“What is his ailment??” an innocent question from another harried parent and I was at a loss of words. We both were waiting in the hospital taking care of our children, he of his daughter and me of my son.
On a Rainy monsoon evening which if not for the medical condition of my son would have been something that i would have looked forward to. But sitting in a hospital waiting made me desolate and gloomy. The question bought back memories of marriage, parenthood and the lack of control of my destiny.
Coming from a privileged old money background, I had my life all sorted out by my parents. The comforts and the luxuries were provided for, education in the best boarding schools with a Post Graduation from a prestigious foreign university taken care of. A well paying job in a MNC albeit procured by pulling the strings by my well networked family. I was ready to face the mundane realities of everyday world. Well so the world and I thought.
The chink in the armour was the lack of relationship stability and the choices I made as far as my love life was concerned. Falling from one relationship to another that was not only emotionally taxing and toxic that always took away part of me and the part that always walked away was the one I was proud of. Ms. Perfect took away my thick skin; Ms. Manager took away emotions that left me a bit cold and a loner. Well between these two there were few others that too dented and scratched away some of my personality away.
“Beta you are turning 30, it is time you settle down” announced my mother for the first time one evening over dinner. She was my emotional anchor who knew me inside out. She who had faced the ordeal of a physical abusive husband, she who took it all in her stride for walking out on an abusive marriage wasn’t an option ever available to her. She wasn’t financially independent where could she go, who would provide for?? She belonged to the day and age where the upholding the family honour was her domain and responsibility. I was the bearer of her secrets, her inner demons.
The marriage question was definitely a mother’s instinct to strike at the right time I said “Go find yourself a suitable daughter-in-law and i shall marry anyone of your choice.” Well she was ready with a probable list and after the initial meeting and brief courtship; Priya and me were tied in nuptials knots in what was a simple wedding. Priya was the kind of girl who was an ideal Bahu, wife and a mother belonging to an upper middle class family from a relative small town.
The married life was normal but boring. The initial flux of emotions gave way to reality. We realised we were different and destined never to find a common ground. How could love survive such an onslaught of differences? Gradually we started drifting apart; there was nothing left to bind us together. Each flaw was highlighted and stored. There were showdowns and a silent undercurrents. We both were perfect to the world; we knew each other inside out but lacked emotional empathy. We spoke only out of necessity and never addressed the elephant in the room i.e. the parenthood: initial years of marriage flew away before Priya realised that her body clock was ticking away.
With this came the urgency and the visits to the fertility clinics , quacks and finally after two years of timing ovulation, moon and sex she conceived and amid the din of incessant rainfall supposedly the highest in that decade we were blessed with a boy. When we both held him for the first time he was crying and so were we. This outpour of emotions in the room and the rains outside washed away the angst, unspoken words, regrets. Life was back and sprouting all around us. The shades of green, the smell of rains and the joy of Shantanu, yes that was his name. Our Shantanu. My Shantanu…..
From the day he was born, he lit up our home. The love showered not only from us but also the Grand Parents. Every whims and fancies were taken care of. Our life revolved around his schedule. We slept when he did, laughed with him and cried with him. And he too didn’t disappoint us. He was a perfect child!! He could spend hours playing by himself would take care of his everyday things. No fussing or fretting over. The way he smiled lit up everything around him, those dimpled cheeks that twinkle in his eyes what more we could ask for. Life was perfect and back on track, or so we thought!!
“Baiji where is Shantanu, haven’t seen him since in a while now?? Please go and look for him.” Shantanu was 5 now, studying in the new and upcoming High end school in our city.
“Yes Maa, what is it?? U called for me?? “He entered the house all wet and shivering. He was playing out in the garden with his pet dog a lovable Brown Irish Setter. The rains had arrived a bit early and there he was drenched to the core. The canine’s hair on his clothes, the paw marks on his white school shirt, the black school shoes and white socks lost in the mud and dirt. The innocence of the child and the protective feeling of the mother all came at the same instance. It was sight that made Priya both angry and loving.
After a quick warm bath and change of clothes, he was again at his playful self. I entered home late that evening, and Priya updated me of his antics and the slight fever that Shantanu was down with now. The family doctor was sent for, he assured us that there was not much to worry about and it was just a seasonal flu that was to go away in a couple of days. The fever refused to go away for another four days but what definitely went away was his cheerfulness, his laughter. He was an ideal patient; no complaints, no crying just lying in the quilt watching his favourite cartoon channels with the pet dog by his side.
The doctor on his next visit asked us to get some tests done to rule out everything. The seasonal flu couldn’t go on for so long. What were to know that it was just the beginning of the visits to doctors? The tests proved inconclusive and so with it the diagnosis. Shantanu was fighting fit one day and meek and weak the other. There was no specialist left whose opinion wasn’t sought.
With the use of latest medical treatment, the services of all other alternate therapists were involved. Visits to the temples increased so did the treads around his tiny writs. Dietary habits were changed so as not to harm any living being. Godmen and Pandits were approached; prayers conducted all done to have a soothing effect on Shantanu.
After an excruciating time gap, he was admitted in the hospital, holding me, confused, and looking for a reassurance from my side. What could I tell him? I too was looking for one and yet to find answers to my questions. The needles seized to hurt him anymore, the pills weren’t bitter anymore. The birth of Shantanu that brought Priya and me together, his illness further bonded us. For who else could understand our pain and sorrow. We could cry only in from of each other. We had to be strong outside and inside we were emotional wreck.
Then came the ‘C’ word that we all had dreaded for so long. One evening the doctor called us to his room and suggested us another round of tests and MRI’s to test for CANCER!! The word shattered us; the doctors assured us that it was just a diagnostic test. But to a parent there is nothing scarier then to have a child test for Cancer.
He was prepared the next day and in walked the nurse to take him with her. “Chalo Shantanu Baba, time for some final tests and we will be back in a jiffy!!” said the nurse in her trendy hospital uniform and a smile that hung between genuine and forced.
I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”
Outside the room from a window the rains could be seen that was in its final retreating phase. The final shower before they seize for the year for they had completed their task and replenished the water bodies and life along its way…..
PS : All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.