THAT TRIP TO KENOSHA

                                                                                   

Almost three decades ago, as a newly married coy bride, it was a mandatory custom in the family tradition to make a visit to all relatives, far and near, to seek their blessings. It is amazing at how societial structures have come into being, and how these customs have shaped the kinds of lives we are supposed to lead. But at that age and time, there were no asking questions. What needed to be done, had to be done. Probably, that’s how the dots eventually get connected. Sometimes you see beyond the reason, and sometimes you live in unawareness. Needless to say, I remember vividly this particular visit to meet my husband’s Uncle, Mr. Mukul Mahanta, a man of amazing substance, and who interestingly happened to be very close acquaintance of my own father too. What amazed me was the house of this person, which was constructed and built entirely by himself. Every bit of furniture was made by his own hands and he actually gifted us a few precious pieces too. And here I fleetingly remember meeting his son Moon and his newly wedded American bride Janet who were also doing an India trip to meet up with the family members. That transient meeting with Moon and Janet was forgotten and dissolved as another random meet with two more people on this planet. More than two decades later, I had another chance meeting with Moon when he was visiting India and this time it was at a conference on Alzheimer’s Disease which was being held in Guwahati. I was one of the resource persons and so was Moon. We shared a few quick moments in between sessions and that was about it. But we both knew we had our concerns about the burning problems of the elderly in our society, the lack of awareness and the desire to do something substantial about it. Moon’s vast first hand experience about elderly care in America and the sheer lack of it in India, had probably stirred the need to do something about it. Having met with me, he knew that I too shared the same concerns and was struggling to work towards generating awareness, and training up a pool of resource persons for elderly care in general and Alzheimer’s in particular in a vast country like India. Moon’s particular interest in the subject was also ignited by a personal reason, because his mother was diagnosed to be a frank case of Alzheiemers Disease. Over the next few years, a lot happened and we were devastated to hear one morning, a few years ago, that Moon’s father passed away due to a stroke leaving behind his wife by his side, who was struggling with Alzheimers’s and was probably even unaware of the fact that she lost her husband that fateful morning. It was extremely hard upon Moon to figure out how his mother would be taken care of in a place like Guwahati where elderly health care support systems were at its minimal. Eventually, he had to make the difficult choice of putting her at the best possible care home in the city, Mother’s Old Age Home, which was one of the few places where compassionate and loving care was being given to so many elderly people, by Monica and Utpal.

Moon’s Mother ( right) in the comfort of Mother’s Home

It was in February 2019 that I planned a trip to the US, in order to visit my daughter who was at that time interning at the UN Headquarters in New York in the Peacebuilding Department. It was a month long trip and with the help of my daughter I carefully chalked out my itenary. Meanwhile I was in regular touch with Moon who was a mentor and guardian to my daughter while she was earlier studying in the University of Chicago. A trip to Wisconsin was very much on the offing though Moon clearly warned me to brace up for a lot of snow in February. At this point in time, I was in two minds about this trip to Kenosha in Wisconsin where Moon and Janet stayed. Though I really wanted to meet them and spend time with them,  I was also aware of the fact that Moon was going through a lot, in terms of his health condition. He  was diagnosed as a case of Non Hodgkins Lymphoma. For the past one year Moon had been battling with this disease, a cancer of the lymph nodes. Since I was an Oncologist too, Moon discussed his medical reports often with me and kept me informed about his treatment protocols and how he was coping up. NHL is usually known to be an aggressive disease but at the same time, it is also very responsive to treatment. Moon responded pretty well to his chemotherapy and had a very good metabolic response. He actually scheduled a visit to India at the end of his treatment to see his mother and we also had an opportunity to meet him at that time, when he came down to Guwahati. A week after he left for the US, Moon’s mother had a peaceful transition to the other side.It was as though she had waited for that one last glimpse of her son. I could understand how devastating this must have been for Moon. It simply wasn’t possible for him to come back again to India. However, he knew that it was Utpal of Mother’s Old age Home who took the utmost care of his mother during her final days and he fully deserved to perform her last rite as he had done for so many Mothers who passed away, while under his care.

This was probably another turning point in Moon’s rollercoaster life. Shortly therafter he was scheduled for his reassessment PET scan and it showed evidence of early relapse of Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. And this time he was offered the option of a bone marrow transplant which is the standard of care for treating relapsed cases. I was fully aware of Moon’s medical condition and the furthur management plan. This was the time when I was supposed to be visiting Chicago and Wisconsin, and I was in two minds now. Here was a man who was rattled with Cancer for the second time in such a short time, and was now undergoing preparations for a bone marrow transplant, and instead of laying bare his situation to me, instead of asking for privacy in these times, he was actually inviting me, with an honest desire to host me despite the trying circumstances he was going through. He even went on to say that this would be a golden opportunity for me to visit the cancer centre where he was undergoing his treatment and I could have a good overview of how Oncological Centres work in America and could carry some ideas back to Assam. I honestly felt that my declining the offer would probably hurt him more and eventually agreed to make this one most memorable trip of my lifetime to Kenosha in Wisconsin on that wintery February month of 2019.

