“Slow down the volume, Appaaaaa.” My voices always fall on his deaf ears.
Why am I bothering? There must be no cells in the hearing aid. They too must have given up on him like his auditory ones. Apart from the battery cells, Aai too has given up on him. Or else she must have barged into the barren courtyard till now and rolled the volume to zero with her rolling pin. Must say Aai is a pro at it! So now when we his only surviving clan have given up on him, Appa finds solace in the radio.
‘Zindagi kaisi hai pehali hayeee……..” Manna Dey’s soulful voice strikes the strings of Gajannan Appa’s already fibrillating heart.
Suddenly, the radio starts blaring loudly as Appa breaks into a jig. The impetus of the spirit and the heightened emotions take him over. Unable to bear the musical atrocities, Aai the saviour, arrives with her rolling pin. My dear audiences, depending upon the magnitude of the action will be the severity of the reaction. The powers of rolling pin will be used to mute the radio or the old man, is what only Aai’s weary mind can tell.
“Kay ho… Can’t you listen in peace? My mother in-law was much better than your radio! At least her rants stopped post 9pm.” Aai missing her Sasubai!
“Arey, I can’t even die in peace! Till then you keep breaking me to pieces!”
Appa never misses a chance to prove his superiority as a retired Marathi literature professor at Pune University. Staying in his ancestral house in Shirur, Appa occasionally travels by the PMPML public buses to the city. The whole of Deccan, Kothrud, Pimpri flocks to him for a dose of Pu.La.Deshpande or to get on a high with Chatrapati Tales by Babasaheb Purandare. But he just refuses to settle in their city after settling in their hearts. Appa’s love for literature is infectious. In the daylight, he reads at the lightening speed. If not infected, at least I have inherited this love for books, so much so that I have taken it as a full time profession. SORRY….Who am I? No not a riddle but definitely a voracious reader. I’m Durga Gajannan Apte, the youngest 9 to 5 librarian at Lokmanya Sahitya Sanastha Vidyalay. Why youngest, because there are more grey hair than grey cells around me. Nevertheless, there are these timeless beauties of Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Charles Dickens that surround me. Also shouting for my attention are Bhagat and Tripathi. But according to Appa, the new lot is mutilating.
Ohh the dreamy me…..!!! Aai and Appa’s dishoom dishoom has taken a U-turn as both are back to their own respective positions and worlds.
The radio sings, ‘Maine tere liye hi sath rang ke sapne chune….’ as Aai has rolled her pin on the frequency wheel than the volume one.
Mukesh is a killer. His songs are a Anand to the serene soul. Thus thinking, I open the door of our kholi to find my heart beating on the bed. Ooops…snoring on the bed, the only person for whom I still lurk in this house, my younger brother Daivat Gajannan Apte. Why the introduction in full name? Just to prove his lineage to the world. Who says only blood ties are stronger? Is one womb the root of all strong saplings?
Yes, he is an adopted chap. Aai and Appa’s non-biological answer to my ‘Why I can’t have a sibling?’ obstinacy. Aai kept losing her unborn offspring in the womb. The village folks kept remarking, “Durga polluted your womb…”
Appa the revolutionary he is, brought home a 2yr old Daivat from an orphanage. Our three to tango expands and now we are four not to be forgotten. The stigma of being polluted digs a pit in my heart and I tend to Daivat like a dewdrop on the autumn blossom. We not only have an age difference of 10yrs but a huge temperamental one too.
Aai says, “You two fight like cats and dogs.”
To this I add ‘like street cats and dogs’.
Get the severity and intensity of it!!! We are in no way tamed or for that matter even near to civilised. Wild to each other whereas ferociously wild in the jungles of the orthodox rural society. We are as different as the ink and the pen. But still one flows through the other. He is my addiction. Appa proudly calls us his epics of Ramayan and Mahabharat. Different stories produced by different writers still giving the same emotions of love, respect and ethics. Ohh so very bookish!! Yes we are the family of books.
Shanta maushi , my mother’s elder sibling mocks at her. “You have married a hardcover whereas produced two paperbacks.” Unaware her, own daughter is a kindle version.
Modernised in outlook but rudimentary in our living, we love our Swadesh.
“Aai, quickly pack my thalipeeth. I will have it in the jerky ride to the town.” I hurrying poke Daivat the lazy cat who could all day sleep on the verandah mat.
He gives me a purr and slides into his godhadi. The slow village life is making a slug out of him. The pendulum clock of my great grandfather is very punctual like the man himself. It’s ticking at a voluminous speed. Equally fast paced life awaits for me at the university library. Students in tees and pants, girls and boys flock at the library to quench their thirst for knowledge while some secretly for love. Love of their infatuations. The day goes in a flurry as I flip pages to stamp books, maintain records, occasionally chitchatting with the teachers on the new authors and books to be ordered. The lazy afternoon slows down the walking feet entering the library and gives me a golden opportunity to browse through the hidden ruby, sapphires, emeralds, called books. The library has just updated its gems collection by adding a few medical encyclopedias. This long due aspiration of the college management is fulfilled due to grants from Infosys Foundation Trust. Instead of picking up the Gray’s Anatomy or Harrison’s medicine, I lift Wise Otherwise an old but uplifting read by Infosys Chairperson Mrs. Sudha Murthy. It is because of this philanthropic soul that the library has got a medical plastic surgery, in short a cosmetic make over.
