Saturday, 15 August 2020

Dhananjaya Kannali Narayana, Short Story 2020 Featured Writer

The Assimilated Truth

It was the evening of a summer somewhere in the mid-March, when people often tend to complain about the sizzling summer and the scarcity of water that follows. But I reply to them, “No Sir, I have rain water,” to convey to them the significance of Rainwater Harvesting; being a practicing environmental engineer myself. Although it is very hard to convince these people on the basis of economics, owing to the subsidised water supply which often makes rain water harvesting a costly affair. But still some green-minded1 people used to listen me and got their part of rainwater harvested for their own buildings. An old wisdom teaches us to, “Make hay while the sun shines”. But for now it’s relevant to harvest water when it rains, if at all to bring the crop till that stage of growth to keep the possibility of harvesting alive.

It was a long time since I had met by my childhood school friend who is now a registered medical practitioner. The decision to meet him was quite an old one though still the firmness in the mind to start the journey was always at stake for my business, to some extent laziness too. It’s often hard to overcome the inertia of laziness, being immersed in that old cliché of routine where most of us feel ourselves busy in our own lives either in one of the two inevitable and confined spaces of occupation or the family.

But, this time I was firm in attempting the reunion with my friend, although late in the evening. Better late than never I said to myself. I often think why we face the lag in every aspect of life although everyone is so busy, but then, the job never gets done to perfection. I thought it would be prudent to visit him as a patient to put an end to the accelerating baldness I was facing in the recent times, further it was a good idea to get in to his clinic as a patient than a friend as this man was more busy with patients than with himself or his own family, let alone his friends and colleagues.

I unlocked the key to my rickety bicycle with little trouble as usual; I had maintained the bicycle so as to prevent its theft for it was kept usable but not fair enough to be lost by thefts. The problem of bicycle theft was persistent for me when I used to clean my brand new bicycles with hot water and preserve it during my college days. I have been frequently criticised by my family and friends for using it, but I never mind those critics and explain to them the arrival of electric vehicle technology which would probably fight the pollution due to intensive automobiles usage. Further, in my opinion traveling within Mysore City is pretty much manageable with a bicycle. I was very happy riding a bicycle as the cyclist neither worries for increase in price of petrol nor for increase in intravenous2 cholesterol, this would certainly give you an idea of how slim and fit I am. 

I think the social media needs to be thanked for keeping us in constant touch with those we cannot meet; but the intrinsic nature of this beast is that it makes our meeting and physical presence to be an event of very little significance. “The distinguishing factor between man and machine is emotion as machines can be bestowed with logic. But as this world of ours gets more and more robotised3 these distinctions are constantly getting blurred,” with all these thoughts tinkering in my mind I finally reached the clinic. But I had some barriers before meeting my friend.

As I entered the gate, with an old jute bag and bicycle, I was stopped by the gatekeeper and I had to answer his questions before I was allowed inside the campus. Just as I was about to park my bicycle next to a ‘Royal Enfield4’ in the parking area, an objection came from the parking staff to park my bicycle away under the tree perhaps with the perception that my vehicle did not look grand enough to be parked next to the bike literally named ‘royal’. Although in reality is in no way ‘loyal’ to nature as my bicycle is. I was in fact very happy to safeguard my bicycle under the tree as the sunshine was quite high even though it was an evening.

I entered the verandah of the clinic thinking that was all. Though it was anything but over as I had to negotiate with the receptionist, who after seeing me actually shouted, “This is not the time for medical representatives. Come in the morning,” I gently asked, “Madam Kashyapa idana5?” She was a little stunned for the disrespecting term towards her boss. I suddenly realised that and said, “Sorry madam, Dr. Kashyapa idara6”. It is a matter of single syllable which differentiates between the casual term of endearment and honour in Kannada. Madam now asks who I was and I say I am a client to this clinic and suddenly changed my reply, “Sorry, patient!”

As a practicing engineer, having worked with several clients that word came as a reflex. I wouldn’t have apologised if the doctor of this clinic wasn’t my friend, as I knew he considers the treatment seekers as patients. Although I have known a few practitioners for whom there hardly exists any difference between a patient and a client. I requested and took the last possible token to spend more time with him and the meeting was scheduled after a very long time. This again seemed strange to the lady. Now I finally relaxed on the seat provided. The queue of patients was not long and the outpatients shrank drastically. As for my fortune it rained a little and I was happy for getting closer to meet Kashyapa. Although the clinic crew might have been pretty displeased for the rain as it only ensured a little dip in their routine income.

