That morning Manjula was nervous. She was going to the hospital for a test by Dr.Y. Manjula knew all about that test. It is a routine test on the bladder. She had children later in her life. And her body paid the price for going against Mother Nature.
She has so-called hyperactive bladder, somewhat similar to hyperactive children. As soon as Manjula drinks a few sips of fluid, her bladder wiggles and then screams, demanding to go to the washroom. Yes, the washroom is Manjula's second home.
When she tells her tale to her Bengali friends they all say in unison 'it is just the same with every woman' but Manjula believes her condition is worse than that of others. So she saw Dr.Y. She is very aware that once she sees a doctor the ball starts rolling down the slope, no way one can stop it. This test, that test, this result, that result, this treatment, that treatment, this medication, that surgery and on and on it goes. Even after knowing all these, Manjula had agreed to the test. Age is catching up, she thought, follow a doctor's orders and get the tests done, that is the prudent decision. In that way an illness can be detected at an early-stage.
This morning Dr. Y would take a good look inside her bladder and that would rule out any tumor or inflammation lurking there. Manjula got dressed in a hurry, in very simple clothes. The long black skirt without any frills, that she wears all the time, and simple short cashmere top, this is what Manjula always does. When nervous or worried, she keeps her clothes to the simplest so that no thought is diverted towards her clothes. She didn't put on any makeup. Only a tinge of lipstick on her lips. She was ready in no time. Her husband Pallab told her to go to the car 'I'd be right there' he added. Manjula went to the garage and slid herself ever so fluidly in the front passenger seat.
Following retirement three years ago, Manjula has had lost 30 pounds. At the beginning she thought staying at home might make her fat. That was when she started eating boiled vegetables for lunch and supper. The initial few pounds dropped off as easily as the autumn leaves. From there the process started rolling and now 30 pounds lighter the stiffness of her joints have disappeared and her movements have turned fluid. The sacrifice is worth the payoff Manjula thinks to herself.
On reaching the hospital, as soon as she places her right foot on the threshold of the hospital's main entrance, across the rows of chairs in the reception area in front of her, the elevator doors slid apart. Shipra and her husband Jotin came out of the elevator. Manjula stopped in her tracks, she knew Shipra and her husband very well. About four weeks back Manjula had called Shipra to know how she was doing. Shipra had informed that she was having some problems with the sensations of her legs. Otherwise she was fine. There the discussion had ended.
Manjula always believed Shipra had a bright smile and a bright face. Instead today her matte brown skin etched with fine creases blandly stared back at Manjula. Manjula squinted her eyes in search of the brightness in Shipra's eyes and in her smile. Shipra's wide apart lips and rows of bright teeth were there, but not her bright smile. Her eyes were not as bright as before either. Manjula took two more steps forward and looked intensely. She found that the fine skin folds around Shipra's eyes had bunched together and formed dark hoods hiding her sparkling eyes. Shipra took more steps towards Manjula, as they came in hearing distance, Manjula asked, 'you have come here also for a test, right'? Shipra's husband who was already badly stooped, now stooped even further, almost doubled over leaning on a cane in front of him. Shipra flashed a smile at Manjula and told her, 'now just like you I am also using a cane. Yes, just like you'. She put emphasis on the last uttered words.
Four years back Manjula had suffered a major stroke following that for six months or so she had used a cane. But now for a long time she had not needed that extra help. Manjula didn't utter a word about that because she knew how happy Shipra was to mention the commonality 'Remember? Just like you?'.
Manjula walked over to the hospital gift shop. A well run well managed store, loaded with nifty, fancy things at a reasonable price. Moreover the proceeds went to the hospital donation fund. Manjula wandered around in lazy steps, taking in the pleasant atmosphere. Somehow she felt guilty for enjoying herself. About four weeks back she had chatted with Shipra on the phone and Shipra had informed Manjula, she was walking and working out just fine, but the sensation in her legs were not quite the same. In this short period of four weeks that normally walking person has been reduced to a person, who had to lean on a cane to walk.