4:45pm and my peon Damodar Kaka peeps,” Chala madam….The birds are returning to their nest. The sun is setting on the horizon. Let’s flock home.” They righty say that the sandalwood brushes off its scent to the hand that holds it.
“ Daivat is running a temperature.” Aai walks out of our kholi with wet wipes in her hand.
I rush to see my cat purring in pain.
Few days back, “Tai don’t run too fast my legs are aching.” cries a tired Daivat.
But I dismiss his plea, blaming his lazy bones.
Today too in his fever delirium he mutters, “Tai, my legs are aching.”
“Nothing to worry, Dr. Shirsat from Indapur paid a visit. He said it’s just a virus.” Appa tries to smoothen my frontal creases.
In the next two days, the cat is out with his bat in the barren courtyard. Actually, in the courtyard which comes to life with his sixes and fours. Weekend again sees a drowsy Daivat running a temperature of 101. As a ritual Dr. Shirsat is called who administers an injectable antibiotic to Daivat.
“Viruses these days mutate a lot. Don’t worry Mr. Apte your son will be alright.” Dr. Shirsat leaves with a full wallet and empty diagnosis.
I can’t let any virus play with my lone bacteria. “Enough is enough tomorrow I’m taking him to the B. J. Medical College Hospital for a thorough examination.” I furiously pace in our heated courtyard.
“But Durga…..” Aai tries to intervene at the mention of hospital.
“Aai...” A stern look at her is enough. “A no means, NO. The waters have already risen and productively the temperatures too.”
Appa is generally the silent spectator where decision making is considered. Over the years, it now rests and relaxes on my shoulder.
The air at BJMC smells of strong acidic phenyl as if the world’s viruses were forming colonies just here. Doctors and nurses are running as if the ventilators beeped on their energetic feet.
No jokes Durga! I warned myself.
My own bacteria sat shrivelled to me in fear of needles. Back home, I’m going to carry few of these syringes to scare off my Tom……. hehehahaha.
“Daivat Apteeee…..” the OPD assistant summons us.
A gravely looking doctor from under his spectacles, “Will write few more test. Get them done today itself. Maushi take the lad to the pathology department.” rules.
As instructed, the aayabai drags Daivat by his bony hand to the pathology.
Is anyone going to ask us??? I’m able to only speak under my breath.
“Reports will be sent directly to the OPD doctor tomorrow morning. Pay at the billing counter for the test before you leave.” An equally stoic phlebotomist instructs.
Now they are testing my patience! I fume mentally. Not giving us an iota of detail regarding Daivat’s fever. Aai was right these city doctors don’t recognise the human heart as an organ of emotion. Rather judge it as a mere pumping chamber. But I’m determined to come tomorrow.
The moron doctor seems to be in no mood to give his verdict on the viral case. His stoic medical expressions too don’t provide any cue to the workings of the virus. We are subjected to another set of horrifying blood test and scan. The obedient Apte boy lets the vampires suck his blood, some more every day. Appa’s pension and my feeble salary see a hole. But we are working towards filling a crater is what I realise the next day.
“Aplastic Leukaemia of Childhood” mutters the doctor on day eight of blood donations and body photo shoots.
Today I have an entire protest regurgitating in my system, only to be thrown up if one more test is written.
“The smear shows abnormal leukocytes increasing at an alarming rate. The bone marrow studies…..”
Oh for heaven’s sake stop your gibberish…..I feel like shouting on the face of that medical moron.
But all that escapes my pursed lips is, “Doctor has the virus gone?”
“Madam there was no virus…. your brother suffers from BLOOD CANCER. Any family history of the same?”
Is he talking to me? I turn around in my chair to see no one in the OPD. Whose family history do I give? Of someone who was not born in the family?
The word cancer reverberates in my ears. Suddenly the moron in front of me seems to be spinning. The earth beneath starts its rotation while the word cancer has begun its revolutions.
“Doctor, please help. What can we do now?” I manage to speak few logical words.
“I’m writing a letter to one of the most renowned oncologist of the town Dr. Phadke. See him at the earliest.”
What transcends in between is a human turmoil of fruitless, ‘Why us’ type of questions. Ignorance is a bliss is replaced by acceptance is a bliss. From inconsolable parents to a traumatised brother, the situation is worse to worst. I ransack my library for answers of why, how, what of cancer. APLASTIC LEUKAEMIA is all what my Google search shows.
