We take a lot of things in life for granted the most important being life itself. Not just ours, but even that of others close to us. We forget that life comes with no guarantee and no expiry date and so we merrily take people and relationships for granted. We are busy keeping scores of who did what to us, who owes how much to us, not just monetary dues but also emotional and other dues; we wait for opportunities to get even with them and we are elated or gloomy depending upon our success or failure to do so; we grudge them the time and care given and expect the same or more from them in return – all while the clock ticks away and the heart is winding down — the worst part being that we don’t know whose.
So why am I talking of death today? Actually it is not and I am sorry if I gave that impression. This post is about life, love and hope. In fact, it is a love story of the rarest and most incredible kind.
Remember the post on Sunshine People that I had done some time ago? Well, some Sunshine People have the worst of life – unremitting sadness, privation and loss. What is more, unlike most of us, they don’t have the luxury of taking life for granted. They know that the inexorable hour is approaching. And yet, between bouts of grief, they dig into the depth of their souls and find a smile. They find reserves of compassion for another soul in distress and pray for their welfare.
I am privileged to be the friend of one such Sunshine Person, who lost her husband this morning. They had been married for nearly two decades. Barely a few months into their marriage, her husband, a civil engineer working for a construction firm had a fall that broke his spine and disabled him. The company fired him after giving him a paltry amount as settlement. The couple didn’t have the wherewithal to fight for their rightful compensation.
I first met her when she was in her twenties, a few years after the accident — beautiful, glowing and full of cheer and laughter. The couple shared a rare affection and camaraderie. They laughed, bantered and quarreled — just as any couple would do, except that she had to clean his urine and stool bags, sponge him down and be in attendance day and night.
They still had hope that things would become better. She was a devout woman. Her rented house had a whole room devoted to her Gods. A brightly polished brass lamp burned bright as her smile and the incense spread its fragrance just as she did. She visited the temple of the goddess near her house every day. And she prayed for her husband, her friends, her loved ones. Did she ever ask for anything for herself? I doubt it.
They thought that it was just a matter of time before he was able to walk again and work. And work he did, from his bed. This was in the early ‘90s when computers were not such a rage or even used so extensively in school and college projects. So he set up a tiny unit with a small loan from the bank, where he helped college students with their projects related to computers. The compensation from the company had been exhausted long since on medical bills. He had an older brother, a failed genius, who quit a good job and then worked off and on, tried his hand at business, failed and finally came to live with them. His moral and physical support was welcome but he was a drain on their meagre resources nevertheless. The three of them fought like kids, but stayed together.
Her parents were distant. They were extremely rich and felt that she was wasting her life with a disabled man. When she asked them for financial help, they advised her to leave him and come home. Shocked out of her wits, she shut the door on them and their money. She adopted my older sister as her surrogate mother then.
‘Had it been me in his place, would they even think of such a thing?’ she wailed. ‘I don’t wish to call them my parents,’ she said bitterly. Her older sister and niece were pillars of support for her, but they could only help physically and morally not financially. She couldn’t take up a job since her husband needed 24×7 care and they could not afford full time help. It was a struggle all the way.
Sometimes fate mocks at courage. Or is it one’s own karma?
A rival institute started on the same street and soon the marketing gimmicks and the spit and polish of the place took away the few students he had. The bank clamoured for its loan and they had to shut shop and sell off their stuff to pay the loan. The dear face of my friend became lined before their time; the glow dimmed in the eyes, but the laughter never left her face. She never talked of her problems when I called or met her, always asking about my health and problems instead, as if hers were incidental. I am humbled to remember her trekking to temples to pray for me when I was going through turmoil in my life.
As the years progressed, the income dried up, his health problems increased and got more complicated and they only managed to survive with the help of friends. She finally got a piece of land and a tiny house from her parents. They had bowed down to their stubborn daughter who refused to abandon her husband. But that was about all they did.
Fate was not done with them yet.
The final straw came when he was diagnosed with cancer. It had spread so far in his innards that his tongue was affected and doctors snipped away a part of it. Chemotherapy was of no use in controlling the raging disease in its final stage by then. With his tongue having been removed, there was no way they could banter with or talk to each other anymore.
The bruised heart still beat and ached for her love. She had to feed him a spoonful at a time but she didn’t mind it as long as he ate or drank something. And then, during the check up yesterday the doctors told her that he only had a month or two at the maximum. My sister, called me to give the news.
I called her immediately. She, who never allowed even a teary voice while speaking, broke down. We both wept together and I don’t know what I spoke to her. Suddenly at 2 AM, I inexplicably woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep. At 6 AM, I got the news that the clock had stopped at 3 AM. I knew what had woken me up at that unearthly hour then. We had had no inkling that the months the doctors had given him would turn out to be mere hours.
Nearly two decades of penance had come to an end. The formidable spirit of a Sunshine Woman had stood by her as she cared for her husband with whom she had hardly lived as a wife for a few months before turning his nurse, attendant and friend and continued being those every minute of the day, every day for all these years with a smile and a prayer on her lips. How many of us would have that kind of patience? Don’t we get exhausted with the loss of sleep and being run off our feet when a loved one is ill?
‘What will I do without him?’ she asks a tinge of panic in her voice. She has lost the love of her life.
A love story has ended or has it just slipped into folklore?
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Homepage – Raghav Khanna