[Author’s note: It’s been a long time since I posted a story! So, I wrote for today’s daily prompt: relate. This story comes from the bottom of my heart. I was a victim of fat-shaming through most of my childhood. I still am fat-shamed, but I’m no more a victim. I am a survivor. And this story is a reflection of my childhood. Have you ever been bullied or shamed? Do let me know in the comments!]
Mohini skinned the gloves off her hands and dropped them into the bin. She removed her cap and let herself out of the Operation Theatre. The family was waiting anxiously for her.
“He will be alright! The surgery was successful!” She smiled at the parents and gave the mother her customary hug.
She walked back to her cabin, tired but happy. Ever since she had agreed to collaborate with Drishti, surgeries were performed almost every day. She felt extremely privileged to have operated on over fifty destitute kids and restore their vision. The smile on their lips and the renewed sparkle in their eyes was the biggest Diwali gift she could ask for.
Having successfully completed the last surgery under the collaboration, she now looked forward to enjoying the festival with her family back home in Bangalore.
Just as she gathered her instruments and coat, a resounding knock announced the entry of a visitor.
“Excuse me, ma’am. There is a person from Drishti waiting to see you.”
“I was just about to leave! Alright then, send him in quickly!”
The familiar silhouette of a tall, ample man flitted in through the door.
“Dr Agnihotri! Thanks a lot for helping all those poor children! You have given them the most valuable Diwali present – the gift of sight!” The man expressed cheerfully.
“It was indeed my pleasure, Mr Mehta! I’m glad to have made a difference in their lives!” she beamed.
“Ah yes, doctor. You would say that. Never complained a bit even though the scheduling was rather tight!”
Mohini didn’t know how to respond. She grinned sheepishly back at him.
“Anyway, what plans for the holidays, doctor? Surely, it must be of tremendous relief to escape all this sickness now and then!”
“You’re right, Mr Mehta. I’m going home for the celebrations. I leave tomorrow!” She declared.
“That’s lovely! A wonderful respite from the Chennai heat! I would like to… hold on a tick, have to answer this call.”
Mohini sighed and stole a glance at the clock. If she could leave right away, she would be able to get nine hours of sleep instead of her usual five! She peered through the open door and into the corridor beyond. Mr Mehta seemed to be having a serious conversation. His face was scrunched up and the tip of his nose was a bright pink. She let go of her dream sleep and sat down on her chair.
A few minutes later, Mr Mehta walked back in. He did not seem to be very happy. He gave her a gentle smile and settled himself comfortably in his seat.
He took a deep breath and spoke, “Doctor, I know you are leaving for home tomorrow. But, I have a small request.”
He tapped his fingers on the desk unconsciously and looked up.
“Can you perform just one more surgery?”
Mohini stared back silently. She neither nodded her head nor shook.
Mr Mehta continued hastily, “We’ll try to schedule it as soon as possible. We’ll ensure that the surgery is performed by at least Saturday… if you are okay with it, that is.”
He looked at her pleadingly and the involuntary finger-tapping ceased.
She was in deep thought. Her mind was waging a battle with itself. Whether to go home for Diwali, to feel Ma’s soft kiss on her forehead, to enjoy her Ma’s special feast with Abhinav, to shop with Anu till they dropped? Or to help one more child behold the spectacle called Diwali?
“Is it possible to perform the surgery after Diwali?” She questioned.
“I have already asked about that, Doctor. But they are from Pakistan. Their visa expires next Monday.”
“That leaves us with hardly any time, Mr Mehta. You know as well as I do, that at least one preparatory visit for diagnosis is required.”
“It’s congenital glaucoma. I have all the reports. Initially, a hospital in Delhi had offered to do it for free. But later, it backed out for some odd reason. The mother then came to know about us and approached us only today morning.”
Mohini could almost imagine her mother’s heartache if she did not present herself for Diwali.
“How old is the child?”
“Barely two. I will get you her reports and photos.”
While Mr Mehta promptly called his office for the photos and the reports, Mohini relapsed into her mental conflict. Diwali was on Friday and if she decided to operate on the child, she will have to give it a miss. Oh well, she could always return home after performing the surgery. But then, that wouldn’t be Diwali. That’d be just an ordinary day.
“Ah yes, I’ve got the photo of the baby!”
Mohini studied the infant who seemed to beseech her very soul from the plastic confines of Mehta’s phone. She was a very beautiful child with round cheeks and curly brown hair. A bony thumb stuck out of her lips as she flashed a toothy smile. And her eyes! They were big and bright, with vivacity overflowing from them! Such beautiful eyes and yet she couldn’t cherish the beauty of her environment!
