June, 2015

A Grandfather’s Love Can Be Rich

I grew up in Calcutta, a city inhabited mostly by people who are Hindu, like me. It may seem strange, then, that some of my most vivid childhood memories involve Christmas. But the holiday holds a special meaning for me.

Calcutta–halfway around the world from Texas, where I live now–celebrated Christmas in its own way. Poinsettia trees and colored lights on Chowringhee Street. Afternoon skies above Maidan Park, filled with moon-shaped kites. The nuns at school teaching us “Away in a Manger” and rapping our knuckles if we got the words wrong. The Anglo-Indian store windows decorated with homemade Christmas scenes: fat Santas, oval mirrors laid flat to simulate a frozen lake, miniature sleighs nestled in a clump of cotton wool, which was all I knew of snow and cold until I came to America. In my native language, Bengali, we even had a different word for Christmas: Baradin, which means “big day.”

But my favorite part of the holiday was the trip my grandfather and I would make together every year on December 24, to Firpo’s Bakery.

My grandfather did not live with us in Calcutta. He was a doctor in Gurap, our ancestral village in the Bengal countryside. He was a very busy man, helping the poor farmers of his district. But as the holidays drew near, he would take the Bardhaman train and come visit his grandchildren for a few days during our winter vacation. In defiance of popular sentiment, he had decided that I–the girl–was to be his favorite. I loved him for that.

I knew, from eavesdropping on grown-up conversations, that when my grandfather was younger, he was considered something of a terror. A retired army captain, he had disowned two of his sons for actions he felt had shamed the family. Even now, when he entered a room, my parents stood to show him respect.

Grandfather was the first one in his town to own a radio, a large box made of polished mahogany. He kept it in the Outer House, a separate, one-room structure where he saw patients and, after hours, chatted with friends. When events of magnitude occurred in the country or in the world, he would send word, and villagers were welcome to come to the Outer House to hear about it. My grandfather’s radio was how the village learned of the second World War and of India’s independence.

He was also the first one to send a daughter (my mother) to college in Calcutta, an act that scandalized the whole village. For this mason, he was the one person I could ask about anything. My father was impatient with my questions; my mother was often too busy with household chores. My older brother couldn’t be trusted; for years he had me believing that, as a baby, I’d been left on our terrace by a black-faced baboon. But my grandfather knew everything–from the name of the capital of Ethiopia to how fish were able to breathe under the water to who was going to win the next Mohun Bagan-East Bengal football game.

I didn’t know how to reconcile Grandfather’s different faces, and I didn’t try. It was enough that when I ran to him, a smile broke across his face, and he gathered me to his chest in an embrace that smelled like cloves.

This particular December 24, as we walked together to Firpo’s, we took turns twirling his umbrella, which was a wonderful device. Large and shiny black, it could be unfurled to protect him (and me) from sun or rain. It could be leaned on if you were tired. It was a good weapon of defense against aggressive street dogs, and its curved handle was excellent for pulling down things that were out of reach. (Grandfather also said he used it to rout bands of robbers in the countryside, but his eyes twinkled when he told me this.)

As we walked, we discussed what to buy at Firpo’s. The store was very expensive, and since Grandfather’s patients paid mostly in vegetables and gratitude, he lived on just his modest army pension, so we had to choose our treats carefully. Should we go for the familiar, and therefore certain, pleasures of the red and green sugar cookies shaped like fir trees? Or the fruitcake studded with the sweetest cherries I’d ever tasted? (Actually, the only cherries I’d ever tasted.) Or should we try some of those little pastel-colored pastries that sat, each in its own frilled paper container, on the top shelf, filled with exotic creams and fudges? Grandfather urged me to be adventurous, but I wasn’t sure.

We ended up buying the fruitcake, same as last year. As a bonus, Grandfather got me a cookie to eat on the way back, and gave me the change: two 25-paisa coins. Rarely did I find myself in possession of extra money, and I was elated. Why, with 50 paise, I could buy three packets of Chiclets chewing gum, two Qwality pistachio ice sticks, or a helping of gol-guppa from the snack man across the street. I resolved to hide the money in my shoes as soon as I got home, until I figured out how best to spend it.

On the tram, my mouth crammed with crunchy sugar, I asked Grandfather a question that i’d been mulling over for some time now. Why was Christmas called the Big Day?

Grandfather was silent for a whole minute. I started to get worried. I knew he was a devout Hindu, and though not a templegoer, he meditated in his room and read from the Bhagavad Gita every morning. Had I committed a terrible faux pas by asking him about the birthday of a foreign god he did not believe in?

But Grandfather wasn’t mad–he’d merely been thinking. When he finally spoke, his voice was slow and considering, as though I were the same age as he. Christmas–the birthday of a very special soul–was a day to grow big, he said. Not physically, not even in the way of riches and fame, but in the truest way, in our hearts.

This sounded interesting. “And how do you grow big in your heart, Grandfather?” I asked.

“You do it by thinking of other people, shona,” he replied. “By doing something you think will make them happy. Something you don’t have to do. By putting their needs before yours at least once for this day. It’s a good start for trying to live a big life.”

Satisfied with his answer, I turned my attention to all the interesting things I could observe from the tram window. I spotted a monkey-dance man, his animal perched on his shoulder in a red satin jacket. There was a vendor with wares of spicy potato chaat and puffed rice. Next came a white bull, standing majestic and intractable in the middle of the road. At the corner of Shakespeare Sarani, I saw a madwoman armed with a broom, squatting in the dirt. She wore a torn sari and a battered motorcycle helmet–who knows where she had picked it up. I watched her carefully. She was known to swipe at passersby with her broom, and I didn’t want to miss any of the action. But today, she just stared listlessly at the pavement. When the tram stopped in front of her, I was shocked to see she was shivering.