Perhaps I could have directly called my friend over the phone to receive me and indeed easily have overcome the resistance offered by the staff that I had to face before getting placed till now; but I did not want to put that influence in place and interrupt patients and the doctor.

The hard work has yielded the desired result now, the last token number, that of mine is called with tiredness by the doctor and it was visible that he was exhausted. Though he did get energised after seeing his good old friend and I, the patient, must admit to have forgotten the intended treatment he had come to seek. I started with, “Doctor, how are you?” And he said, “Stop man, stop that raging!” Slowly lengthy conversations began between us, as the time was approaching nearly thirty minutes past eight. His clinical staff were little curious about the severity of my disease as it had been more than twenty minutes that I had been in the doctor’s cabin. Further, they were a little worried about the delay being caused because of me. At the moment, the receptionist made the doctor aware of the office timings and got his consent to leave the work place.

We came out of his consultation room and sat in the verandah to continue our business and I asked about his family and in particular his daughter who was following her father’s profession. Then I took some pieces of paper stapled together titled ‘Kabuliwallah7, and handed over to him. Although this gift was not so expensive, I had to face a little hardship in searching it from the old streets of Kolkata near the Great Tagore’s Press. This story, of course, was an epic one, an enduring tale of a man far from his beloved daughter seeking the affection from some other child. It was published in 1903, in Sadhana8 making it invaluable.

I was little shocked when I heard from him that his daughter’s marriage took place recently and I just screamed, “Have I became such a stranger to you that not only did you not invite me to your own marriage and now not even to your daughter’s either?” He replied calmly stating that the marriage had taken place in the simplest way possible with invitees being none apart from the family members themselves. He further started his defence on this move of not inviting many and said that his daughter’s marriage happened a little in hurry as in the case of his own marriage and I got little curious and asked the reason behind the latter’s marriage.

He started with his own story of marriage, which had been while he was studying his Masters. According to him, the marriage had taken place against the wish of his own mother. Although, the motive of his marriage was a very selfless one and how selfless it was, is revealed here. The doctor originally hailed from a middle class family that had turned to more adversity due to the death of his father. But luckily he had a childhood friend named Sandeep, who was considerably rich and had helped Kashyapa for bread and butter during school days.

Added to the tragedy was the death of Kashyapa’s own little sister. It was the time when we were in the fifth year, when his sister had developed Cholera. The treatment wasn’t an affordable one for his mother. Although she did try her best, lending from the neighbours. But the infection had increased by then and claimed the little child at such a small age to render the family in dismal sorrow. This was the time he said he decided to become a medical practitioner. Good, remarkable I replied. Further, he continued and he was glad that he was able to get scholarship for his MBBS and even the post-graduation, but there came the time to return all the lending. His friend, Sandeep, although was married, had but very little responsibility; ‘gone off the tracks’ as they say. He was neck deep in all sorts of gambling, narcotics and what not. Sandeep’s mother Manasa was worried for her son’s future. 

Sandeep's wife, Chintana, had become the pregnant and the new born being raised with the hopes that would evoke a sense of responsibility in the father. But it was soon revealed that he was beyond any redeeming. The father had left as the report of blood(y) ELISA9 test had shown positive. One of the most dreadful infections ever, caused by infected blood transfusion, to both of the parents, the infection for which neither a vaccine nor a cure exists. The infection which the famous Wimbledon champion Arthur Ashe10 had to suffer from. This infection rather a veteran, unlike the novel Corona, is not so contagious and is transmitted only by bodily fluid transfusions.


Coming back to the story, Mr. and Mrs. Sandeep had somehow contracted a severe infection which eats up their own immune systems in different stages and thereby would welcome all opportunistic infections. Manasa revealed to Kashyapa the story of her son's infection; however, her ill-fated daughter-in-law gave birth to female offspring thereby offering some blessing in disguise.

