Dubai, United Arab Emirates
One needs to be truly blessed to get an opportunity to serve others, to do ‘seva’ (service) as they put it in India. One such small opportunity came my way and completely changed my view of life.
I am a Maharashtrian who met, fell in love with and married a Bengali who hails from a typical middle class family.
Abhas, my husband, is the youngest among his siblings with wide age gap between him and the rest. So, it was no surprise that he was pampered and given very little responsibility during his younger days!
Today, though Abhas and I have two sons, my husband remains the ‘little boy’ of the family. As it is said, growing up is mandatory but growing old is optional.
One day, basking in domestic bliss, I was watching the kids play when it occurred to me that soon the day would come when my sons would grow up, take up career and move away from home. The nest would be empty…
The thought suddenly made me nervous and weak…and my mother-in-law’s face flashed through my mind. Wouldn’t she have been feeling the same? After all, her most pampered son was thousands of miles away from her.
It was a moment of reckoning. I realized how difficult it is for a mother to let go of her children. Call it an epiphany but I realized why mothers feel so agonized when children leave home to start their own lives.
There is a popular saying in India: ‘Whenever you wake up and think it’s a dawn, start the day’.
I shared my thoughts with Abhas later that evening and his first response was to pack his bags to go to Jamshedpur (in India where his parents lived)’ “I am bringing Babu and Ma home,” he said. At that time we were staying in Indore (in Maddya Pradesh). Babu, as my father-in-law was affectionately called at that time was retired from Telco (Tata Engineering and Locomotive Company).
I know that the difference in our life styles would entail a big adjustment from my side but the voice in me could not be stilled. I was willing to compromise anything to enable them to come and stay with their ‘little baby’.
Having learnt Bengali well, communication was never a barrier. My in-laws are extremely accommodating people and we had developed a great fondness over a decade long association. I think that when a woman visits her husband’s house, both parties are at their best because the stay is short and temporary. The real adjustment comes when they begin to live together for a long time, if not permanently.
Although, Babu was 82 year old and Ma was 72 then, they were in good health; Babu was quite hesitant about the long train journey as he had severe urinary problems. He was suffering from an enlargement of the prostate gland for over 17 years. But he had been living with the problem and, being a homeopath, he was not in favour of surgical intervention. His health problem was one of he reasons he preferred not to travel.
In Indore, I was working as a teacher in Choithram School. Choithram also had a hospital. Being in the same organization, all the doctors were known to me personally as their children were studying in the same school where I was teaching. The urologist at Choithram hospital was one Dr. Thatte and as my in- laws were to be staying with my family for some time, I consulted Dr. Thatte about Babu’s health problem. He told me that if a patient has not major health issues, age is not the constraint for surgery. He recommended laser surgery which in 1995 was an advanced medical technique.
I told my eldest brother-in-law and his wife about Dr. Thatte’s opinion. They placed complete trust on me and convinced Ma and Babu to come to Indore.
My excitement knew no limits. My housekeeping skills reach their pinnacle in anticipation of their arrival. I made sure everything was done to ensure their comfort. I topped up the fridge and larder with their favourite foods, learnt a few typically Bengali dishes from my Bengali friends and also learnt how to make ‘roshogulla’ (after a few disastrously messy attempts)- a sweet Bengalis love with unmatched passion.
My boys were given a thousand instructions-repeatedly-on what to say, wwhat not to say, how much to talk and how much not to. I threatened them with dire consequences if they so much as even hinted at the quarrels between Abhas and me. Poster boys for good behavior, they gave me assurances provided there was a bribe in it for them.
The time was drawing near…
There was nobody in town who was not informed about Babu and Ma’s arrival. From neighbours to colleagues, house helps to watchmen, vegetable vendors to the postman..i made sure the whole world knew about in. in fact, the world seems too small to place to share the new with.
You see Babu and Ma have always been very special, kind, gentle wise and utterly lovable parents every child would want to have. Even though we lived away from them, Abhas and I always spoke about them..Their likes and dislikes, hobbies, interest, everything used to be discussed with our kids. To me this was such a simple way of keeping their grandparents close to their hearts. Deprived of the presence of grandparents, this was my way of compensating for it. I personally believe that there is nothing so enriching and beautiful than growing up under the loving gaze of one’s grandparents.
And then came the day. Babu and Ma came home.
I was overwhelmed. The kids were overjoyed. The house was suffused with euphoria.
A week passed in a wink. The routing was different but we adjusted to it like fish to water. Abhas was extremely busy after his ‘unexpected personal leave’ and work pressures kept him occupied. I used to take Babu to the hospital which was 10km away from home. These trips enabled me to gain Babu’s confidence. I took him to Dr Thatte. He recommended a series of tests. All the tests revealed that thanks to his disciplined life styles, Babu was in great shape. This gave him so much confidence, he beamed with pride. rOther than his prostrate problem, he was in perfect health. However, due to age, his cataract had matured. So the surgeons decided to first remove the cataract before performing the prostrate surgery.
The cataract operation was a minor surgery. Post surgery and some rest, Babu did not require wearing spectacles. This boosted his morale.
