It was a busy day in the office. I had a big presentation cuming up and the fact that my boss was a female didnt help at all...She was not grumpy, crappy or cranky, but she was an idealistic woman, and a perfectionist at that. There was chaos on my table and my cell phone decieded to ring. What perfect timing, I thought, but I picked it up anyways bocause it was from my cousin Manoj.
"Hello, Ram? Are you busy?", he asked.
" Kind of... but whats the matter?'', I asked.
"Did u hear about Manju aunty?
" No, What about her??
" I heard she is admitted in a hospital... and , she is diagnosed with terminal cancer..."
I was shocked to hear this. Manju aunty was a distant relative of mine. She was my mom's cousin sister.But everybody from my family hated her. Infact, none of my relatives were even on talking terms with her. I was very yuong when all this happened so, everything I that I know about this is my mom's perspective. She told me that Manju aunty behaved in such a disgraceful manner that nobody wanted to keep relations with her. She was a mixture of Kaykayi from Ramayana and a Hindi daily soap vamp. Gossip and greed were in her blood. She never used to wish well for anybody.4-5 years back, her husband expired and she had no children to take care of her. She lived alone in a small house her husband left her , along with the pension she used to get from her husband's office.I grew up hearing all sorts of stories about her unworthy deeds but I had always associated Manju aunty with pleasant memories.
As achild, whenever we used to visit her house, she used to make the world's most awesome 'Gajar ka halwa' I have ever eaten till date. She knew that it was my fav and she used to bring it withher everytime she visited.But eventually, all the relatives started distancing themselves from her , even my mom. Ma used to scold me whenever I asked her about Manju aunty.I grew up and forgot all about that untill this phone call.Suddenly, one of my colleagues came up to me and said," Ram, conference room, 10 min... Are you ready??"
I looked at the mess on my table and said, " Ya, almost."
"Good. All the best. C ya..." and he left.
I gathered up all my papers and my memories and started towards the the conference room. In that moment, I had decieded to go and see her as soon as possible. By God's grace, the presentation was good, if not the best. I dont know how I pulled it off, with such a divided attention. As soon as I finished, I rushed to the hospital. When I reached there, I saw that Manju aunty's room was very crowded. All sorts of dirty ideas started to pop up in my head. Was she fine?? was she worse?? was I too late?? Just as I entered the room, I saw acouple of doctors and about 3-4 nurses were hovering around her bed, and were talking in animated voices. I heaved a sigh of relief when I saw that aunty was leaning against a pillow and was refusing to take medicines.
The Doctors suddenly realised that I was there and stopped talking.One of them turned to me and said," Where have you been all this time? she was brought here unconcious last night. She has been diagnosed with terminal cervical cancer. We want to start the treatment but she is insisting on going home." It was such an awkward moment. I looked at aunty and then lookede at the doctors. Aunty said, " Doctor, he is not my son, he is just here to see me."
"Oh, I am so sorry." the doctor apologised.
For a moment, everybody was staring at each other's faces. The doctor broke the silence," excuse me, but can you plese come out with me for a sec??" I followed him outside the room and down the hall in his cabin. "Hello, I am Dr. Kumar, I am the oncologist of this hospital. And may I know, who are you??" he asked.
I introduced myself and told him that I was a distant relative. He made a grave face and continued," look, Mr. Ram, she is in the last stage of the disease. The cancer is fast metastasising, We cannot reverse the damage that has already been done but we can certainly prevent, or, should I say.. delay the damage by proper treatment. But she is refusing all treatment, even pain medications. In the absence of a family member, her conscent is of utmost importance. We are helpless without it.
That certainly was a bucket load of information. I was dumbstruck. I said," I cannot promise anything doc, but I will certainly try my level best to try and convince her. Even with the best possible treatment, how much more is she expected to live?? I just couldnt helb but ask the last bit. He said, " At the most, 2-3 years, not more than that."
I stepped outside and started walking towards her room. What was I supposed to say to her?? We had not been in touch with her since 15-16 years. When she looked at me, she had tears in her eyes. Involuntarily, I stepped forward and grabbed her hand. She said, " Please dont tell anybody that I am here and dont tell anyone that you came to see me, or else, they will stop talking to you as well." She started crying again.
" Oh, please aunty, dont worry about all that now. i am going to come here as long as you are here. Now, why dont you take your medicines?? Dr. Kumar is an excellent doctor, he will make you well soon."
"You know Ram, I have done some terrible terrible things in the past. I think this is God's will to pay me back. I deserve all this suffering."
" I dont know what happened and I dont even intend to know. It was years ago. This is definitely not God's wish.You cannot decide your punishment."
Even after saying all these things, she didnt budge. I sat with her for almost 3 hrs. She kept asking me about everybody. Where was everyone? How were they? Who was married, who was not??
" You should get married now," she told me
, " good job, good family, wht else you want?" I promised her I'll think about it.
" You should go now. I am fine." she said.
As I left the hospital, I said to myself, even in the wildest of my dreams, I never thought that I would have to face something like this. It had become my routine to go and visit her everyday. A week had passed but I couldnt convince her to start treatment. It was unbearable to see her in so much pain. One day, after office, I was going to the hospital and I saw a small nursery of plants. Beautiful flowering plants were arranged in neat little rows. In one corner , I saw a small plant of white lilies which had 3-4 flowers. I thought of Manju aunty... she loved lilies...
I remembered this because there wer all coulours of lilies in her garden. She used to take care of them just as one would look after their child.
I bought the little plant and gave it to her on reaching the hospital. She was so happy to see the plant. It was like giving a teddy bear to a little girl. She felt alive again. "These are so beautiful. Thank you.. thank you so much. But you know, these flowers blossom only for 4-5 weeks in a year, then we have to wait for a whole year to see them again. This might be the last time I am looking at them."
"Oh, please aunty, dont talk rubbish.... " I started saying, and then it struck me. She has to live...
" You know what aunty, you have to take care of this plant till next year.., when it is ready to blossom again." I said.
She seemed confused and said," But my dear, I dont think..." I knew she was in a dilemma, but I was not going to let her go without a fight.
" Please Manju aunty, please take the medicines. You have to live. You are still needed in this world. You cannot give up so easily. And mind you, I am still waiting for that perfect 'Gajar ka halwa' all these years. Once you are out of the hospital, I am going to come every sunday to urhouse to eat that halwa, so you better be fit and fine."
She looked at me and said, " par beta, gajar bhi toh har season mein nahi milte na....!" and we both started laughing...
Manju aunty gave consent to the treatment. She was stabilized and discharged. She took care of the lily plant till it blossomed thrice and I ate gajar ka halwa for three more years... before she succumbed to the deadly disease. But I was glad that she died peacefully and guilt free.I had kept our association a secret for all those years, even from my mom. Meanwhile, I got married and took my wife to seek her blessings.
I used to think, there are only two ways to fight anger. One is to take it out on the person whom you are at, and lose the person forever or to bottle it up inside and suffer the consequences yourself...untill I came across a third one...which was to let it go... and that is when it is truly gone... Relationships are like seasons... they keep changing with time, but we do have a choice here, of keeping them as it is...in our memories... Even today, I cannot help but think of manju aunty whenevr I come across white lilies or when I am eating 'Gajar ka halwa' made by my wife, which Manju aunty had taught her.........