Thursday, September 29, 2016

The comforting hand

The bright colors on the walls of the building or the well ventilated rooms did little to lift the gloom that had enveloped the space inside the hospice run by an NGO on a no profit no loss basis.   The building was built out of the donations from philanthropic souls and many who worked there, except for the nurses and other maintenance staff, took no remuneration.
Priya, looking at her watch, hurried the pace as she neared the building. A young woman in her early twenties, she is a voluntary day time worker doing the duty of a nurse, administrative staff and overseeing the kitchen depending on the needs. She was accustomed to the groans, the grunts and the cries from the inmates that filled the air. There was an unmistakable stench despite the good ventilation and the liberal usage of floor deodorants.
Most of the patients were in their final stages of lives afflicted by cancer, Alzheimer’s and other acute ailments that are terminal in nature. Some of them were paid in-patients, some of them abandoned by children and admitted by friends or relatives and a few from poor families. Such of those who were well off contributed liberally for their upkeep and even donated for the corpus. Those who paid for their maintenance were housed in rooms that had very few beds and had attached bath rooms. The others were in spacious halls with many beds. There was however no discrimination shown in food and medical attention.
As was her habit Priya entered first the room where 89-year-old Kumuda was staying.” Patti, how are you keeping today? You look slightly better. Could you sleep well without much pain?” she asked with warmth in her tone even as she was caressing her back. Kumuda was in the final stages of cancer of liver and her end was expected any time. She lay in the bed folded like a small bundle, emaciated and skinny.
Kumuda turned her head slowly with some effort and one could see a flicker of brightness in her doleful eyes.” Is it Priya? Bring your face closer to me. You know well, my good girl, each day is no different from the other and I am just biding my time for the bhagwan to take me in his fold and relieve me from this pain and suffering. I wish He opens His eyes quickly to answer my prayer,” she said with much difficulty.
Priya took her hand in hers and said softly, “Pray do not talk on these lines. If the pain is too much, I can arrange a pain killer. I am here by your side till evening. Have no worry. I went to Ganesa temple and prayed for you to keep you free from pain. Let me apply the ash on your forehead. It will surely help. I will make a quick round of the other rooms and return soon to sit by your side,” As she got up from the stool, she saw a trickle of tears in Kumuda’s eyes and said as she wiped it,” Do not cry. I know how painful it is, Patti”
“No, it is not pain. I am overwhelmed by your affection and deep concern for me, when my own children hardly make it here,” she spoke almost inaudibly.
Kumuda patti had three sons and a daughter, with two sons living in faraway cities. The local son visited her once a fortnight but ensured financially that the hospice kept her in great comfort. His wife rarely came. The daughter came once a week but spent time with her mom mostly griping about her problems. Priya even remembered patti tell her as to why her daughter was coming here only to grumble and complain. Priya had not seen patti’s grandchildren visit her though she knew they were living in the city.
Priya knew that terminal patients can only be kept comfortable and pain free to the extent possible but hospices cannot cater to their emotional and psychological needs. Patti, though she never spoke much, had in an unguarded moment once expressed her deep disappointment about the lack of demonstrated warmth and affection from her children. Priya only tried to fill that want by spending extra time with her, talking to her in comforting ways and confiding to her personal dreams and goals. Such interactions always lifted the old lady’s spirit.
A week later Kumuda’s condition grew worse and attending doctors felt her end was very near. Priya lingered with her for as long as possible. Patti was mostly drowsy with occasional consciousness. Sad as she was, Priya could not wrench herself away from her   and was seen whispering into her ears whenever patti’s eyes opened, “Patti, Priya here. I will be by your side. Do not worry and sleep calmly.”  Patti’s lips would quiver as if she wanted to say something but soon would sink into drowsiness.
That evening as Priya was standing near the reception, she saw Patti’s son entering. He smiled at her and came near her and said “Can I talk to you for a few minutes? We can go to that corner.”
“Priya, amma has told me about you and how much your presence in the hospital means to her. She even said that her stay here was made bearable thanks to you. I put her here because she would get greater care and comfort than in my house. You may think I am a heartless son but I am not. I have not told my mom but would confide in you now. My wife, after an accident is paralyzed below waist and remains bound to bed and wheel chair. My children and I take turn to look after her. I have the greatest affection for my mother but cannot bear to see her suffering. Every time I come here to see her I go back with lot of heartache and anxiety. My mom is suffering from pain and I know I am unable to be by her side and give comfort to her. I am grateful to you for bringing some sunshine in her final years with your attention and affection which even my children did not do,” he said.
“It is my duty, Sir. I have also developed a fondness for patti as if she was my own. I am very sad when I think of her ebbing life. I am very sorry to hear about your wife and realize now how hard it must be for you to manage two sick people," Priya said as he hurried towards her room.
As Priya entered the hospice the next day morning, she could surmise the worst had happened from the faces of the receptionist and other nurses. One of them said” Priya, it happened at 10 pm last night even as her son was by her bedside. I heard from him that though she was not conscious, she was muttering your name many times. He wanted you to get in touch with him after a fortnight without fail and here is the number and address he gave.”
Priya sobbed inconsolably as she stared at the vacant bed.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Raghav’s strange encounter

