She woke up with a start in the middle of the night. What she thought was a nightmare turned out to be her cellphone’s ring that had woken her up. Groggy as she was, she answered it. Within seconds her mouth went dry and the mind just went numb. Her own replies weren’t audible to her. By the time she hung up on the ominous caller, she was already out of bed, trying to get ready to leave.
On the way to the hospital, she smiled wryly at the last conversation she’d had with her, just two days ago. They had discussed the latest book she was reading, an exhibition she had attended, the blooms in her garden and had finally ended on an old stale joke that they both still found funny for no reason at all. Her conversations with Ma were unbelievable. They would be flitting from one topic to another and then completely lose the thread where they had started off. Ma just wanted to pack off the maximum in a conversation….. paisa vasool, she would say.
Her Ma was a fountain of zest and energy- inexhaustible joie de vivre. “Every cloud has a silver lining, Aarohi”, she would say with that trademark lilt in her voice. Anyone else saying it wouldn’t mean anything to her, but coming from Ma, Aarohi had to believe it. Ma was an incurable optimist. Orphaned by the partition, widowed by the Kargil war, she brought up Aarohi without a hint of self-pity or a victim’s mentality.
For Ma, Aarohi and her school students were her life force. And those students would reciprocate with equal fervor. She, like a pied piper kept her students spellbound, who would be hanging onto her words.
The cab halted in front of the emergency entrance of the hospital, breaking her reverie. The front desk gave her the details. She rushed to see her, lips in fervent prayer, eyes searching and hoping…. but one look at Ma took away her last shred of optimism. There lying in the middle of myriad tubes and buzzing machines, was someone who looked like Ma but didn’t seem at all to be the mother she knew.
The attendings approached her gently, apprising her of Ma’s clinical status. She could hear them in the background talking about the surgery Ma HAD to have, but above all that din, she could hear Ma’s voice. “Life has been satisfying for me Aaru,” she would often say. “Now that you are standing on your own two feet, I feel rested. The business of life has been taken care of. Remember, no machine vachine for me please. When the time comes, just let me go. All that can be given away, give it away before it’s ruined. I do not want any artificial measures to be taken to salvage my life. For me just living is not enough, bachcha. I need so much more. I need to be able to see you, speak to you, to hear the birds chirp, be able to feel the rain, to smell the roses. I need all of that, no less”.
“Ma please, stop it. I don’t want to hear any of this stuff”, she would either shut her own ears or put a hand on Ma’s lips to end the conversation. And Ma would take Aarohi’s hands in hers and throw in her trump card, “You are my achcha bachcha na, my good girl,” and Aarohi would just make a nasty face at her.
The young intern waved the consent forms, to be signed, in front of her. “DNR, do not resuscitate”, she blurted. Are you sure, was the question. Aarohi repeated her mother’s request to not be resuscitated, no extraordinary life saving measures to be taken and to donate her organs while they were still viable.
By the time she signed off the multiple DNR and organ donation forms, her relatives started pouring in. They were aghast on hearing what she was up to. But Aarohi was clear, this is what her Ma would have wanted and this is exactly how it will happen. They exhorted her conscience, cajoled her to think coolly. But she would have none of it. They said her judgment was clouded, but she knew her mother well, better than anyone else here. If Ma wanted it, Aarohi would see to it that she got it.
Leaving them behind, she went inside to bid a final good bye to Ma. Taking her hands in hers, Aarohi whispered in het Ma’s ears, “Bye Ma. I AM your achcha bachcha”.
As she lit her pyre, another of Ma’s wish, Aarohi let go of her Ma as she would have wanted to. For her Ma, just living was not enough, never was. She had to pack it all in…. full paisa vasool!