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Memoir: The Return

Painting: Rashmi Khurana

By Rimli Bhattacharya 

“O Ri Chiraiya
Nanhi si chidiya
Angnaa mein phir aaja re

Andhiyara hai ghana aur lahu se sana
Kirno ke tinke ambar se chunn ke
Angna mein phir aaja re
Humne tujhpe hazaro sitam hain kiye
Humne tujhpe jahaan bhar ke zulm kiye
Humne socha nahi
Tu jo ud jaayegi
Ye zameen tere bin sooni reh jaayegi
Kiske dum pe sajega mera angna

O Ri Chiraiya
Nanhi si chidiya
Angnaa mein phir aaja re…”

It was eleven in the night. I and my daughter Jhilmil had just returned from my daughter’s classmate Devangi’s place where both the children practiced this song for their school assembly.

Around 12 in the afternoon, I received a call from a distressed Devangi who informed that her mother, Manisha, had once again been rushed to the hospital ICU. To add to the misery, the child herself had developed high fever with a severe cough. She was alone at home. The mother in me was compelled to reach out to the distressed family immediately.

Though it might sound selfish, I need to mention that while my presence at that time to be with Devangi was a necessity, it was a blessing in disguise for me. And there is a reason why I say this. On each trip to my psychiatrist I would pester the doctor for some additional sleeping pills for spending these long afternoons. Certain inane thoughts would clutter my mind and I would feel claustrophobic. Neither could I read nor could I write during those difficult hours. My heart would pound at an increasingly rapid pace and I would check my watch every half an hour. The entire feeling was unsettling.

“Don’t sleep in the afternoons. The dosages are too much for you. I would not like to add more medicines. Try doing what you love to do in the afternoons. Nothing is impossible.” The words of my psychiatrist Dr. Bharati reverberated in my ears.

Of late I had developed a close friendship with Manisha and I enjoyed her company. It had become my habit to constantly mull over my illness until I met her.

As her movements were restricted, Manisha, a patient of acute kidney failure, would urge me to visit her. She felt lonely and wanted to speak her heart out during my visits to her place. Gradually it turned into a ritual to pay a call to her place every Sunday afternoon. Deep in my mind I knew the real reason of my afternoon sojourns. While the children played, we chatted.

“This is the only way I can remain sane.” I had convinced myself.

***

I had actually turned into a zombie due to the excess concoction of drugs prescribed by my new psychiatrist Dr. Ketan Parmar. The psychotic pills had taken tremendous toll on my health. I had gained weight, had turned lethargic, my speech faltered. I had dry mouth syndrome. And the worst of all, I couldn’t write. A passion I wanted to live by.

Upon the advice of my counselor Anjala, I decided to return to my former psychiatrist Dr. Bharati. It was she who had treated me when I had my first nervous breakdown post my marriage to a psychic man. Over the years our chemistry was no more restricted to only a doctor-patient relationship. I trusted her more than anyone else and felt content in her company. Her sessions with me were cathartic and I would return home feeling unburdened.

In fact, I had even briefed Dr. Bharati and Anjala about my closeness with Manisha and her family. I remember a certain day when I had messaged Anjala a picture of Jhilmil and Devangi playing. She replied immediately, “Derive happiness.”

“I couldn’t sleep the entire night. I had intense pain in my chest and was feeling breathless. Neither could I turn sideways nor could I sleep straight. I simply sat and had to spend the entire night in agony.” Manisha would very often say these words to me.

During each of my follow-ups with her, Dr. Bharati asked me, “How is your sleep cycle at night?”

“Oh, I am much better with your tablets. Don’t ever reduce my dosages,” I would reply.

While Manisha a victim of kidney failure stayed sleepless night after night, my condition was totally different. My sickness called for adequate sleep in the nights. While the doctor had initially started with a minimum dosage of 0.25mg, it had reached the threshold level of 2mg within a span of 19 years. I knew it would further increase with time. A price I had to pay for marrying the wrong person.

When alone I often pondered if it was our illness that connected me with Manisha. Though her ailment was graver than mine, I still cherished the fact that I was not the only one in this whole wide world with an irremediable malady.

