Saturday, December 19, 2009

Faithful spirit

Rajalakshmi adjusted the intravenous poles as a routine though she knew the old man was sinking fast and may not survive the day.The doctors had given up hope and he was administered medicines only to ease his pain.He was in a coma .She nevertheless took care of him as if he would survive this ordeal.The old man in his Eighties was oblivious to the surroundings, the very short life that lay ahead of him, the presence of his dutiful wife who spent wakeful hours at his bedside praying for his recovery all the time.

Rajalaksmi turned to the old lady who appeared a few years younger than the old man.She was small built, draped in nine yards and looked fresh after her bath in the early morning with a big bindi and ash mark on her forehead.She held in her hand prayer books.

“How is he today?” she had asked the nurse Rajalakshmi

What could she tell the old woman who pinned her hopes on her Goddess and her prayers? The old lady was quietly aware of the critical condition of her husband.

Rajlaksmi said “There is no change, grandma.His condition remains the same and not good.Doctors are trying their best”

“It has happened many times before virtually taking him to his end but he always recovered miraculously. My Godess will not let me down, I am sure, this time also” said the lady.

“Grandma, don’t you have children? I see nobody here.You are here all the 24 hours without rest or sleep” asked the nurse

“I have one daughter in Australia.But her husband ever since her marriage would not permit her to come to our house due to some misunderstanding.She is a good girl with two kids of her own.What can the poor thing do when her husband is stubborn and insensitive.Only the neighbours helped in bringing grandpa here. But I don’t want to disturb them”

“How long are you married?” asked the nurse

“I don’t know.I was thirteen then and I must be seventy eight now.You work out yourself.I am not good in arithmetic” the lady replied.

“ Wow!! Sixtyfive years both of you have been together. Have you taken any food? You don’t seem to go out at all” asked the nurse

“How can I leave him alone? In case he opens his eyes and calls Chellamma what will he think if there is no response:” she asked. ”The ward boy gets me plantains and idly from the canteen.” she added

Rajalakshmi turned her face away to hide her tears. “Okay grandma, you can be by his side holdng his hands.No one will come today being Sunday. But you must take a short nap as grandpa is sleeping comfortably. I will come now and then.I have my night duty also today.Don’t worry.I will be there for you. Please ring the bell if you need me” she said softly resting her hand on the old lady’s shoulder. When she left the room after noting down some data on the chart, she saw the old lady caressing the old man’s face muttering something about her faith in Goddess and his recovery.

Rajalakshmi was busy with other patients one of whom was on ventilator and another needed close monitoring.She had tough time and was on continuous duty for two shifts. It was around 4 am that she had finally got some rest. She came to the room and found the old lady asleep with her head on the bed and one hand holding the hand of her husband while the other on his forehead.The prayer books were on the bed.

She went near the old man only to find that he had passed away.He was still warm.Though professionally trained, she could not hold back her tears and shuddered at the prospect of breaking the sad news to the wife who steadfastly trusted her Goddess's power to healShe came around the bed to the old lady and put her hand on her shoulders telling “Grand ma, wake up.Please wake up.” When she did not respond she nudged her liitle harder only to find the faithful spirit had also flown away with her husband

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Unspoken affection

I was then a young boy of twelve years.My maternal grandpa lived in another part of the town with my uncle.He was an old man in seventies.He was a widower having lost his wife at a young age and led a life of strict discipline and austerity.He wore only Khadi made out of the yarn spun by him in the charka (wheel).He rose early finished his oblutions and the puja by 6am to be before thw wheel spinning yarn for two hours.He was a disciplinarian,spoke only when necessary and was given to reading habits.He was spotlessly clean except for the snuff that fell on his dress when he inhaled it frequently.This was one ‘bad and nasty habit’ he admitted he could not get rid off.He ate less but was a gourmet relishing good food.

