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Morning muses with the little munchkin perched on top of her stack of books. Babbling, pointing, standing and now slowly trying to walk; this soon to be 11 brat is growing way too fast!

Shasta

It’s about 2 AM and I am on a side bed in Sinai Hospital. Earlier today (yesterday) Meena and I brought into this world a sparkingly beautiful 7lb 5oz girl. I remember seeing Meena during the institute at TFI with some of her school kids and thinking she would be a wonderful mother one day. Eight years from then, as I see this little munchkin in the crib beside her, I am more than thankful for all that has led to this day. I’m thrilled beyond limits.

Tara, Zara, Agni, Annapurna were all front runners for the name. With our mutual love for the mountains and belief that the name should exude power and confidence, we eventually zeroed in on Shasta. I first came across the name on a Dirtbag diaries podcast – Flying Deep. I profusely liked the way it sounded and the fact that Mt. Shasta was a towering, potentially active volcano sealed the deal.

I’m psyched that we’re naming her after a mountain. While climbing up a peak or on the ridge, I always feel the eerie and calming sense of belonging. It always reminds me of days spent in the hospital living by the day…a mixed bag of memories I so wish, I didn’t have, yet I’m so thankful I do… Somewhere deep under I knew Amma wouldn’t make it. She’d been swinging in and out of consciousness for several months now. One of those lucky days in November 1999, her vitals seemed reasonably stable. She was longing for some fresh air and I was able to finagle one of the nurses to take us outdoors. We took amma on a wheelchair to the terrace of the hospital. It was a dark, chilly and breezy night. Hyderabad was just about wrapping up its Diwali celebrations. Far down where our vision could stretch, every now and then a rocket would shoot up and the fireworks would brighten up the sky. Amma was thrilled! As another waft of cold air blew on the terrace, amma clenched my fists and said “I’ve never been this high on the mountains. This is the most beautiful sun rise I’ve ever seen”. It didn’t take us a lot to figure out she was having yet another bout of hallucination. The last few months the medications were wrecking havoc. This time though on that terrace, I felt a sense of thankfulness. For this, was one of those moments when I could see that child-like sparkle in her eyes, something that would remain captured in my memories of her and something which I’d never see again…forever. From that day, Mountains and more so sunrise on those ridges took a whole different meaning.

A few days back, as we floated the name within the family circle, one of my cousin’s mentioned Shasta meant ‘teacher’ in Sanskrit. Meena and I met through a teaching fellowship and I thought it was pretty awesome that we ended up naming our kid – Shasta! Shasta, also happens to be a reference to a south Indian Hindu deity that my ancestors have long worshiped. All in all we seem to have appeased all generations!

For the middle name we decided to just leave it as R, depicting Ratna – amma’s name, Rajesh – a dear cousin of mine who committed suicide a few years back and Ramu anna – another cousin who very recently passed away fighting cancer. The hope is that we’re saliently reminded of them all through Shasta.

While I can’t quite foresee the future, I believe we do have in mind the kind of person we would like to raise. The world at this point in time has a lot of negative things going on. We hope as Shasta grows and develops a personality of her own, she does so much more than what we’ve done to bring in more positivity around her.

Moving on…

As we stood there in front of the casket, me pouring the last drop of water in his mouth, memories flashed in front of my eyes. Of monkeys cornering us that early morning on their house terrace in Ahmedabad; Of walking on the busy roads in Habsiguda, him walking on my left, guarding me from the traffic and I craning my neck to look at him as he mentions how I would be wonderful doctor; Of  us both sitting beside Amma in the hospital bed and him explaining in ‘kid terms’ what was likely happening in Amma’s brain as she was fighting her tumor; Of him and Sharath gate crashing wedding receptions in our colony; Of all the discussions we had on ‘living’ life and making a concerted effort on spending more time with family; Of the weekend in Queens, NY during their visit to the east coast; Of Grouse Grind and the Dragon boat race, he wanted to do together; Of setting up a local cloud server and him wanting to get into software development and app design; Of all the outdoor trips we planned to do over the next few years; Of our visit to Allouette lake when we visited them a few years back in Vancouver; Of him making arrangements to get a ride for us from the airport to the hospital where he was the patient, Of him asking me not to leave that early when I visited him in June…

The person in the casket in no way resembled the person we’d known. Cancer had devoured him inside-out and it was excruciatingly painful to see him in this state. I was hoping beyond hope that this was all a bad dream and he would wake up, we’d call this a miracle and get back to our regular lives…We knew the end was coming and looking at him in deep pain a few months back, I then hoped it would happen sooner than later… but being there and to see his casket go into the furnace and realizing it’s all over, I wish I had dropped everything I was doing and spent more time with him over the last few months…

On the flight back to Boston, as I was trying to make sense of it all, I was volleying between Ramu anna’s death this year and Rajesh’s suicide in 2015. I was reminded of the podcast on Voyager1 and Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. — Carl Sagan

In the big scheme of things, we’re all so dispensable. Arguably, There’s so, so little that you have control over and there’s no rhyme or reason for certain things. Life is best lived, living in the moment and spending time with family and friends.

Rest in peace, Ramu Anna. You were a terrific person and will be sorely missed.

Sunrise at the confluence

@ Kanyakumari, India

A glimpse of sunrise at the tip of the Indian subcontinent, where the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal meet the Indian Ocean. Tourists throng to this overlook, right behind the Bagvathi Amman temple at the break of dawn (and the onset of dusk).

The Vivekananda memorial continues to be one of those few locations to be maintained sparking clean. Nothing much seems to have changed since my last visit to this place seven years ago. The shrouded Thiruvalluvar statue that’s to the far right talks volumes of the current political situation in the state. The ferry no longer stops at the statue.

Appa’s 81st birthday (official). He had that sparkle in his eye’s when he was looking up to the sun rise above the horizon. Despite this being such a rushed trip, I’m so glad we could get him here. Climbing up one of the stairs on the Vivekananda memorial he mentioned this would probably be his last visit. Was quite disturbing to see him struggle through something that’s always been second nature. With old age his mobility seems to be drastically reducing. Hope over the next few years, we’re able to find better means of taking him to more places outdoors.