Seventy-five years is no age to stay up late and watch television, G Periamma scowled and let everyone know. She looks far from gruntled as she pureed the rice and paruppu concoction for Paati. She looks at me, S and Appa accusingly, as she is now the sole person in-charge of Paati’s well being. Of course, she is not, but we let her to these little delusions.
I have twenty-five percentage heart blockage, she says almost triumphantly, as Appa guiltily averts her gaze.
All of this is T Anna’s fault. No. Really.
Among the many things that Amma had to go through, as preparation before her USA trip, was a MHC (Master Health Check-Up) at the Apollo Hospitals in Chennai.
All of us were shocked. In my family, nobody went to hospitals without a cause. Of course, the sick children made the occasional trip to Child Trust and menopausal women folk went to Vijaya Hospital. For aches and pains, there is the alternative medicine believer Rama Krishna, who recommends Virbhadrasana as the cure for all problems.
Then there is Thatha, who goes to Dr Krishnan, the partly senile and mostly very funny doctor. His diagnosis includes suggestions such as:
1. Sit in temple and say Shiva, Shiva
2. Sit in temple and say Rama, Rama
3. Langanam Parama Aushadam, there are few ailments that can’t be cured by skipping a meal
So, we were naturally shocked at this blatant disregard for tradition, Dr Krishnan and his homeopathic doctor son. Not just this, but the same had to happen at the Apollo Hospitals – the largest money making and tourist attracting destination of the city.
However, three things convinced Amma that she indeed had to go in for an MHC:
1. M Manni’s Amma had got one done prior to her USA visit
2. Since T Anna suggested that the cost of medical facilities were very high in USA, she didn’t want to discover some sudden ailment and burden her son
3. Amma fancies herself as a trend setter of sorts and didn’t want to lose out on an opportunity to be the first in something
The MHC promised to test every known and unknown ailment to mankind. On an impulse G Periamma also decided to get one done too. After all, being a few years senior to Amma meant that she was at a higher risk. Also, she didn’t want Amma to beat her.
I took both Amma and G Periamma for the first round of tests. There was palpable excitement and both Amma and G Periamma decided to do a quick stopover at the Pilayar Kovil before we went to the hospital.
Amma and Periamma had a rather animated discussion on the several possible problems that they might have. Even Chettiar who was riding our auto, looked most amused.
I will definitely have BP, so much tension because of ATP and S, Amma said confidently.
G Periamma volunteered to be the brand ambassador for spondylitis and back problems. Only I know how much I suffer, she said mournfully.
Amma said with empathy, I know what you mean, I know I have arthritis but I can’t stop working because of that. Five years ago, I would run up the Malai Kotai, now I dread at the thought.
Periamma sighed tragically and in manner of her Brahmastram said, but you know, I am sure to have a serious heart problem. So many times I wake up in the middle of the night with such a bad chest pain and your Anna (Periapppa) says that, it is only gas and gives me a Digene. And before he goes back to sleep, he will suggest that I put less paruppu in the sambhar.
Amma thought hard for a retort to beat that, but thankfully for all of us, we reached Apollo just then.
Inside, several maamis and maamas who were possibly going to America were getting their MHCs done too. Amma and Periamma were quick to befriend a random maami. I caught snatches of the conversation, as they behaved like some long lost siblings:
T Nagar va? Yay ! Texas va! Yay. Tirunelveli va ? Yay. My daughter is a journalist but my son is an engineer. Yay! What! That is a polycotton sari va? Amma and G Periamma asked shockingly. Polycot Maami brightened and said conspirationally, there is a store called Shri Aishwarya Sarees at Arcot Street. Yay, Amma and G Periamma gushed and the fans of Shri Aishwarya Sarees had a happy reunion and wondered how they hadn’t run into each other until then.
Before things got more painful, the stern looking nurse came and whisked away Amma and Periamma for the basic tests. So, blood was drawn, urine and stool samples taken and some more blood was drawn.
After these, came the biggie, the tests to ascertain the well-being of the heart. The same happened at the specialty heart hospital close by. The ECG went fine and Periamma looked surprised, disappointed even. The Echo Cardiogram showed a little variation for both Amma and Periamma. Periamma had an I-told-you expression on her face and Amma looked rather anxious.
Will you do the treadmill, the assistant asked? Both Amma and Periamma looked horrified. Amma insisted on going back home and Periamma was ready to weep any moment. Suddenly, inspirationally almost, Periamma asked me to call N Akka, Madras Atthais’s daughter and the only doctor in our extended family.
