Tuesday, 28 April 2020

os : The world has turned and left me here.

There are few times when you get this feeling that today was the day when something tragic of immense proportion is going to happen. The feeling of losing something important started even before I was fully awake after a bad night's sleep. As I rolled in my bed I saw my sister sleeping peacefully in her bed oblivious to persistently continual preppy chirping of the birds which had woken me up from my semi-decent slumber. It's nice I think, to be dead to the world and be lost in the dreamscape where nothing can ever touch you and where you can be whatever you want. Even as I got dressed and got ready for yet another grinding day at work, I couldn't help but somehow curtail this nagging feeling on the back of my mind which kept reminding me of something dreadful that was going to happen.

Unfortunately, my gut feeling was never more right. 

When I came down for breakfast much later in the morning, my father was waiting for me with the rest of the family at the table. For such a beautiful spring day, my family looked quite gloomy. When I reached the table my father handed me a letter. I didn't ignore the mild shake of his hands and his eyes were unable to meet mine. The sealed cover had one word. Riddhima.

"He asked me to give this to you when...you know.." My father is generally a well composed man. But this voice was croaked and the implication of the ambiance was not lost on me.

It was time.

I took a few moments to recover. My grandmother left the table in a hurry, my mother had unshed tears in her eyes, my sister was choking on a sob and my father held my gaze for the first time with red rimmed eyes.

"Dad, I would like to take first couple of hours off from my duty. Do you think you can convey this message to the duty doctor?" He simply nodded.

As I turned around towards staircase, I could feel the eyes burning holes on my back. I went hurriedly to my room and locked doors behind me. I was going to be here for a while and I wanted complete privacy. The letter marked the end of a journey, a life, introspection and eventually a discovery of me amidst this life. The letter also marked an end of his life. As soon as that thought hit my mind, the first tear fell. For the next couple of hours, I gave into the grief of loss of a friend, a colleague and my love to him. My mind wandered the things that had happened in past one year that had led to this day; this moment of truth and absolution.

Approximately a year ago:

For the last two days I have been studiously ignoring the patient who has been assigned to me. I requested my sister to take care of the case and she had rolled her eyes and asked me the question that everyone else was dying to ask.

"Are you two fighting again?" She had sighed dramatically. My patient who also happens to be my boyfriend, had met with an accident during a stupid bike race. It irritated me when he took decisions which involved high risk factor and low mortality rate.

"Of course not. I am busy for few days and he is also busy being an idiot; I am simply relieving of my responsibilities a little." I had huffed. My sister had laughed gaily. Even though his actions ticked me off immensely, I couldn't help but go look for his blood work to return. The senior doctor who had the reports looked worried. It had seen that look. It was bad news. When he asked me to take a seat, my heart skipped several beats. He kept a glass of water in front of me and gave me the reports. I read once, twice, three times and then finally threw it on table.

"There has to be some mistake." My voice was unbelievably vulnerable and raspy.

"I thought so too, for the first time. I have run the tests twice Riddhima and you know that our pathology is quite accurate in matters like these." I couldn't breathe. I couldn't cry. I couldn't talk. I didn't know what I had to do. I could hear blood rushing clearly in my ears and my surroundings started to blur. I could faintly hear the doctor calling my name when there was darkness all around me. For the first time, I wholeheartedly welcomed the darkness and the silence associated with it.

I woke up a couple of hours later with the same senior doctor sitting across in a chair. My numb mind was catching up with reality quite fast and caught on the fact that my boyfriend was terminally ill. And worst of all, I was supposed to break the news to him.

It had never occurred to me before but the possibility of a life in this hospital and outside without him seemed pretty dull.

"How are you feeling?" The senior doctor asked me concerned as I started to get up and mentally preparing to confront my boyfriend.

"I don't know, to be honest. I cannot decide between accepting darkness with losing myself into an eternal abyss and hugging him till the illness consumes him." I tired to keep my voice calm. It wasn't working. The doctor simply wished me luck.