Now came the time for the prostrate surgery, something he has been postponing from many years. The doctors advised that he should be admitted to the hospital a day prior to the surgery. That morning, I found Babu very restless. I put it down to the normal restlessness that comes with a surgery looming ahead. I went to school and returned home at 3:45 pm. The kids were taking their afternoon nap and I lay down next to them.
Suddenly, I realized a strange thing was happening. Droplets of water seemed to be falling on my hands. Surprised, my eyes flew open only to see Babu, my father-in-law, sitting on the floor by my bed and silently weeping.
I froze in deep shock. This gentle, wonderful man, who had always been a pillar of strength, was now, pushing aside all his orthodoxy, holding my hands, putting his face in my palms and weeping. “I am now in your hands,” he said, through his tears. “The after tomorrow is my surgery and I know you will there with me. During that period, you might see me in many odd conditions and you would be required to perform certain tasks… I lost my mother some 45 years back but today, I find glimpses of her in you. From now you have three sons. I am probably the youngest. So ‘Ma’ (mother) I surrender myself to you”.
It was an unforgettably heart wrenching moments for me. I felt such an intense outburst of emotion seeing Babu the mighty member of the house surrendering himself to me like a little helpless baby. But with a composure that came from God knows where, I gathered myself, sat next to him on the floor and comforted him as though he were a small child.
After achieving the status of motherhood, I had always felt so honoured. But this day, seeing my father-in-law in such a vulnerable state and conferring upon me a status so high and humbling at the same time, I felt special and utterly blessed.
The next morning Abhas and the kids left for work and school respectively. Ma performed special prayers I packed a bag for my overnight stay at the hospital. Holding Babu’s hands I was walking towards the door when Ma came towards me and with misty eyes and a clear commanding voice said: “The ways you are taking him to the hospital is the same way I would want you to bring my husband back to me-safe and sound”. A jolt of electricity ran down my spine. I felt weak, nervous, but determined. I hugged her tightly and with a sense that I was now the mother of five in that household, walked out of the door holding on to Babu’s hands.
The surgery took five hours… five hours of nervousness, anxiety and apprehension. Dr Thatte emerged from the operation theater and his big smile said it all. “Mr. Sarkar Senior (Babu) is a very cooperative patient. He is doing fine and will be shifted to his room in the evening”.
I managed to take a few days leave from school to be with him during his post operative care.
For me the hospital had become an extension of home. I used to go home only for a few hours in the evening to see the kids. I was doing everything for Babu right from administering medicines, sponging him changing his operation robes… Initially I sensed a great awkwardness on his part; after all he had spent his entire life being self dependent. Yet, in a few days’ time, it was my turns to feel overjoyed again as I sensed him acquire a certain level of comfort with me.
Once again, I counted my blessings. The hospital stay has bounded us in a way all the years before had not.
Otherwise a very and composed and quiet person (having had to maintain the status of a senior member of the family) he had to learn the to conceal the child in him for decades.
This was his time to let that child out. He would laugh and regale me with jokes, tell me about his naughty pranks of his childhood, of how he met Ma and promptly fell in love with her, how he persuaded her parents to allow them to get married…
He told me his first job in Telco, his first interaction with Mr. J R D Tata…
I was enriched in a way that is indescribable. He was a found to knowledge. We spend time well-he teaching and I learning- Sanskrit verses, English and Bengali proverb, idioms, short stories, poems… He made me learn the names of all the seven forefathers of our family tree. His eyes shone with childlike luminosity through all this.
Eventually, Babu’s erudition drew doctors and staff who were not even on his treatment rota to his room.
On the seventh day, his catheter was removed. In the afternoon I fell asleep while reading a book. I suddenly woke up with a jerk hearing Babu’s desperate voice calling me. I rushed to the washroom attached to the room and found him urinating like a normal man without any extra effort as he used to make to do so before operation. Like a small kid he said, “Look at the flow, I have not seen it from over 17 years. His joy knew no bounds, he was cured, and he was free. There was no awkwardness no odd feel. I came out and then he came out from the bathroom and lied down on the bed. Tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks and he said, “Giving you my mother’s status, I have eased my burden from my heart or else I would have survived the surgery but could have died of a shame and utter embarrassment. Misty-eyed I held his face in my hands and smoothed back his silver hair. Babu ‘ my little old son’ was well and all was going to be well.
He was discharged from the hospital the next day. When people knew we are going home, they all gathered to see us off. The Thatte opened the door of the car and said to me, “Drive safely, he is my special patient”. We felt so humble by the abundance of love.
The world is still a beautiful place to live in; all we need is the will to communicate heart to heart. We all have Babus and Mas in our families. They all need us.
Let’s play role reversal. I played it, loved it, was humbled, enriched and moved by every minute of it. One life is just not enough to spread the abundance of love God has blessed us with.
When we reached home, the kids and Ma were waiting for us eagerly. I handed over Babu’s hands to her and said, “I brought him back for you. One day, you handed over your son to me. Today, I have handed over mine to you. Now we have no more dues to pay each other”!