What will happen in another four weeks? Manjula wondered. Leaning on a walker? How far thereafter lies the possibility of using a wheel-chair? A stream of ice-cold water ran down Manjula's spine. Manjula, her husband Pallab, Shipra and her husband Jotin, were all more or less of the same age group, well past middle-age, but had not yet stepped into old age. All of them were waging wars against the final destination, God's inevitable end, death. They all were physically active. Shipra and Manjula worked out regularly , Jotin and Pallab played tennis. Jotin had undergone both hip replacements recently, Later on Shipra informed Manjula.
They all crowded at the pharmacy to pick up their medications against high blood-pressure, medications against high-cholesterol. On the top of that they also crowded at the Health-Food Store. Every morning each of them had a multivitamin tablet, followed by a Vitamin E tablet, followed by a Vitamin B12 tablet, and to be on the safe side they took multivitamins fortified with iron. Then there were two Omega 3 fatty acid capsules, three tablets of gingko Biloba for better memory, finally for the two women Calcium tablets fortified with Vitamin D. They were all engaged in waging a real war, spending a whole lot of dough at the pharmacy as well as at the health food store. They truly put their money where their mouths were. Dead serious. They were fighting for their most precious possessions, their lives. Death couldn't be avoided, but the fight was to defer death. For how long? They did not know exactly. For days? For weeks? For months? Might even be for years. Who knows?
The war had to be waged with all their might and all their money. They all kept up with their multiple doctors' visits, the dozens of tests, the dozens of referrals, the multitude of treatments, medications, surgeries, whatever weapons the arsenal offered. Each of them was ready to take on any challenge to defer death. No, these were no trouble, these were the so called calculated risks. If death has to be deferred, then these are the rules of the game. As Manjula was about to leave the gift shop right at the exit there was a large mirror with a wide wrought iron frame. Manjula chose her steps carefully, so that she didn't have to look in the mirror and find out about her own matte, brown skin, etched with fine lines, or the fine skin folds around her eyes bunched together to hood her eyes. She could pretend, they weren't there if she didn't look in the mirror. Only detection makes them present. No detection, they were absent.
By now Shipra and Jotin were out the door, going down the sidewalk in small measured steps. Now Shipra stooped. Once again Manjula felt the beaded necklace she had just bought in the plastic bag. Once again she felt guilty. She had no right to buy the necklace when Shipra could barely walk. Manjula needed a bright thought. We all are brave soldiers, or as the Americans call brave troops, sometimes the Americans even call their soldiers heroes. The last word brightened Manual's thoughts. Yes, that is what we all are, she told herself with a nod, and indeed we all are heroes.
We all are marching towards our final destination, our demise, only then would the war be over. The tug of war between a man and his fate would cease. Our destination remains the same, the way the North Star stays put at the same spot in the sky. That is how the traveler knows he would never lose his way and go astray. Neither shall we, the destination lets us know what kind of war to wage. We all have been thrown in the ocean, none of us know how to tread the water forever, none of us know how to swim ashore either, so we thrash, flail, scream, shout, wave and gulp knowing all the while drowning is the final destination, Reaching our North star.
Drowning is so to say, our final abode In life, however, the final destination doesn't matter much, it is known to us from the moment of birth, it is not shrouded with enigma, and it is indelibly mapped in God's final plan. In life it is the journey that matters. The mountains we climb, the rivers we swim across, the walks we walk, the falls we fall, the cuts, scratches, bruises and fractures we endure. The mistakes we make, eventually correct. The pains and sufferings our souls bow to. These are the factors life is measured by, not by the destination, where there might be nothing but profound silence and boundless repose. There no war to wage, no problem to solve, no challenge to face, no walk to walk, no fall to fall. In the final abode we just rest. Limitless, boundless rest.