Disha stared out of the window of the train as it sped towards Kerala. She was visiting her aunt on a break from work for 3 days. It was a respite she was looking forward to. Her work kept her on her feet from morning to evening with just enough time to grab a quick bite at lunch time and a cup of coffee in the evening. It was not that she did not enjoy her job, but there were days when it did get her down. She was wondering whether this was what she really wanted to do all her life.
She sighed deeply as she settled down comfortably in her corner and rested her head against the window. The cool breeze was very refreshing and the lush green paddy fields and coconut trees rushing in the opposite direction were very soothing to the eye. The wheels of the train drumed a rhythmic beat on the iron tracks lulling her mind into a reflective state. She slowly went back to her younger days.
Disha was a fun loving girl. She was one among 5 siblings – 3 girls and 2 boys. Her father, Joseph, worked in the railways in a clerical position and her mother, Regina, was a nurse. They somehow made ends meet and the children were sent to missionary schools where the fees were not unreasonably high. The parents were very strict with the children, especially with the girls. There were very rigid curfew hours for the daughters and woe betide any of them who dared to come home late.
Despite all this Disha and her sisters were very spirited and had their share of fun. They managed to get through their exams with average marks. They did not have any great ambitions in life. They were brought up to expect that they would have to get married to devout Catholic boys when they came of age and this would have to be done with the approval of the parents.
So it was that Disha got married to Steven when she was around 22. She had completed her graduation in commerce, done a short course in type writing and had been working for a couple of years as an accountant in an office not too far from her home in Thalassery. Steven hailed from Eranakulam. He came from a family of two brothers and two sisters. His father was a clerk in the municipal office and his mother a housewife. His brother and sisters were still studying and he himself done a diploma from a polytechnic college. He had been working with a construction company since the last 4 years and was 25 years old.
After marriage, Disha moved to Ernakulam and tried to find a job there. She found a job in a local library. Her usual routine involved getting up early in the morning, making breakfast for the whole family, going to work (everyone had lunch in the canteen at work or in college), come back in the evening, get back into the kitchen and cook dinner for everyone. There would be very little help forthcoming from anyone, though there would be plenty of complaints, snide comments and rude remarks. She tried ignoring these for a while though she used to feel very hurt. Steven did not do much to stand up for her. By and by their relationship too got strained. Things went too far and soon enough it came to the stage of a break-up. Not surprisingly, there was no support from her own family, nor was she welcome back home.
Disha with her broken heart approached a friend who was her friend, philosopher and guide. The friend took her in for a week and during this time they kept looking for other job opportunities for Disha outside Ernakulam. This is how they came across an advertisement calling for young boys and girls in their 20s willing to work as “care-givers” for elderly people in a home in Bangalore. The home was called “Angels of Hope” and was started by a Dr. Rukmini Krishnan and her husband. This was a home which took in patients with dementia and Alzheimers' and took care of them. The home also had a lot of other programmes for the welfare of the elderly.
The incumbents would be offered a decent salary, accommodation and meals. In return they would have to take care of the elderly just like they would take care of their own grand parents or elderly parents. It would not be easy. Old people suffering with dementia, Alzheimers', Parkinsons' and such problems are not always easy to take care of. They have their mood swings. It can be a lot more difficult than taking care of children. Taking care of children, while difficult, can also have its fun moments, but one cannot be guaranteed of such moments when caring for the elderly. If one gets them, they would be a bonus.
Disha decided to take up this job and give it a try. At least she would have a roof over her head and a job to take care of her for a while and if she did not like her job she could look for something else with this in hand.
The first 3 months had gone in training. It had been alright – not too difficult, not too easy. It had been hard work. One had to deal with old people, their quirks, their illnesses, do everything for them including taking them to the toilet, cleaning them, changing diapers, bathing them, combing their hair, feeding them, cajoling them to eat, ensuring that they took their medications etc. That was not all. Some of them were very advanced cases of dementia and would keep talking to themselves, or to imaginary, unseen people, cursing them, shouting at them, rocking incessantly, chewing their clothes all the time, walking up and down, turning violent at times ....... all this was part of a day's work. There were patients who would rinse their mouths with the coffee or food they were given and spit it out. Others would pour all the coffee down on the floor. Oh, at times it could get exasperating. In the evenings they would have to bring down the washed clothes, fold them and separate them and put them into the cupboards of the individual inmates.
In the evenings they would take those people who were capable of sitting out onto the lawn on wheel chairs or walking with the help of walkers or with support. There they would play ball with them, throwing a soft cloth ball to each one of them in turn, making them do some simple exercises etc. This was the time the care-givers would relax and let go and horse around, play around and have some fun. They would go around pepping the old folks, giving them hugs, pulling their cheeks, noses just the way kids would do to their grand parents at home and sway to the music pouring out of a music system.
Even so, there were days when Disha would feel like she was missing a normal life – the life a normal 25 year old would love to lead. Well, she needed some time off from the home to really think this matter over.
The train soon arrived at Trichur station. Disha got off and found her aunt and cousin waiting for her.
“How are you dear? It is so long since we saw you. You have lost so much of weight since I last saw you”.
“No, appachi, I am just the same. You are looking good. And how are you doing Cheta?”
George just patted her on her back and gave her a smile.
Disha spent 3 quiet days in Trichur in her appachi's home. They had done everything to make her comfortable and had studiedly tried to avoid talking to her about her past or her disastrous marriage.
The return journey to Bangalore had been by A/C bus and Disha had slept almost throughout the journey. The way back to the home from the main bus station was an hour long ride by bus. It was 6 pm and there were innumerable traffic jams caused by the rush of office goers returning home.
As soon as she entered the building, Disha bumped into a couple of her co-workers.
“Hey Disha, how are you? How was your holiday”?
“Lucky gal. It's ages since I had a break. We really missed you here”.
Disha just smiled at them and replied “Oh, had a swell time. It was so good to get away from this crazy city life, back to a quiet life even if it was only for 3 days and oh it was such a treat to see the greenery in Kerala. God knows how much I miss it here. Yes Megha, it's really high time you took off for at least a couple of days”.
Saying that she went to the 4 bedder room which was entrusted to her care. As she entered she saw the first one – Shanti Rangarajan, an 84 year old who had been admitted just a couple of months ago. This lady was a case of Alzheimer's and was in bad state when she had first come in. (Most of the people coming in were in much the same state when they got admitted). She had, however, made good progress and was doing a lot better. She was inclined to be quiet and did not talk much. She looked up as Disha entered the room, beamed from ear to ear and reached out to her and kept touching her as if to make sure it was really she. After a while Disha went to check out the next patient. When she had checked all her regular wards, she went upstairs to check out Elsie, an elderly lady who had been paralysed after a hip surgery and who could not speak or walk or do anything any more. There she was on a wheel chair. She caught a glimpse of Disha. She did not react, but pushed aside another care-giver who was standing in the way and kept staring at Disha. Disha went up to her and gave her a hug.
“How are you Elsie”?
Elsie opened her mouth and with great difficulty tried to enunciate “I am alright”. There was a tear at the edge of her eye.
There were tears in Disha's eyes too. She had come home. This was her home. This was her family. This was where she was comfortable. This was not just a job or a profession for her. It was her life, it was her calling and she would never ever consider quitting it for anything else. These elderly people loved her and needed her and she loved them just as much. No other job could give her the satisfaction that this job did. These were the moments that made all the hard work worth the while. These were the moments that were more rewarding than all the money that she could ever earn for her work.