I was sitting in the spacious patio in my majestic cottage at Conoor- a relatively calm and less populated hill station in Tamil Nadu, a two hours’ drive from Coimbatore district situated about 1850 metres above sea level.
I was relishing and calmly sipping on my favourite hot fruit infusion tea when the skies suddenly turned dark and overcast. The heavens thundered in deep agony and the skies splintered fragments of blistering lightening.
A bright and breezy, yet sunny day suddenly turned sunless, dreary and threatening. My heartbeat suddenly notched up in anxiety as it regressed back to that fateful day seventeen years ago.
My thoughts flashed back to that gloomy monsoon day in Mumbai when the skies were darkened and overshadowed with leaden clouds.
The rain was unstoppable. It was the 26th day of July in the year 2005.
Mumbai, the financial capital of India is a small yet fast paced city in the state of Maharashtra. Even to this day, it is known for its local trains, fast food like Wada pav or pav bhaji, heavy rainfall, floods, potholes, traffic jams, road blocks, crowd, hustle-bustle, fast paced life, never ending energy of people, underworld gangsters, Bollywood and night life. It is a city that never sleeps.
Monsoons in Mumbai was not everyone’s cup of tea. Until the present, the floods occur not owing to the poor drainage system prevalent there, but due to severe chocking of the drainage lines by plastics and garbage like diapers poorly disposed by the homo-sapiens species.
Nature had brought in not just the rains but also the fury of man’s destruction and atrocities committed upon her.
The rains were pouring incessantly and there was no chance of it abating. It was the same since the last thirty plus hours but today the rain God was just unleashing his wrath upon mankind.
Rishabh and I were a couple since two years. We had known each other much before that but we were married for two years now. We had intense love for each other and still looked like a newly married couple. On the other hand, we both had our own busy lives in our individual corporate settings that kept us occupied for way too long.
Rishabh and I first met when we were in college. Rishabh Sharma was a handsome boy, extremely popular and was the lead in the rock band of our college.
His almond brown eyes and soft ruffled hair drove every girl nuts. He had an athletic physique and he could easily dare to show off his six packs in bare skin.
He was a fairly good student despite his heavy indulgence in extracurricular activities. Though he wasn’t a topper, he was undoubtedly the most popular hunk in college to look out for.
I, Nisha Verma, was the college topper and a studious nerd. Totally focused on studies and projects, love affairs, coffee dates and random men just could not distract me.
Though totally focused on studies and projects, I was also a complete health freak. My mother was a naturopath and I was completely guided by her towards understanding ideal life style and good health.
I was also an ardent practitioner of yoga and meditation that calmed my senses and made me feel relaxed and happy.
I was, according to my group of limited friends, one of the most beautiful girls in college; and I unlike others who would normally reject such statements coming from friends, believed that completely.
Self-love was my biggest treasure and nothing could beat that. I always felt that beauty was something that sparked from within and did not confine to mere looks, make-up and hotness.
According to me, beauty was a complete package that came with a healthy body, calm mind and a satisfied soul. At a very early age, I was blessed with these attributes and that undoubtedly made me the most beautiful girl not just in college but the entire world.
You see, my obsession with self-love was profound! The surprising part is, it still is…
It wasn’t easy for any man to woo me so easily. Though Rishabh was attractive, I knew I was too. Besides, I wasn’t really interested in dating men; for I already had too many books to date.
Though we both knew and acknowledged each other’s presence in college, the conversations were always formal and to the point. They never swayed towards love, romance or dates.
Rishabh was smart enough to sense the practicality in me and never dared to encroach upon my personal areas. In fact, I always felt comfortable and just like myself in his presence.
That is probably what attracted me towards him. He was gentle, caring, knew his limits and never threw me off guard. There wasn’t any proposal, romance, dialogues, dates or outings. Love just happened on its own accord.
Time seemed to stand still whenever Rishabh was around and later he confessed that he felt the same in my presence. The attraction was too strong and just couldn’t be avoided.
Love happened eventually. We remained in touch even after college and the world in due course knew we were in love even before we knew it ourselves.