Whenever I had holidays after each term, he took me away forcibly to his place.It was a big house and he had rented several small portions to many poor families.There were young boys and girls of my age to play with.While I looked forward to the fun with them, what I detested was his strict regimen of study for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon.He would teach me in the mornings daily along with a few other boys living in the house algebra and geometry for an hour and Englsh grammar from Wren and Martin for another hour.Learning Maths was fun but grammar I found a bore.His temper was short and he had a ferrule at hand and believed strongly in the dictum of sparing the rod and spoiling the child.I remember clearly that he used it only on me and not on other boys. My uncle often used to come in support of me when I got beat only to be chided away.My tears never moved my grandpa though I should confess he never beat me hard.It was his anger and inhaling the snuff before taking the ferrule in his hand that scared me.He gave enough home work to be completed and shown in the afternoon session.Besides this he chose one story poem daily and asked us to write it in prose form.

It was this story poem that I felt the hardest for it was dfficult for me to comprehend and to write in prose form. I made many grammatical mistakes.One boy who was with me always got his praise for paraphrasing the poem in impeccable and flawless English though he fared poorly in all other subjects.My grandpa’s anger grew more when he read mine after reading his and invariably ended with the ferrule coming into operation.This went on for quite some days till I accidentally stumbled on the boy’s table one book that was a key to story poems with answers neatly provided.That boy simply copied it and presented to my grandpa winning appreciation.

So the next day when he started praising him and hitting me, I spilled the truth.That incident witnessed the boy being dismissed permanently from his classes.He said ”Yes I was wrong in praising him and should have suspected it.But that does not in any way condone your poor work”

I remonstrated ’Thatha, you are always partial.You always beat me.Never once you have hit them.You revel in spoiling my holidays bringing me here always.I hate you.I don’t want your tutions.I don’t want to be here with you.Please allow me to go home.”

He hugged me tight.”Partha, you are my favourite grandson.They are nobody to me.I want you to be bright and do well in studies.Do not mistake me.You have opened my eyes.I will throw the ferrule away and promise not to touch you.Please do not go away. I am sorry” he pleaded.

I felt bad when I saw a tear trickle from his eye.I fell at his feet and said “Thatha, please forgive me.I know you are doing for my benefit.”

He said “It is okay.You can go home today and come after three days if you wish to.Let us finish the few chapters of Wren and Martin and a few theorems before the school reopens.” When I said that I didn’t wish to go, he still sent me back.

Two days later when I was playing cricket in the garden behind my house, my sister came running to tell me “Partha, thatha died an hour back due to heart attack.Amma is going.You also join her.”

An hammer blow it was.There was a big crowd as my grandpa’s body lay in the hall there.I could not suppress my cry and wailed inconsoably.I felt an arm on my shoulder and turned to see who it was .It was my uncle with eyes red and swollen in tears.He whispered in my ears “What happened Partha.He was depressed eversince you left that day and mentioned to me something about having been harsh to you.What was that?”

I remembered my insensitive words about my hating him and his pleading with me not to go away.He was not demonstrative and had never said even once that he liked me.But that was his way of keeping his feelings inside his heart.I felt that I was instrumental in hastening his end by my thoughtless and childish remark.I broke out weeping loudly to the surprise of the people gathered, “Thatha, forgive me, I never meant what I said that day .You were a pillar of strength and knowledge to me.I was an idiot in not realising your immense affection for me.”

I was gently taken away from the place by my uncle.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Home coming

Vanaja was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. But God had endowed her with enough intelligence to top her classes.Born as an only child in an orthodox and conservative family she was brought up in a traditional lower middle class family values.Her father a very religious man had strong views on ethics and place of women in society. Her mother was a timid person, though with liberal views, dared not question her short tempered husband.It was the dad’s word that ruled the household.

Luckily for Vanaja, being a topper in the class, she studied throughout on full scholarship winning laurels and medals all the way. She was the pride of her school and when she got admission in the medical college with scholarship, Her dad could not overrule her determination to study further backed by her Headmistress and supported by his wife.He was proud of his daughter but had strange notions on girls doing medical course.

