‘At her cremation, he whispered, “Mother, I’ll join you soon on the other side. I pray you find peace at last.” It was like one of their numerous parting hugs at airports. As usual, his eyes were wet, but on this occasion, his hands shivered; they had just consigned her mortal remains to flames. His legs felt lifeless, they had to be dragged. He felt uprooted. He had no sibling, so there was no shoulder to support his hanging head.
About nine months earlier, he flew a day after his parents returned home from overseas to join them in the capital city of their country. They had lived overseas with him and his family for about a year. He had been deeply concerned about his mother’s health; he could tell that she was not very well. He cautioned his father several times about that. On his wife’s advice, he had flown back to get her medically checked. A day later, at a famous private hospital in the capital city, she was checked by doctors and nothing overly concerning was found in her. After a few days’ stay with his parents, he returned home.
Three months later, his mother was reportedly injured in an accident in the capital city. Her dupatta was caught in the wheel of a cycle rickshaw. She had momentarily passed out at that time. Her neck had suffered a deep wound, as her gold chain had cut into her flesh. His father had rushed her to the same famous hospital in the capital city. On learning about her accident a few days later, he flew immediately from overseas to see his mother. She looked a little weaker but functioned as relatively normal. After a few days’ stay, his parents accompanied him to the capital city from where he took his return flight home.
A couple of months later, his father called from a hill resort, where his parents had been holidaying away from the humidity of the plains. This time his mother had suddenly started suffering from a terrible backache. She had also been finding it hard to swallow her food. His father sounded helpless and desperate. None of his relatives, who would normally holiday at his parents’ home a few times a year, had been of any help.
He immediately decided to fly home to see his mother. When he arrived home unannounced, after travelling about 12,000 km from the other side of the Equator, his parents’ domestic help was happily surprised to see him. “Where are they?” he asked without exchanging any greetings. “Upstairs, in their bedroom, bhaya,” was the answer. He quickly ran up the stairs. Their bedroom door was open. His mother was lying on her right side on the bed, moaning with pain, and his father sat on a rug on the floor by her side, looking hapless.
His father stood up and greeted him but his mother did not; she just looked at him, her eyes reflected love. He stood by her side and asked her to rise and give him a hug but she could not. She kept moaning and said she was dying due to pain. His father announced, “She is not eating anything, she is being difficult. Her tests have come back normal. Perhaps, she has psychological issues.” Within the next hour and a half, a popular psychiatrist examined her at home. He confirmed that she was a very strong-willed person.
Early next morning day, he meditated at home and then ran 8 km at a neighbourhood area where dirt roads had been constructed for a future residential colony. Running helped him to think clear and face difficult situations. But this time, he feared for the worst. He had feared it for the last couple of years.
During the day, they met a popular orthopaedic specialist who happened to be closely related to his best friend from university. The specialist advised them to get her CT scan done. It was a great chore to carry her to the scanning clinic, as she could not sit. Two days later, they rushed the scan results to the specialist. On looking at the results, he took them out to the carpark. The news was not good.
His world suddenly collapsed. He thought: “How did this all happen? Why no one ever told them before? Why her? She is so young.” He did not cry in front of his father. On their way home, he and his father promised each other to act normal at home till she was checked by a specialist in the capital city. On reaching home, his mother eagerly asked, “How are the results? What did the doctor say?” She loved life. Deadly diseases (in others) distressed her significantly. “All good, please don’t worry,” replied his father but he could not say anything, his voice was choked. After running upstairs, he closed all doors after him. In the toilet, he hit a bathroom wall several times with his fist. After crying incessantly for about 15 minutes, he washed his face and joined his father downstairs for lunch.
In secret consultation with his father, it was decided to fly her to the capital city at the earliest possible to seek further advice from specialists. But flying was not going to be easy for her, as she could not sit. Their domestic help offered to fly with them to help. As he did not have much cash with him, he borrowed money from a friend and also from a close relative. Both lenders were quite benevolent and forthcoming in their kind gestures.
