Friday, May 29, 2015

The best laid plans of mice and men...

They say that Man proposes, God disposes. At no time is this dictum better understood than when tragedy hits. Lives change in a fraction of a second, and so many plans lie in ruins.

Last Tuesday, I was returning from Kolkata to meet daddy. My ISC results had just come out the previous day, and having done fairly well, I was coming with a happy heart. They were showing Piku in the bus, and those who have watched the movie would understand when I say I was a little depressed by the time it got over. I got down at Muchipara, and was surprised to see dad absent. I had called him some seven minutes back to tell him that the bus had almost reached Durgapur, and since he always stands at the bus stop waiting for me, my surprise was obvious. I had just started fiddling with my phone with the intention of giving him a call when a man came forward with his son, asked me whether I was Suvro Sir’s daughter, and told me my father had had an accident.

Autopilot kicked in. I vaguely remember the man assuring me that it was just dad’s leg that had been hurt; I think that was his way of telling me the accident wasn’t fatal. I crossed the road (thankfully, even under stress I had enough sense to make sure there were no cars nearby before rushing across), and found a large number of people gathered near a shop fa├žade. Dad was sitting on the ground with his legs spread out. His right leg was strangely twisted and swollen like a mound just over his ankle. He was sweating profusely. He greeted me with a strained and rueful smile: “bhenge diyechhe ma” (“he broke it, darling”). It turned out that daddy had parked his scooter and started to cross the highway on foot. He is an ultra careful man, and had checked that were no cars coming down the one way lane. He was about to look at the other direction (the traffic on Indian roads being notorious for breaking all rules) when a man on a motorcycle came speeding from the wrong side and hit him. He somersaulted in the air and fell down in the middle of the road. His reflexes were unbelievable – he managed to land on his hands and feet and so saved his head, otherwise I shudder to think what I might have had to witness when I arrived. He tried to stand up, and the excruciating pain in his right leg told him that the bone had broken. He sat back down and managed to drag himself to the edge of the road. Even in such agony he was clear-headed enough to realize that he was in mortal danger as long as he remained in the middle of the highway. Thankfully, it was broad daylight, and the area being highly congested, a large number of people recognized dad and came running to help him. The motorcyclist had already recovered from his own fall and sped away for fear of being lynched by the public.

My brain was a swirling mess, and I still wonder how I managed to get through the next few hours without passing out or retching. There were a lot of people around dad, but everybody looked dazed and unsure about what to do. Ironically, dad was the most composed person in the gathering. He told me to call home and let the help know about the accident so that she stayed put at the house. After that, I called the family doctor and let him know about the accident. He arrived quickly enough, and put a basic bandage around dad’s leg. In the meantime, dad asked for a cigarette to calm his nerves. I had already called for an ambulance from the nearest hospital, but as we eventually found out, their ambulance service was abysmal. They kept us waiting for nearly forty five minutes before dad himself asked the people around us to arrange for a car – any car – to take him to the hospital. That was arranged, and I accompanied dad to the hospital, into the Emergency Ward. I had already let some people know about the accident, and they had promised to help.

Once dad was admitted to the Emergency ward, I started getting in touch with more people. I had already made a few phone calls, so the wheels had started turning. Two of my own friends had arrived, so I had some moral support. At first I was harassed by the hospital officials for money: they refused to even X-ray dad’s leg before I paid the requisite amount. My friend rushed back home to get me the money. But after that, following reprimands from higher-ups who knew dad well, they stopped mentioning money altogether. Later I found out that they had even given OT clearance already, long before even the first proper payment was made.

I was not allowed to stay in the Emergency ward so I waited outside with my friends. I had already signed the required admission forms. When I look back to it now, I realize what a blessing it has been that this accident occurred now, only a few months after I turned 18 and so acquired signing authority. Otherwise I would not have been able to do the required paperwork at all. After waiting some more, my friend Sagarika and I returned to the house while the other friend, Anushua, went home. I had not even had the chance to wash my face since 7.30 in the morning when I had left home in Kolkata, and it was already 2 in the afternoon. Returning home, I took a bath and both of us had a quick lunch. Dad had classes from 3, so his students had started pouring in. Sagarika and I informed them of the accident. It did not seem to register with many people that dad had been hospitalized. As we saw over the next few days, many people asked astoundingly idiotic questions, the most common being whether the class would be held that day or not!   