Be that as it may, Vanaja worked hard and was in the final year of her college.It was here that destiny played its trick.She fell in love with Mathew her classmate.They were drawn towards each other since the second year and had become close friends.The friendship blossomed into love when they went on an excursion.Mathew was also an intelligent boy giving touch competition to Vanaja in securing the first postion..When they had finished and joined a reputed hospital as interns, Mathew propsed to her.She knew it was coming but dreaded how her dad would react to the relationship.

So deep was her love for him that she broached the subject to her mom. When the news went to her dad, he hit the ceiling in rage and said that Vanaja had no place in his home if she were to marry outside the religion and that she would be deemed as dead as far as her parents were concerned.When her mom tried to pacify him, he dragged her into the kitchen and made her sit there.All her pleas and sobbing were of no avail when the man stood his ground and asked Vanaja to leave the house.

It was almost three decades since this happened They married soon thereafter.Both Vanaja and Mathew had their MD and DM behind their names with roaring practice.She remembered the incident when she was expecting her first child, her attempt to get his forgivance and the insult heaped on her and her husband when her dad banged the door shut shouting that his daughter Vanaja was dead and gone.Her mom with her hand on her mouth was seen sobbing helplessly.

When her mom died a year later, her dad did not inform her.It was through neighbours that she got the news but were persuaded by them to stay away from the mad man.She knew of his meagre income and how he had spent all the money on his wifes treatment.But she had no gumption to render any monetary help.She heard after a month of her mom’s demise that he had left the place leaving behind no clue about his whereabouts. Except seeing occasionally a small photo of her parents kept in her purse, they were a distant memory.

Mathew and Vanaja were both philanthrophic and donated hefty amounts for social causes.They were instrumental in setting up a poor home for the indigent and needy.Vanaja used to visit the home once in a month or two.During one such vist, she found a crumpled figure lying on the mat in the verandah.She was told the old man had arrived the previous night and would not speak much.It appeared his vision was very poor..He was also incoherent often lost in thoughts.They were trying to find a cot and a bed for him.Vanaja went near the old man and a hammer blow struck her when she saw it was her dad.His acquiline nose and the birth mark on his chin were unmistakable.He had grown weak with age and lack of care.

She said “I am in charge of this place.There is no spare bed available here at the moment. I have a big house with many servants.I have children.You can stay with me and the servants will take care of you.If you do not like, you can always return here.What do you say?”

The old man did not reply.It was not clear whether he understood her.She took him home,gave him a room had an exclusive servant for him.In a month or so he regained strength and played with the children.They were a happy lot.Vanaja too joined sometimes. He was touched by her kindness and affection. He was not however able to recognise her due to his poor vision.One day she asked him “Do you have any children?”
He said “Yes I have one daughter.But by my arrogance and foolishness I treated her badly and lost her.”

“Why, what did she do to earn your wrath? After all she is your daughter ”asked Vanaja

“It was all my fault.I drove her away as she married out of religion.My wife died unable to bear the separation.I was pig-heade and cruel.I repent now in leisure” he replied

Vanaja did not reveal her identity.She was not sure how he would react.Two days later when the old man was playing with the children, he asked one of them”What is your mother’s name? ”They replied “Vanaja.”

The man was pricked.He asked “Is she a doctor?” They replied in affirmative.Curiosity thus aroused he aksed “What is your dad’s name?” “Mathew”, they replied in chorus.The man became quiet with tears trickling from his eyes.

That night when Vanja, Mathew and the children entered his room, the old man cried inconsolably saying
” Vanaja, please forgive this wretch.I had done immense harm to you and yet you are showering your affection on me.I do not deserve this at all.Please say once that you have forgiven me and send me back to the poor home.