None of my friends were in this shift and for the first time I was glad that I was completely alone during this night shift. I walked into his room slowly controlling the tears that were threatening to fall. I wasn't going to cry in front of him; at least not today. It wasn't the question of being strong for him or anything. It was because I had accepted his fate completely. My rational mind had drawn the same conclusion as that I could see in his reports. My logic supported the outcome by stating that there were no alternatives to the current scenario. Now I wished my heart to behave.

He was reading a comic when I entered his room. His brows were furrowed and his eyes had the same intensity towards the comic book as he would read a case report. That's what she had loved about him the most. Passion. There was a passion and intensity in everything that he did including loving her. I think he sensed something was off in the environment and my heart broke a little when I saw his face lit up with a smile. And I couldn't help mirroring it when he exclaimed gaily "Riddhima".

 I sat across him opposite on his bed giving up all proprietary behavior as his doctor. I silently handed him his reports. He read it once and took my hand in his.

"We have very little time."

The five words that he spoke broke all the rational and logical boundaries that I had built very carefully. I threw my hands around his neck and hugged him.

On that night we cried together for the first time. We cried for the future that was stolen from us, we cried for the memories that we wouldn't be able to make and we cried for the family that we were never going to have. There were no words spoken and we did not try to console on another. We just held each other and mourned for our future losses.

We talked about telling our families and friends about his condition. He didn't want to hide about his predicament. By morning both of us were getting settled in with the idea of our future and I was a little surprised to find that he was being very calm and rational about it. It threw me off a little.

"Since I am dying in next eight months or so, I think I am going to quit my job and do all  the things that I want to do before I die." His words had a carefree ring to it and I could not help but wonder it was his careless attitude of if he was taking this news really well. He continued.

"Last night I made a list of all the things that I want to do."

"What kind of a list is it?" I asked him, my interest piqued.

"It is a wish list." He smiled dejectedly. The corner of my heart cracked a little.

"Get some sleep. I will visit you again in the morning. And then we will plan." I kissed his forehead. I was never the one to display any kind of physical affection but now all of my reasoning seemed very unimportant.

"We?" He asked me surprise evident in his voice. I just smiled at him. I just waved at him and hit the button for morphine drip. As his eyes fluttered close, I walked out of his room, out of the hospital. I just wanted to go home, shower, and sleep and think afresh. And it had to be done in that order only.

The world had turned and left me here. It had simply forgotten to pick me up and here I was stranded at a cross road without knowledge of what I am supposed to do next. I never felt so lonely in my life before. I could go for advice to my family members or my friends or my senior doctors. I am sure their advice would be for his good keeping my own sanity in mind. My mind was however in a big dilemma.

My path was now forked into two options. I can be that caring motherly figure in his life helping to get through his days or I can be the doctor-girlfriend looking after his health and providing him with the medical care, love and attention that he needed. I let my mind wander about the time that I had spent with him as a colleague, friend and a girlfriend. I could see his face at the onset of a stupid bike race; all excited and passionate. I could see him fiercely arguing with senior doctors about cases, procedures and surgery. I could see his dimpled smile when was gently teasing me and gushing warm nothings turning me into a pile of goo. As I remembered his face over different scenarios, I knew what I had to do.

It was time to forgo the cute dresses and don some overalls, pick up a shovel and start digging a new path. My path. For me. For us.

My decision was made.

I went to the hospital much earlier than I was expected. The sole reason was to talk to my father; as a daughter and as a colleague. I came to know that the entire hospital was aware of my boyfriend's condition. People sniffed, looked at me in sympathy and a few morons even uttered condolences. I wanted to scream at them. He wasn't dying yet! I hated the feeling of hopelessness that people oozed. I kept my head down looking at my feet while walking and reached my father's cabin. It was my own way of avoiding people. From my experience I have come to realization that people talk only when you make eye contact with them. In this moment, I didn't want any of that. Taking a deep breath I knocked on the door of my father's cabin. I knew that he wasn't going to be thrilled with my decision but I was secretly hoping that he would at least support it. Else, I don't know how long it will take to completely fall apart.