Marriage was a smooth and grandeur affair. Both families – the Vermas and Sharmas were more excited that either of us and had more fun at the wedding than us; the bride and the groom. Food, beverage, cocktail, mocktail, decor, flowers, lightings, photography, backdrops, colour theme – everything was lavishly and extravagantly arranged to perfection.
Life after marriage was followed by a family gathering reception at the house lawn in Gurgaon. Our honeymoon to an exotic beach resort at Maldives ensued the event. Life seemed to be sailing smoothly life a fairy tale.
On our return back from our honeymoon, we were thrown out of the dream phase to the world of reality.
We both had purchased our dream house together in Mumbai as our work place was based out of here and had moved in. Shifting, arranging the house and decorating them to suit our taste consumed a while and then things seemed like a routine.
Work, home, cooking, dining together, spending some cosy moments together and then hitting the bed to start again became a cycle until the weekends when we both took turns to drive long distances to nearby locations and spend some romantic time with each other.
Everything seemed contented and perfect until about the first two years after marriage.
It was then that I observed Rishabh used to return home tired every evening. He had problems catching up with his breathing and was exhausted at the end of each day.
Initially, I assumed it must be the workload that’s troubling him. But then I realised, it was more than just that. I suggested we consult a good doctor but Rishabh was adamant.
Rishabh and I had celebrated our second anniversary in February at Greece and had a remarkable time together.
Then came summer of 2005. That summer was exceptionally sultry and hot. We were saved because of the constant air conditioned office spaces and cars we were travelling in. Else, we would surely have been exhausted.
I observed that Rishabh’s health was getting weaker than ever before. He had even stopped his regular workout and jogs. I could see his handsome face distorting.
I insisted, “Rishabh, it isn’t every day that I push you into doing things. Today, however, is different. We must visit Amit and Manali. It’s been a long time since we have paid them a visit. Let’s just drop by to say hello at least.”
Rishabh responded, “I know you won’t just go there to say hello. You are insisting so that you can finally talk about my wellbeing.”
“So, don’t you want to be healthy for me? For us? We only have each other, don’t we?” I asked.
Rishabh nodded in silence as he spooned a mouthful of his favourite jeera rice that I had made for dinner with paneer kofta.
Dr. Amit Bajaj was my school mate and our college mate after which he had further pursued a course in medicine. He was a very close family friend who was also great friends with Rishabh.
His wife Dr. Manali was a real sweetheart. She was also a medical practitioner and together they operated their popular clinic. When I called up the Bajaj’s residence, Manali answered the call.
“Hello, Dr. Bajaj’s residence,” said her musical voice.
“Hello Manali, this is Nisha here. How are you doing?” I asked.
“Oh! My God, Nisha. After such a long time. I’m doing well. How about you? Where are you these days?” she asked.
“Just busy with the routine. You know how life in Bombay is! I was wondering if we could come over to get an appointment for consultation,” I requested.
“Come on, Nisha. You are family. You shouldn’t be asking questions like this. Why don’t you join us over lunch this weekend?” Manali suggested.
“Oh! Really. I mean, won’t it be too much trouble? Besides, you might have other plans,” I hesitated.
But Manali was insistent and so, the lunch date at the Bajaj residence was fixed for that Sunday afternoon of the 29th May, 2005.
We arrived at the Bajaj residence sharp at twelve noon. They lived in a dainty little apartment in Powai, rather close to where we lived.
Despite the fact that we lived practically at a five minutes walking distance from each other’s place, we hardly ever met. That’s the irony of being in Bombay, I realised.
Manali opened the door with a big smile and radiance. She seemed genuinely delighted to host us.
Dr. Amit Bajaj was also present and warmly welcomed us, just like old times.
Lunch was served and we casually chatted about old times, our work, life, travels, marriage and family in general.
The topic of health and wellbeing surfaced eventually.
“Workloads and deadlines are the main cause of stress these days. That leads to mental health issues and overall health fails,” Amit said.
“But we all need a job to survive. How else do we escape this situation? How can we take better care of our health?” I questioned.
Manali suggested, “It’s important to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Taking breaks often and not taking any workload personally is important. Nothing is more important than the self. A balanced healthy diet with good rest is equally important.”
I hesitated but gradually opened up. I looked towards Rishabh and realised that he was gradually opening up to the fact that stress was menacing. I gathered my strength to finally address the issue long hidden on my mind.