Vanaja put her arms around the old man “ Appa, I have no anger against you.Mathew also does not have any grudge.We are happy that by divine coincidence we are back together.How I wish amma were also here.Be comfortable.Your grand children like you very much.”.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sanjay's first day in school

GR Sir as he was known was writing feverishly with chalk on the blackboard some formulae in algebra.He saw a shadow pass across the door.He found the Head Master with a puny boy entering the class.
“GR”, the HM called him in a friendly tone and said “This is Sanjay, a new student.I have admitted him in your class as I felt he needs your care and attention. I will discuss more during lunch time.”
The HM had left and boy was still standing at the door with a bag clutched in his hands waiting for the teacher’s permission to enter the class.He was wearing a much worn cotton shirt along with shorts that were a shade small for his size..There was a safety pin pinned askew securing the shirt as there were no buttons.He looked emaciated with bony legs, sunken eyes and unspoken sadness writ large on his well defined and charming face..

The teacher called him by his side.As he came limping with his polio affected leg, he put his arm around him and asked him softly “What is your name, young boy? I forget Sanjiv or some such thing. Where are you from?”
“I am Sanjay, Sir, and have come from Alwar” the boy replied in a voice that was hardly audible

“Good, Welcome to the class Sanjay.. Is there anyone among the boys wanting to have Sanjay by his side? “asked the teacher.There was a deafening silence for a couple of minutes till Partha stood up.Ravi nudged him in his leg and whispered “You fool, He looks skinny and lame.”

Partha turned around and saw his mates.Raj made an ugly grimace. A few others were not amused by Partha’s gesture.It appeared they didn’t like the new entrant.

“.Go and sit by the side of Partha” said the teacher.

All eyes were on the little boy as he ambled along towards Partha.Partha moved to his left and gave him the aisle seat to enable the boy sit without having to wade his way through the chairs.Shilpa a girl of Parthas age did not fail to notice the thoughtfulness of her friend .There was a touch of pride in her eyes.

GR Sir asked after he wrote (a+b-c)2 on the board “”Can any one expand this ?

There was a long silence.The teacher asked “Sanjay, do you know the answer?”

The boy stood up and gave the right answer.”Why were you waiting for me to ask?” asked the teacher.

“Sorry Sir.I was waiting for others to respond” he replied.There was instant jealousy amongst the students when the teacher exclaimed”Sabash, well done”

When the bell rang for lunch, all the boys and girls scampered to the door.Partha also had run but turned to see behind.He saw Sanjay sitting on the bench alone.A sense of guilt pricked the little boy even as he came to Sanjay. Soon Shilpa joined them.

Partha asked “Have you brought any lunch? Come on; let us eat outside under the tree.” The three of them sat together and shared what they had. Shilpa said “Sanjay, don’t feel bad.The other boys and girls will soon become your friends.They are not wicked”

Even as she was saying this Ravi and Raj came to Sanjay and pulled his collar.

”Are you trying to show off that you know better than us? Can you have a bout of boxing with me? I can give you a black eye that your mom won’t be able to recognise you” said Raj.

When Ravi pushed the boy who fell down, Partha yelled at them “ You chicken hearted bullies.Come on, let us have the bout of boxing and let me find out whose mom fails to recognise whom” and lunged forward at Ravi and Raj.Partha was a big built boy with strong muscles and the two ran away unwilling to put up a fight.Shilpa helped Sanjay sit up and dusted the sand from his face and arms.

“Thank you both” said Sanjay even as he smiled. I can sing for you like Sonu Nigam, if you wish to hear”.The two were thrilled to hear Sanjay sing very much like the famous singer. Soon all the boys and girls surrounded them and were enthralled by the melodious singing. The boy mesmerised his class mates with his beautiful rendering in his wonderful voice that matched the great singer. When he had finished the song ,each one of them went up to Sanjay and gave him a warm hug and a word of praise.Ravi and Raj were not far behind when they sheepishly came to say”Sorry, Sanjay,we behaved badly.Please accept us as your friends.”

Sanjay standing between Partha and Shilpa smiled at them and said “I am happy to be with you all.True, I cannot run a race or join a bout of boxing but I have many tricks up my sleeves.I shall entertain you whenever the opportunity presents itself.I am happy to get you all as my buddies but I value the friendship of Partha and Shilpa extended to me whole heartedly when they had seen only my handicap and were not aware of my singing ability.”

The bell rang and the three walked arm in arm towards the class.