Of loves and lies

Aai, bagh kon alay, Mother, look who’s here. Your grandson Nitesh is waving at you. Won’t you speak to him? Speak just once!”

But mother’s eyes did not respond to the waving of her grandson’s little hands nor did she show any cognizance of her son’s pleading. It was impossible to tell whether those motionless eyes could really see or not. It had been more than 24 hours since she had entered this near-comatose stage but if the doctors were to be believed there was still hope.

Mother’s remaining kidney had failed her causing the creatinine levels in her blood to surge drastically, which, along with her persistent high-blood pressure and long-term diabetes, had resulted in some brain damage. To know the extent of the brain damage and the consequent memory loss the doctors had instructed her three children, two sons and a daughter, to constantly keep talking with mother and see if they could elicit any response from her.

At this stage, between long pauses of absolute inertia, almost as if possessed by a demon, she would abruptly ‘wake up’ for a few seconds making violent motions with her arms and her eyes would wildly scan her surroundings. It was impossible to tell if she was really awake because her darting eyes never seemed to fixate on any face. She even made a few grunts but even these didn’t seem to be in coherence with any of the words that her sobbing children were saying to her.

She seemed all but lost.

Prashant, the eldest one, made a firm resolve not to cry in front of his son Nitesh as he carried him outside the ICU and into the waiting room, where Prashant’s brother, Naren, and sister, Suneeta, were waiting for him. When he entered the room both Naren and Suneeta stood up immediately but before they could speak, a simple frustrated nod by Naren told them that mother’s mind was even oblivious to the presence of her grandson, whom she had adored more than anyone.

Waiting for the doctor to arrive, which could take even hours, they just sat there together, unconsciously making faint physical contacts with each other as their crying minds sought for reassurance and solace from wherever possible. Here, in this hospital of the old and terminally ill, where the wretchedness and ugliness of disease had become their Universe, they spoke about the potholes in the roads and extra salt in their foods, trying to deny this reality of life by simply choosing not to talk about it.

Each of the three were soaked in the same tragedy yet their sorrows were slightly different, and distinct.

Prashant, with whom mother had been living since a long time, was a ‘sarkari babu’ and his wife had recently given birth to their second child and hence his wife and the infant had stayed at home. He was in the hospital with his son Nitesh who was about five. Prashant was feeling a mixture of guilt and anger along with the common sadness that he shared with his siblings. He felt he should have paid attention to his mother when she complained of nausea and fatigue. He should have brought her here sooner. If not by days then at least by hours. Is that not what the doctor had said? If only the treatment had begun sooner… Is that not what the doctor had said?! The doctor hadn’t meant these words in a strong sense, but yet he remembered the panic after hearing them, and how his mind quickly looked around to see if anyone else had heard it, that no one except him, especially his brother and sister, should ever know about this. It wasn’t really a mistake on his part yet he could not bear the thought that his brother and sister could, maybe, seek to blame him. Isn’t that what people always do in times such as this? To find someone to blame it on. They’ll blame it on anyone, except their gods.

Naren, the younger brother, was a bachelor and a budding entrepreneur. He was also feeling guilty but his guilt was very different from his elder brother’s. He had never been too close to mother and he had never regretted this fact, that is, never until now. Also, strangely for him, he found himself jealous of the strong bond that existed between his siblings and mother but he quickly dismissed this jealousy as being just as frivolous as the envy he felt for their slightly higher salaries. He was in an introspective mood, and he was imagining that he would choose to kill himself before any sickness could make a grunting animal out of him.

Suneeta, the youngest one, had recently married and was the closest to her mother. When she was in school filling slam-books she would write “Majhi Aai, my mother” in the best-friend’s column, and things had remained more or less the same as she grew older. It was for this reason that she was hit the strongest by this tragedy, and the stress and sorrow was slowly beginning to corrode her from within and its effect could be seen without in her constantly teary eyes and faint quivering voice.

They all just sat there, a bundle of tired thoughts caught in a vortex of hopeless emotions, and at the core of this silent vortex was plain senseless tragedy.

Just then a nurse entered the waiting room and almost shouted, “Mr. Prashant! Mr. Prashant! Would you come in quickly?”

Prashant leaped up from his chair and followed the nurse to the ICU. Naren and Suneeta followed him too but because only a single relative was allowed at a time in the ICU they both just stayed near the door.