Kashyapa said his moral responsibility extended beyond that of a doctor now. He was to take guard of the situation of his friend and to give his best before it could get all over. He also explained that the fortunate thing was that the infection which typically passes on to the child from mother, had failed this time to infect their daughter Kavana (as named later). The confirmation had come thrice after random clinical tests at various ages of that infant.

The days passed by, the disease advanced as well to both the parents, Kashyapa said this was indeed the most difficult phase of his prospective life in medicine as he had to really study hard himself to retain the scholarship and to carry on the duties as a friend to Sandeep’s family. The syndrome had reached the threshold for Chintana as she had already felt her own departure from this world in her sixth sense.

A day came when Manasa and Chintana approached Kashyapa. Chintana cried, “Brother, I pass on this infant to you than to an orphanage. This is my inevitable choice as a friend. Since my husband has neither assumed any responsibility for the family now nor has the health himself to bring up this infant.” Kashyapa said he realised the desperation of this mother who was much worried for her daughter’s future. Even this man had no option other than to accept the infant as if it had been the daughter of his own sister whom he lost in his childhood days.

Kashyapa remembered and said that although he’d accepted to fulfil the future of Kavana at the time. His own education was halfway through by then and to adopt Kavana he had to get married quickly. Although against the wishes of his own mother who was not aware of all these proceedings. In fact, he h ad hidden these facts from anyone else. The resistance by the mother to her son’s marriage was made on the basis that the prospective daughter-in-law was not a doctor. “Usually it is said that marriages are made in heaven, but now profession rather than heaven dictates the decision. This fact being more applicable to medical practitioners in India,” jests the doctor.

Suddenly, as the story was being narrated by my friend, there was a power outage. The batteries of UPS11 as well were discharged to saturation and we were left in darkness.  The story looked rather interesting. I opened a solar lantern from my jute bag in quick time to avoid any interruption.
 My mobile started to perturb now. I was not hesitant to put it on a flight mode although I was not entering any aircraft but to be in a different space to listen this interesting tale.

He continued and said that a day came in his life when he lost yet another sister, a sister although not by birth but gifted by God’s own Grace. Chintana had finally succumbed to the infection and breathe her last. The doctor stated that this demise had rendered his friend Sandeep without emotional support and in further depression. Now, it was Sandeep’s turn, and within few days from the death of Chintana the infection invaded Sandeep and took him away from every one. Kashyapa said he was extremely depressed for these developments in his life and he, himself had to seek a treatment from a psychologist to come out of the worst zone he was ever in. After all this hardship, he had managed a Master’s in Dermatology and was employed in the Government Hospital, spent a few decades and retired voluntarily to serve the people through his own clinic.

He says the patients with this syndrome, more than the infection, are devastated for non-affordability of the antiretroviral treatment. He now has a trust dedicated for treatment of patients below poverty line at a reasonable cost. Soon another interruption came to this interesting story as the solar light of mine had sacrificed all the charge it had stored and now the doctor lit up candle inevitable, well I saw many of them in stock which made me feel happy being ensured of a great story till it gets done and dusted
 

So far, the story of his marriage and his life as he explained and now he moves on to the story of Kavana. He explained he had conducted ELISA test several times for her and of course no one being aware of this. The reason for his extensive tests is the element of doubt he had of the residual infection which could have existed. Further he says he had broken the glassware many a times while conducting these tests and medical examinations for he was nervous of the outcome every time although the results turned up negative.

He was very much worried about Kavana’s marriage since her childhood as she could easily pass on the infection to another person if at all the residual infection had persisted. And more because his guilty consciousness had warned him as he was aware of the dreadful infection might create another patient instead of treating one. This was against his own professional ethics. With all the guilt he had managed to find a match for her and the marriage had taken place in a hurry, thereby with very little number of invitees.

A year after the marriage, Kavana was heavy with child he said. Again at various stages of pregnancy he had done all the tests with negative results on presence of the infection. His confidence had grown significantly by then and when Kavana finally gave birth to a baby girl turning her father grand. This doctor to an extent had suspected a little of the probable residual infection in his granddaughter. In his anxiety had conducted the tests of similar kind he had done so far with his daughter. Again perhaps due to his good karma it had resulted in absence of infection in the infant and he was completely fulfilled and satisfied with this.