Anyway, we were back in the hospital soon, and found that dad was (finally) being transferred to a ward. The surgeon had paid dad a visit and confirmed that surgery would be necessary to set the bone. Apparently the leg had suffered from two fractures: one in the fibula just under the knee cap, which would heal naturally, and the other (the worse one) in the tibia above the ankle. That was the ugly mound I had seen. Eventually the X-ray revealed that the bone had snapped clean into two parts. This was the one which would have to be surgically fitted with a metal plate. Unfortunately, the surgery had been scheduled for the next night, because a medicine that dad regularly takes had made immediate surgery risky.

By this time the crisis was behind us. Dad was in good hands, of that I was sure. Enough people had been informed of the mishap, and were streaming in to visit. Mom was on her way to Durgapur from Kolkata. I had informed her of the accident immediately I arrived, and she had left home within half an hour. I was no longer alone. But nevertheless I was quite traumatized.

The evening passed quickly. Mom arrived, and Sagarika finally left. Another, much older ex-student of dad’s, Prodipto Da, had come to keep dad company, as had many others. I could go home now and take a breather. It is important to mention that in all this while dad did not once complain or bemoan his fate, even though he was in agony: he only apologized repeatedly for ‘putting me to so much trouble.’ It was seeing dad so calm and serene that helped me keep my cool. I visited him once more later that evening, smartly defying hospital rules about visiting hours. Later, I took a sleeping pill to get to bed; otherwise there would have been no sleep that night for me.

The next day mom and I reached the hospital by 9 in the morning, and found dad already shifted to a private cabin (he had been placed in a semi-private ward the previous day due to lack of private beds). He was drowsy with pain and drugs, and drifted in and out of sleep the whole day. Mom went home a while later; I stayed put. I was going to be dad’s 24-hour attendant. The day passed uneventfully. Dad had numerous visitors. By evening, he was being prepared for the operating theatre. The surgery was scheduled for 7.30 in the evening. Dad was taken into the OT by 7.45. I tried to keep an unfazed exterior, but inside there was a storm raging. Apparently I had watched one too many episodes of the TV show House MD, and could not keep out of my mind numerous horrible ways that things could go wrong on the operating table. After dad had been taken in, I went out to smoke a quick fag to soothe my nerves and went to the hospital cafeteria for a cup of coffee. The surgery was supposed to take around an hour. I had just started taking a sip when I received a call from the OT, telling me that there was a problem and would a family member please come quickly? Imagine my horror at that! I dashed upstairs and would have burst through the door had I not braked well. Once there, an attendant informed me that there wasn’t any ‘problem’ after all; a silly nurse had overturned the bowl where the surgical instruments had been soaked for sterilization, and so they had been forced to delay the surgery by half an hour! I was so furious I could eat the man’s head. The dullard had no clue about the kind of anxiety he had put us through by his stupid choice of words! Problem, indeed!

The surgery went on till 10.30. All the while I had live earthworms gnawing at my stomach, though Prodipto Da did his best to keep me distracted. The poor fellow talked incessantly for two hours just to keep my mind off things! Of course, I kept behaving like a jack-in-the-box, jumping up every time the door to the waiting hall opened or the telephone rang. Eventually, at around 10.45 we were informed that the surgery was over. I practically flew up two floors to the OT, and there we met the surgeon. At that moment, and I am not exaggerating here, I felt he was an incarnation of Divinity, sent there just to assuage my fears. The dear man told us that there were no complications, and we could go and meet daddy one by one. It was with an effort that I stopped myself from giving him a bear hug.

I was the first one in to meet daddy. He was fully conscious; they had given him a spinal cord anesthesia for the operation, so though his body was unconscious waist down, he could talk normally enough. He was shivering violently at that time; the air conditioner kept on during the surgery had nearly frozen him to the bones. Otherwise he was just fine. The rest went in one by one to meet him, and after everyone was reassured about dad’s condition, mom and grandma went back home. I saw them off, and then Prodipto Da saw me to the hospital elevator before heading home himself. It had been a long day for everyone.  

