By Rimli Bhattacharya
29 July 2011, 19:00 hours. I was returning home from work in a cramped local when my mobile rang. It was a call from my father. Those days getting frantic calls from my Maa (mother) were very common but a call from my father implied something consequential.
“Where have you reached?” he had asked.
“I am just a station away. Is everything okay at home?” I had probed.
I could barely hear his words, “Maa’s body is cold” before the phone lost network.
I knew it was over. Maa has expired. Aside I had heaved a sigh of relief and had muttered a thank you to the universe for taking away Maa. She was suffering and there had to be an end for the tortured soul.
I had reached my station. I alighted quietly from the local and, unlike other days, I decided to walk down the road till home. Now that there were no urgencies, I could enjoy an evening walk I thought. Suddenly, I had turned placid. Reaching the society where we lived, I found my father pacing near our complex gate waiting for the doctor to come to our place and confirm the death. There was pin drop silence at home. My tiny two-year-old toddler Jhilmil assured me that Dida (grandma) had been sleeping since long and also hasn’t called up anyone that day. Not even her nephrologist, Dr Arun Shah. Dadubhai (grandpa) had gone to bring the doctor to wake Dida up. He should be home anytime. The ayah was about to burst into tears when I gestured her to remain silent and take care of Jhilmil. I entered the bedroom. Maa was lying on her bed and looked as if she was in deep slumber. I sat beside Maa. The clock struck eight. On other days my Maa would be ready with her volley of complaints which included the food, ayah, my father, Dr Shah, everyone and everything barring Jhilmil. Tranquillity adorned her face tonight. I could still feel the healthy glow of her skin. I had touched her hand. It was ice cold. I had kissed her forehead as I knew it would be my last goodbye. I had murmured a silent prayer and had made a wish that we should be together again in our next birth.
Her stillness was in some way relieving and spoke for itself. It was peaceful in a way where I could feel her presence. That no matter what was happening she was forever there with me.
I knew I had lots to do now but lethargy seemed to overpower me. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. I wanted to ask my Maa why she hadn’t called me that day. I wanted to ask God why they took Maa in my absence when I heard Maa whispering to me, “Because you weren’t letting me go.”
Maa had a problem of hypertension. She also had Angina Pectoris but not for once she would listen to me or my father. She would brush it off saying it was her arthritic pain and would pop in the analgesics as if she were eating chocolates. In her youth she suffered from Dysmenorrhea with anodynes being her savior. Maa was also a patient of Osteoarthritis and to counter the acute knee pain she would often resort to the analgesics. She also suffered from Rheumatic Arthritis and her only cure being those anodynes, which was again a wrong self-medication. Her blood pressure would always remain on the higher side, and she dreaded going to the doctor for a checkup. She would very contently continue her BP medicines on her own, along with her self – medicated dosages of pain killers which later proved fatal to her.
Maa had multiple problems. I would hear about a new plight each day after I returned from work. This was the reason why neither I nor my father took her whining seriously. But I remember cautioning her couple of times to steer clear of pain killers as they affected the kidneys. She would laugh it off.
In 2009 when my daughter was just a year old, Maa went into delirium for the first time. I was called back from work. Maa was running a very high fever but still she refused to go to the hospital. The next day things became worse when she had a problem in passing urine. In no time her face and legs swelled up and she fainted. Keeping my daughter under my then sixty-nine-year-old father’s care I called up an ambulance. Lifting her in the ambulance proved a challenge. Maa was on the heavier side, and she was not in a position to get up, let alone step inside the ambulance. I had to take help of the local boys.
I consulted Dr. Abhay Bhave who asked me to take her to Arogyanidhi Hospital in Juhu and admit under nephrologist Dr. Arun Shah. A battery of tests was conducted. Her creatinine level was high indicating kidney malfunction. Electrolytes were also aberrant. With low sodium level she was constantly in and out of delirium and it was eleven in the night when the doctor took a decision to shift her to the ICU. Back at home my father was alone managing my daughter. My prediction proved prophetic. The pain killers had indeed affected Maa’s kidneys. I had no option but to keep Maa alone in the ICU under the doctors’ watchful eyes and leave for home. Next morning the Computed Tomography scan (CT scan) was conducted, and the diagnosis was Pericardial Effusion (heart disorder) accompanied with Pyelonephritis (kidney disorder). She was discharged after a ten-day hospital stay with the doctor assuring me that she was cured of her ailments.
But Maa was never the same thereafter. And along with her our lives changed forever. Each day she would complain of breathlessness, giddiness, lack of appetite, headache and so on. I had to take repeated leaves from work. There were eight to ten hospitalizations. Each time I took her to Dr. Shah, the tomography or blood test result would show some deviations and he would advise me to admit her in the ICU. I would remember Maa crying and requesting the doctors not to admit her as she would like to stay back home and play with her granddaughter, Jhilmil. Seeing her in this state often left me flabbergasted. Maa, who was a tough professor all through her career, would later need a caretaker. And I would be the care giver.
The last hospitalization was different. It happened in June 2011. She was totally out of her senses as her kidneys had failed completely. We were left with no option but to go for dialysis and I also knew that Ma would not be able to stand the trauma of dialysis. The doctor gave an early discharge to Maa but this time his eyes spoke a different language. He wouldn’t look at me, but in the pretext of writing a prescription he asked me to bring back Maa after a week for an Angiography. He suspected that the heart had multiple blockages. I had nodded in approval. On our way back home, I had hired a Meru cab when Maa said, “I will leave soon; my days are numbered.” I hadn’t replied to her but had murmured a prayer, pleading God to spare my Maa from the horror of dialysis and further hospitalizations.
She was saved from the torment of both. Her heart failed her, along with the kidneys. I could hear Jhilmil calling me to say that the doctor had arrived and now Dida would wake up.
I wanted to hide. I wanted to be left alone. But being the only child, I had my societal responsibilities. Leaving my grieving father, the doctor, and the ayah near Maa’s corpse, I had lifted Jhilmil and had walked to the other room. I needed to inform all friends and relatives about the death.
Nine years later during the nationwide lockdown I lost my father as well. He too had a heart attack. Did I give him a farewell? No, I don’t remember.
Rimli Bhattacharya is a first class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering with a MBA in supply chain management. She has contributed to two anthologies, A Book of light and Muffled Moans and has written two solo books, The crosshairs of life and That day it rained and other stories. Her other works have appeared in twenty-nine literary magazines & E-Zines. She is also an Indian Classical dancer.
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