My father was surprised at my decision. I was half expecting to blow his top off and bombard me with million and one questions. Though surprised, his calm enquiry began their work on my nerves.

"Do you realize what you are doing? You are jeopardizing your career and you will be trudging through your way once all this is over."

"I am fully aware of the consequences of my actions dad." I replied firmly. I was a little stubborn and anal retentive when it came to my career and my neurotic habit of obsessing over cases and studies by forgoing food and sleep had drove everyone around me crazy. No wonder my father was surprised with my decision.

"You know you can help him in many different ways than taking this measure, right?" He is one of the finest neurosurgeons and a top bureaucrat in the hospital where we worked but right now he just being a father worried and looking out for his little girl.

"I know dad, but unfortunately it's my own selfishness that is making me do this." He raised his eyebrows and nodded to go on with my explanation. I sat down across his desk, head in my hands.

"Over the years my own obsession of becoming a good doctor, living up to everyone's expectation and striving for perfection in every little thing I do has made me near sighted about bigger things in life. I am afraid that if I continue in this way, I may completely lose sense of this world. I will become a really good doctor but might not be a decent human being. Before I give into the life which is anyway going to happen, I want to take a break from life itself." I rubbed my eyes to release tension and looked at him. I was flabbergasted to see a smile on his face.

"You don't want him to be alone." It wasn't a question. I simply nodded.

"What next for you then?" He was being very casual about it.

"I am really hoping that you will approve my one year sabbatical and help me to break the news of my absence to family."

"I will approve your leave but you should tell about your future absence on your own. You have made a decision which I might not fully approve of but I respect the same. Now own up to that decision and digest its consequences." He was right, of course. I guess it was time for me to grow up.

My own evolution towards finding an existence in this world had finally begun.

The reactions to our decisions were myriad. A few were surprised, some shocked and some, to his immense pleasure, cooed about true love and such rubbish. They made me look like some kind of tragic Greek hero in a tragic love story. He held my hand thus stopping me from snapping their faces off. He gave a dimpled laughter when I ranted in his ear as to how I would like to rip their nosey necks off.

To say that next few months were the best time in my life, would be an understatement. It took a few days for both of us to adjust with the fact that we had lot of free time in our hands. During medical school and internships, we rarely had free time of this proportion to ourselves. Right after he quit his job and I started my sabbatical, we made a plan. It was downright depressing that he made a draft of this said plan keeping eight months in mind keeping his periodic check-ups and the final turn the illness would take after six to eight months. I had to grudgingly accept it given the fact that he was a good doctor and an amazing human being. However the items in his list made me come out of my brooding mood and made me laugh. A few were really well thought off but there were a couple of them which were downright stupid. There was no way I could say 'no' to his puppy dog expression. Seriously, it should be deemed lethal. I gave in to his semi-dumb list and I even before I finished nodding my 'yes', he was dragging me by my waist to for our first piano classes.

His list was eclectic. There was learning piano, jazz music, fishing, sky diving, learning pottery, learning a foreign language, sailing, mountain climbing, swimming in an ocean, acting in a television serial, learning to cook pastries, patching up with his parents, meeting his middle school best friends, saying goodbye to his favorite high school English teacher, teaching me how to drive, seeing me in bridal wear, throwing a huge bash to all of his friends and racing his bike for one last time. As he had given me the list, he didn't fail to mention that the list was still a work in progress. There were many things which he wanted to add later. I had not done anything that was mentioned in the list either and I don't think I would have done any of those at any given point in life. If I had the amount of time to spare to learn a new language, then perhaps I would read books that I have been meaning to read in years or catch up on my sleep. Here I was, actually looking forward to do these things which held no meaning till there was death dangling above him.