Back in the cabin, I made myself comfortable on the attendant’s couch to keep an eye on dad during the night. Dad had already been brought to the cabin. We requested double blankets for both of us. After tucking dad in well, I settled down for the night’s vigil. On Prodipto Da’s advice I did not try to stay awake all night. Instead, I kept snoozing after setting my alarm for every ten to fifteen minutes. The method was as clumsy as it sounds, but it worked for me. Dad was drowsy and sometimes half conscious, and I was worried about any problems during the night. But I could have slept peacefully. The night time attendant, a Rajput male nurse, was highly efficient and diligent at his job. He gave dad drips and medicines and replenished them at the right time. By four in the morning, dad had regained much of the sensation in his legs. He had been given his first meal at that time, and after that there really wasn’t much I needed to think of, so I finally gave in to my overpowering drowsiness and slept for the next hour and half.

The next day once again passed peacefully. Daddy slept most of the morning, and I snoozed. Later in the afternoon grandma took my place and I went home. I returned in the evening with my aunt, dad’s elder sister. After a long time, the accident had brought much of the family together. Even tragedies have some silver linings I suppose. Once again I spent the night in the hospital with dad. One day after the surgery he was already desperate to go home, despite the pain. He had been given a walker with which he could hop around, but even with that he was more self reliant than many healthy people can be. In the end, he even started smoking cigarettes in the room and managed to alert the security men in the hope of being kicked out of the hospital quickly. His wish was granted, and daddy was discharged from the hospital on Friday afternoon with strict warnings and threats from the doctors about how badly things could go wrong if he put his leg down under any circumstances. No weight-bearing was to be done on the right leg. So three days after the accident, dad was back at home.

Dad is stuck to the ground floor for the next couple of months. Mom and I are doing all the house work and the running up and down stairs. Mom will leave in a while, and then it will be all up to me. This is giving me very good practice of running a house, and all the climbing of stairs is making up for my lack of working out, so I’m not complaining. Dad, on the other hand is probably the most active and self reliant patient that ever lived. He has started his classes already, and is doing almost everything by himself. He is hopping around with his walker like an expert, and sometimes one has to make an effort to remember that he had a surgery just a week ago! Talk about independence!

So much for the summary of events. One reason why I wanted to write this post (other than the fact that dad was after my life about it!) was because these last several days have been an interesting study of human nature. I want this post to be a constant reminder to myself about how much good can come of even the worst time of one’s life. The amount of human goodness I’ve seen in such a short while is baffling and humbling. At the same time, there have been unpleasantries, but they have been mostly due to people’s ignorance and lack of good sense (mothers of students calling up to ask about their sons’ progress in class even though they know about dad’s accident) than due to malice, so I choose to ignore them. So this post is going to be my way of showing gratitude where it is greatly deserved.

Right from the time of the accident, dad has been surrounded by helpful neighbours and acquaintances. They have travelled with us to the hospital and stuck around as long as I needed their help. The man whose car it was that took dad to the hospital has not yet mentioned his fees or come to collect the money, even though he is a professional driver and a poor man for whom that money would make a difference. The number of poor, ordinary people who have selflessly offered help even after we returned home is humbling: thanks to their kindness I don’t have to worry about going shopping for groceries or vegetables or medicines, they are going to deliver it all to the house. I feel ashamed of myself now when I think of the number of times I’ve taken out my anger by unfairly blaming these ordinary good people for the quality of their wares and myriad other reasons.

Dad’s students and their guardians have also been very understanding. A very great number of them have called up to ask after dad. Not one has complained about the missed classes, and many have assured me that it wasn’t the classes that they were worried about at all; what mattered was that their Sir got better quickly. Now that dad has started teaching again, many have come forward suggesting that dad take a longer break to quicken his recovery. So many ex-students keep turning up or calling over the phone asking after dad constantly. We keep complaining about how self centered and mercenery people today are; this recent experience is ample evidence that not all is lost, that kindness and empathy exists still.

There are some people who I need to mention individually for all the help they have rendered. My dear friends Sagarika and Anushua have been with me from the day of the accident. Their moral support has been invaluable, and has helped me go through the time when I was feeling most lonely and lost. Thank you both for being there.

Little boy Swapnayu is not so little any more. He has been beside us throughout the ordeal, and helped in so many big and small ways, and is still doing it. His presence too has been a great psychological help to me, for which I’m infinitely grateful.

Prodipto Da has been beside daddy from day 1. He was the one who took up the very difficult task of keeping me calm during the surgery. I couldn’t thank him enough for that.

