Veena did not believe in giving up. Whatever fate ordained, she accepted, and with a miraculous resilience, she was up and going. She looked at the still figure of her husband, lying prostrate on the bed. The pallor of death made him look like a marble statue, expressionless, cold. It was not registering in her mind that Vikas was dead, dead and gone, never to come back again, never to talk to her, never to be by her side. She cleared the dining table, washed up a few plates and cups, and went into the toilet for her bath. Usually, Vikas and she would compete with each other to go in first to the toilet, and that was fun. If she happened to be the first, he would continuously bellow out from the bedroom for her to hurry up, as he claimed he would be getting late for office, and if it was the other way round, she would put up a mock show of being in a tremendous hurry. But all this was just an expression of their love for each other after twenty-five years of happy married life. This ethos of verbal interaction was something that was shared by both of them only, not understood by any outsider. But Veena felt something was missing on that day. She felt uncomfortable that there was no one telling her to hurry up. She creased her forehead and tried to analyze the difference. She came out of the toilet and stroked Vikas’ hand outstretched on the bed. With a start, she realized that it did not feel right. His arm was too cold. She tried to turn his head but with her heart racing, again she felt that something had diametrically gone wrong. She called out to him. There was no response. Once, twice, thrice she called him by his name, each time louder, but Vikas lay inert, not a muscle moved. With a loud sob, she fell on him, put her arms around him in a tight clasp, and broke down, with her head resting on his chest.
The hearse was called. The friends and relatives bid Vikas a tearful farewell. Veena stood dry-eyed, expressionless. She did not move; she looked on impersonally. .As the body was taken out mentally she resolved to move on. She was determined not to let her travails clip her wings.
As she walked out of her house, no one could gauge what was going on in her mind. Looking at her, it was impossible to make out that her heart and spirit were both leaden. But jauntily she stepped out, wearing an azure blue sari which enhanced the gracefulness of her slim figure. Vikas and she had been close friends; both enjoyed each other’s company, and were blissfully happy to be together, and needed nothing, and no one else. Veena knew she would be very lonely without Vikas, but she was intelligent enough to realize that no amount of tears would bring her husband back. On the other hand, she had to survive in the best possible way. No use spending the short span of her life moping and groaning. The gift of life is to be savored, as we live only once.
Veena had done her homework well. She had decided that she would arrange for a companion to be with her and that too, for the rest of her life. It would be devastating and depressing if she had to spend all her evenings and nights all by herself. On the other hand, if her plans worked out, she would be able to make her cold winter nights more pleasant, by snuggling up to another warm body. Under the present circumstances, she could imagine sitting at the dining table, all by herself, and trying her best to gulp down a few morsels of food with the help of a glass of water. The net result would be that she would be visiting the physicians and asking them to prescribe some anti-depressants. No, that life was not for her, and with these thoughts in her mind, she quickened her steps.
Veena was going to make the rounds of all the orphanages. She would adopt a beautiful baby and she would be by her side to brighten up her weary and dreary hours, like a rainbow after a torrential downpour.
Veena’s heart was saddened, as she went from one orphanage to another. Little children would come rushing up to her, expectation writ large in their eyes, their faces becoming radiant with hope, vying with one another to come nearest to her so as to be selected by her. It was pathetic how they clung on to her, hoping that they would get a much-awaited home. Her heart filled with empathy for them. If she could, she would take them all. They were beautiful children. She felt like cuddling them and showering on them her abounding love. There was a three-year-old from Nepal. He was very sweet, with blue-grey eyes and complexion so fair, that one would mistake him for a European. Only the shape of his eyes betrayed his background... Another from Kerala stole her heart. She had a mop of curly, jet black hair outlining a well-defined face, with eyes so sparkling that they could have lit up the entire sky on a moonless night. Each child was so wonderful and had his own special attributes, so at the end of the day, Veena could not decide which child to take home.
Confused and in a dilemma, Veena made up her mind that she would only visit one more ashram for children and no more. This was an institution supported by Bharat Seva Sangha. As she entered the rusted gate which opened out with a screeching sound, she was ushered into the office where an orange-robed mendicant sat on a rickety chair. When Veena told him the purpose of her visit, he guided her to the children’s dining hall, where they were having lunch. They had been served a simple meal of Khichdi, a preparation made with rice and pulses. All the children were eating but one child was sobbing away. The in-charge explained that the child was crying because he was hungry. He was born with not only a cleft lip but also a cleft palate. Every time he tried to eat, the food came out of the slit and invariably he got choked because of the defective palette as food went into the air passage. As Veena went towards him, he looked up, and there was unspoken supplication in them to help him out of the difficulty. Veena could not stop herself from lifting up the two-year-old in her arms. She took a little bit of the gruel and placed it tenderly into her mouth. The child swallowed and could take it in without its dribbling out. There was gratitude in her expression. Spoon by spoon Veena fed the child till the portion doled out for her was consumed. The In-Charge explained that the child needed surgery to repair the lip and the palette, but the Ashram did not have the requisite funds.
Veena could now decide without a second thought which child to adopt. She knew God had given her the little girl with a cleft lip, as a precious gift. She would adopt the child as her very own. She would get the surgery done immediately and give herself and the baby a new lease of life. She would not let the baby shed any more tears, or go hungry. She would look after her like a birdie looks after her chicks. She would nurture her like a gardener does his plants, and see to it that the most fragrant and beautiful flower blossomed out. On the other hand, all the love and care which she would have to impart on the child, would not allow her the time to think of Vikas or fret for him. We have so much to live for, and so much to give, that it is unfortunate that we keep the door shut even when the tornado has passed!.