Beggars were everyday sights in Calcutta, and like others who must survive in the city, I had learned not to think too much about the details of their lives. But perhaps because of what Grandfather had just said, I took one of my 25-paisa coins and threw it surreptitiously from the window. It landed with a loud clink in front of the madwoman. I cringed at the sound, but I was worried for nothing–my grandfather did not notice what I had done.

Neither, apparently, had the crazy woman. She was staring down at her fingernails now, muttering something, rocking a little from side to side. There was a big purple bruise on her cheekbone. The coin lay in front of her, its lonely shine against the dirty asphalt. The tram picked up speed. Take the money, take the money, I ordered her desperately inside my head. But she didn’t do it. The tram turned a corner and she was gone. I burst into tears.

Grandfather asked, concerned, “Do you have a tummyache? Do you need to go to the bathroom?”

Hot with embarrassment, I stopped crying long enough to shake my head. Did he think I was a baby, to need to go to the bathroom in the middle of a tram trip?

“Do you feel sick? Tell me why you’re crying, shona.”

Somehow, though I wanted to, I could not say anything. This, too, distressed me. It was the first time I’d kept a secret from my grandfather, and it felt like a betrayal. But what if he got angry that I’d so casually thrown away the money he’d given me? I was upset, too, at the waste–I could still see the small, glittery disk lying on the ground next to a pile of street garbage, l thought of all the things that my one remaining coin would not buy me and wept harder.

“Oh, dear!” said Grandfather. “I shouldn’t have given you that cookie. So many times your mother has warned me that you get carsick easily. Wait!” He rummaged in his kurta pocket and pulled out a small bottle in triumph.

“Churan,” he told me as he shook out a tiny brown ball. “Try one. It’s really good for nausea.”

I sucked on the spicy-sour ball while he launched into a complicated fairy tale to distract me. The rest of the day’s diversions–my mother’s feast, the silly jokes we told over dinner, the Christmas poem I’d learned in class and recited–kept me from thinking about the beggar woman.

Posted in Education No Comments »

SnoreRX Can Do A Lot To Ease Snoring

SnoreRX is good, but not faultless.

SnoreRX is good, but not faultless.

Are you living with snoring? Regardless if you are the person snoring, or the one who has to sleep next them, snoring can be a nightmare. Unfortunately it is fairly common. In the United States alone, at least 46% of people snore. That is almost half of the population! Frankly, I believe that snoring is simply a cascade or cycle of issues we experience. If you are overweight, this significantly exacerbates snoring, leaving you feeling tired during the day, thus increasing your consumption of more food and possibly even caffeinated beverages to try and keep you awake, which in turn adds to the obesity. It is a deadly cycle. And snoring is deadly believe it or not. Those who snore are at a higher risk of developing worse health conditions including, stroke, heart attack, high blood pressure, heart disease and more.

Snoring can also indicate an even more disturbing condition known as sleep apnea. Sleep apnea happens when a person’s airway is completely blocked while they are asleep. In most cases they can exhale air, but when they try to draw more air in, it cannot pass the by the relaxed jaw and throat muscles. The body and brain then recognizes that they are going without oxygen, and will wake the person up to get them to breathe again. As a result the person goes through a sleep/awake cycle that can happen over and over in the night. These people then attempt to go to work or function in their lives without having quality sleep. Sleep apnea has been linked to an increased amount of accidents while people are at work. They simply aren’t functioning at full capacity.

Thankfully there is a solution. A scientifically tried, true and effective one. In addition, if you are snoring, you can take heart knowing that you no longer have to consider surgery (which can put your health at significant risk) and possibly having to wear a costly, horrible CPAP device.

On the market today, you can find anti-snoring devices to help you either decrease or eliminate your snoring. One of the best available is the SnoreRX anti-snoring mouthpiece. It is a small plastic mouth guard (similar to ones used by professional athletes) that you wear in your mouth while you sleep.

There are two types of mouthpieces, SnoreRX falls in the category of MAD (Mandibular Advancement Device) that works to hold your jaw in place while you sleep. Snoring is caused by the jaw, neck, tongue or throat muscles falling backwards, thanks to gravity, while the person is sleeping. This can block the airway.

The SnoreRX mouthpiece works to hold the jaw in place during sleep. What I like about the SnoreRX is that it is doctor approved, and in some cases recommended. It is made from medical grade materials, and best of all, it is adjustable. Typically anti-snoring mouthpieces use the “boil and bite” technique to create a custom fit mouthpiece that will work for you. You boil the mouthpiece, allowing it to become soft, insert it into your mouth, bite down and voila’ you have a custom impression of your own mouth.

The only problem with this is, you are making this impression while you’re awake, and most likely sitting or standing. As a result, when you wear your mouthpiece at night, when you are laying down and relaxed, you may find it doesn’t fit as well as you like.

The SnoreRX allows you to adjust your mouthpiece in 1 mm increments so you can find the very best fit for you. AND best of all, located on the side of the mouthpiece, it has a visual settings guide to help you see the changes you are making. Allowing you to reset the device as needed. This benefit alone sets it apart from the competition.

If you are considering investing in an anti-snoring mouthpiece, SnoreRX should be your first choice. I know you will find a peaceful night’s sleep for you and your loved ones.

Posted in Education, Health No Comments »