Durga you don’t need knowledge but money now. You are not the goddess but a poor very poor and feeble sister of an equally frail brother. You are in a race but jogging at a point. The scorpion is eating up your sibling. Move ….move faster….keep moving till the cancer cells move no more…
In fraction of a second, I rush to the estimated amount of bone marrow transplant given by Dr. Phadke. It’s the only probable way to save Daivat after the chemotherapy seems to fail. The zeroes on the doctor’s estimate are way beyond the zeroes in my savings account. Nothing matches the enormous figure. Benefiting from loans obtained after mortgaging our ancestral home, too is not possible as a part of it already lies with the village landlord. Landlord…Yes the landlord. Early morning with hope in my heart and smile on my face I rush to Chiman Joshi, the village landlord. Notorious for being a lascivious fellow, his greed doesn’t spare me.
“A lively night is all you have to give so that your brother lives many brighter days.” I can’t even spit on such a filthy face. Days move at snail’s pace. No ray of humility approaches from anywhere. The cobwebs of gloom keep weaving intricately.
One day, Daivat starts vomiting blood. I decide enough is enough and thrust Aai’s and my ornaments to sell at the local jewellers. As I await my turn, I watch people buying fancy gold for diwali. How I wish they could lend me this and I would serve them faithfully all my life!
Suddenly a diamond bracelet slips down on the floor from the eager hands of to- be bride. Long time no one notices. Daivat spluttering blood, has turned me blind. The veil of desperation makes me pick up the bracelet as no one watches. As I’m about to slid it in my pocket and escape the burglar alarm buzzs. In the eyes of the jeweller, I just can’t look. For that matter I can’t even look up for a decent apology. My lineage with the Aptes comes to my rescue and I’m pushed out after a warning.
Dejected and depressed, I walk to my library. New books have arrived and I’m asked to sign on the received letter. Something appeals to me in this letter. The golden black headings of the letter pad- The Infosys Foundation Trust and the undersigned- Mrs .Sudha Murthy are my emancipators. Voila…Here is my helping hand, a hand that works tirelessly for the poor, a hand that comforts the distressed, a hand that gives to the needy. I need to see her. I need to write to her. Pushing aside my accountant from the computer, I type a mail from the depths of my sisterly love. I know God will answer this email. She will not leave any Durga disappointed. She will pave the way towards a brighter tomorrow for Daivat. With these escalated thoughts, I rush home to brighten up the Apte home for diwali and Daivat.
But Murthy’s mind isn’t easy to be pleased. I receive a reply but with a hiccup.
“Dear Durga, it pains to read the plight of your younger brother and your struggle to keep him alive. But as you must be aware there are innumerable such spawns entangled in the jelly of cancer. Why do I help only you? Every luxury, for that matter every commodity comes with a cost. There is a price that you need to pay for every bloom of happiness. What are you ready to pay? You know my satisfaction lies in your kind and not cash .I await your kind gesture.”
Hmmm…. I release my inflated breath, kept on a hold for a relaxing sigh…. It’s a Herculean task to gratify a philanthropic soul. What can I do? The fight seems to get tougher each coming day. The crater is deepening while the cancer is metastasizing. Sometimes, the trade of flesh with the landlord seems to be the best subterfuge as a solution to the prevailing agony. I have lost my sense of right and wrong, good over evil. The cacophony of internal voices is killing me.
Books have been my shield, my refuge when the winds are strong. But now I cannot hide my defeated face in them. I keep flipping the pages of a huge medical book donated by Mrs. Murthy. There is cirrhosis, a gastric ulcer, a hernia, a leukaemia….hey wait!!….No I just can’t bear to see this.
Durga at least check the treatment…..look there is something called bone marrow donation….
My conscious is still conscious. It’s again showing me the way. I can donate my stem cells if the donor match happens……Hurray…books are my refuge.
Next few days I’m absorbed in the blood tests and scans. The clouds are clearing. We are basking in the premature rays of hope. I’m the stem cell donor for Daivat. We prove that womb is not the root for a true bond. Few more miraculous donations are promised by me. I’m now ready to answer Mrs. Murthy’s mail
. “Dear Mrs. Murthy, herein I’m attaching the documents of the kind donations I can do to benefit my brother. I’m awaiting the money more than the reply.” I’m ruthlessly honest.
Crasssshhhh…….the crowd just doesn’t bulge. Spectators can keep watching anything for any long. I need to go home and announce my victory. I need to go and tell Daivat that he will live. I need to leave….. But I have already left, left the Apte family, at the mercy of an email, left to the right of the speeding truck on the highway. I have left my humble body for cadaver donation and my honest earnings to the Infosys Cancer Relief Funds. I have left the documents attached to the email.
A year later, I have not left their hearts. As I enter our kholi and see my heart snoring, I know the heart of a noble woman has helped the Aptes. The bone marrow transplant is successful. The email is acknowledged and showing its effects. Appa’s quarter to full journey is happily terminated with the last peg. Aai walks in the kholi to blanket Daivat and curl on to his side, his Tai’s side. But that radio just doesn’t stop its blaring. But must say Mukesh is a killer…maine tere liye hi sath rang ke sapne chune…. Hopefully, the audience is happy that at least one Anand won the fight over the deadly disease?
* Prompt: Librarian; needs money; village.
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