Arnab Mahanta (Moon)…. Gazing at a White World, Lake Michigan, in all its glory

As I landed in Chicago, it was Moon’s wife, Janet who came to receive me at the airport. We had a wonderful reunion and then it was an hour’s drive through the snowy landscape to Kenosha. The Mid Western country side of America in winter offers a spectacular landscape and I cherished every moment embracing the majestic beauty all around. It was a warm welcome at Moon’s home and I just loved the coziness of his sweet home. It was a sheet of white snow outside and it felt almost like I was transported to a wintery fairyland . Kenosha is a quiet little town on the banks of Lake Michigan. It was such an ideal place to unwind and soak into it’s beauty. The next three days that I spent with Moon and Janet were unforgettable. In spite of what Moon was going through in terms of his preparation for his upcoming bone marrow transplant, his spirits were not to be dampened in any way. I learnt a lesson of positivity from this man, seeing from close quarters how he was dealing with his current situation and how he was even planning everything meticulously for his coming days which were bound to be extremely challenging. Despite seeing so many cancer patients on the professional front, it is a different learning altogether when you observe the lives that they actually live, from close quarters.

The majestic Kenosha North Pier Lighthouse, built in 1906 and standing 50 feet tall

Moon meticulously planned out my next three days ensuring that I would take the best memories of a wintery trip to Kenosha. I still relive those days as though it was a slice out of a fairy tale. The long drives and chats with him about different perspectives of life as we saw it, was so very enriching for me. And I do believe it was mutual, as we shared deep conversations from growing up in different environments, to challenges at various points in life, to basically learning from life itself. Our diverse backgrounds seemed to intersect at a myriad of junctions. We were actually not surprised that our fathers were good pals once upon a time.

Moon gave me the best of Kenosha and Milwaukee in the short span of three days. Despite the thick snow outside, I geared myself up well , ready to embrace the sights and sounds of Kenosha. Visiting Lake Michigan and observing the 6 foot waves, crashing on the snow, I stepped out to take a walk in the deep snow while Moon kept a careful watch from the car, gleefully observing my child like demenour of having this little adventure in the white winter wonderland.

Sights and sounds of beautiful Kenosha

As we drove around the town, my eyes caught glimpses of the beautiful homes covered with snow and surrounded by Christmas trees. It was a slice of heaven. Moon actually gave me a snapshot of his entire life ever since he came to Kenosha as a young man on his first job. He drove me to all the landmark spots of his life, which were major milestones in his life, his first working place, his previous homes, the church where he and Janet got married, the school where he earlier taught, and every little detail that mattered to him in the journey of his life.  It was like he was rewinding his life and replaying it for me, all over again. I was transported to another world in the company of this amazing man.

Driving through Milwaukee

However, apart from absorbing the wintery beauty of Kenosha, Lake Michigan and Milwaukee through the eyes of Moon, there were two particular events which set this trip totally apart. Moon had lined up an amazing plan for me which was nothing short of a surprise. Knowing that I was in the field of Oncology and was a part of a new Oncology set up being created back home in Assam, he wanted me to have an excursion of the Cancer Care centre where he was getting his treatment, just as he had promised me earlier. He wanted me to understand what happens behind the scene when patients like him enter such set ups.  So an entire morning was devoted to the Cancer Treatment Centres of America, at Zion, Illinois, which was a huge learning point for me. I was so thoroughly impressed and excited to have this golden opportunity of understanding Comprehensive cancer Care set ups of international standings. This was certainly something that I hadn’t expected.

A fruitful day spent at The Cancer Treatment Centres of America , Zion, Illinois

The other surprise plan for me was to visit the school where Moon was a teacher and actually meet with the high school students and interact with them. This reminded me of my Group Study Exchange trip to Canada in 2004 where we had done similar activities as  a part of the programme. I shall never forget that wonderful afternoon with a bunch of young immigrant students at Salam High School, Milwaukee who were so curious to know about India, its culture, education system customs, traditions and the geography. The twinkle in their eyes and their innocent questions taught me another lesson that irrespective of the fact of where we come from, human emotions are just the same everywhere. We all yearn for a little love, compassion, trust, inclusiveness and hope for a better future for all of humankind. We don’t want our differences to divide us, but rather learn to embrace them, as though we are all different flowers of the same garden.

Interacting with children at Salam High School, Milwaukee

I am so grateful to Janet and Moon , and their three handsome boys for welcoming me into their homes and hearts and sharing a glimpse of their lives, which was another milestone in my own journey of life.  I now understand why despite my hesitation to make this trip , it was eventually meant to happen for a reason. The wonderful ways in which God weaves our lives, can only be understood if we choose to see things from a wider perspective.

As a man who has fought the cancer twice, it is needless to say that he chooses to ride high on life, without being deterred by the challenges on the way. And so I wasn’t surprised to come across his book “REFLECTIONS OF A CALM MIND”, which reflects upon the profoundness of man’s temporary existence on planet earth. A widely travelled man, Moon’s first hand close encounters with exciting and hair -raising situations through his life, gives us a taste of how one can navigate through this journey, and it also depicts the larger plan of the Universal web which intricately designs each of our lives. I can only wish him and his dear family, abundance of good health and happiness.

Nothing in life is a coincidence, but it is all a part of a well orchestrated masterly plan. If we choose to see it, we will understand the reason of our very existence and all the connections that we make in the process. I humbly bow down to the Universe in Gratitude for joining the dots.

With Janet and Moon in the warmth of their home

To catch a copy of his amazing book “Reflections of a Calm Mind” by Arnab Mahanta , one can go to the link below:

Published by neelakshimahanta

I believe in celebrating life as it comes and living in the moment. Times are neither good nor bad. It is what we make out of it. If we are blissful, we will make the best out of it.

3 thoughts on “THAT TRIP TO KENOSHA

  1. Dear Neelakshi,
    Your style of story telling is simply mesmerising.. I loved it. To be honest, I am jealous of you…you are so gifted.. Let me pray for you and your family.
    Photos were marvellous. My great regard to Moon, the good soul.

    Liked by 1 person

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