Still Me...Forever Me
Post a leisurely dinner, the spouse and I are cocooned in the comfort of our individual bed lights, our backs turned towards each other. The spouse is tapping away on the keyboard of his laptop, mumbling to himself as he writes down the dialogues of the script of his next film. I pick up my smartphone and punch a few keys… clear my throat and
The soft mumbling from the other side of the bed stops suddenly. I touch another key.
“Are you ok?” asks the spouse.
I feel a light tap on my shoulder, “Wake up honey! Wake up! It’s only a bad dream, you’ll be fine!”
I turn around sharply to show him I am wide awake.
There is a plaintive look in his eyes. “Honey, in case you forgotten, I am a Kumaoni and I can speak only Hindi and English!”.
“I push my smartphone at him and inform him in no casual tones that I need to learn a new language.”
“Learn Malayalam Fast”, he reads out the name of the App I have downloaded. A light gleams in his eyes. “Oh! So, it’s the big A looming large again?”
He turns back to his tapping and mumbling. “Go to sleep Honey! You’ll be fine.”
It’s a cold December evening. A small group of close friends, wine, Single malt and a variety of exquisite cheeses warm the cockles of our heart. The conversation and music are soft and sedative. I don’t know when I veer off.
“NYMPHOMANIAC! Got it.”
There is a stunned silence. A couple of wine glasses have tumbled. Six pairs of eyes are boring into me. I apologize profusely. That was 22 down of the crossword, I had got stuck this morning. I inform them in a voice that sounds more like a bleat. Crosswords are good for keeping the brain agile.
I see that LOOK in my husband’s eyes. “Yes Honey, the big A looms large!”
Actually, it wasn’t like this with me even six months back. I was pretty okay with the functioning of all my neurological contraptions….the brain,the motor system et al.
Yes , it was true, that two years back, one of my old folk had got on the foggy path of Alzheimer’s and passed on….there was then the initial trauma and the un surety of whether genetics would gift me the devastating conditions or not. But worldwide research then, was not pointing any clear finger at genetics being a clear culprit.
I took the benefit of doubt…nay..grabbed it and life continued. I firmly believed I was ageing normally. Even when I turned fifty, I defended most of my retentive foibles rather admirably.
Yes, I did forget where I had kept the keys…but were twenty five sets of keys between you and me!?
I could not recall the lyrics of the new and awful Bollywood song I had just the day before…but had I…it would have been an insult to my very refined taste in music and poetry.
My conversations were pretty well structured and there were times I forgot words, but according to a vocabulary test I took on the internet, I was termed an ACE linguist!
And look here….even if you do not count all this…I had been on this planet for over five decades now. And I did deserve some grace points!
Then, just a few years back, in a trivial moment, my twenty two year old decided I was on the verge of senility. She had asked me to remind the dry cleaners to send back her black woollen jacket. She would need it for a dinner date the next day.
She was seething as she turned the cupboard upside down for a suitable alternative.
“How could you forget Ma ???” “ You knew how important this date was!” ‘HOW COULD YOU? “
A couple of angrier moments later she pronounced , “ MA…you are over the hill!!”
Now look here young lady…. Lets get a couple of things straight….!
First, just WHAT is that hill you are talking about? It’s a MOUNTAIN I’m over…IF I AM!
Yes! A rocky ,rugged,ardous,demanding ,towering Himalayan structure….the Everest, the Godwin Austin, the Kanchenjunga,or even that Mount Chimborazo in the Cordillera Occidental range of the Andes…whatever!!!
No shy, gentle, retiring hill of the English countryside for me…PLEASE!!
And HOW COULD I FORGET YOUR JACKET?
Well Maam, just after your command. your father asked me to find the file that had his work contracts, the plumber asked me to pour a bucket of water down the WC he was repairing, the cook asked me to decide lunch and dinner, the neighbor asked me for a pot of sugar, your brother called from school to say he had forgotten his test copy and he needed it within an hour, the presswala came up to deny he had burned a hole in my new kurta………and you ask me how could I forget !!
But , just to keep myself armed, in case that genetic thingamajig worked against me, I began taking what you could call ‘all relevant precautions’ .
Crossword and Sudoku books and a Rubik’s cube could now often be found on my bedside table.
Notes of Hindustani classical music wafted out from the doors of my home, and the neighbours got curious.
My bed would be strewn with embroidery threads and do it yourself manuals on complicated embroidery from the Balkans.
And I joined a chess club.
There wasn’t any urgency in these responses. No ugly hurry to rush out for battle.
And then….just six months ago, I read a book called “Still Alice”. The protagonist is a brilliant psychologist, who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s even before she reaches fifty. There is no apparent reason why this happens to her. The story is then about her decline and how she and her family members come to terms.
It’s a poignant story, frightening and hopeful at the same time.
The book brought out fresh fears in me. What IF ??
The Sudoku and crossword books proliferated the house in larger numbers and formed even more dangerously leaning towers almost everywhere… bedroom, bathrooms, living room….
The daily walk went up from ten to twenty laps of the local park.
I called for even more complicated embroidery manuals from Mongolia.
And I began to download “Learn A Language’ apps on my smartphone.
The spouse was done with tapping dialogues into his laptop and was now snoring gently.
I got on to the Internet and logged on to one of the sites that test whether the big A has begun creeping into your life or not. I decided to take a check.
Q 1. Do you have trouble making plans and sticking to them?
My answer. Yes…especially when I need plan for myself and the three totally undecided members of my family, and be completely responsible for their whims.
Q2. Is it hard to concentrate on detailed tasks, especially if they involve numbers ?
My answer. Yes, but what do you expect from someone who has been a nervous wreck before and after every math test since Kindergarten?
Q3. Do you have trouble driving to a location you go often?
My answer. Show me one person in this crazy traffic country who doesn’t! And haven’t you heard why the Odd Even scheme had to be implemented in Delhi??
Q4. Do you forget the rules of your favourite game?
My answer. Yes, but the last I played Hopscotch, I Spy and Tippy Tippy Tap was when I was 11!
Q5 . Can you fully grasp something that’s not happening now?
My answer. Now what kind of a question is that ?? If its not happening, its not happening!!!
Q 6. Do you forget where you are?
My answer. Yes,especially when I am drawing,painting and singing.
Q7. Can you find the right word you are looking for ?
My answer. Sometimes…but that is also because I run through a mental thesaurus to find an exciting synonym…!
Q8. Do you call things by the wrong name ?
My answer. I do that sometimes to make the conversation less banal and more quirky.
BAH! Enough is enough!
I think I’ll survive! And look here ,you big A with all tangles and plaques,block rogue proteins, your different single-gene mutations on chromosomes 21.14 and 1 and your beta amyloid clumps….
I have my crosswords,Sudokus,yoga, and my dark chocolates red wines and complicated and intricate embroidery to kick you on your rump!
As I said before, I’ve climbed up a rugged,rocky and steep mountain very carefully…and I’m not going down so easily!
So there….I’m signing up for classes in Swahili tomorrow!
By Vandana Bist