Archive for October, 2012

“I’m sorry Sir, we tried….”

Posted: October 30, 2012 in family

“I’m sorry Sir, we tried. We think she’s been dead for at least 15 minutes…..” These words roll off the tongue of a doctor so easily, and often sound so thoughtless. But never were they delivered with more sadness and poignancy than on that fateful Wednesday, October 17, after the medical staff at the hospital, failed to revive the heart of a frail 83-year-old woman who meant the world to me, probably even more than my mother.

We’ve all gone back to our daily routine. In fact, a day after the funeral, my son decided he didn’t want to stay home and went back to school. I followed his example and returned to work. It was the best thing we could have done. But you know what they say, one doesn’t realise the value of someone, until they’re gone.

But that Wednesday it was different. I don’t think I have ever felt as sad and desolate as I felt that moment. There were no tears, just a deep sense of sadness. As my wife and I kept our emotions in check at the hospital, my son broke down and wept like only a child can. Vidya, a friend from childhood, who idolised my aunt as a child, was the first one there as soon as my wife called her from the hospital to give her the news. She was inconsolable as she saw the lifeless body lying on the stretcher.

Chittamma (little mother in Malayalam) had brought me up from the age of ten, when my mother left me behind in Pune and went off to find a job in Ooty. She became a sort of surrogate mother and when my mother retired and came to stay in Pune, never did she complain about the additional load on her finances. Then my brother came to stay and she welcomed him too. She just stepped aside and became the aunt again and younger sister to my mother.

I remember telling my wife before we were married, “I’ll leave you, but I won’t leave them.” My wife thought I was joking, but I think she realised how serious I was about looking after my aunt and mother, after she realised how much the former had done for me. Today, she admits that she could take up a job only because my aunt was there in the background, looking after our growing son and running the home.

It’s the little things that we suddenly miss the most. The diary that had the dhobi’s list, the folder where all the bills were kept – neatly, in different plastic pouches, is now our responsibility to maintain. The clothes that were folded, painstakingly, every day, and kept on our beds, are now a big heap that one of us has to disseminate.

She would wait for my son to return from school so she could feed him something, cajole him till he agreed, and get angry if he didn’t. He too would return from school, dump his things on the living room floor, go straight to her room and flop on her bed. Today when he gets back home to an empty house, because, neither my wife nor me, are at home, I wonder how he feels. I haven’t asked him, and I guess when he feels like it he will speak to me.

I would get home from work around midnight and her bedroom light would be on. Once she heard the door closing, she would switch off her light. Quite often, she would be reading or be asleep on her ‘rocking chair’ that was a gift from my sister-in-law when we moved into our new home in April. She always wanted a rocking chair and now that she had her own bedroom her life seemed to have become complete. I would reprimand her for keeping such late hours, but she complained that if she slept early she awoke very early and “didn’t know what to do after that.” Nowadays, as I get home from work and as I pass her room, I give a fleeting glance inside, almost hoping to see her sitting up solving her favourite crossword puzzles.

Until recently she never had the privacy of her own room, because we couldn’t afford a large enough house. She shared a room with her sister (my mother) when the latter was alive, and looked after her as she deteriorated rapidly from Alzheimer’s. In those three years she and the rest of us watched my mother disintegrate from the happy-go-lucky person to a physical and mental wreck, until her death. But she looked after my mother – cleaning, bathing and feeding her. She could have asked us to get a nurse, but refused, and did it all by herself.

She would often joke that she would not outlive her own mother who died in her early eighties. Then she would say to us that she would not live beyond 84, and my son warned her in jest, “You are not going anywhere, till I finish my SSC exams.”

After my mother died, Chittamma told my wife, she didn’t ever want to go that way. “I don’t want to become a vegetable, no life support and never want to stay in a hospital. I’ll put it in my will!” We all joked at about it then. But on that Wednesday she got her wish.


I have used a PMPML (or PMT as it was known earlier) once or twice since 1986. That was because I bought a two-wheeler and decided I didn’t wish to wait for a bus since my work timings were odd. I went to work when most people were coming back home and returned when people were fast asleep.

Then in 2003, I bought a car and my forays into a public transport bus were reduced even further. When I returned to Pune in 2005, I saw the rattle-traps that were being passed off as buses and decided I wouldn’t ever step into one again. I know lakhs of Puneites took those buses every day, but that was because they didn’t have an option. Well I did and I was going to exercise that option.

Here’s where I always wondered why people never objected to the manner in which the civic body forced people to accept what they got. There were new buses being inducted, but the city’s population was rising at four times the speed, and the PMT now PMPML just didn’t have the wherewithal to cope.

Today, Pune has just over five million people compared to Mumbai’s 20 million plus. Yet Pune has more vehicles per household than Mumbai. There were 23.13 lakh vehicles registered in Pune till October this year, of which 17.07 lakh were two-wheelers and 3.33 lakh were private cars. Yet, one-fifth of the five million citizens of Pune, use the approximately 1500 buses run by the Pune Mahanagar Parivahan Mahamandal Ltd or PMPML, everyday. The PMPML is, as of now, at least 1500 buses short of what it required to ferry passengers around the city.

It’s not like I am some fat cat who can afford to drive around 40-50 kms and burn around 300 bucks of fuel, every day. Only I know how much it pinches our monthly budget to end up over 8000 bucks in the red every month, to use my four-wheeler. I have often wondered, why there couldn’t be a better quality of buses, which were more point to point and with a higher frequency from wherever I stayed. Citizens in Bangalore, Delhi and elsewhere have the option, so why not those in Pune? If given a clean and comfortable option, more than half of the remaining four million, like me, would happily step into a PMPML bus, instead of using our own vehicles.

So when Sakal Times decided to highlight this issue and called for a Pune Bus Day on November 1, I don’t think anyone at our office expected the kind of response it received. At the risk of sounding cliched, the response was overwhelming. And unlike what the cynics are sneering about, NO political party is behind this, especially not the ‘Rashtrawadi’ ones, which is what some people are hinting at. Frankly, we aren’t a big enough newspaper for a political party latch on to us. Yes, political parties have realised the huge impact the movement is having and have now joined in. As a media vehicle we can’t tell them to lay off because one, they help to get the message across to their supporters and two, they will be the decision makers who will play a role n the city’s future.

You can sneer, snipe and jeer at the idea, that’s your prerogative. As a media, which is invariably, called cynical, it would have been natural for us to react the way you did. But the fact that lakhs of people from across the city have joined us, should tell you something. They can’t ALL be stupid – or cynical. They also know that things will not change in a day. But they are willing to make the effort. We are not saying that things will change dramatically in a day. It can’t and won’t. But isn’t it time, as citizens, we did something?

Look around you and tell me what you see. Power cuts, shutdowns, breakdowns, terrible roads, water shortages in one housing society after another; no water in some because builders have fleeced residents with promises they haven’t delivered on. And then where it hits us hardest, a public bus transport system, which is the lifeline of this city, that is unable to cope with the burgeoning passenger traffic. Let’s work to change it.

So, all we are asking citizens to do is travel by a bus on November 1, to send a message across to the city and state administration that Pune doesn’t want to become another dying city, which is where we are headed if we don’t do something. And, it doesn’t end on November 1. We intend to keep the pressure on the civic body to bring about the desired changes in not just the bus service, but about a whole lot of other issues plaguing the city.