Waking Up Inside
Waking Up Inside13 mins 22.2K 13 mins 22.2K
It was late Sunday afternoon when Srikanth sat on a cushioned shiny metal chair in the waiting area of the Devjyothi Medical Foundation Hospital, wondering when his wife’s consultation with Dr.Suresh Raghavan, an eminent cardiologist, would come to an end. She had been gone a very long time; almost an eternity, it seemed. Reputed at being one of the best in the city, the hospital boasted a panel of specialist consultants in various areas of medicine, which only few other hospitals in the country could take pride on. Thus, the hospital was almost always flooded with people despite being very expensive. It seemed like people were dying to get into the hospital.
As Srikanth sat with his musings, staring absent-mindedly at the long row of metal chairs, an elderly man came and sat next to him. Now this caught Srikanth by surprise, for the man had ignored all the other empty chairs and chose to sit right next to Srikanth, thus slightly intruding into his private space and thoughts. The old man, who looked to be over seventy years of age, wore a patient’s blue gown and had a yellow wristband in his right wrist, the one usually worn by patients who were at risk of falling down owing to their medical condition, Srikanth recalled.
After a few minutes of silence, the old man looked at Srikanth and smiled, showing teeth stained by years of chewing betel leaves probably. He introduced himself as Ramakrishnan and waited for Srikanth to introduce himself. Seeing no escape from the conversation to follow and not wanting to seem rude, Srikanth introduced himself, hoping that the conversation would not proceed much further.
But it did.
“So, which doctor are you visiting? Or are you here accompanying someone?”, Ramakrishnan enquired.
Srikanth smiled to himself at the old man’s curiosity.
“Actually, I consult a doctor here, but right now I am waiting for my wife who is speaking with my doctor”, Srikanth replied politely.
“Oh, I see. Which doctor?” Ramakrishnan continued with the question, not giving up.
“Dr.Suresh Raghavan”, Srikanth replied.
“Suresh Raghavan, the famous cardiologist, aah ha. What happened? I hope it is nothing serious”.
It seemed that Ramakrishnan somehow could not digest the fact that a young man needed to consult a cardiologist.
“Well, yes, everything is fine. I’ve been consulting Dr.Suresh for some years now, for my obesity and cholesterol issues. I am diabetic as well, so that adds to the complications.” Srikanth continued, getting engrossed in the chit-chat himself.
“So sad, young chap like you suffering from diabetes! Was your father or mother diabetic?” Ramakrishnan asked further.
“Yes, my father was. Moreover, the doctor told me that it was also due to stress and obesity as well”, Srikanth replied, wondering why he was volunteering information to a stranger he had met just a few minutes back.
“Well, nowadays it is becoming such a common problem everywhere. Youngsters seem to be more focused on their ambitious lifestyles and jobs that they fail to take care of what’s really important.” Ramakrishnan declared.
“And you are into the software line of work? I am assuming this because that’s where most of the youngsters seem to work these days. In fact, my daughter is an IT professional too.” Ramakrishnan was all geared up now.
Srikanth was beginning to get the wind of where this conversation was headed. This was going to be another lecture session from an elder who has seen it all in the world, and was generous to share his views for free. Having nothing better to do while waiting for his wife, and being sufficiently goaded by Ramakrishnan’s generalized comments about the younger generation, Srikanth continued with the conversation, though not answering Ramakrishnan’s question directly.
“More focused on ambitious lifestyle and job?! Please don’t generalize everyone, Mr.Ramakrishnan. Not everyone is slogging at work for the sake of luxuries alone. We also have other commitments to meet. In any case, what is really wrong in working hard for some luxuries in life as well? I live only once and I am not committing a crime. I am doing honest, hard work. So I think I am perfectly justified in desiring certain luxuries that I can afford.” Srikanth countered.
“Sorry. I did not mean to offend you by any generalization. Please bear with an old man’s directness and lack of better choice of words.”
Ramakrishnan paused, before continuing,
“But everything is justified in life only when there are no heavier costs attached to the benefits attained. I do accept that commitments are important. And some luxuries are also needed, to make life interesting and all the hard work worthwhile. But the happiness derived from all these things last only till you are in sound health and you don’t have to step into a hospital, don’t you think Srikanth?”
Srikanth had by then become thoughtful about what Ramakrishnan had said. Before he could even respond, Ramakrishnan continued.
“Tell me Srikanth, how old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“38”, Srikanth said curtly.
“Children?” Ramakrishnan continued, not taking any notice of the fact that Srikanth was getting uneasy with the way the conversation was progressing.