I slowly approach the topic with a “Amit and Manali, I have been wanting to discuss something about Rishabh. That’s probably the main reason we are here today…” and I broke down.
I was generally a woman with strong grit and not the one to break down easily. But this time, I just couldn’t control myself.
Manali got off her seat and rushed over to give me a warm hug. I felt secure.
Then I explained in detail about Rishabh’s degenerating health condition over the last few months.
Both Amit and Manali assured us of their support to help Rishabh recover. I felt a sense of comfort and relaxed a bit.
A series of tests were suggested and over the next one month, we were busy with work on weekdays and on weekends, we got engaged in getting the recommended tests done.
The tests revealed nothing much and both Amit and Manali were perplexed at what had gone wrong and where.
They suggested some dietary changes and multivitamins along with some basic yoga and workouts. It wasn’t getting any better but these things at least helped Rishabh maintain his basic stamina and get along with his routine.
The monsoons then started. This year of 2005, the monsoons were predicted to be more intense than normal.
Rishabh ‘s symptoms relapsed fiercely and it was getting severe. Rishabh had to take a break from work owing to the heavy monsoons and declining health.
I too had a number of leaves gathered over time and decides to stay back home with Rishabh. Both of us were attending to only very important calls from work but otherwise only being with each other. Amit and Manali had been calling us from time to time to check on Rishabh’s health.
On the 25th July, 2005, it was raining heavier than usual and the weather was chilled and gloomy. The moisture laden air was doing no good to Rishabh’s breathing issues.
I was sitting by Rishabh’s bed all day long and making some warm drinks for him to sip throughout the day. He was feeling too weak to even get off the bed and take a walk. My heart was chocked in a remorseful lump and my eyes were brimming with tears of apprehension from time to time.
I did not want Rishabh to see me going weak and hence used to take breaks under some random pretext to either go to the kitchen or the bathroom and sniffle out the tears of painful agony from my heart.
That night on the 25th July, neither of us could sleep. The shattering sound of water drops on window panes was too loud with the sudden bursts of thunder and lightning.
I suddenly woke up with beads of perspiration up on my forehead. Something was just not right. My heart was pounding and thudding so hard that I felt I would collapse myself.
I then realised that I had dozed off unknowingly. The power had been shut down due to the roaring rains and even the invertor was conked off owing to the weather outside or perhaps, some other unknown reason.
I immediately realised that Rishabh was in a deep sleep too. I first thought I shouldn’t disturb him but when I just touched him hand, i realised that they had turned cold.
It seemed like there was no life left in him. I couldn’t sense his breath. Even his face had turned pale.
I tried to wake him up but there was no response. With no one else to support, I felt scared and weary.
The only people I could think off at this time were Amit and Manali.
It was six in the morning but I just couldn’t afford to delay any further. I grabbed the land line and dialled their number. I anxiously awaited someone to respond to this desperate call I had made.
Amit answered the phone crisply in exactly the eighth ring. Yes, I was so desperate that I was literally counting the phone rings.
I simply couldn’t control my reaction and burst out.
I pleaded, “Please help me. Rishabh has turned pale and cold. He’s not reacting. I want him back…”
Amit assured that an ambulance service will be arranged to get Rishabh to the nearest hospital. In the meantime, he instructed me to check his pulse rate and keep his body elevated with the support of pillows on the bed.
I followed his instructions and realised that Rishabh’s pulse rate was alarmingly low. I tried to maintain my calm and placed the pillows beneath his shoulders to elp elevate him on the bed. Then, I waited nervously for the ambulance to arrive watching every second tick by.
Exactly in 13 minutes , despite the stormy weather, I could hear the sound of siren and the ambulance pull itself to a stop in front of the entrance way.
I opened the door and waited for the medical team to come up. The lift was also not in operation due to the dreadful weather outside.
The team came up the stair and fortunately our house was on the third floor and not the thirtieth.
The team promptly arrived and without wasting much time, carried Rishabh’s feeble body carefully down the stairs.
I quickly gathered the house keys and left with them to the hospital in the same ambulance.
After what seemed like hours to me, we reached the hospital. When I checked the time, i realised that the drive to the hospital had only taken about fifteen minutes.
