The morsel that matters...The taste that lasts a lifetime
It was 26th January some five years back. He was posted as Sub-divisional Officer at a nearby place called Chakghat. It is different story how there is stagnation for general category officers in state services and how one ends up being at the same position where one started. It is a different saga, not to be told here. So, it was our Republic Day. I participated in my university's celebrations. He had gone to Chakghat to hoist flag in his office there. Both the kids were away from Rewa studying and working at their respective places. He returned in the evening. His official Jeep dropped him. I greeted him with “how was your day, mine was like that and that.” He went to the washroom and within seconds he rushed out calling me, "Shubha, there is blood in the urinary tract." We sat in the car and went to our regular physician Dr. Deepak Agrawal. He listened and said that we should go to Dr. Vishal Mishra who happened to be a urologist. Within hours, my husband Rajesh was hospitalized. One of my faithful aides offered to sleep in the hospital. I returned home alone driving wildly, not knowing what lay ahead.
Next morning, I rushed to the Vindhya Hospital as the day broke, telling myself that I'd bring him back home, the doctor would say that it was some minor problem. The medicine would be given. Instead, when I reached they were trying to fix catheter. He was sighing. My husband, who never cried, was sighing in pain. Tears rolled down and down my eyes. He was already shifted to ICU. I was taken out from there. The doctor said that I was not fit for hospitals. I kept crying, wiping my tears. The faithful aides Shravan stood by my side. “Kuchh nahi hoga, Ma'am. Everything will be alright.”
And suddenly spate of people started pouring in. His office people, his Venkat Club brigade and even people from my workplace started coming. What to do? Where to hide? I told kids. What could they do? "Arre, Mamma, take care of Papa... Yes, yes, I will... I will..."
After hours and hours, the doctor finally called me aside. He said, "We have scanned him. I've seen the prints. We suspect cancer in the right kidney. We will be sending the prints to Nagpur and then to Delhi just to be double sure. But be ready. There might be a battle ahead." I do not know if you understand the meaning of earth shifting under your feet. I experienced that. I felt that the ground under my feet was moving. I will always remember that feeling because it taught me what an earthquake feels like. My first reaction was that I wanted to hit the doctor hard. I wanted to say that if he wanted money, I would give him that but why was he lying? The man, my husband who played badminton two hours every day , who was so fit, lean and boyish, how could he have anything like cancer?
Such is the power of propaganda, friends. We keep hearing about commercialization of health services so much. We forget that doctors are images of God on earth. They save our lives.
I kept staring at him. He could not bear to see me like that. I saw his eyes moistening. I realized that he might be right. I realized that he was just a human being and it was not easy for him either. He did not want to see me like that. He was not an enemy. My perspective improved from there.
The spate of advices already started pouring in. Hungry eyed men told me, "Bhabhiji, Surat ke paas ayurvedic ilaj hota hota hai." Someone advised Jabalpur, Bhopal, Lucknow...
Tata Memorial hospital at Mumbai is almost synonymous with cancer treatment in our country. But I knew that the waiting period was long. I kept listening. Something like iron rose within me. I knew that I would do the most latest and scientific thing. I knew I would not bother about money. We waited for reports from Nagpur and Delhi. It was cancer of the third stage. There was malignancy in his right kidney.
They say that blood is thicker than water. It is. My younger sister, who is a doctor and who has a heart of gold told me to go to cancer institute, Rohini, Delhi. She guided me not to go anywhere else. She knew a person there. I followed her words without a second's thought.
Before being taken to Delhi, my husband was brought home. I wanted him at home. I did not know if that was the last time. He came. One person supported the catheter. He was already looking frail. The name of the disease half kills you. He lay in our original bed, our one piece king size double bed. We knew this bed. The bed knew us. I asked people to go. Only Shravan was sitting in the porch outside. We sat together in our bed. We cried. Hand in hand, for how long, I do not remember. I can never forget that conversation. I told him that I would spend every single penny, then sell all property, then beg, borrow and steal. But I would save him till there was breath in my body. He faintly smiled. His eyes were wet. Such beautiful eyes, large, deep... Before marriage, I thought I had beautiful eyes but after marrying this gentleman, my eyes came to second position forever. The man whom I knew so well, every part, smell, hair, ribs... he was lying frail. He has feet that will put ladies to shame, fair, sleek feet... feet I touch during pujas. This man, who never kept hundred rupees in his account, who would give me his whole salary and then keep asking, “Yaar, paise de do”, such a noble man, simple, loving... How could fate be so cruel to him?