Isn’t she an ENT doctor, Amma asked? But she is STILL a doctor, Periamma said firmly. Luckily for us, she was around and came to our rescue pronto.
She tried to convince Amma and Periamma to go ahead with the treadmill. Periamma was worried that her Mysore silk Saree was not conducive for huffing and puffing on the treadmill, besides as the eldest daughter-in-law, she thought that Amma should go first. Amma finally relented (and cotton sarees helped her cause) and was given a clean chit because she did admirably well. Between performance anxiety and desire to outdo her sister-in-law Periamma wanted a more humane way to check the condition of her heart. N Akka recommended the 64 Slice CT Scan, which immediately appealed to Periamma. She reasoned that, since eight was her lucky number, the square of it must be twice as lucky. The technicians said that Periamma had a mild problem, but nothing to worry about.
Not to take the opinion of someone who didn’t go through the rigour of five years of medical school, Periamma spent the next two days doing some cutting edge research on the matters of the heart.
Finally, when it was time to show the reports to the doctor, he recommended a minor lifestyle change and some blood thinning medication. Periamma looked less than convinced. Don’t I need a stent, she demanded to know. Not really, the young doctor said, you need to stop using Google though.
I have a twenty-five percent heart blockage, she tells everyone now. She says so with pathos, drama and triumph.
And so, Amma lost and Periamma won.
But Amma also won, as she crossed the last of the hurdles to visit the land of opportunity. And so in the auto drive back home, she went through her mental check-list all over again. Podis: Check. Manoharam: Check. Mug: Check. Sri Rama Jayam Notebook: Check. Lalita Sahasra Namam CD: Check. TM Krishna CD: Check. Grand Sweets Broken Thathai: Check. Special NRI packet of Appalam and pickles from Meena Stores: Check. Ashwini Hair Oil: Check. Multiple copies of ATP’s Jadagam: Check.
Contrary to what Amma thought, we were managing fine. At least until the day before yesterday, when a call came from Periamma. At 4am.
Who might have died, I wondered, as Appa went to pick up the phone. Paati has fainted, Periamma said excitedly, and asked us to come immediately. We rushed and dragged the bewildered S, who was in the middle of some complex Physics problems.
Thatha was asked to repeat the same story and answer the same questions. What did she eat last night? How did you discover that she had fainted? What did you do after that? Was she behaving any differently last evening?
Thatha looked broken, scared and lonely. Thankfully, the doctor came then and told us that all was well with Paati and that it was a minor stress and tiredness related ailment.
Has she been doing something that she ought not to have been doing, Dr Krishnan asked?
Well, yes. She is watching the late night movies on Sun TV. Old B&W movies that are being screened as part of the 75th year of Tamil Cinema, Thatha said.
Who watches late night movies, Periamma thunders? And before I can think of a sharp retort she dramatically clutches her heart.
S and cousin D insisted that we get Tamil movie VCDs, this so that Paati could watch movies sans advertising and during the day. I agreed to the plan and asked Paati what movies she wanted to see. She said, Server Sundaram and Vietnam Veedu.
Vietnam Veedu is our family favourite. Prestige Padmanabha Iyer, the patriarch played by Sivaji evoked much mirth and was Thatha’s role model of sorts.
Thatha cheered as Sivaji came up with yet another out of context English quotation, Disease, Doctors, Drugs, Devil and Death.
Paati snorts derisively, as by now, she has completely recovered.
Thatha instead of reacting, ignores her.
S, the astute one asks Paati if she and Thatha have had a fight?
Yes, she said.
Why, we all asked curiously, temporarily ignoring the movie.
Paati is silent, her lips pursed and looking somewhat guilty.
You won’t believe what Paati has done, Thatha blurted suddenly. She has asked the newspaper vendor to stop The Hindu and gives Times of India from Tamil New Year’s day, because she has got a bag.
What, I say.
How could you do that, I asked Paati accusingly.
Paati looks guilty and then says, you can keep the bag, it is very nice.
I then called the newspaper guy and tell him that we would subscribe to both the newspapers.
Thatha looks pacified and Paati relieved.
Periamma wished to know who would read two newspapers.
S volunteers to read TOI, most generously.
But Paati is now seriously worried that the Rs 300 has turned out to be a wasted investment.
In a bid to be nice her I say, don’t worry Paati we will make more money when we sell old papers. It will be heavy with advertisements.
Hmppfh, Periamma says and demands to know what we shall do with all that money?
Why, we will fund your heart surgery with it, what else, Thatha tells laughingly.
As if on cue, Sivaji laughs loudly, clutches his chest dramatically and dies.
Paati laughed too.