SNIGDHA AGRAWAL

Drama Romance Tragedy

4.7  

SNIGDHA AGRAWAL

Drama Romance Tragedy

Caught In A Bubble

Caught In A Bubble

8 mins
434


The table is set for two. Steel plates, steel bowls, steel glasses, neatly arranged on the bamboo placemats. A jug full of chilled water stands in the center. Dinner timing is fixed at 8 pm, after the eight cuckoo calls from the clock, mounted on the wall.  He pulls out the chair for her to sit and then pushes it back ‘are you comfortable?’ he asks. He waits for her nod, before seating himself at the head of the table. Serves her first, and then himself. They eat in silence, occasionally he looks up and asks “so how was your day at the clinic? I made your favorite Palak Paneer and Bhindi fry. You may find the salt low, but then I am just following your advice”, he says and smiles. 


Dinner is the only meal they have together. An obstetrician of repute, she brings joy and happiness to millions of women, joining in their journey towards Motherhood, following in her mother’s footsteps. A family profession of three generations. Her grandmother too practiced in the same chamber as General Physician. Dinner over, he clears the table and complains as usual ‘why do you always leave your food untouched on the plate?  You know it’s not right, with so many mouths going hungry”. He doesn’t wait for her response. 


Off late sleep eludes him. Saying prayers, counting sheep, counting numbers backward, forwards, nothing helps. He brings her pillow closer to his and watches her sleep soundly. Sometimes he envies her ability to fall asleep the moment her head touches the pillow. He keeps his bedside lamp on and continues to read Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. Must have read it at least eight times before, but never tires of the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta. A juxtaposition of real and dreams. Most of the dreams in the play symbolize love, desire, and dreams used to predict the future. He too is a dreamer!! He takes a walk down memory lane of his own marriage, nearly five decades ago.


Rajashree and he met while studying medicine at Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, in Udupi. He was specializing in Orthopedics and she in O&B. Her admission to the Medical college was a cakewalk, with her family background. Not that, she hadn’t scored the required minimum for admission. His, of course, was a different ball game. After obtaining his B.Sc. degree in Microbiology from St. Joseph’s College in Bangalore, he had made three attempts for the All India Medical entrance exams, till luck struck on the fourth attempt. Belonging to the orthodox Christian family of Kerala, no amount of donation helped. He just hadn’t made the cut-off mark in the exams. Yes…one college offered back door admission. The asking amount was not worth the degree from the institute, still a deemed University. His parents were more than willing to see him as the first doctor in their family. He refused. And then Manipal happened!


Rajashree was instantly drawn to him. Not only for his handsome appearance, but also the way he carried himself with his height, tall over six feet, shoulders straight, flat belly, as flat as a skateboard, black smoky eyes, high cheekbones, and a complexion like her favorite toffee ‘Melody Chocolaty’ and the accompany tagline ‘Melody Khao Khud Jaan Jao”, made her seek his company during lunch recess at the canteen. She walked up to him and plonked herself on the chair opposite. “Hi…I’m Rajashree. Do you mind my joining you?” 


He seemed taken aback. What a coincidence he thought. For days he was planning to introduce himself and get to know her better. Her classical Indian looks drew her to him like a magnet. “No..no…not at all, you are welcome” he replied stammering a little. They hit it off right away.  She from a Saraswat Brahmin family of Mangalore, and he from an Orthodox Syrian Christian lineage from Cochin.  


What started as lunch meets graduated to more intimate meetings at staff room during night shifts, at hotels and on off days at Malpe seaside, a port outside Udupi. Holding hands, walking bare feet on the sandy beach, reciting Shakespeare’s sonnets, was a stress buster after putting in thirty-six hours of continuous work in the wards. Together they created couplets of their own, scribbled on prescription pads and shoved into their pockets. One would start the first line, the other would complete it. 

                                       You are the Queen of my weak heart

                                       You’re the King who made mine jumpstart


As the number of couplets increased, so did the love they felt for each other.  Their plan was to introduce their parents to each other on Graduation Day. That day dawned with hope brimming in their hearts. Both their parents had arrived the previous day and booked themselves at the Country Inns & Suites by Radisson, Manipal.  


The audience was packed with families, relatives, loved ones gathered to see their children transforming from students to medical professionals, armed with their degrees. Sandeep got the surprise of his life when his name was announced as the rank holder and gold medalist. Mr. and Mrs. George couldn’t contain their excitement and stood up cheering loudly as Sandeep walked up to the stage to receive his medal. Mr. and Mrs. Kamath too got an opportunity to stand up and cheer for their daughter. Rajashree had aced it in all exams, declared gold medalist in O&B, a foregone conclusion, a tradition remaining unbroken in their family. 