Now he said he went to god and prayed, “Oh my mother this was the day I was living for, I had lived for. After all I had given my best to all my patients to treat this disease and remained patient every time I tested Kavana. With your blessings I have fulfilled the future of the daughter whom I had adopted from her own father; further let this be my last day and this breathe be my last”.
 

 He was almost in tears as he explained further stating that the god although took away his own father and sister in his childhood days, gave him a sister in Chintana, made himself a father by Kavana although he had no daughter of his own. I said, “Yes man, god is with you for all the good selfless work now and what else in this universe exists for you which could be more prime or supreme than preaching the holy goddess.” “Well said,” he said. It was twelve at midnight now, and we decided to stay overnight in his clinic.

In the morning when I woke up he apologised to me for not being able to offer even a cup coffee and I said, “I did not mind the starvation of stomach as I had been offered a fulfilling story”. Further he asked me to keep these facts confidential. I agreed to this and replied, “Definitely I will not reveal this truth to anybody but would publish this glorious story in a magazine,” and he smiled. Now at around seven in the morning I had to leave the clinic for my own business. I carried a lot of pride for this man in my mind.

As the days passed by, in the cool autumn, six months past our reunion, I guess, a call came to me from my friends circle with the sad news stating Dr. Kashyapa was no more and I had to rush to his home along with my other friends,. Just as I arrived at this great doctor’s home I saw everyone in sorrow. I took little courage to console Kavana as she said her father was everything to her family. As she explained the concern of her father who was very fond of her health check-ups for the slightest of the diseases she had thought, although she did not know the disease that her father was suspecting in her and I remained rather in control and did not disclose anything to her, just to keep the promise that I had offered my friend who was no more now
 

Further, Kavana never knew that Dr. Kashyapa and his wife were not her biological parents as neither of her parents had made her aware of this. Although for me, they were of course the true parents. However, no one else except my friends and I, knew the disease that took off Kavana’s biological parents.

As the time passed by, his relatives, some more friends and colleagues arrived to see him for the last time; the arrangements were made for ‘Antim Sanskaar’12.

As the body was laid in the middle of wooden planks stacked a foot high elevation, the ignition started and the truth he had unrevealed to everybody remained so and got assimilated itself. But with pride of this good old friend and sorrow of this event, my calmness got little out of control and my eyes started to shed tears.

The formalities were on, the flame was lit on the wood along with lot of camphor, as the funeral fumes like plume began dispersing and diffusing in the air, sky high. Behind, in the west, the sun set, but for me in front, the brightness of the fire out of camphor sublimation meant more like a sun rise resulted out of sublimed soul resting in peace and satisfaction; although I was little too emotional still managed to console myself by getting more philosophical and remembering the fact that I was a senior citizen too and even I was following his queue but little late though, so for sure.
 

Luckily I felt that it was the right time when I met him last in his clinic and that rather meant a blessed and a memorable reunion for me where I tried to gift him a good story of father and daughter in Kabuliwallah but in return got another splendid tale of an orphan brought in real time up by generous parents

More often we find selfless people of this kind and have lot of things to learn from them, my friend had nothing of his own yet he made everything his own and in the process had a satisfying life. Moreover, what actually is our own when our own existence in this world is always at stake and all of us are bound to be transformed to either ash or earth at least one fine day? I thought myself. This way, I have found that and I think that the sublimation of life exists in selflessness, would you agree with this or not?

 

Glossary

1 Green Minded: Concerned and sympathetic on environment.

2 Intravenous: Within the veins, the tubes of human blood circulation system. 

3 Robotised: To act more like a robot, something mechanical. 

4 Royal Enfield: A brand of motorised two wheeler, popular in India.

5 Idana is a singular/casual way of calling a friend, extensively used in Kannada, an Indian language.

6 Idara is a plural/respectful way of calling someone who is an elder, respected, or well placed in society.

7 Kabuliwallah: A short story by Rabindranath Tagore.

8 Sadhana: An Indian magazine for which Rabindranath Tagore was the editor and author.

9 Elisa is a standard protocol for testing HIV strains in blood.

10 Arthur Ashe was a leading tennis player from US in 1970s.

11 UPS: Uninterrupted Power Supply.
12 Antim Sanskaar: Funeral rites.

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