“Your mother was just murmuring a few words. I think I might have heard something like pra..pa..pa but I’m not sure and she immediately went back to sleep after that. You must call out to her and see if she responds to you!”

Prashant’s vision was blurred by tears with this good news and he shouted in a croaked voice “Aai, bagh tujha Prashant alay, Mother, look your Prashant is her. Call my name again, just once!” He bent near his mother’s head and with a determined, controlled voice began talking with her. But mother was again completely unresponsive; neither her eyelids flickered nor her lips shook. Nothing. He kept on talking, almost in a scolding tone, until the nurse asked him to leave the room.

Kai jhala? What happened?” both Naren and Suneeta asked almost simultaneously.

“The nurse heard mother saying my name and I went in and tried to talk with her.”

“Really?! Your name? And did she respond now when you spoke with her?!”

“No.”

“Did she repeat your name again? Are you sure the nurse heard her say your name? Didn’t she even look at you?”

“No, she definitely said my name, and the nurse is absolutely sure. Mother even looked at me directly and parted her lips to say my name but I guess the stress was too much on her. Then she went back to sleep again.”

And Prashant had no idea why he blurted this white lie. Maybe he took the question “are you sure the nurse heard her say your name?” instinctively as an offense. Maybe he wanted his mother to remember him so badly that he was going to construct his own lie for it. Maybe he wanted his siblings to think that their mother had remembered her eldest and most responsible son in her last breaths. He had no idea why. But he knew he had lied. Feeling uneasy, and with the guilt of lying afresh, he immediately left his siblings with the excuse of taking his son for a small walk.

As their minds were too agitated with this incident both Naren and Suneeta simply stood outside the ICU door. They couldn’t help but feel optimistic again at this sign of recovery, which was small but still it was something. But again, along with this common joy that both of them were sharing, they also had their own, separate feelings, that were creeping up slowly.

Suneeta couldn’t help but feel absolutely angry at the management for not allowing her to go inside along with her eldest brother. Wasn’t mother more likely to remember her face better? The face that her mother had held in her palms on countless occasions, from every morning when she left for school to the day she was a bride? And wasn’t it the word “Suneeta” that her mother had said the most in her lifetime? Her mother had no right to deny her this privilege of memory when she had granted it to Prashant!

Naren’s joy was far less distorted than his younger sister’s. He was filled with such optimism that he even dared to imagine that mother would get completely normal again. He even imagined to take his mother to the Sai Baba temple in his new car which he planned to buy next month. Unable to contain this sudden infection of joy, Naren entered the ICU room without even looking at Suneeta.

The strong and pungent odour of the ICU slightly giddied Naren and he wondered if he was ever going to get used to it. He stood at mother’s bedside, held her hand, and called her. He increased his voice slowly and kept on repeating “Aai, bagh na ekda kon alay, Mother, just look once who’s here”. He was doing this for over a minute when mother’s face twitched and her neck visibly jerked. Naren, excited and energized, almost began shouting with a loud voice but mother did not respond after this. He went on for a minute more before the nurse asked him politely to stop doing so and wait outside.

As Naren exited the ICU, immersed in his thoughts, he was grabbed by his arms by his sister and brother.

“Did she speak to you too?” asked Prashant, apparently trying to give some kind of solidity to his lie with the “too”.

“No, she didn’t speak.”

“Oh”

“But, but, she opened her eyes and looked straight at me as soon as I spoke to her! She was looking at me and made an attempt to speak. Maybe if it wasn’t for the side-effects of those damned drugs that we’re pumping in her she’d have enough strength to talk!”

“That’s great news. We must let the doctor know this as soon as he arrives.” said Prashant, who suddenly felt that a heavy burden had been lifted off his chest because his mother was indeed recovering. The nurse’s unsure testimony and his brother’s recent experience were proof enough for him for mother’s recovery. And with a little bit of confabulation and self-deceit, he managed to convince himself that his mother had indeed spoken his name to the nurse but he had simply arrived too late to witness it. Yes, only his name, for what else begins with ‘pa, pra’ if not Prashant!

