Saturday, January 28, 2017

Morning routine in my parents house

This is the kitchen of my parents' home. Their day begins with two glasses of warm water, to which Amma adds a spoon of honey and some lemon.
Appa finds a knife and plates, and sits down at the dining table to slice elchi bananas. It takes a while. They will eat the bananas later, with cinnamon powder and sugar. The milk is set to boil. The filter is filled with coffee powder; and boiling water is poured into it. The fabulous smell of Mysore coffee fills the air. Once the decoction and milk are ready, the first cup of coffee is had. It takes them an hour to complete their first round of morning activities.

Recently my mother took a fall in the bathroom. It was not a major fall. But my sister, my cousin Girish and I have been taking turns to sleepover at their house for a few days, until things normalise. That's how I am here, watching these morning rituals. As I observe them moving around, I realise the mortality and fragility of the human body.  Someday, I will also get to this slow-moving stage. Will my husband be there with me, dancing this slow dance?

Last evening, an elderly neighbour heard about her fall, and came to visit my mother. "Deepa," she said, in that advisory tone that even complete strangers use freely in India "You must now look after your parents carefully." Almost instantly, I replied, "Maami, it is my good fortune that I can serve them". I realised as soon as I said it that I was parroting a cliché. But sometimes it is the clichés that seem to most closely reflect our thoughts. I am indeed blessed, that I can spend time with my parents at this stage of their life. 

My parents are still able to do many things on their own. For things that they cannot manage, my sister and I have been pitching in for the past couple of years. Our army of maids and drivers has been very handy. But in the process, the big thing I have learned is that when it comes to caring for elders, money alone is not enough. You cannot throw a nurse on the job and expect it to work well. Planning, coordination and a sort of loving expertise is required.

Many things seem small; but they are important to the person you are caring for. For example, the feeding of the crows in my mother's house is a tiny ritual, but it's important to her. It follows a fixed pattern. Rice and curd are mixed together into thayir saadam. The crows come at 10 am. Nothing else will they eat, except that thayir saadam. We have tried upma, sevai, dal-rice... uh-uh, sorry! Only thayir saadam is accepted with grace. So this is a ritual now, and it must be planned the previous day. We must ensure rice is cooked every day, and that some curd-rice is set aside for the next morning. At 10 am sharp, it has to be placed on the compound wall. If my mother is unwell, then someone else must do this little thing, because the crows cannot be forgotten.

There are a hundred small things like this, each one tiny, but each one a fragment of my parents' routine, a part of the way they want to live their life. It is what makes them who they are. It brings normalcy and comfort to them, to see these things done. I hope my sister and I can do it for as long as required.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

My academic research projects

- By Deepa Krishnan

These days I am enjoying my forays into academic research. 

Economic Times
The first research project  I did was on the impact of demonetization on families living in slums. It got significant coverage in the Economic Times, trending as Top News on their website. It was also in the Top 10 daily list among the articles on the Social Science Research Network (SSRN). For a rookie researcher, this is very encouraging!

The second research project (group photo below) is about the economic rationale for giving legal title to slum families. In this photo, you can see our field researchers are being trained in how to collect data. They are college students, who live in low-income/slum neighbourhoods; so they have access to the types of families we want to interviw.
Students who live in different wards of Mumbai
These research projects are part of my  "Earn while you Learn" scheme for students. Data collection doesn't interfere with college lectures, and is the ideal flexi-time income opportunity. 

I hope to complete data collection by January; and then hopefully we will produce some sort of draft academic paper by April.

Why have I suddenly embarked on this type of work? 

I think it's because every ten years or so, I feel the need to reinvent myself. I want to learn new skills, add new capabilities to my repertoire. From my mother, I have inherited the restless yearning for new frontiers. We are nomads, she and I, we like the new and the unexplored. 

Also, research appeals to the curious child in me. It is important for me to see the world through a child's open frank lens. Without that, I would atrophy and die, like a tree that has rotted. At SPJIMR, where I teach, I attended a workshop on doing research. When they asked participants about why each person there should do research, I answered "for the sheer thrill of it". I think we should only do things that excite us. The chase for the truth, for that kernel of insight and revelation, is at the heart of all research. 

But I'm not interested in abstract research. "Knowledge for knowledge's sake" doesn't really excite me. I would like to do research that can influence policy. Watch this space :)
Staff from Abhyudaya explaining how to fill the form
After the work, the eating :) Our local shop made hot samosas for us