The parents were formally introduced at the dinner hosted by the Institution for parents and graduating students. A grand affair, more to impress rather than for purposes intended. A good impression meant a good reputation, and a good reputation meant more students enrolling in the college. Double-edged smart move, a practice followed by all Medical Institutions. Sandeep and Rajashree broke away from the crowd milling around them, conveying congratulations on their achievement. They walked up first to Sandeep’s parents. “Congrats son…and Congrats young lady” Mr & Mrs. George spoke simultaneously. “Dad and Mom…let me introduce you to Rajashree. She is a third generation graduating from this Institution with a Gold medal. Without any offence intended, she has definitely inherited her mother and grandmother’s genes, both gold medalists from this institution”.


 He noticed Rajashree smirking at this comment.  There were frown lines on Rajashree’s face, as though genes alone mattered, but she knew Sandeep was only trying to impress his parents. She offered to take them along to where her parents were engaged in conversation with another couple. “Let me have the pleasure of introducing you to my parents” and walked along with the George family to the Kamath elderly couple. 


The two families seated themselves at a table and struck an instant rapport. exchanging notes about their kids and the political situation prevailing in the country, not always agreeing to viewpoints.  The men bantering with the women and as is predictable the women outsmarted the men.  As the party was winding to an end, Sandeep and Rajashree stood up to announce “we have an important announcement to make…the best news you will get”, pausing and continuing “we have decided to wed without any of the bells and whistles of a marriage. A simple registered wedding followed by a reception for family and a few close friends”. 


Suddenly the smiles on faces turned to ugly grimaces. ‘You know the ramifications of such a marriage?” Sandeep’s father was the first to question,” you will be excommunicated from the Church and remain forever anchorless with no place for your burial”. However hard that seemed, Sandeep stayed adamant “does it really matter whether I am six feet under or cremated? Doctors have no religion, their only religion is to serve mankind, heal the sick, comfort the dying, and remain sane in an insane world”.  


Mr & Mrs. Kamath protested by walking away, without even a backward glance at the couple. How could a Saraswat Brahmin’s daughter ever contemplate marriage outside her community, they argued when out of hearing range. Absolutely preposterous suggestion. No one noticed the tension hovering around table number five reserved for them. No one knew that a bomb had been detonated, silent, without smoke, without noise, without flames, but a slow death palpable.


Throwing caution to the winds, the couple sent in their application to the Marriage Registrars office, in Manipal Municipality, as per requirements. With a few friends, they walked in on the appointed date, signed the register and exchanged rings, and garlands, Rajashree preferring to keep her maiden name, Kamath, after marriage, more for academic purposes, than anything to do with their respective religions. To avoid any complications, they decided not raising a family of their own. Every patient they treated became a part of their growing family. Every patient’s death meant losing a loved one…so where was the need of having biological children?!


Rajashree suggested they move into her grandmother’s home and adjacent clinic bequeathed to her. Her mother had practiced out of the same clinic for a brief while and subsequently moved to her husband’s home where she set up a private clinic. It seemed like a godsend to the newly married couple embarking on a life of their own, without family support or presence. Fully furnished, all they had to do was move in with their personal belongings. 


Initially, neighbors avoided the couple, having heard through the grapevine of their marriage. The board outside the clinic, however, looked impressive and gradually their patient list grew, and misgivings diminished. Their caring attitude bowled them over and soon “CARING CLINIC’’ waiting room chairs were full. More had to be added to make room for pregnant mothers, and geriatric patients arriving on crutches. The couple also took up social service, visiting remote villages to treat people who couldn’t afford medical expenses.


Two decades went by without a single visit or word from either side parents. And then they arrive one fine day to share Sandeep’s grief. How diabolical! One moment his wife, with grey strands in her hair, is laughing at his jokes and next, he hears from the Police Department of her sad demise in a car accident. Can’t be true he says to himself again and again. Must be a cruel joke on him.


The dinner ritual continues in their household, Sandeep talks to Rajashree all the time. His domestic help watches Doctor saab busying himself folding and refolding her sarees, cleaning out her closet, picking flowers from the garden, which he strings into garlands for her hair. A make believe world continues for him with Rajashree by his side. The clinic remained closed since that fateful day of her death. Neighbors watch through the open window the scene played out each day. An undying love, that leaves a lasting impression to all who visit.



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