The two of us got into a nice schedule once we had a list in our hands. We spent mornings learning new things, taking classes and in afternoons we went for drive or meeting people from his list. He taught me how to drive but after two classes he gave up. He said that he really, really, really loved his life. I settled for smacking his head and pouting during the entire duration of our drive back home. When we met people from his list, there were many questions in their eyes. He was charming, he was evasive and most importantly he was being sincere. A few of those people, like his English teacher, had sensed something was very wrong. In those moments, he held my hands till they turned purple and lied to them through his teeth. When I interrogated him later he quietly muttered, "Truth is a burden Riddhima. I want them to remember me the way I am today. One day in future they might come to know about my untimely end, till then let them live without that knowledge." I was flabbergasted at his words. And I fell in love with him a little bit more. The fact that one year down the line he might not be there to utter it back to me didn't faze me at all. On that day I fell a little in love with myself too.

"I think I am going to miss you." I told him as I dangled my legs over the water. We were currently fishing in one of the lesser unknown and unused piers which he had discovered. He wanted to know what the fuss about fishing was all about so we here we are. We took a crash course on fishing, read books and watched a dozen videos online. He had rolled his eyes at my obsession towards being an academic in every tiny little endeavor. But he had given in completely after I put my foot down on this fishing exercise. His color looked better and he was happily staring at distant sky with a small smile on his face. Of course I would miss him. Anything that had a pulse and spent a few hours with him would miss him. Since I wasn't known to express my thoughts freely through words, I knew from the look on his face, he was happy to hear it.

We displayed our piano talent during the bash that he had thrown for close friends and family. It was more of a picnic of sorts and we had ended up playing host and hostess for the party. When we played the duet from the movie "Corpse Bride" on piano, a few of our friends who were very well versed with the piece refrained themselves from commenting about the places where we went off-key and even more places where we completely forgot about them. As we lay in hammock that night under the stars, I giggled in his ear about our piano recital fiasco. I am still not sure if his answering laugh was one of merriment or of mockery.

Between the two of us, he was the outdoors type. So mountain climbing, swimming in the ocean and sailing sucked for me. It was one thing that I didn't like them but it was altogether different thing when those activities hated me with a vengeance. I broke my ankle during mountain climbing but I discovered many ways to survive in a secluded area. Also I found out how well we can pack our back packs. Seriously the stuff that he had managed to pack in his backpack would have taken me a suitcase to fit things. I semi-enjoyed sailing since it offered peace and tranquility but there was absolutely no action otherwise. He had forbidden packing any books or even my iPod. He said that there are times when one has to relinquish all their thoughts or things that drive us to thinking and simply rip open the consciousness amidst the serenity. When I had replied in a complete blank look, he had hugged me from behind and asked me to just enjoy the closeness. Even now if I close my mind and remember that day, I can smell the sea and the heavy moisture in air. I can smell his cologne that oozed of masculinity and mild sweaty smell. He was absolutely right on that day. Giving into the consciousness completely unguarded for an indefinite amount of time was the best way to refresh from the perpetual stress that is generally associated with our profession.

One day he had come to my house and uttered the words that I have been dreading to hear.

"I think we should stop." He said it calmly looking into my eyes. He sported a distressed smile and his shoulder was slumped. This troubled him as much as it troubled me. He cleared his throat reminding me to acknowledge him and his words.

"When?" I choked a reply. Or is that a question?

 "Now." He had decided. I wasn't going to bargain for more time nor was I going to argue in his decision. I trusted his judgment. He was a good person, a good friend and a really good doctor. He has read his symptoms. Before I took my sabbatical, he had thrown in a fuss about it. After much arguments and finally waterworks from my side, he agreed for me to accompany him in all his endeavors based on a condition. His condition was that, when he said stop, then all the activities would stop and he would go back to the house where he had grown up in a different town and will never return. I had of course, agreed to that as spending time with him sounded more enticing to me back then. I had been a real fool I guess. I had no idea that it was going to be this hard.