To all the jethus and kakus who did so much at the hospital and beyond, a big ‘thank you’. Things could never have gone on so smoothly if all of you hadn’t been there.

To all the other dadas who I know have been worrying their heads off about dad: Akash da and Subhodip da and Nishant da and Saikat da and the numerous others I don’t know the names of, thank you. Your concern is such a morale booster for daddy.

One of the many things that made me proud was the compliment paid by the (male-) nurse, who told dad he had never seen a patient as quiet, as cooperative, as gracious as dad in all his years at the hospital. “Most of them, especially those who stay in private suites, behave as if they own the place, and show it by being as bossy and abusive as they can.” Funny, considering that dad is emphatic about his belief that all men are not equal, and do not deserve to be treated as equals!

 And lastly, but definitely not the least, I have to mention a special friend. This friend of mine lives half a world away in the United States. He has never met me or my family, but when he heard of the accident, he was so agitated that he wrote a poem for us, wishing dad’s speedy recovery. Here is that poem.

Dear child in sorrow
I have naught words to spend
Not syllables suffused with sufficient grief
Or loving letters potent to mend
What harm and horror robs thine heart’s relief,
And steals all thought for the morrow

Yet with words fair, one might repair
The scattered, shattered pieces of thine world,
Might help to ease your troubled mind,
Soften ‘n soothe the pain upon thee hurled
And find the peace that might thine wounds bind,
Through the meager, desperate words of my prayer

For words have life beyond this realm of tears,
And live much longer than dusty lips
Whose uttering doth make them thence immortal
And which no shadow of time may eclipse
Unreachable through any temporal portal
Immune to all mortal fears

But my prayer goes to no court of Heaven
Though it ascends like holy breath,
Nor does it rot in a chamber of Hell
Though it seeks thee and thine brushed by death,
It flies with no demon, hampers no angel—
Only a wishful prayer, sent as comforting leaven.

My prayer and sympathy are for thee and thine,
Hidden by flesh from all covetous seraph’s glare,
It is for thee I weep and weave my far off cries!
Not for imagined glory, nor jealous divinity that I care,
For thine bleeding heart, swiftly, my love flies!
And so now I write my earthly prayer:

Lord of Love—essence of all human heart
Like the moon bewitched by night
Swallow all their sadness—loose thine healing art!
Lord of Joy—harbinger of the blessed
Like the noon bejeweled by light,
Bathe them all in gladness—banish all their dread!
Lord of Mercy—beloved instinct of the soul
Like the rune bespoken by sight,
Hide ye not in madness—collect no bloody toll!
And Lord of Hate—accursed poison of the mind
Get thee into darkness, cast off by the kind!
Lord of Agony—dread torment of the bone
Get thee into dust, cease thy sanguine groan!
Lord of Death—pitiless collector of the flesh
Get thee with Mercy!—spare whose blood is fresh!
And mortals with immortal tasks,
Human faces in celestial masks,
Let no Darkling worsen,
Shed thine grosser person,
Fight and slay and kill those vile specters
And take up thine appointed mantle as protectors
And if immortals do exist,
Born with but a grain of love
Demand thy profane brethren desist—
Beseech help from above!

Amen and Amen!
And let it be no mocking knell.
But let quick joy arrive again
And thus thine next letter excitedly tell
Of hope and healthy recovery swell—
That all is blissfully well
For it is on thee and thine father—
Though I pray half a world away—
On whom I dwell.

This piece of poetry has given me so much comfort during dad’s stay at the hospital and afterwards. I cannot compose poetry to save my life, but I can show appreciation where it is due. My friend insisted on remaining unnamed, much to my sorrow. But you know who you are, so once again, thank you for caring. It has meant so much to me. I have written derisively about Americans in my blog before; people like you prove that Americans can be so much more than just crass and illiterate and self centered.

My greatest takeaway from this entire experience is that I am now more devoutly spiritual than ever before. I believe that the fact that something much worse did not happen is because somebody Up There did not want it to happen. I believe that the reason I found the strength to take charge when I had to was because I was given it. If I had ever nurtured even the slightest doubts about divinity, it is now gone for good. So now my faith allows me to sit back and relax, and let the future take its own course. I am no longer worried; I know somebody greater than I is taking care of things. I can be at peace.