“When God closes a door, he opens a window.”
There are some moments in life, which are cherished forever and some which we hopelessly try to consign to oblivion. But, what about the moments that fuse the two? Such memories are the most trying of emotions, for the happiness in them cannot be remembered without the sorrow that accompanied it.
When the sun rose that fateful July morning, I was unaware of the trials that destiny had decreed for me. The General Manager was coming to town for a review today. My wife was away with her friends at Coorg for an environmental campaign. Anuj’s report card had to be signed. Enquiries about Anjali’s heart waitlist had to be made. Such were the menial thoughts that crowded my mind.
While I was attending the review, I received a call from an unknown number. As a personal policy, I never entertained calls such as these. But, the caller was persistent. After around three calls, I excused myself, earning a sullen glare from my manager. The call changed my life permanently.
I was informed that there had been an accident on National Highway 75 and that Sulochana was involved in it.
“But she’s okay, right?” I breathed frantically.
“Please Mr Ravi Kumar, we request you to cooperate with us. We would like you to come to the hospital as soon as possible. We shall update you when you arrive.” A voice on the other end of the line spoke coolly.
I informed my manager and sped away from the office. After leaving Anjali and Anuj with Mrs Bedekar, I drove as swiftly as I could. It took me a good three hours to reach the hospital.
I was ushered into a modern building with rain-stained glass windows. Doctors and nurses crisscrossed the corridors with nimble strides. Posters of ‘happy people’ and ‘painless procedures’ dotted the walls. A severe-looking receptionist was filing papers in a corner of the lounge.
“Excuse me, I’m the husband of Sulochana Ravi. I was informed of an accident.”
“Yes, Mr Ravi Kumar. Please take your seat. Dr Ravindra shall attend to you shortly.”
Presently, a young doctor of about thirty, approached me.
“Mr Ravi Kumar?” He shook hands warmly but did not offer any smile.
For a few minutes, he said nothing as he led me through the stairs to the floor below.
As I got down, a board announcing “EMERGENCY WARD” in bright red lettering, greeted me. I perceived this as an ominous sign, warning me of the precarious precipice, I would find myself in. At that moment, I was a school kid again, nervous about the corrected answer scripts that the teacher was distributing.
The doctor then apprised me of the situation. A truck had been coming in the wrong direction, when Sulochana, the designated driver, had swerved to avoid it. However, the car had been moving too fast and it jumped the divider and ended up on the right side of the road. An oncoming bus had hit the car and crushed it like a soda can.
I was speechless. When I found my voice again, I could only manage to say, “Sulochana?”
“She’s alive, sir. But only just.”
“What do you mean?”
“Her condition is critical. She has suffered multiple fractures to her skull and a part of her brain is injured.”
He then put his arm on my shoulder and gave a gentle pat. “We are trying our best Mr Ravi. Please, pray with us.” He said gravely.
I was shocked beyond measure. I slowly inquired about the other two passengers of the car. He shook his head slowly in answer. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Mr Rupesh and Mr Sharma being tackled tactfully by a couple of doctors. My heart went out to them. But, I remembered that I may find myself in that position soon.
“Can I see her?” The question tumbled hesitantly out of my mouth. Part of me wanted to see her badly and assure myself the verity of her existence. But another part of me was not courageous enough to see my lively Sulochana, lying in a nest of tubes and monitors.
He gave a taut nod and opened the big glass double-doors. Inside, there were about ten beds, all of whose blue canopies were drawn. The doctor led me to the last but one bed and motioned.
Gingerly, I pushed the drapes apart and peered inside. It was as I had feared. My stomach gave a flip and the air in my lungs froze.
She was surrounded by pipes of coloured liquids, one of which I identified as blood. Monitors of different sizes displayed her anatomical data in a language I failed to read. Her entire head had been wrapped tightly in gauze. The rest of her body was concealed by a blue blanket. Only her eyes were visible. Despite her perilous condition, her eyes still held the magic that had bewitched me fifteen years ago. How aptly she had been named Sulochana!
It was all too much for me. I silently left the hall and took a seat in the corridor. My phone rang. It was from Anjali. I was reluctant to answer. What would I tell those kids, all of fourteen and ten? How would Anjali cope with her weak heart? How would Anuj’s as yet immature mind comprehend? I pulled myself up and spoke to them.