Srikanth began answering in monosyllables, and was not sure why he was even answering these personal questions, like a student obediently answering the teacher. But something persuaded him to stay polite and respond to Ramakrishnan. It was like he was in a trance.
“So you are diabetic and an obese 38-year old software professional, yet to have children, having considerable commitments and desires for luxury and therefore having to spend long stressful hours at work which has thus, resulted in years of consultation with a cardiologist due to health issues. I know this does not sum you up fully, but this is all I know about you right now and it does not look like a rosy picture to me.” Ramakrishnan said.
Srikanth felt vulnerable as his emotional defenses began falling apart. He did not appreciate the way in which Ramakrishnan had just described him, ripping through his self-esteem and image. However, in his heart, Srikanth knew that the description fit him perfectly right now.
Before he could recover fully from the emotional onslaught, Ramakrishnan continued.
“Tell me Srikanth, what are your hobbies? What do you like doing in your free time?”
Srikanth smirked sarcastically and said “Well, since you have evaluated me so well, it would not be too difficult for you to conclude that I usually do not have much free time. Anyways, if I do get free time then I catch up with sleep or with friends in Facebook. That relaxes me a bit.”
“Facebook, hmmm. If one did not know better, one would proclaim that Facebook was the divine miracle that kept half the world sane, out of depression and loneliness. Anyway, tell me Srikanth, what were your hobbies as a child? Say, when you were a young boy at school.” Ramakrishnan continued, showing no signs of fatigue or soreness of throat from all the conversation.
“I loved sketching. I used to sketch everything that I came across. Loved it so much that my dad bought me the best drawing pencils he could afford then”, Srikanth answered.
Sensing the nostalgia and hint of disappointment in Srikanth’s tone, Ramakrishnan enquired, “Don’t you sketch anymore?”
“No, I usually don’t have time, as I said. Even when I do, I am so exhausted and tired that sketching would be the last thing on my mind”, Srikanth answered.
“So tell me, what are your happiest memories from your childhood days, when you did sketch?” Ramakrishnan was beginning to sound like Srikanth’s psychiatrist now.
“I would sketch something and run up to my mom to show her what I had created. She would appreciate me always, no matter how bad it looked. She would lovingly tell me how I could do better, only if I had the patience and interest to learn. She always sounded so positive and would spend time with me, no matter how busy she was.” Srikanth felt a lump forming in his throat when he recalled the memories of his parents.
“So, did your mom have servants to take care of all the household work? Was that why she could spend so much time with you?” Ramakrishnan asked.
“No, actually my mom did all the housework by herself. I always wondered how she made it all look so easy; spend all that time with me patiently and still manage to maintain and run the household every day.”, Srikanth answered.
“Don’t you see, Srikanth? When you love someone a lot or when you are really passionate about something, you make time for it, no matter how busy you are with your daily life. Your mother spent all that time with you because she believed that she could motivate you to pursue something positive that made your life worthwhile and meaningful; something that you were passionate about. When she made this her personal goal, she was no longer hindered by the lack of time; instead, she made sure she had time available for the person who meant so much to her, you”.
What Ramakrishnan said hit Srikanth like a freighter train.
Tears began rolling down his cheeks as he recalled his mom’s last days. He had seen less of her in her final months, always busy with his work. After his dad’s death a couple of years ago, she had started feeling lonely at home after Srikanth left for the office in the morning. She would call him over phone every afternoon past his lunch time, thinking that he would probably be free to talk. But Srikanth would hardly talk with her for more than five minutes, finding some reason to end the conversation quickly. Back then, as a young manager climbing the corporate ladder quickly, Srikanth felt he had the whole corporate world to conquer and did not want to ‘waste’ time on daily mundane chit-chat. Time was money and he was greedy for it.
Srikanth had the habit of smoking with his friends after lunch, so that he ‘relaxed’ himself for the afternoon session of hard work that awaited him. He did not want that small pleasure to be taken away from him by his mom’s phone conversation. How much he regretted that now. He thought about all the depression she must have been through, sitting all alone in the house, thinking about his dad and wishing that she had someone to talk to. Even a few minutes of conversation with him every day would have made her feel better, at least enough for her to feel some peace during the last days of her life.
As Srikanth sat, feeling guilty and ashamed, he was interrupted in the middle of his thoughts by Ramakrishnan, who asked
“Srikanth, do you think the school boy version of you that is still alive somewhere within your memories would appreciate what you are doing with your life right now? Is this what he had wanted to become when he grew up to be you? Wouldn’t he have loved to talk to his mom even after he grew up? Would he have given up his passion for sketching so easily?”