“I’ll do it, Mr Mehta.” She said quietly.
“You will? Oh! I don’t know what to say! Your heart is made of gold!” Mr Mehta exclaimed.
Mohini smiled weakly. A little bit of explaining would sort out the matter with Ma. Besides, she could always go after Diwali. They would celebrate it just the same way, even if it’s an ordinary day.
A day later, the child was brought in. She was a shy girl and hardly answered any of Mohini’s attempts at bonding. She performed all the tests sincerely and concluded that it was indeed a severe case of congenital glaucoma.
After a long wait, the mother was finally led in to meet the doctor for the first time. At the sight of her, Mohini’s heart almost skipped a beat.
“You!” Both the ladies in the room stiffened in surprise.
For a few minutes, there was a deafening silence in the cabin. Only Mr Mehta’s peppy voice sliced through it when he entered. Without casting another glance at the other woman, the doctor addressed Mr Mehta directly.
“Sir, I have performed all the tests. It is a case of congenital glaucoma alright. However, I apologise as I won’t be able to perform the surgery. Kindly request someone else to do it.”
Flustered by the sudden change of winds, Mr Mehta politely requested the mother and daughter to wait outside. Once they were out, he jumped at her.
“What is this doctor! I thought you were alright with performing the surgery! Why the sudden change?”
“Sorry, Mr Mehta. Pressing commitments.” She shrugged nonchalantly.
“But … But the child! They leave this country the Monday after this!” He appealed with all his heart.
“Like I said, sorry. Try to find another doctor.” Her voice was so different from her usual calm and cheerful tone, that it seemed alien to him.
He left the cabin silently, dragging his feet on the carpeted floor. Dr Agnihotri immediately reached for her phone.
“Hello, Ma! I am coming home tonight! See you soon!”
That night, during the back-breaking bus ride home, Mohini recollected painful memories of her childhood. They had been buried so deep in her brain, that her gentle exterior gave no clue of it. Today, however, they had resurfaced. That woman, after all these years, had managed to excavate them. One look at her was enough to summon all those harrowing ordeals.
“Hey, Gulab Jamun! Look here!” A splatter of mud landed on her face.
She looked around stupidly and saw the PE teacher directing them all to the PE room. She peered inside and recoiled. It was height-and-weight day – the most horrible day of her life.
Silently, she stood near the end of the line and prayed that Maya and her gang shouldn’t notice her. As if they ever would. They spotted her immediately.
“Tsk Tsk. Height order, baby.” Maya grinned.
“Ooh! You’re so heavy! Wonder how your mom’s car doesn’t break down!”
All her classmates laughed as Maya’s sidekicks ‘tried’ to push her to the front. Mohini watched in horror as the teacher called out each person’s height and weight aloud so that the other teacher could write them down.
It was Mohini’s turn.
“Time to get the elephant out of the room, Jamun!” Maya whispered into her ear.
Nervously, Mohini stood on the weighing scale. She closed her eyes shut and clenched her fists. Her lips quivered in dreadful anticipation and a bead of sweat rolled off her forehead.
“Eighty-four kilos.” The teacher announced drily as if he was declaring the results of a Shakespearean poetry contest.
A surge of relief mixed with fear coursed through her blood as she stepped off the scale. All the boys and girls were laughing loudly.
“Quiet!” The teacher ordered. But that hadn’t stopped them. They snickered in a low volume and puffed their cheeks at her.
The bell rang and it was time for lunch. Mohini didn’t feel like eating. She cursed herself and punched her soft belly in frustration. She threw the contents of her lunch box to the stray dogs and returned to her classroom. However, Maya and Company had different plans for her.
“Oh, Gulab Jamun! We were looking for you!” Maya grabbed her hand and made her sit in the teacher’s chair.
“We have got you a little gift! I mean, it seems quite big to us, but we are pretty sure this isn’t enough for you!” Saying so, Maya retrieved a large box of Gulab Jamuns from under the desk.
“Here. This is all for you.”
“No thanks. I don’t want them. You guys can have them.” Mohini answered.
“Oh no no no! You will have them, ‘sweetheart’!” Maya then looked at the other girls and ordered, “You know what to do!”
The next thing she knew, Mohini was being showered with plump Gulab Jamuns. The sweet balls pummelled her face and her hair was drenched with sticky strands of the sugar syrup.
“Oh, look at her! Brown and round! Just like Gulab Jamuns!”
