There I lay awake, after just being woken up from the most amazing sleep I ever had. Years of working hard was bound to take its toll on a life, a life less-lived. A life, which blossomed like a rainbow in the initial years, under the warmth and affection of my dear mother. It all started from unrestrained laughter, then school, then college and finally I got settled. I soon had a family of my own. Neelima, my wife, was seven years younger to me and was everything I ever wanted in a wife. She was mature, much beyond her years. Perhaps, the years of restrained upbringing had transformed her into a woman of strength and had given her a unique sober demeanour, which is deemed fit to be a part of Indian households. Days went by and soon parenthood knocked on our door. We were blessed with twins, a girl and a boy.
In the excitement of giving them the best names, we passed away four months and finally decided upon Radhika and Arjun, much to the dismay of our relatives, who found them to be quite run-of-the-mill. Our joy knew no bounds, on watching them grow from infancy to toddlerhood. Our life was progressing, very much in a set determined pattern, the way it is for everyone. The initial revelry of marriage and parenthood had started to fade away, and was being gradually replaced by the struggle to thrive and survive. In a race to procure the best of everything, life had been slipping away slowly. Better part of my married life and for a significant part of my children’s teenage years, I was away from them. I was busy making a life for them, realising little about the fragility of life and its transient nature. Love also has a track of its own. Love, ignored for long, transforms into anger. The years of anger and resentment soon give way to indifference. I saw it all happening, right in front of my eyes, for I had become the recipient of this indifference by my own family. Neelima’s initial attempts at cajoling me were soon turned into quick-witted sneers, and finally she was forced to find different pursuits to invest her time and energy. Children also, once they reached their teens, were completely immersed in their own world and I really had no complaints then.
Day after day when I reached home, I was welcomed by its eerie silence. Most of the times, they were either asleep or were away. Neelima had joined a social service club, and had a wide social circle of her own. Charities, fund collections and social functions were now her way of life. I had also happily reconciled with this new life and spent time with my pipe and rounds of liquor.
It was a usual day and an early winter morning for me. Years of practice had instilled in me, a strange knack of doing things mechanically, in the shortest possible time. My routine work used to be immaculate – the hair perfectly combed, the trousers perfectly creased and a clean shave with no cuts. But that day was unusual, for it had a strange smell of gloom. It really took quite a struggle for me, to get out of my cosy quilt. My bed tea was lying morose on the side table, for all its vapours had dissipated into the surroundings. The clock showed 5:30 AM and I had been late by exactly half an hour. The angst and frustration took over me, and I hurried towards the bathroom. My head had been aching severely but little did I care at that moment. The meeting with the client was scheduled at 8 AM and I couldn’t afford to be late. A myriad of images jostled through my mind and made me uneasy. I hurried through the daily chores and got a big cut from my shaving razor. Oddly enough, my dexterity that day was going for a toss. I somehow managed to get done with the shower and changed into a crisp business suit. Something was amiss – and it was an effort to drag myself out – but I couldn’t zero down on it. Neelima was, as usual, busy in the kitchen and yelled “Breakfast is ready”. Her customary morning yelling, laced with frustration, was enough to get me back to my senses. On the breakfast table, I mindlessly plodded through the screaming, yelling and laughing faces of my family and finally drove to work. Some goodbyes are forever, but scarcely ever do we realise when they come…
Sitting inside the conference room, the necktie was feeling like a noose and I was hyperventilating. Gasping for breath, I opened my laptop for the presentation. I started to present, but the words coming out of my mouth were incomprehensible gibberish. My last memory of vision is, going through an array of blurry images, amalgamating into a fusion of colours. I fell to the ground and everything thereafter was complete darkness, like a trance.
I would have been rushed to a hospital, which was to become my abode for months to come. So I was there, at the hospital, lying on a bed, in a vegetative state. I had just woken up from a long sleep. I knew that I had woken up but no one else could hear me. Though I had woken up but I couldn’t open up my eyes, move my limbs or utter a word. I could hear people around me, Neelima, Arjun, Radhika, my relatives and the hospital staff. What I initially mistook to be a sleep paralysis, turned out to be a nightmare. I heard doctors talking in their medical language and realisation struck me like a bolt, for I had suffered a stroke. I had been sleeping for over a month and the fact that I had woken up was not known to anyone. I was trapped within my own body and the same body which used to augment my spirit had become my limitation. The moment I tried hard to break loose, the very next moment I was forced back to dive deep into the darkest recesses of my mind. Having become the prisoner of one’s own mind and body could be a dreadful thing. It is difficult to control the remaining senses, when you have lost control over the others. I could hear, feel and smell but I couldn’t see, touch and respond.
Every morning, the nurse used to bring choicest of sweet smelling flowers, whose hues I longed so much to see. Colours were now a distant memory and I had to strain myself too much, to cling on to their memories. The lunch Neelima brought for Arjun, who had been waiting by my bedside, evoked countless memories. All these were the things that we take so much for granted. Life is so much easier for one who has never smelt or for one who has never seen. Once you have experienced them, and then you are bereft of some gifts, it’s only then that one comes to appreciate their significance. Very often, I felt droplets of tears on my body, which I could later make out to be of my wife’s. What a trauma this has been for her. Once I heard her say, “Wish we had more time together”. Her words filled me with an inescapable sense of remorse and gratitude towards her at the same time. Given the kind of life I had given her, I was hardly expecting such soothing words. I felt a strange longing surging through me, a longing to belong to my family, to my kith and kin. All of them had been the recipients of my neglect, when I was so busy in making a living for ourselves. Making a living, which probably I will never get to witness! Radhika often touched my feet and said, “Papa, please wake up”. If only I had realized the value of their childhood, then things could have been so different. Arjun, who used to be least interested in me, would spend hours waiting by my bedside. I wish we all had spent more time together, but not in the inhospitable environs of a hospital! I wish I could turn back the clock and bring the wheels of time to a stop. A time, where it all started. A time, when I was still a gawky young man, and knew how to live and laugh. I wish I could unlearn the vicious things which made my mind “worldly wise” and turned me into a rat. A rat, who tried to run a race too fast, oblivious to the fact that at the end of the day, a rat is just a rat – even if it wins.
So here I lie awake now, trapped in my body, with my soul shackled, with many a thought which will most probably die with me. Thoughts, which had the potential to become actions. Actions, which could have changed my world – our world – for the better. Probably destiny has other plans for me. Here I lie awake now, to decay and disintegrate – bit by bit, in my own web. The web, I myself had spun bit by bit, ever so deftly. I have no other option now but to wait, perhaps forever.