“Hello daddy. Is mummy better?” Anjali asked.
“Yes, Anjali. Mum is okay, I guess.” I spoke haltingly. I tried to make my voice as normal as possible. But she was a shrewd girl.
“Dad, you’re not telling me something. Tell me the truth. I need to know. I’m not as meek and vulnerable as you make me out to be.”
I didn’t know what to say. Should I tell her? She must know it at some point in time. No, I decided, it would be better to tell her in person.
“Anjali, the doctor is calling me again. I will talk to you tomorrow morning, okay? Daddy will not come home mostly tonight. Take care of Anuj and sleep well.”
“Okay, daddy. See you tomorrow.” She said glumly.
“And remember Anjali, no matter what, daddy loves you.” I said that and cut the call.
As I tried to sleep on the cold steel chair, my mind was screening a movie of its own. Of the first time I met Sulochana at a party hosted by a common friend. Of how I proposed to her in the most unromantic fashion by accidentally spilling pomegranate juice on her. Of how overjoyed we were by the birth of Anjali and later, Anuj. Of how shattered we were to discover that Anjali was suffering from cardiomyopathy. Of how the strenuous wait for a compatible heart donor, bonded us. Of how happy we were as a family, still taking pleasure in each other’s company, despite our tribulations. And now, this.
Intermission came in the form of the doctor’s hurried footsteps.
“Mr Ravi, we have completed all the preliminary tests. We would like to transfer her to Bangalore for better and advanced care. I think you’d like that too?”
I agreed and signed a form stating the same. In an hour, I was following an ambulance back to Bangalore. We reached the hospital at the crack of dawn. Sulochana was immediately wheeled inside.
After attending to certain formalities, I drove back home to inform my children about the reality of their mother’s condition. I found them watching television peacefully, unaware of the tragedy that had befallen.
“Anjali. Anuj. Daddy wants to have a small talk with you.”
Anjali promptly switched off the telly and both of them looked at me expectantly. For a few minutes, we stared at each other. I didn’t know what to say. Suddenly Anjali came forward and hugged me, followed by Anuj. I began crying, something I had thought I’d never do.
“It’s okay daddy, we understand.” Anjali spoke soothingly. She was a child beyond her years.
“Mummy is dead, isn’t she?” She stammered.
“No beta, she is still alive. But she may…she may…” I couldn’t bring myself to complete my sentence. Anjali put a finger on my lips and nodded.
After a shower and a light breakfast, all three of us drove back to the hospital. I advised them about what to expect and not to disturb her much.
The children spent hardly two minutes inside the ICU. They came out, white as a sheet and terribly shaken. More than Anuj, I was worried about Anjali. The doctor had advised her against any shock, for her heart was not very strong. How would she endure this pain?
I was interrupted by a voice.
“A moment please, Mr Ravi?”
It was Dr Pandey, Sulochana’s attending doctor.
He pulled me aside into a medicine cabinet. He spoke slowly.
“Sir, I am terribly sorry to break it to you.” He paused. “Your wife is now breathing with the aid of machines only. We believe she will never be able to do that again on her own.” He whispered.
I just stared at him, completely bewildered and perplexed.
“Surgery? Is surgery possible? I don’t care about the money.” I mumbled.
“Sir, if it were possible, we would have suggested that to you.” He replied grimly.
He eyed me sympathetically and continued, “In other words, she is clinically no more. We tried our best.”
“You mean she’s brain dead?”
He nodded soft-heartedly.
“Are you sure, doctor! She can’t be! She simply can’t! Why, she has two wonderful kids! She had promised them that she’ll always be there for them! And she doesn’t break promises doctor! I know my wife!” I continued to ramble aggressively, while he looked on morosely.
When I continued to digress from the matter at hand, he spoke again.
“But sir, I have some other news for you.”
I stopped my frenzied babbling and looked at him.
“I consulted Dr Arvind and I hear he is your daughter’s doctor.”
“Your wife’s heart was a perfect match for your daughter. If, and as soon as you permit us, we shall transplant her heart into your daughter.”
I stood dumbstruck.
“We advise you to take your decision at the earliest, sir. We want the heart to be as fresh as possible.”