And then he started speaking. He told me how to live life after he was gone. He told me to bring the elder son to Rewa, get him married to a good girl and live with dignity with a flourishing family. He said, “ Do not let outsiders enter home. Rajesh Tiwari ke ghar ki shan bani rahe.” I froze. I still cannot decide as to what were my feelings. What was I experiencing? Just three days back, my life was enviable. That day, it was in shambles. Strangely enough, I was humming, “Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful for thou art not so; for whom thou thinkest thou dost overthrow, Die not, poor death...and death, thou shall be no more; Death thou shalt die...” John Donne came to me in that moment of catastrophe. A sonnet which I always taught in class assumed new meaning. My husband knew my ways. He let me finish the poem as though it was some sacred hymn or mantra.
I do not remember about tears. But I told him that I would follow his words. I would do as he had commanded. He was satisfied with my response. He seemed relieved. It appeared that he was ready for anything.
The journey to Delhi began.
I still cannot dwell much on the cancer hospital. All that I can say is that if you have any attachment to "Maya", worldly grandeur, jewels, money, position... Just visit a cancer hospital. All your theories of life, of Karma, of justice in life will vanish. Small toddlers, gushing youth, ethereal beauties, frail middle-aged and the helpless old - all are there. This cruel disease of our times, this unwanted growth on body, this gift of modern life style is killing, giving pain and ensnarling, annihilating one by one...
It is heart wrenching. I tried to focus on my case.
The elder son who was working in a pharmaceutical company to gain experience at Mangaluru resigned from job and came to Delhi. We asked the younger one, the IITian to continue his studies.
As he came, my first born, six feet tall, confident, well versed in hospital affairs, I broke down like never before. I wanted to cry to my heart’s content. Why me? Why me?, the only question that I wanted to ask. In his arms, I cried. Together in the lobby, arm in arm, we cried. We cried like nobody was watching. We cried as much as we wanted to. "Sab theek ho jayega mamma, I'll look after things. Don't worry." That was solace. That was soothing. Family is everything.
The tests were conducted. Within seventy two hours of diagnosis of cancer, my husband lay on the operation table to be operated by the best oncologist of the country. The operation took six hours. It was one of the most major cutting that could be done on human body. We had no sense of time. We were moving, then sitting, then praying, then talking, then thinking... The doctor finally emerged and said that he hoped the patient would come out of coma. He just said that. He had no other words. We had no other questions. My husband, my handsome husband lay there. We could see him. No movement. No expression. The man who irritated me so much was not irritating any more. He lay motionless, quiet. After thirty hours or so, the eyelids moved. The feet trembled. He spoke in trance. He was still guiding me, telling me how to deal with kids. Broken words. “Aisa karna, aisa mat karna.” Slowly, slowly, life came back. The song of my life started playing again feebly. But it was there. He was living. He was breathing. The recuperation and after-treatment began.
I came back to Rewa to get Mahamritunjaya Jap done at Kila temple, to maintain the supply of money and above all, to answer the endless queries of people, "What has happened, what does the doctor say, which stage of cancer it is, how much money is being spent, who is looking after him and will he live?"
People just do not realize how cruel they can be. I shelled myself and I shelved myself. The boss was kind. I cocooned myself in prayers. I consumed myself in prayers. I drowned myself in prayers. Day and night, morning and noon, I prayed. Mantras, japs, fasts, temples, Manas, Sundarkand...
Whatever I could do I did. I've always been religious. Even as a child, I was attracted towards God and worshipping. Puja has always been a regular part of my life. It all accelerated. Prayers took a quantum leap. Since then, my puja has gone up. Puja time has gone up... Permanently...
One word may be said that while heart operations are easily available in our country, cancer treatment is still a distant dream. Most patients die because of delay in getting the right treatment at right time. Each second matters in cancer. Timely diagnosis and treatment are everything. Arurvedic, satvic lifestyle may prevent cancer but once malignancy takes over, modern medicine is the only answer. We need facilities. Not everyone is lucky like me to have enough money. Not everyone's sister is a resourceful doctor who has contacts at the best cancer hospital of the country. I was lucky. Everyone deserves to be lucky. My gratitude to God knows no bounds. God has been kind. God is kind. God will be kind.
My elder one, one trusted aide and my husband took a rented room at Delhi. It is a tale of my husband's will power, perseverance and desire to live. Never did he give up. Never did he say that he was in pain. "Achchha hai, I'll overcome. Tumko mar ke marunga, don't worry."
Now when he sends motorcycles while sleeping, I tuck ear buds and slip under his arms counting my blessings. Kids tell us that together we send SUVs while sleeping.