Somehow, with the help of strong painkillers, they managed to fly her to the capital city a day later. They headed straight to their pre-organised two-room rental accommodation, which had been organised at a short notice near the hospital, by a well-wishing relative, who was sworn to extreme confidentiality. He ran every morning at a nearby park during his stay there. It was quite humid and draining. He believed some kind of miracle would happen if he continued running. He kept setting himself stiffer challenges each day – running more distance, more time, making it more difficult – to let that wishful miracle happen. He had heard about the story of the Mughal Emperor Babar and his son, Hamayun.
Over the next three days, they did all necessary tests on her. She was told that they were doing some routine tests to find out the root cause of her pain and that she should not worry. The test results confirmed the worst. The specialist concluded nothing could be done; it was only a matter of time. All they could do was to keep her as comfortable as possible at home.
The only thing that he asked the specialist was: “How long?”
“A maximum six months,” was the reply.
Feeling devastated, they returned home to her at their rental accommodation. Although she was extraordinarily sharp, he and his father – by some Divine intervention – managed to keep a calm exterior in front of her to avoid raising any suspicion. He did not want her to die of shock before her biological death.
In confidence with his father, he decided that he should return home overseas and that they should return home intestate as soon as possible, so that she does not become suspicious about her illness. The next evening, he bid her good bye and left for airport. Before leaving, he promised her that he will return home in another two months, hoping the specialist’s assessment (of 6 months) was correct. On way to the airport and, thereafter, aboard those two long flights, he cried.
Over the next four weeks, he ran everyday – steadily increasing his challenge with each day. He wished for a miracle. He would speak to his parents every day. She was a keen sports and political enthusiast. Once she said to him that she supported his national team against her national team, an expression of her motherly love. She also asked him to buy a digital camera, as a gift, for the compounder who injected her daily with painkillers but did not accept any money from them. He bought the camera within an hour of her request.
Exactly a month after his return, his father called and announced that she had just left them. He felt completely uprooted on hearing the devastating news. As a miracle, he managed to reach home from overseas within about 20 hours to undertake his mother’s last rites. A few days after her cremation, he gave the camera to the compounder despite the latter’s reluctance to take it.
Reportedly, she had suffered a heart attack while watching a television show. She had breathed her last in her husband’s lap. She was only 63. To the extent he and his father knew, she did not know about the root cause of her illness. But as she was very intelligent, he believes she may have possibly known it all along. What a family! Each one of them suffered internally but chose to live a normal life till the end. They never cried in public. His personal grief was too overwhelming to allow him eat anything during these days. He gave up eating bananas and Wheatbix (for a few years), as she was not able to even swallow them in her last few months.
He ran every morning during those mourning days. He ran on the morning of the 10th day ritual and again on the 11th and 12th day rituals. Many people visited his home from far and wide for offering condolences. But he felt very alone. He had no one to lend him a shoulder to cry, as she had not given birth to anyone, before or after him. He had no one to share his memories of his mother. He had to digest everything.
On the morning of the 12th day ritual, during his morning run, he overheard two elderly gentlemen from his community – completely unknown to him – chatting vigorously on the road when one of them said, “Yes, this is kalyug. I have heard their only son lives overseas and does not care for them.” He ran straight past them without turning around to see their faces, thinking “What does he know?”
He preserved his old sneakers that he wore out during his running ritual. And he has kept running. Every time he runs, he feels his mother runs with him.
The readers may question the wisdom of hiding the cause of her illness. The answer may lie in the following philosophy:
A truth is as good as the noble objective it serves. Any truth that has the potential to bring grief and suffering to anyone is better not uttered. Instead a lie that serves to bring joy and happiness to all is sweeter than the truth that brings sorrow. Adults tell so many fairy-tales to their children, which are all lies.
The decision to tell her the truth or not hinged on the possible outcome of the revelation. If the news could heal her or make her feel better, such truth was worth utterance. But in this case, given her nature, the truth would have shocked her and suddenly evaporated all her hopes and dreams of living a normal life. Hope sustains life. She lived till her very end.’ … Bill K Koul (9 June 2019)