By Nishi Pulugurtha
On 8 November 2010, I left for work at my usual time. Quarter past ten, I called home to tell my mother that I had reached. My dad passed away two years ago and my mother stayed at home alone; it became my habit to call her up frequently through the day. The phone rang, no one answered. It was alright as my mother often ventured out to the nearby shop, to the bank, to have a chat with our neighbour. Another hour later, I called again, no reply. Lunch time and no one answered the phone. I was worried now, something was amiss.
I called up my neighbour who told me that our apartment was all locked, windows all shut. I knew for certain that something was wrong. This was not normal. It was three in the afternoon and there was no sign of my mother anywhere. My first instinct was to look up at places where she could normally be, people who would have seen her. But no one had any news. I decided to report her absence at the local police station. At the local rickshaw stand, a rickshaw puller told me that he had taken my mother that morning to the main road as she was looking for a cab. Now I was certain that she had set out, maybe she wanted to take a cab to take her to Howrah station. Did she plan to go to Roorkee (where my sister and nephew lived), or Hyderabad (where her sisters lived) or Kakinada (where she grew up). These three places came to my mind as these three places had an important place in her heart.
That evening, as I headed back home after a frantic, futile search at Sealdah and Howrah stations, I got in touch with all my relatives in Hyderabad and Kakinada in the hope that my mother would be meeting them somewhere. Throughout the night, I kept on hoping she would come home. But there was no sign of her anywhere.
We got to work, looking for my mother, my mother who had been missing. The mandatory visit was made to the missing person’s department with the usual questions, copies of photographs of my mother and details. Still no trace of her anywhere. I was told to do the rounds of hospitals, just in case. There was no news of her anywhere. Frantic, despairing, we readied handbills with her photograph and contact details, distributed them in our locality, in places that she usually went to. We had them broadcast over the local cable, on social media, hoping that someone somewhere might have seen her. Friends and acquaintances joined in to help in whatever way they could. Students and colleagues put up her picture on notice boards; friends and acquaintances shared her photo all over social media; doctor friends put up her photo on their clinic walls. We were all hoping and longing for a lead somewhere. With the passing of time, we were at our wits’ ends. Where was she? Did she get to eat anything? What state was she in? These questions troubled us throughout those 48 hours. Help came in from various quarters and had it not been for the help and solace of my dear students, friends and acquaintances, we would not have been able to deal with that terrible situation. My sister and I were getting frantic. Where do we look for her, whom do we reach out too, where was she and how was she.
I still remember that day: 10 November, 2010. I was seated at the police headquarters at Lalbazar, looking up details of people found, along with two of my dear friends. About 11 in the morning, I got a call on my mobile. Any call seemed like imminent news about my mother. A gentleman asked me if there was someone in my family who was missing. I replied in the affirmative. He told me that he was calling from a petrol pump on the highway, Delhi Road, at Chamrail and that since midnight he had noticed a lady seated at the petrol pump. The description that he provided of the lady matched my mother’s. So, I told him to hand the phone to her. When she was handed the mobile, I called out to her. There was the familiar voice recognizing my voice immediately and speaking as if nothing had been amiss these last 48 hours.
We then immediately began the tedious journey to locate this petrol pump. When I saw her there, the place gave me the goose bumps – vehicles rushing past, a highway, a lone petrol pump and my mother. Tired she was, but she was still lively. When she saw my friend, Smriti di, she looked at her, smiled and enquired about her children very normally, as she was wont to. She was her usual garrulous self, talking, reading shop signs, and behaving as she usually did. There was nothing forthcoming about where she had been for the last 48 hours. The man at the petrol pump told us that she had been there since midnight. But where she was before that, we had no clue. We did not want to bother her by asking questions. We were just plain happy and relieved that we found her.
One thing we knew was that she had walked a lot as she complained of pain in her feet. My mother never complained about anything. She has always been the fun loving, jolly, happy, uncomplaining person. She loved having people around her, loved to talk and was very good with people. So, when she complained of pain in her feet, we were sure the pain must be really unbearable.
We got her home; she was happy to be home. She talked with all who came to see her, had a hearty meal and rested. It was as if those 48 hours never existed. They were obliterated from her memory and neither did we work on that. Those hours were the worst and I still dread to think of those days and that petrol pump. That young gentleman at the petrol pump was an angel in our lives. I am afraid I do not remember his name after all these years, but I still recollect his face – our Good Samaritan. He reaffirmed my faith in humanity.
A few days after this, after a whole lot of tests and many visits to the neurologist, my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. That was the beginning of our journey with the dreaded disease. Caring for my mother over the past five years has brought about a number of changes in our lives. Things have drastically changed. How I look and perceive things after all these years is vastly altered.
It has been a difficult journey but we are still at it, struggling and coping to carry on. We had to rework our lives, but the journey is on.
Dr. Nishi Pulugurtha is Associate Professor, Department of English, Brahmananda Keshab Chandra College, Kolkata. She is an academic with varied interests and writes on travel, too. Twitter: @nishipulu
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