Despite Parkinson’s, Dad Lies at Attention for the National Anthem

At 2 am, Anna turned on his back, straightened his spine (almost lying in attention) and sang the National Anthem.

A few weeks ago, I walked into Anna's house to find a sleepy Anna sitting at the dining table, a hot cup of coffee in front of him and his hands trapped under the table. (Nowadays, Anna can't seem to work out how to move his hands sideways and up from under the table).

Me: Anna, do you want to drink your coffee?

Anna gives a slight nod of his head.

Me (helping him move his hands sideways and up): Anna, can you hold the cup to drink your coffee?

There is another slight nod but no move to hold the coffee cup.

I bend the index finger of his right hand and curl it around the handle of the cup. That physical cue is enough for the rest of his hand to curl. He lifts the cup. The cup rises a couple of centimetres off the table and is dangerously tilted. He has little strength in his wrist and hand.

Me (moving his left hand to hold the side opposite the handle): Anna, lift the cup with both your hands.

Anna tries but can't. The alternative is for me to lift the cup to his lips to let him sip his coffee. I've got to be really careful, as the coffee is hot and if I tilt the cup too much, he could burn his lips.

Memories of the National Anthem

I ask the attendant, Sudama, if Anna had a comfortable night. Sudama tells me that Anna was fine till about 2 am in the morning. Then he suddenly turned on his back, straightened his legs and spine (almost lying in attention) and sang the Indian National Anthem.

Really! The whole national anthem!

Sudama tells me that Anna sang the anthem well. The words were all correct and the tune perfect. I find that hard to believe. Anna is tone-deaf. His Hindi is passable (i.e. it's just about good enough for him to have passed the Government mandated Hindi exam for Central Government jobs in the '50s / '60s).

Over the next week I try to find out what Anna was dreaming of when he sang the National Anthem in the middle of the night. Anna does not recall anything. There is not even a glimmer of a memory. So I try to ferret it out over multiple conversations.

Me: Anna, did you remember the National Anthem from when you sang it?

Anna does not respond.

Me: Anna, did you sing the National Anthem in school?

Anna: Yes.

Really? It can't possibly be. Anna was born in 1928. At Independence in 1947, he would have been 19 years old. From what I remember the anthem was adopted in 1950 when Anna was in college.

Me: Anna, did you sing the anthem in college and not when you were in school?

Anna: Yes.

Me: Anna, we had assembly only in school and not when we were in college.

There is no reaction from Anna.

Me: Maybe we should have had assembly in college, Anna.

Still no reaction.

Me: (deciding to go back to familiar territory that had him talking): Anna, didn't you say prayers at assembly? We all said prayers at school assembly. We didn't sing the National Anthem.

Anna: As soon as the National Anthem was declared, we sang the anthem instead of prayers.

Me (surprised): Really Anna? We didn't sing the anthem instead of prayers when we were in school.

Anna: You should have.

Me: Why Anna?

Anna: Because the National Anthem is more important than prayers.

(After working in corporate India for over 29 years, Sangeeta has taken time off to look after her father, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2008. Sangeeta hopes that these authentic stories will help patients and caregivers understand and appreciate the impact of Parkinson’s Disease. You can follow Sangeeta’s blog here.)

Related Links in the Series:

My Anna Holds on to his Bata Sandals, Even as He Loses his Memory
Who Knew That Nutella Would Convince My Old Dad to Take his Pills?
For a Dad with Parkinson’s, I’d Get Him All the Junk Food He Wants
Pray, Why Does My 87-Year-Old Anna Need an Aadhaar Card?
When Anna Forgot the Words for Pain & Medicine & Suffered Quietly
A Dialogue: The Day I Saw My Dad For the Feminist That He Is
Why I’m Going to Research Organ & Body Donation For My Brave Anna
Start. Stop. Eyes Glaze Over. (How a Parkinson’s Patient Talks)







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