The Silent Conversation
The Silent Conversation
Shatabdi Express 5.00pm
SSShhhhh...sounded the whistle of the train as it started crawling out of the station. Amid the hustle bustle of fellow passengers, I settled at my allotted seat. The day had been long and I was tired. I had always hated travelling but then there was no other option. After receiving about fifty calls from Ms. Namita, I had made up my mind to go to Delhi. Ms. Namita, Head of Care India Organization, New Delhi, was insisting me to pay a visit to Sahil. And in her call last night, she sounded genuinely worried. She had said that Sahil was declining food. The very fact bothered me too and hence the journey.
It was only a week earlier that I had shifted to Dehradoon for my new job. After Mom died the last month, I had tried my best to manage at Delhi, working in shifts to take care of Sahil, but it seemed next to impossible and it was then that I decided to send him to Care India.
Sahil, my only sibling had cerebral palsy. It was the unfortunate night of September 12, 1985 when during delivery, the umbilical cord suffocated him, resulting in termination of oxygen supply to the brain that lead to cerebral palsy.
“Didi, chai lengi?”, the chaiwala interrupted me. I nodded and paid him for the tea. Sipping tea from the plastic cup that he had handed over to me, I didn’t realize when I started thinking about Sahil. I didn’t know why I was going...to meet my brother or just to witness a vegetable being. Unknowingly, with the running train, I drifted down the memory lane. Ours was a small house in the crowded area of Lajpat Nagar where I lived with mom and dad, dada-dadi and Sahil. I was three years younger to Sahil. I don’t have any precise memories till I turned two years. The only memory is of his smile when I went to his room.
For the initial two years, everything was good. I was unknown to his disabilities and thought of him as my weak twin, who was a bit ill. But, after that, I started realizing why my childhood was different. Several questions bothered me..why was he always lying on bed, why Mom used to feed him every time while I was asked to take a bite on my own..why mom used diapers for him..and why he never ever uttered a word..why is he crying for no reason..why was I not allowed to go close to him..etc etc.
I remember asking mom many of these questions that came to my mind but she always had some excuse ready. Days passed and I turned three. It was time for me to go to school. But I was not ready. “I know Sahil won’t go, then why should I?”, I had asked mom. For the first time, she didn’t give any excuse. She had said that Sahil was a “special child.” I had noticed tears in her eyes that day. Still, for a toddler like me, the word “special” was beyond understanding. With efforts from everyone in family and with reluctance, I started going to school. Gradually, I adjusted in school and my routine changed. I had lesser time to spend at home now. But the questions were still unanswered and the word “special” didn’t make much sense to me.
I remember an incident when I had asked my mom to celebrate my birthday and invite all my friends to home, to which she reacted so angrily, I almost shook. I had never seen her so angry. She said a big no, not because she didn’t want to celebrate my birthday, but because she didn’t want to see sympathy in everyone’s eyes for Sahil. It was then that I realized that we have never had any guests in the house, apart from my bua and her kids. That incident developed a different feeling in me, (probably anger towards him) and I started analyzing things on a different note.
As I grew, I started feeling some friction between mom and dad. I guess it was about finances. Dad’s job was not sufficient enough to raise a special child. Mom started giving tuitions to young kids to help dad financially. Still, there were times when many of wishes were kept aside or were forwarded to the next month’s budget. All these things developed a sort of rivalry in me, a kind of frustration I believe. I started comparing things between me and Sahil, without even realizing that he needed that extra care. Many a times I argued with mom saying, “you love Sahil more..and not me. You are always there for him. And whenever I ask for something, you say a no.”
Everyone in the family used to be upset about Sahil’s health, and back then, I also made no effort to understand their concerns. Little did I know then, about my mom’s state of mind and the unending needs of my brother. For an upper middle class family, it was indeed difficult to tend to the needs of a special child. The bills were never ending. The physiotherapist, who came every alternate day asked for a hefty fee. And to mom’s disappointment, Sahil never got better. In fact, with every passing day, their challenges were increasing. Earlier, his posture was better. Gradually, the increasing weight strained his head and backbone leading to a more tilted body. He needed more sessions of physiotherapy with increasing age. Apart from the postural difficulty, he had asthma. Every winter season, he had problems in breathing. I used to see mom and dad taking turns to remain awake with him. Medicine schedules, nebulizer, steamer, what not..somewhere in my heart, I carried sympathy for him...he was suffering...and with him, we all were..