Raghav wished to reach home before it got dark. There was a reason for this. He decided to take a short cut through the mini forest that saved his walk by three kilometres. As he walked hurriedly through the narrow winding path amidst thick bushes, he saw midway a little yonder a cloud of smoke enveloping the sky on one side. It was summer and everything was bone dry. It could be a fire, he surmised and increased the pace. Luckily the sun had not yet set giving some dim light.
He saw a little away on this desolate stretch, a lean and lanky man standing at the edge of the pathway looking at him. As he neared the man, he found him to be dark and also appeared somewhat strange with his longish neck. His face   was elongated horizontally and the head wide at the top narrowing down below reminding of an inverted triangle. His eyes were narrow but flitting brightly from one side to other. He was perspiring heavily.
As he smiled at Raghav, the latter felt uneasy but still welcomed his company in this deserted area.
The man saw a flask hanging on Raghav’s shoulders and requested him for some water. Actually the flask contained toddy, an intoxicating drink, that he was habituated to. Raghav readily gave a cup. When he saw the man drink it with gusto, he offered him another cup. The man said his name was Manidharan. Raghav became less apprehensive of the guy now and prodded him to walk faster as it was getting dark.  But the man could not keep pace with Raghav as he walked rather wobbly.
When they came out of forest, they both sat down on the mud to rest and finish the drink. Soon both of them  became inebriated and prattled loudly. It was then Manidharan gave Raghav a marble sized stone for being nice to him adding that it is very precious. Raghav with his mud soiled dirty hand took it.
“My house is very near. Do come with me and have your dinner,” requested Raghav.
“I will come with you up to your place but will leave immediately without having dinner,” Manidharan replied.
“I cannot tell you more. Do not press me. Keep the stone carefully.” he replied.
When they reached the hut, Raghav’s wife saw him highly intoxicated in disheveled condition with mud all over the body.
 ” How many times should I tell you not to drink outside the home. You can drink as much as you wish within the hut as I do not want you to remain fallen on the road,” she spoke with much irritability.
“Do not get angry, my dear.  My friend here gave me this precious stone and we celebrated a little,” he said and gave her the mud covered stone.
She took one short look at it and shouted, “Who would give you a   precious stone, you worthless fellow? This is a dirty green marble,” and lifted her hand to throw it across towards the open drain. Stopping her, he turned towards the man for help, but to his great shock, he found he was not there. Instead to his horror he saw what seemed a long king cobra slithering under the bush rustling the leaves as it sped fast.
When he realized the full import of what he had undergone, keeping in mind the shape of his face, his name, the squeaky voice and wobbly walk, he snatched the gem stone from his wife’s hands and said “You fool. You were about to throw away a priceless gem that would make us very rich. He rubbed it with his cloth to see a dazzling and invaluable naagmani (cobra pearl) in greenish yellow emitting a glow.