That night, she went home and cried hard. It was getting worse every day. She desperately wanted to do away with her life. One day, they locked her up in the school bathroom for the entire school day because they thought they were helping her ‘empty her stomach so that she can eat more.’ She almost took her life that evening, but then, the loving voice of her mother calling her down for dinner, stopped her in her tracks. What the hell was she doing? She threw away the blade and stared out of the balcony resolutely. No, she will not give in to Maya’s pressures. She will not let her rule her life. She will not let her win.
But what if she is pushed to the precipice again? Who will pull her back? Ah, but yes, there is an idea!
“Ma’am! Ma’am! Wake up!” The conductor rapped the back of her seat harshly.
“Last stop. Shanti Nagar Bus Depot. You have to get down here.” He ordered.
Mohini gathered her bags and whistled her way out of the bus. She was glad that the sour phase of her life had passed. Here she was, a successful doctor and what was she? She didn’t know. But how did she end up in Pakistan? Probably married a loafer and moved with him there. She was that kind anyway.
Her mother was very happy to see her! Just in time for the celebrations tomorrow!
Mohini ran up to her room, which she hadn’t seen for more than a year. She jumped on her bed and pushed all the stuffed animals away. She then opened her cupboard to select a good novel and settle in for a good read.
As she was hunting through the books for her favourite author, a piece of yellowed paper poking out from an old novel caught her attention. Intrigued, she fished out the book and smoothened out the sheet of paper.
In a matter of minutes, she was done reading the letter. A lone tear escaped her eye. All of a sudden, her eyes were brimming with the same resoluteness that had stopped her from taking her life. Only now, it had stopped her from oversight.
Grateful that she hadn’t unpacked her bags yet, she hurried back to the front door.
“Where are you going, Mohini?” Her mother yelled from the kitchen.
“Sorry, Ma. Emergency case. Have to go. Meet you next Tuesday!”
Mohini bid a hasty goodbye to her confused mother and hopped into her cab. She immediately dialled Mr Mehta’s number.
“Hello, doctor. Tell me.” There was a clear absence of cheerfulness in his otherwise cordial tone.
“Mr Mehta. Tell me, have you found any other doctor for baby Fatima?” She asked breathlessly.
“Not yet, doctor. But the organisation is…”
Mohini cut him off, “Good! Schedule the surgery for tomorrow. I am going to do it.”
“But your commitments? What about them?”
“I am fulfilling the most important commitment tomorrow, but only if you help!”
“Of course, I will! Oh my god! Mrs Maya is going to be so happy!”
After one more spine-breaking bus ride, Mohini was back in Chennai.
The next day, the day of Diwali, dawned. This day had seen Rama being crowned the emperor of Kosala. This day had seen the vanquishment of the evil Naraka, in the hands of Lord Krishna. Now, this day would also see the victory of compassion over revenge.
Just before the surgery, Mohini looked at Maya and smiled.
“I forgive you.”
Maya could say nothing. She had tears in her eyes and just managed to nod her head.
The operation was a success. She let herself out of the Operation Theatre.
“She will be alright! The surgery was successful!” Mohini smiled and gave the mother a light hug.
She went back to her cabin and opened the yellowed letter again.
There might be times when you feel there is no way out. You might feel everything is wrong with you. But don’t give in. Maya is very hard, and I know that. She makes living tough. But she is indirectly toughening you up for all the years to come. Even though you might feel like kicking her in the guts, you must be grateful to her, if you are having a successful life.
I almost took my life today because of her. But then, I decided against it. Why? Because I want to win. Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. If I do away with myself, I am shutting down all the opportunities to be victorious in front of her. So, I decided to do something better.
I want to be a very successful person in life. So successful, that one day, she will understand that all those things she did weren’t of very good ‘taste.’ Even better, I want her to ask me a favour because of my success. Turning her down and laughing at her would give me a lot of pleasure. But helping her out with my knowledge would give me the greatest pleasure! After all, I think forgiveness is the biggest punishment for any kind of offence. Their own guilt will consume them.
So, in case you find yourself doubting again, I hope this letter helps you. Only one person can save you Mohini. And that is you.
A few days later, just as she was leaving the hospital, a peon came up to her.
“Ma’am! Ma’am! A young lady, claiming to be one of your patients, asked me to give you this.”
He handed over to her an unbranded box of sweets. Inside, there were about twelve Gulab Jamuns. To the lid, a small piece of rough paper had been stuck.
“Sorry.” The pencil-scrawled message read.
Mohini smiled. She took one bite of the Gulab Jamun and let her palette enjoy the taste that had been denied for years.