Ramakrishnan did not wait for an answer. He continued,
“Srikanth, there is never enough time in life for anything that you don’t consider important. But you have your whole life to give for something that means everything to you. Take it from a man who has made all the mistakes that you are making now, and regretting it until this moment. I wish I had spent more time with my wife and daughter, but I was all egoistic and brazenly proud about running my own company instead. While I lived up to my professional commitments, my real life as a human being became a distant mirage with each passing day. Years of disregard about my own well-being and emotions resulted in health issues. I was no longer a happy man, though I was quite rich. There was something missing always, I felt. I soon realized that the emotional bond that we form with our dear ones and with ourselves is what really defined us as a person; it is this bond that really gave us true happiness, satisfaction and health. But it was a late realization and soon after that I became a regular guest at this hospital, thanks to my health complications.”
“Son, it is not too late for you though. You still have a lot of love to give, a lot of things to be passionate about and a lot of life to live. Don’t waste it by being bogged down by your mundane commitments and desires for luxury. You will only become the dog that tries to catch its own tail. One day you will realize that you are tired from all the work, but never truly satisfied with yourself. So, see the light before the heat scorches you.”
Srikanth sat stunned, not uttering a word. What had started off as an irritating conversation, had instead taken him on an emotional journey, into his own memories and conscience.
Just then Ramakrishnan said, “Alright Srikanth, it was a pleasure talking to you. It’s time for me to go. I got to catch up with my sleep. Take care and just give some thought to what this old man said. Forgive me, if anything I said hurt you. I did not mean to.”
Then Ramakrishnan got up, patted Srikanth’s shoulders and walked away. Srikanth stared after him until Ramakrishnan made a turn and disappeared from view. Srikanth got up from the chair, finding it hard to take in all that had been said to him. He had barely taken a couple of footsteps when the world started swirling around him. He could barely walk anymore. There was a blinding light, followed by blackness and then, nothing.
When Srikanth opened his eyes weakly, he realized he was inside the intensive care unit with nurses attending to him and taking his vital readings. He had the oxygen mask on and couldn’t open his mouth to speak. His wife Yamuna stood by him, teary eyed. She had a look of intense relief on her face, as she sobbed like a child holding his hands.
Srikanth thought to himself, “How long have I been out?”
Just then Dr.Suresh Raghavan walked in. He looked at Srikanth and gave him a broad smile, “Welcome back Srikanth. You gave all of us a scare.”
Srikanth did not understand what was going on. He remembered being at home, going for a short nap after lunch. Then he remembered sitting at the hospital waiting for his wife. He remembered talking with Ramakrishnan. The last thing he remembered was his lights going out as he fainted. Somehow, all of it didn’t seem to connect together and the memories were hazy.
What had really happened? Srikanth wondered.
Seeing the bewildered look on Srikanth’s face, Dr.Suresh asked, “Srikanth, you look totally lost. Don’t you remember what happened?”
Srikanth shook his head.
Dr.Suresh continued, “You are lucky to be alive right now. You suffered a cardiac arrest after lunch this afternoon, probably due to a sudden spike in blood pressure and sugar levels. When we brought you in, you were not breathing. Your ECG had flat-lined and we thought we lost you. After a long struggle we finally got a heartbeat out of you. We are still running some tests to determine the condition of your heart and if a corrective procedure will be needed, but for now your heartbeat is stable. So take it real easy now.”
Dr.Suresh said, after a pause, “Srikanth, the gods have been very kind to you, I must say, thanks to the prayers of your wife.”
Yamuna looked lovingly at her husband, still holding his hands.
All this came as a shocker to Srikanth. His mind was racing with many questions. So, where was he all the while when he was talking with Ramakrishnan? Was that all a dream or some kind of hallucination caused by a chemical reaction in his brain? But Dr.Suresh had said that he was not even breathing when he was brought to the hospital. What did that mean? So, who or what was Ramakrishnan?
Dr.Suresh patted Srikanth’s shoulder and assured him, “Don’t worry now. You are going to be fine. We will do our best to get you back to good health, but it can happen only with your cooperation.”
Just then, an orderly came into the room to speak with the doctor.
“Doctor, the death certificate of the patient, Ramakrishnan, who died this morning due to brain haemorrhage needs your signature before it can be handed over to the family”, he said.
“Yes, I will be there in a minute”, answered Dr.Suresh as Srikanth looked on, his face pale with shock.