Then one day Manisha was admitted to the hospital in the middle of the night. I tried reaching out to her on her cell phone, which was answered by the little Devangi.

Did I hear a tinge of fear in the child’s voice? Of course, not. They all were brave.

***

‘Brave’ – the word stung like a bee. I had received this accolade long back from my mother, my colleagues and friends. And to a certain extent, they were not wrong. Handling work, finances, home front, my ailing parents and self to managing my pregnancy and birth of my daughter without any help indeed called for valor. Mind you, I am not boasting. I am presenting the truth.

The situation became worse when during the month of September, 2009, when I had to rush my mother to Arogyanidhi Hospital, Juhu. Sitting in the ambulance I stared at my mother who constantly went in and out of delirium. She held my hand but was unable to utter a single word. Her eyes brimmed with tears and I wept silently. Her erratic reports impelled the doctor to shift her to the ICU. Sitting at the hospital lobby, my thoughts drifted from my mother to my one-year-old daughter Jhilmil. I kept the toddler under my father’s care who himself had just been back from hospital after a treatment for prolonged illnesses. It was already 12 in the morning and I was unsure if my father was able to feed the baby her dinner. Moreover, I was doubtful of my time to return home. It would take another two hours by road or an hour’s journey by the local train, provided I managed to catch the last local to my destination.

For the next one year, I and my father had a tough time as my mother had to be continually shifted in and out of the hospital. My mothers’ sisters provided enough lip service and they expected me to remain content with it. They were unaware that I had never pardoned them for this gesture towards their debilitated sister. That was the time when I needed them the most.

Those days even with counseling sessions with Anjala I struggled to keep my composure. I would get anxious as my mothers’ health was gradually sinking. Anjala was the one who stood by me during those difficult days apart from my father.

“Do not ever reveal your vulnerability in front of your daughter. I am sure you wouldn’t like her to grow up as a weakling individual. Face with grace whatever life throws at you. That is courage.” Anjala had counseled.

“And what if my mother dies? I will not be able to manage alone. Jhilmil is too young. My father is recovering from his afflictions and I myself am sick,” I had retorted.

“Stop complaining, will you? You will be much better off without your mother. She is suffering and there has to be an end to it. Now stop overthinking and take proper care of Jhilmil. She is your priority.”

Anjala’s forecast proved prophetic. My mother was alive for two more months until her heart and both her kidneys failed her. That was my first brush with the terms like “kidney failure” and “dialysis”. My mother was under dialysis (though only for a short period) and I had witnessed the upshot of it. Thereafter I developed a tremendous fear about kidney disorders and the subsequent distressing treatment.

***

And now it is Manisha. I and Jhilmil went to their place for the first time when Manisha showed me her AV fistula implantation, required for dialysis.

“My kidneys have failed. My dialysis starts right after the Ganesh Utsav. I am also looking for a donor. If I get one I will have a kidney transplant and can avoid this pain of lifetime dialysis.” Manisha had confided in me.

I was at her place for a couple of hours. Unlike me, I did not find her mired in self-pity.

Manisha’s dialysis started immediately after the festival as even the fistula needed time to develop. She too had been in and out of the hospital ever since with multifarious complications. Each time she got admitted, I had rushed to their place to have a check on little Devangi who I knew would be alone at home.

***

Today was one such day. This time Manisha had to be admitted in the wee hours of the night. She had pericardial effusion resulting in breathlessness which called for an immediate dialysis under monitoring in the ICU. Her saturation percentage in the blood was also very low and she needed extra oxygen. To add to the complications, Dayanand, Manisha’s husband, was required to stay with her in the hospital as the next 24 hours were critical for her.

Upon receiving that call from a distressed Devangi, I had reached their place immediately. As usual the child was alone. The cook had prepared lunch but she could not eat. The child had somehow managed to call up her local pediatrician who had administered her antibiotic capsules. I got those capsules for her but had a tough time feeding her the same. Not used to gulping such fat capsules, she would throw up each time I tried feeding one. She was queasy and coughed badly. To divert the child’s attention from the fever, I made Devangi and my daughter Jhilmil watch television the entire afternoon. Late in the evening after Devangi’s fever had receded a little, the children practiced the song for their school assembly. In the night I insisted Devangi to come and stay at my place but she refused saying someone was needed to take care of the house.

