying and were living a life of the idle rich.

I used to meet them on and off whenever I had the time during brief visits to my in laws, but such meetings tapered off due to the short time that I used to spend in Hyderabad and Shaku was not particularly friendly towards Urmeela.

When I was posted in North India, a mutual friend from Hyderabad was visiting us in Delhi and informed me that Balaji was then living in Varanasi. Since it was a certainty that I would visit Varanasi sooner or later, I had arranged to get his address so that I could visit him when I did.

Before we proceed any further, something about Varanasi. Many rich Indians used to and still do own ancestral residences there as pilgrimage in the olden days meant a few days spent there during the days when accommodation for pilgrims was in short supply. Hindus would go to Varanasi for various reasons and to be comfortable, many had bought homes there to be used by family and friends on pilgrimage to the holiest of all holy towns of India. To die there and to immerse the ashes there in the Ganges is believed to release one from the cycle of births and deaths. Moksha as it is called here.  The older Hindus would prefer to go to Varanasi to die there.

In late 1980, I did visit Varanasi and found out where Balaji was staying and landed up there in the evening after work. He was living in one such home bought by his ancestors. The ground floor was rented out to two traders and he was living in solitary splendour in the upper floor, cared for by the old family retainer Venkaiah.

It was obvious to me that Balaji was not well but I did not know quite what with. He was gracious in his hospitality and reminisced about our old days together and we parted company. During my next visit to Varanasi in 1983, I met him again and it was obvious that he had deteriorated in health further but I could not find out details as he would simply brush it off joking that his time for moksha was nearing. In our chat that evening I learnt that Shakuntala had left him to live with her parents and was in Hyderabad teaching in a school and after that parting, Balaji had moved to Varanasi to be far away from her.

I met Shankuntala in Hyderabad in 1989 when I heard the full story. Balaji had squandered the entire estate after the death of his parents and was a full blown alcoholic. He had no place to live anywhere and was an emotional drain on Shakuntala who finally took the decision to leave him to his devices. He moved to Varanasi as that was the only property left and he was strapped for cash. He was in no condition to earn a decent living. He had died in 1985 at Varanasi and Venkaiah returned to Hyderabad with the keys to the house to tell the story that he had died of cirrhosis of the liver. Venkaiah had performed the last rites and immeresed the ashes in the Ganges, packed up his meager belongings and come away back to his own family.

Balaji would have been about 45 when he died. What a waste of a life that could have been very different.  Perhaps, he got the moksha that he joked about.

If you could only hear 5 more songs what would they be and why?

I hope that you enjoy reading this post on the weekly Friday Loose Bloggers Consortium where eleven of us write on the same topic. Today’s topic has been chosen by Shackman. The ten other bloggers who write regularly are, in alphabetical order, Delirious, gaelikaa, Grannymar, Maxi, Maria SF, Padmum, Paul, Rohit,Shackman, The Old Fossil and Will. Do drop in on their blogs and see what their take is on this week’s topic. Since some of them may post late, do give some allowance for that too!

“There is a legend about a bird which sings just once in its life, more sweetly than any other creature on the face of the earth. From the moment it leaves the nest it searches for a thorn tree, and does not rest until it has found one. Then, singing among the savage branches, it impales itself upon the longest, sharpest spine. And, dying, it rises above its own agony to outcarol the lark and the nightingale. One superlative song, existence the price. But the whole world stills to listen, and God in His heaven smiles. For the best is only bought at the cost of great pain… Or so says the legend.”

~ Colleen McCullough, The Thorn Birds

I shall restrict myself to the five English songs as most of my regular readers do not follow Indian music. My top five would not contain any English songs at all.

The first one has to be this.

I courted Urmeela with many songs. This was her favourite. Those days, we had music like this to nudge as long.
The next one:

Our very first proper home after marriage. A bed sitter as it would be called in the West or a 1BHK over here. We had a primitive record player amped through an old Murphy Radio. This was one of my favourite songs on a 45 RPM disc. I have even forgotten what the other side contained. My cousin Shankar came to stay with us till he could find digs of his own. Both of us had done a fair bit of wandering. He too fell in love with this song. We were blessed to hear him croak this every morning in the shower. Whenever Shankar and I meet, we still sing this song as a duet and reminisce.

The next one:

For the first decade or so after our marriage, my life was like this. I owed my soul to the company store! Yes, Indian banks did not offer loans to individuals those days and employers were the only ones to oblige.

The next one:

23 years later, almost half my life then, I finally had the guts to say that to my employer. I played this after announcing the National Anthem, on the last day before the packers came, during my farewell party to close friends in the company.

The last one, my all time favourite for obvious reasons, even now.