Subha Lakshmi looked at the clock on the wall. It was just seven in the evening. On that day everything was irritating her. All evening rain had been thrumming on the roof and pelting continuously on the window panes. Then as she watched, each raindrop was taking its own time to form into a sparkling diamond and drop down on the tiled floor of the veranda, with a monotonous “pitter-patter” sound. “How boring they can be “, she thought. The harsh, grating croak of the frogs added to her impatience. If she could have only a moment’s peace! The spasms of body-wrenching agony came again, and Subhalakshmi doubled up in pain. “No, she must not cry out. She would be disturbing her father-in-law, who is advanced in years, had already retired to bed. She noted casually the gurgling sound of the river which flowed relentlessly down, half-a-mile behind her thatched cottage. The thick growth of banana and coconut trees hid the river from view. She wondered how long she would have to bear the pain. She had observed that the spasms were coming after every thirty minutes. She tried to get her things ready. Her husband Natarajan had gone to get a taxi. Again the pain-wracked her entire body and she clutched the bedspread in an effort to bear up. This was to be her second issue. The firstborn was a boy, who in his infancy had died when he had bronchitis. Lakshmi’s in-laws expected that the baby-to-be born, would be a boy, and Lakshmi too hoped that she would not disappoint them.
But as luck would have it, Lakshmi gave birth to a baby girl, very tiny, only four pounds in weight. The baby would be very attractive when she grew up. She had long upturned eye-lashes and a very fair complexion. Her mother thought that she looked like a doll. She kept a watch on the door, hoping her relatives would come to see the baby. But no one came, though she was so proud of the baby, and wanted everyone to admire the little Bundle of Joy. At last, after four days, she was discharged from the hospital, and she went home. But there was no one to welcome the new visitor. She tried not to mind, when no one spoke to her, and ignored her completely, as it was her fault that she had a baby girl.
At night she used to put the baby in a little bassinet next to her and keep a constant watch because new-born babies need to be fed at frequent intervals. Though still in half –slumber, she put her hand into the bassinet to see whether the baby had wet her nappy. She moved her hand in the entire length and breadth of the cot, but where was the baby. She jumped up like a spring toy and switched on the light. There in front of her was her father-in-law. He had covered the baby with a shawl and was walking out. On inquiring where he was taking the baby, his reply was that they were a poor family. They could not waste money for the upkeep of a girl, her education, and then get her married off, after paying a substantial amount as dowry. So he was about to throw her into the river. On hearing this, Subhalakshmi grabbed the baby and pressed her to her heart saying, “Papa don’t you know that how difficult it was for me when for nine long months I had to keep her in my stomach, and with what intense labor pain, I was able to give her birth. Now knowing this, can you think of drowning her? I love her Papa, and I will never let her go”. Saying this Lakshmi, clutching the baby, ran into her bedroom.
The little girl was named Sridevi. As she grew, she became more and more adorable. When she came back from her Nursery School, she would sit on her father’s lap and regale him with stories of her school. Father and daughter enjoyed their evenings together whilst Mummy prepared light refreshments for them. Little Sridevi would tell her father that when she grew up she would buy him a red car. She told her mother that she would buy her a beautiful house. As it came from the mouth of a five-year-old, it sounded very sweet. Her thoughts were always for her parents. When she came back from school and found her mother cooking, she would put her school bag aside, and start washing up the dishes, as she wanted to relieve her Mother of the daily drudgery. Her grandfather, in particular, was filled with remorse, when his teenage granddaughter spent her valuable time, despite her medical studies, massaging his aching bones.
As Sridevi was serious about her studies, she cleared all the grades of Medicine easily. Her foremost thought was to make her parents proud of her. Not only was she very attractive and charming but her qualifications made her a coveted bride. Those interested to win her over, brought proposals that they would send her abroad for further studies, gift a palatial house, or present her with a car. The grandfather could not believe his ears. How did he ever consider her to be “Unwanted”?He only said over and over again, “God will punish me, for what I had contemplated doing.”
But Sridevi was adamant that she would devote her life to humanity. She knew she would earn enough to buy for her parents what she had always promised, but the marriage was not for her. Every day she saw the pain and suffering of the dying and knew there was no satisfaction greater than giving relief to those human beings gasping for breath. As a Ventilator Therapist that was what she did every day.
It was at this time, that Corona Virus attacked with venomous virulence. There was no vaccine: there was no medicine and no hope. Patients were dying like flies all over the world. They needed Ventilators, as the Virus attacked the lungs, but operating a Ventilator needed expertise. There were very few doctors who could do the job efficiently, so Sridevi had to devote nearly twenty hours in the hospital.
Subhalakshmi watched her daughter losing weight. Her eyes looked sunken, her cheeks looked pinched. Emotionally she seemed to be under severe trauma. Sridevi had a tender-heart and witnessing so many deaths, and the severe pangs accompanying the last stages, was too much for her to cope up. As news trickled in that many of the doctors, and nurses were contacting the disease, despite all the precautions taken, Sridevi’s parents pleaded with her not to expose herself to the Virus.
Furthermore, Subhalakshmi begged her daughter not to take so much strain and tried to reason with her that if something happened to Sridevi, they would be devastated because she was all they had. Sridevi gently put them off, saying that there was no substitute for her, and the patients needed her.
Then one afternoon when Sridevi was attending to her patients, she felt cold and started running a temperature. The Hospital tested her immediately and found her to be Covid-19 Positive. At once she put a call through to her parents and asked them to get tested also, and observe quarantine. Then as an afterthought, she added, “Ma and Papa, if by chance something happens to me, and I don’t come back, remember I love you very much, and my life with you has been the happiest ever”.
Sridevi’s condition worsened by leaps and bounds. She lacked immunity of any sort, as overwork and too much strain had made her vulnerable. Water had accumulated in her lungs and she found it extremely difficult to breathe. Besides her kidneys were not functioning properly. She needed the use of the Ventilator, but the hospital lacked professional Ventilator Therapists. She went on gasping for breath, the agony became unbearable. She knew she was dying. She thought for a moment, why prolong the agony unnecessarily. She would jump from the sixth-floor window, and free herself of the maddening situation.
As they were taking her for dialysis, she saw the opportune moment. She rushed to the window and was about to leap out, when the ward boy, in a frantic effort, caught her, and pulled her back, with all the effort he could muster up. Immediately other doctors came rushing, and they gave her an injection, which for the time being calmed her down.
That was the turning point. When she opened her eyes, she saw the message which her parents had sent her. It said, “Darling come back to us soon. We are still waiting for all the wonderful gifts you had promised us. Remember how much good you will be able to do for humanity, for those who are suffering, every moment of your life.” These lines gave Sridevi the strength and determination to fight the Virus, despite the suffering she was undergoing. She wanted to rush back to the arms of her parents, and her love worked better than medicine, and in no time, Sridevi was administering the Ventilator again, and relieving patients gasping for breath.