“Take care, take care, take care and take care” were the words that echoed in my head the entire night. They reminded me of my own failure to take care of myself, let alone my daughter and my octogenarian father.

Later in the night when everyone had slept, I took out the laptop quietly. I googled that song. I noted down the lyrics and tried singing without waking up anyone. 

“O Ri Chiraiya
Nanhi si chidiya
Angnaa mein phir aaja re

Andhiyara hai ghana aur lahu se sana
Kirno ke tinke ambar se chunn ke
Angna mein phir aaja re
Humne tujhpe hazaro sitam hain kiye
Humne tujhpe jahaan bhar ke zulm kiye
Humne socha nahi
Tu jo ud jaayegi
Ye zameen tere bin sooni reh jaayegi
Kiske dum pe sajega mera angna

O Ri Chiraiya
Nanhi si chidiya
Angnaa mein phir aaja re…”

***

This time I sang the same in front of Anjala. I had compelled her to have a session with me. I showed her pictures of the girls, of Manisha and looked at her for answers to those questions I had been harboring since the time I had the relapse of my own illness.

“I have lost my way back to exuberance. Why am I suddenly singing this song? This song leaves me with a twinge of grief. Is it my depression? Are those dark days looming over me once again?” I said to Anjala.

“Wrong questions. You are already an intrepid and sensible individual, though you never think that of yourself. I guess it is the outcome of your years of abuse. But that is past. So why hold on? Let it go, release yourself. Here you are only trying to help a family which requires support. They are going through a rough patch and there is nothing happier than to help someone who is grappling with life and death. Have you forgotten the conduct of your mothers’ sisters when you needed one? The song which you learnt from the children is a balm for your bruised soul. It is tutoring your brain how to flow, how to feel tranquil. The slowly changing tone has touched your different memories, a sort of acoustic massage to your perturbed mind and spirit. It is an invitation for slowness and to feel the presence of oneself, the ever-patient version of you who waits to be spoken to, and is content in doing so. The song is your extrinsic heartbeat and the lyrics are your vivacity in sweet vibrations; the song is your ode to the ubiquitous love for one another, to nature and creation. I again repeat, seek happiness and not pleasure. All you need is to return and I guess it’s not that difficult for you,” said a smiling Anjala.

Overcoming each stumbling block had always been demanding for me. And now my need to return to my old self was yet another challenge. Fixing my next session with Anjala, I walked out of her home. I needed to return for the sake of Jhilmil. I have a very little time left with me.

Note: This memoir is a sort of sequel to my previous essays “A concoction of mental maladies: The story of my journey back to life” and “True Bravery Is The Battle Of This Young Mom Urgently Requiring A Kidney Donor.”

Bio:
Rimli Bhattacharya is a first class gold medalist in Mechanical Engineering from NIT, Agartala with a MBA in supply chain management from University of Mumbai. Having worked in the corporate sector for twenty years, she realized writing was her true calling. She left her high profile job as a General Manager at a multinational in 2017 to pursue her passion. She has contributed to two anthologies – A Book of light under a pseudo name, Leela Chakraborty, edited by Jerry Pinto and published by Speaking Tigers and Muffled Moans, edited by Dr Santosh Bakaya and Lopamudra Banerjee and published by Authorspress. Her works have appeared in twenty six literary magazines & E – Zines: The Education Post, Café Dissensus, Feminism in India & Women’s Web. As a little girl she wrote short fictions and poems for The Times of India. She is also an Indian Classical dancer of Kathak and Odissi genres. Twitter: @rimli76

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Cafe Dissensus Everyday is the blog of Cafe Dissensus magazine, based in New York City and India. All materials on the site are protected under Creative Commons License.

***

Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “On the Table: Pathways between Food Studies and Food Writing”, edited by Somrita Urni Ganguly, Fulbright Scholar, Brown University, USA.

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