As for Naren, it wasn’t completely clear to himself why he had grossly embellished the truth, why he had lied. Was he jealous because his mother had uttered his elder brother’s name and had completely forgotten him? Was he so distanced from his mother that in her fading memory, his was the first memory that she had forgotten? Or had she really looked at him? He was sure just a few minutes ago that mother hadn’t looked at him, but now he was not so sure. Maybe the damned drugs really had sedated her so much that it was impossible for her to move her eyes? Was that jerk in the neck a conscious move by mother to look sideways at her son? It must be! Now he remembered it correctly, he loudly said to himself in his mind.

Suneeta had tried to enter the ICU right after hearing Naren’s account, but when the nurse told her to come after some time she couldn’t bear to stay in the presence of her brothers and nearly ran to the waiting room. Her body mimicked the condition of her mind, she couldn’t sit nor could she stand still and kept on walking to and fro. Mother was recovering. Yes, mother was recovering. She is getting better. Oh who was she kidding! There’s no use hiding from it: why was mother responding to her brothers but not to her?! Were her brothers louder? Surely that had to the reason. That just had to be it! After waiting for a few more minutes she dashed into the ICU without even glancing at her brothers who stood by the door. She held her mother’s left hand in both her palms, and in an accusing tone and with a shrill voice, almost shrieked, “Aai!, Mother!”, and she broke down in tears. Between a few sobs she managed to spit out words, “Talk to me! Suneeta ali ahe ga, Suneeta! Ata olakhnar pan nahis ka tu mala? Dada la kasa olakhlas ga tu?! Won’t you even recognize me? But you recognised your sons, didn’t you?!” She buried her head in the pillow to stifle the sobs but her shaking body betrayed her crying. Even the nurses didn’t dare to touch her now. Suneeta’s sorrow had just doubled, she had lost her mother, but her mother had left her sooner than she had left her brothers. Was she doing this on purpose? She couldn’t be! Yes, the last time they had spoken they had a small fight but surely that can’t be reason enough to prompt such cruelty. Or was it a mere unfortunate co-incidence? She vacillated between consoling herself and then deriding herself, at one moment she was accusing her mother and at the other feeling sorry for her. All of this panorama of feelings in one extended moment. She was held by her arms by a nurse and was taken outside the ICU, where her brothers were waiting. She couldn’t look them in eyes but now her sadness had been replaced by unreasonable contempt for her brothers.

Aai ne olakhala ka tula? Did mother recognize you?”

Not wanting to respond to this and seeking to delay any response, she took a napkin from her purse and began wiping her eyes and face with it.

Aga bol na! Say something!”

And with a piercing look at her brothers, looking them straight in the eyes, she said, “Arey ho re, olakhala! Me pan mulgich ahe na tichi?! Yes, yes she recognised me! For I am her daughter too! She even smiled faintly at me and also managed to-”

Her words were cut short when the three siblings saw the doctor, along with his students, walking towards them. The doctor held a file in his hand and had a very grim look on his face. With a deep breath and a quick glance at all three of them, he said, “The MRI reports just came in and I saw them a few minutes ago. I’m sorry but I have bad news. All of us have tried our best but sometimes we can’t go against God’s will. Due to the kidney failure and the resulting uremia, and other complications arising out of her age, there is severe edema, or swelling, in various crucial parts of her brain. She won’t be recovering from this and even our continued treatment via dialysis and drugs will only delay the inevitable, but that too not by a considerable margin. Had I known these reports earlier I would not have asked you to attempt to revive her memory because that is just futile as there is swelling in both her cortex and brainstem. I mean that she can’t be even conscious of her surroundings now. But still, how has she responded to you in the meanwhile? Did she look or recognize any of you?”

And although this death knell should have swept the siblings with a tsunami of grief, it was not grief but some other feeling that they were dealing with at the moment, the guilt of lying. Not daring to repeat their own lie again, when the facts had just defeated them, they simply waited for someone else to begin their experience. Let him or her speak before I speak. Only an awkward silence ensued this deadlock. After a few more seconds, Prashant suddenly remembered that he has “left Nitesh alone in the waiting room”, while Naren took his cellphone out to “inform the rest of the family about this”, while Suneeta stood there silent, with her head bowed down and nails boring into her palms.  

~

Gaurav D. Somwanshi

 

 

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One Response to “Of loves and lies”

  1. Its good. It’s been a day or two reading this story, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it, the way you have portrayed the emotions and human behaviour. Hits the nail on the head!
    I can see ‘GA’ness here.
    Waiting for more stories.

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