He was waiting for my answer and I got up and gave him a hug. I walked him out of my house and he hugged me again as a final goodbye. He kissed my forehead and disappeared into the night. There were no words exchanged nor were there any more tears.

In the past months that I have been spending with him, I realized that till then, I was in love with an illusion of my love towards him. The realization was so sudden that I had blurted out to him without thinking of anything. He was picking guava from a tree and I was swinging in the swing, legs dangling in the air. He came with a handful of fruit but after seeing me he dropped them on the ground and came behind me and pushed me faster. As my swing came to a stop, I fully turned around to face him and had blurted out. "I love you". I was smiling.

"I know." He had answered.

"I love you." He told me. I was stirring a pot of vegetables for a recipe that my grand mother had recommended for him. He was lighting candles all around his apartment as there was a power cut and the candle lights give him a ethereal glow. I motioned him towards me, take a spoon of vegetables, blow air on it and shove it in his mouth.

"I know." I tell him and raise an eyebrow in question. He gave me thumbs up sign indicating that our dinner has turned out quite well.

We were two very unconventional people and we preferred our lives that way.

Once I went back inside, I asked my father if he can cancel rest of my leaves so that I can get back to work. He understood what that meant. He didn't question further and I didn't elaborate.

The world had stopped and left me here. Loneliness was about to hit me hard and fast and this time, I welcomed it.

As I joined my work, it annoyed me to see people giving me sympathetic looks or walk around me in eggshells. My friends rarely talked about anything other than my boyfriend and I and it started to get on my nerves. I can handle empathy, I can handle sympathy but what people didn't understand was that nothing was tragic about me. People mourned for the happy ending that I had missed with him and looked at me with guarded expression every time they spoke about him. What people didn't understand is that there was nothing tragic about the way things were. Endings are always bittersweet. A few people are happy and few are sad. People who don't really care also get pulled into this game and they end up choosing the happy or the sad side anyway. Time spent with him was something like eating chocolate filled with marmalade; initial sweetness of cocoa gave way to bitter citric fruit and then dancing to one grade finale before leaving a bittersweet taste in the mouth. My state of mind is exactly that. His words, his actions and a few of his thought process that I mimicked helped me to overcome the loss of his physical presence greatly. It felt strange to know that many people assumed that one's life dependent on the other to such an extent that it almost breaks them.

They called it eternal love.

He, my boyfriend, Armaan, called it bullshit.

If one person likes other person more than the life itself, then there is no value for that love. If a person cannot value life, then they can never value love. Death was only a state of life and not its end. Thus love was something that was perpetual. It is always surrounding us, guiding us and perhaps even helps us in falling in love all over again. For him, life, love and death was that simple.

Present day:

My hands shook a little when I opened his letter.

My dearest Riddhima,

The year has gone and I felt that I should say my good bye. I contemplated on calling you or visiting you or requesting you to come by but I finally decided on something simple and straight forward. I guess if you are reading this letter, then I guess I am only in your memories now. Riddhima, you are like an epiphany that I have finally come to realize and see the irony of the fate; I get my epiphany, a reason for my existence and I am being called back to the mothership. The last one year has made this world not just a place to be but a place to live. And I realized that after spending those days with you. So, thank you Riddhima. Please, from now on do not think of me as a dead person but a man with whom you spent your last one year in your dreams. It is my one last request to you Riddhima, is to be open to new love. With the last word in this letter, release the knots that you have tied yourself to me. Live the life that I would have loved to live.

Till then, I will see you in your dreams.

Love always,


I don't have a nice cute quote to end my tale which neatly sums up the entire ordeal that I went through. I don't have a philosophical theory as to explain his words, their meaning and his intention behind those words. Sometimes it's better to take the words for their face value and generally neglect any unintended subtlety. They just are.

The world has turned again. This time I actually caught up with it.




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