I asked for a few hours to think it over and drove my kids back home. We had a restrained lunch (kindly provided by Mrs Bedekar) and retired to our rooms. After much contemplation, I entered Anjali’s room.
I had always felt that Anjali’s room was the most peaceful room in the house. Bright pictures of landscapes and portraits were pasted on the walls. But Anjali wasn’t feeling bright herself. She was whimpering silently, huddled in a corner of her bed. When she saw me, she brushed away her tears and smiled. I sat beside her.
“Anjali dear, daddy has an important thing to tell you.”
Saying so, I explained patiently what the doctor had told me.
“But I can’t, daddy! It would be like murdering mummy! Besides, what’s the use of a life without her! I’d rather die!”
“Hush! Don’t say that, Anju! Daddy cannot afford to lose you as well! Also, I think mummy would like the best for you. What do you think?”
There was complete silence for a few minutes.
“Daddy, I want to go out for a walk. I just want to get my mind off these horrid things.”
While she was away, I leafed through a magazine to attempt escaping the nightmare of reality. At once, a quote jumped out at me.
“It’s kind of bittersweet. The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart. By Yakov Smirnoff.”
Who said the dead (or nearly dead) cannot speak? I knew at once that my dear Sulochana was communicating her heart’s desire through this quote.
Suddenly I realised Anjali had been gone for more than two hours. Panic started to grip me. What was this girl doing? Oh, I should have never let her out of my sight! God knows what she would do, given her terrible state of mind! Just when I felt I was at the very edge of sanity, there was a knock on the door. I ran and threw it open.
“Anjali! Don’t give daddy such a scare! I’ve been worried to death!”
“Sorry, daddy. I got lost in my thoughts.” She then ran towards me and gave a crushing hug.
“Daddy, I would do whatever you say! I’m confident that you know what is best for me.” Saying so, she teared up.
That very night, we hurried back to the hospital after packing a few things for Anjali.
For the last time, the three of us beheld the woman who was the reason for our placid and untroubled survival. The thought that she would permanently depart us for the heavens, had not yet sunk in completely.
First, Anjali went in and cried. She apologised for murdering her and fell over her limp body. She begged her to speak, knowing fully well that she never will. The doctors then ushered her away to prepare her for the surgery.
Next went Anuj. He stood there blank for a few minutes, with salty streams meandering down his cheeks. He then squeezed her arms and ran away outside, muttering something about fresh air.
Finally, it was my turn. I looked at her eyes lovingly, taking in as much as I could, to help me last a lifetime. I gave her a soft kiss on her gauzed forehead and held her hand tightly. I was not ready to let go of her. But, I had to. For the sake of Anjali.
I cried inconsolably as they wheeled her away. As she disappeared into an OT, I tried to catch a last glimpse of her. I continued to stare at her gauzed head till the OT doors were closed. I then sat down, feeling extremely defeated.
A few minutes later, I was escorting a second stretcher. Anjali held my hand tightly as she was wheeled in.
“Anjali, remember. Daddy will always love you. And mummy does too.” I said as they closed the door on my face.
Those four hours were the most nerve-racking hours of my life. Anuj and I sat together, a tacit agreement of worry, alive between us. He slept off on my shoulder, while I kept eyeing the OT. After what seemed like an eternity, Dr Pandey emerged from it. I immediately ran towards him.
He took off his gloves and took my hands in his, sandwiching them between his palms. He smiled.
“Sir, you told me, your wife promised that she would always be there for her children. You also told me she never broke promises. Even death is not able to wrest her love away from her children, Mr Ravi! She will continue to live on inside her daughter!”
He then gave me a tight hug and ruffled Anuj’s hair. Thus, the most happening night of our lives ended.
It has been exactly a year since the tragically magical night. Anuj is doing well at school. Anjali is healthier than ever before. But I…. I continue to remain a lost soul; a breathing vessel, the only purpose of which is to sail for its children. Whenever I feel the loss of Sulochana terribly, I look at Anjali and appreciate the acute similarity between the two.
Today however, I wasn’t feeling good at all. Anjali espied my mental poignancy.
“Dad, are you feeling bad about mom?”
I nodded faintly.
“Daddy, mummy continues to live with us. She is always there for us. Do you know how?”
She then proceeded to grab my hand and placed it on her chest.
“In here, dad. She may be dead, but, her heart still beats for you.”