Like everything has a beginning, it all started with an e-mail from Dopps. The message was not exactly the following, but very close.
“Saritha K Sam was sitting in front of her house. She was knitting a pullover for no one. It took her sometime to move on the wheelchair and come to the phone to answer me. I had all the time in the world to wait for her as she had all the time in this world.”
I have had no contact with Saritha after the last visit in 1992 to see her. The above sentences were enough to see through her situation. I got in touch with her after such a long gap. When I called her, from her voice and the conversation we had, I couldn’t perceive the gravity of the truth of her current existence. Although she mentioned that she can’t move without the help of a wheel chair and someone has to carry her to and from the wheelchair, her voice was cheerful, and lively just like the Saritha I remembered. That call brought a lot of tears into my eyes and I made a promise to see her during my next holiday.
In the usual way I said “I will try to come to your place next time when I come”
“No, you should definitely come, not just saying”
“വരാം എന്ന് പറഞ്ഞാൽ പോരാ… വരണം”
There is no point in just trying when we definitely have to do something. Her words changed my doubtful answer to a firm one. I was not sure about the arrangements and the environment once I reach there and catch up with immediate family and friends. Honestly things often do not work the way I plan.
In Kerala, after a few calls to Rincy, Sunitha, Binod and Rajesh, the day was decided. It was good that everyone who heard about the plan was interested to go there. Rincy was instrumental to organize the time and co-coordinating with everyone. As we agreed we met in front of Rincy’s office. I and Sunitha went in Binod’s car from Ernakulam and rest everyone was coming directly to Kottayam. We had a good chat about various things and it was very interesting to know how Binod’s grandfather played a vital part in his development as a child. Binod seems to have gained a lot from those early interactions.
The meeting at Kottayam itself was very special as many of us are seeing each other after 16 years. (Sunitha, Binod, Minima, Rincy , Shiny, Renu and Rajesh ). Swapna and Salma also wanted to join, but couldn’t come because of other commitments. After a small lunch we reached at Saritha’s place around 2 pm.
…..looking back I wondered if that was the so called smell of death
The house smelled differently, looking back I wondered if that was the so called smell of death. We waited as Saritha was having her lunch. In fact her Mum was feeding her as she couldn’t move her fingers and it was very painful to move any of her organs. A little later her Mum pushed her wheel chair to the living room so that she can see all of us. She asked Rincy in a rather complaining way why she didn’t inform her about the visit.
It was hard to believe that the girl on the wheel chair was our Saritha. She was almost like a 10 year old size. Her hands and legs had lost the normal shape due to her illness. Her parents told us about the throat infection and ear pain she was complaining about that day. They were planning to take her to the doctor that afternoon. She could recognize all of us and asked about others. We were all finding it a little hard to talk to her. We felt a kind of numbness and guilt for forgetting, not caring when we all have progressed with our own lives. If it was not for the misfortune of this illness, who knew the possibilities and probabilities of someone like Saritha? While talking to us she reminded her father to give the medicines and asked her Mum about her nephew. Also asked her to tell him to do his homework. Her mum said with a sadness which only a mother in such situation can know better that she always reminds us of many things in house as she has nothing else to do. After about 15 minutes, she was falling into a kind of sedative sleep, so we requested her to go back to bed.
While leaving we handed over a small packet and requested her mum to get Saritha what she may like, her mum told us with tears to pray for a good death
We stayed there for another half an hour talking to her parents and seeing her pictures from the album. Her mother was a woman who has been through a lot looking after her. Also her father had a bypass surgery two years ago. Within their capacity there were no avenues that they have left unexplored to treat her. Now they have accepted their fate and continue to do what they could possibly do. While leaving we handed over a small packet and requested her mum to get Saritha what she may like, her mum told us with tears to pray for a good death. That is the only thing they wished as all the doors seemed to be closed on her. She had the worst kind of rheumatic attack and the result is this prolonged suffering and the deterioration of health. It was hard for them to think about her life if they die before her.
But even then, we couldn’t suspect or feel anything about the next day, as for us that is going to be a distant reality. Inside we all prayed for what is best for her.
Touching her hand and saying bye, I felt an emptiness and sadness which can not be described. I reflected on my life and none of the troubles I complain about seemed to be real. On our return journey we were talking about the blessings we have in life and how we forget about all that. We sincerely wanted to do something even though it was so late. With all of us settled in our jobs and life, it was not a hard task and we could have done something to help one of our friends. All those conversations and the updates from everyone’s life went on until we said good bye to each other went on our own ways.
The next day when I came back from an appointment in the afternoon, my father said Sunitha had called. Alright, I will talk to her. I went to have my lunch as it was almost 2:30pm. But suddenly I was thinking why on earth she is calling now; didn’t we spoke just last night? I called her immediately. Sunitha told me that Saritha passed away that morning. I couldn’t hear fully, I was so emotional and I wept uncontrollably. It was such a shock as we visited her the previous day and this was the first news I was hearing.
Out of all these years how come this happened just the day after we went there? As friends may be we could have done something for her? Did our visit as a group made her loose all the attachments and hope towards the life and say goodbye? May be it was her destiny (ours too) no one could change? If we had missed just a day, she wouldn’t have waited for us? A thousand “what if “questions flashed through my mind which I could find no answers.
Was she waiting for ‘me’ to say good bye?
I have had lot of experiences in my life, but nothing was so close and shocking to me. It was like I got in touch with someone who was starting her journey to eternity. This is an experience I have seen only in movies. The person waiting for someone and hanging on to life so long until the last link to the world is broken or the life circle is complete. The critical aspect of time factor made me rethink about many of my life situations. It never waits for me, still I hope that way. Probably everyone who went to see her that day went through similar emotions and asked oneself “Was she waiting for ‘me’ to say good bye?”
Maybe the death is bigger than any other reality in the world. For everyone who went that day, they will never forget that day. Not because of that day itself, but what happened next. If she died even the next week or so, we wouldn’t have felt about it so much. Once the shock was over, we felt blessed that we were able to at least see her. We felt peaceful that she deserved a better and beautiful place where there is no pain.
Even in the midst of all her health problems, Saritha remembered to call friends and wish for Xmas, and New years. She lived her short life with dignity and patience. She was always concerned about the welfare of others around her. She accepted her fate with courage and died peacefully. It was great to know her after so long and wash off so much of my own mental burdens. I made a few choices to live my life differently and feel that it is the best tribute I can pay to her. By her death she taught me the importance of time and the need to appreciate whatever I have.
I just thought of sharing this incident as next time when we are needed, we may have a better chance to be there.