One thing that hurt me the most was that his disability rendered our family an incomplete one. Some or the other tension was always lurking in there. We never went out together because someone had to stay back to care for Sahil. I don’t remember a single outing or picnic with my entire family..I really hated him for this...when in school my friends used to boast about their trips to foreign countries, the only option I had, was to keep quiet about it. These things mattered to me then and that resulted in fading the love that I should have for him being his only sibling. My feelings for him ranged from indifference at one extreme to love at the other extreme and in between lied frustration, anger, and to some extent hatred too. Somewhere, I believed that he was the reason why my life was not as fancy as my friends had. I hardly had any friends, who also never came home. The deprivation of a normal life affected me in a way that I couldn’t develop selfless love for him.
It was only when I got admission at IIM, Lucknow, that I tasted freedom..freedom from a sad house...freedom from seeing him and my family suffer. By the time I graduated, there were only two survivors in the family, Sahil and mom. Dad had died due to heart attack and mom’s health was also deteriorating. Sahil’s medicines now included more of sedatives to keep him sleeping most of the day. Also, his posture had made him almost a folded and tilted human being...or should I call him a human being. He hardly had a human like life. What he thought, what he understood was a mystery. All we knew was his smile, however not the reason why it precipitated some days, and not everyday.
The day Mom died, she had asked me for a promise that I would take care of Sahil. I agreed to her in that moment, but couldn’t comply to it, given my work and his responsibility. She had thought that since we were siblings, I would be able to connect with him and his needs. How could I tell her that I didn’t feel much connected to him.
After Mom left us, I actually realized her challenges. How to interpret his cries kept me wondering. A few meant for hunger, but what about others. It was so difficult to understand when he had tooth ache, when his stomach got upset and when he just needed a break from his physiotherapy sessions. Although I had hired a nurse to take care of him while I was at office, still deciphering his requirements at specific time was a tough job. There were times when I used to cry...cry a lot for I felt inefficient..inefficient in managing things and thoroughly helpless. I saw him suffer in silence and I could not help apart from medicines. I couldn’t give him that motherly touch for I was still nurturing those diverse feelings in some corner of my heart. At times, I felt he missed mom too, but there’s no power that can undo death.
One day when I came early from office, I found the nurse ill-treating him. That day, I called it quit. Since I knew Ms. Namita as my friend’s aunt, I could trust her and decided to send Sahil to Care India and I, free from his responsibility, went to Dehradoon. Who knew, I would have to return in just a week.
I was thinking all this...had almost relived my childhood again, when it appeared to me that Delhi was nearing. And I was still not sure of my exact feelings for Sahil.
New Delhi Railway Station 11.00 pm
The train stopped with a jerk and that broke the continuity of my thoughts. Without wasting time, I booked a cab to go to Care India.
Care India Organization, Vasant Kunj 11.30 pm
At the reception, I asked for Sahil. The receptionist checked and replied, “Mam, unko toh Safdarjung hospital leke gaye hain.” By now, I was palpitating. An unknown fear crossed my mind. Somehow, I gathered my wits and rushed towards Safdarjung.
Safdarjung Hospital 12.15 am
“Avantika, where were you? We tried to contact you many a times”, Ms. Namita asked as soon as reached hospital. But I was too nervous to reply. Seeing me, she hugged me and directed me towards ICU.
There he laid, bed no. 14 in ICU. I went closer and found him staring at me. The first thing that I looked at was a frail body. Although he was never very healthy in terms of weight, but today he looked drained of energy..drained of life. He had declined food and the effect was visible. His face had a serene expression that reminded me of my early childhood. What captivated my attention were his eyes. Unlike his body, his eyes had a twinkle that brightened on seeing me by his side. Yes...his eyes glittered, they spoke for him and they spoke volumes. He conveyed me how much he missed me during the past week, as if saying, “Please take me home”. There was that profound feeling of love in his eyes...that helplessness that almost begged for my attention. I know these eyes are going to haunt me for years to come. In that hospital bed, those serene eyes ...the eyes that sought love and attention...but there was no trace of complaint...may be in those years that we spent at home, he had developed a language that didn’t need words...may be mom mastered at this language and now, I got the hint of this beautiful language. This silent conversation was enough for me to realize what I had done wrong. In those moments, looking into those eyes, for the first time, the grudges vanished..the little bit of hatred that my heart had nurtured for so long, evaporated. The feeling that surfaced now had elements of love accompanied with a sense of responsibility. I had made my decision. Sahil will stay with me at home..our home.
That day, I got the message for life, we may fail to understand the needs of these really special people in our lives but they are probably the finest human beings for they carry no jealousy, no ego, no hard feelings for anyone. They are the most selfless souls who seek only love and care.