However, every second had seemed like an hour and I felt mentally drained out.
The doctors rushed him to the Intensive Care Unit and started a series of tests and put him on intravenous support.
With a few injections and medical help, Rishabh ‘s condition had stabilised by evening.
Amit and Manali had rushed to the hospital to be with us and they both were working hand in hand with the team of doctors to help revive Rishabh.
I was being assured by Manali from time to time on his health status and that have me a huge sense of relief. It felt as if he was in safe hands now and that things will soon be normal again.
So, when the doctor’s finally got back to me, they were only unrelenting on one very specific, but unusual demand.
My husband had been very ill and the doctors were insistent that we must give up living in the town. It was essential for Rishabh to breathe the purer air of the country, if he were to get strong again.
And so, I began feverishly house-hunting. Of course, I had seen innumerable houses, but there was always something foreboding about all of them.
From the villages to small towns, the only job I had in the next three months was to hunt for a chirpy, welcoming and warm house to live in.
On the doctor’s suggestion and Amit’s persistence, we booked their temporary holiday home in Dehradun for a month. Amit and Manali had built a cosy cottage there and used to visit it once a year at least. They insisted that we take a break from everything to go there while looking for another option to relocate.
We applied for sabbatical from work and decided to move in. Both Amit and Manali had persuaded us to stay there for as long as we liked but it was not fair to take advantage of someone’s generosity.
So, though we agreed to shift in temporarily, I was determined to look for a place we could call home. Our own sweet home.
The relocation was rather though. Moving from Mumbai all the way to Dehradun with all the necessary items wasn’t an easy task. It was a rather daunting task as I had sent Rishabh to temporarily take a break to go and live with his parents until I completed the house shifting.
He wasn’t willing to leave me alone but Manali assured him that she and Amit will care for me while Rishabh was away because the Bombay air was doing him no good.
Rishabh reluctantly agreed and moved to Gurgaon immediately. Mummy ji and Pappa ji were upset that we had not informed them about Rishabh’s health. I told them that it wasn’t really something that needed their worries and that I had deliberately avoided this news so as not to scare them.
Pappa ji flew to Bombay as he didn’t want Rishabh to fly to Dehradun alone. The tickets were booked and after a couple of days of packing, they finally left with a small suitcase carrying basic essentials that Rishabh would need back home.
After they left, the confines of the place we called home looked empty, barren and without any purpose. I started gathering all the necessary items and did the packing of all necessary items, clothes, toiletries and the likes.
We could not take the furniture along as they were too big and the transport system was rather expensive.
Besides, we hadn’t yet moved into a permanent home. That was still a journey far, far away. The house hunting had already begun and I was already looking at possible alternatives across the country somewhere in a quiet location away from the obstreperous surroundings.
Every place I looked for from the North , East, West or South, there was something that kept me from saying yes. The locations left me with a sense of perturbation that words could never explain.
Every single place I checked always made me feel anxious and fearful about the outcome and concern about our future.
But I was not someone who would give up so easily. The relocation to Dehradun was temporarily complete and I could feel Rishabh’s energy and enthusiasm flowing back into him.
Gradually, his pale face saw a rush of blood and life that gradually indicated his walk back to normalcy. The house we lived in currently always kept reminding me of the huge favour Amit and Manali had bestowed upon us.
However, this house was a constant cue of the fact that another place to nest ourselves was pending. And, it had to be done at the earliest.
Every place I short listed always had some strange experience and reason to make me believe that this was not the place we were meant to be.
I had travelled across the country even to the remotest village all giving me similar results.
Not a single place I could call home. Not a single place that could offer me a sense of warmth and comfort. Not a single place that could offer me the desired shelter and make me feel welcomed.
A sense of foreboding lingered and hovered around me whenever I reached out to finalise any location. It was my gut feeling that prevented me from saying yes each time I checked out on a place.
The place that I had travelled to were far and wide. There wasn’t any stone unturned and yet, they never beckoned us to stay back.
Whenever I checked out a particular location, I always felt that Rishabh’s condition would relapse and I would have to suffer a nightmare again.
Something constantly blocked my mind from accepting that this could be the place I was looking for.
It was probably my sensitivity towards Rishabh, the concern I had for his wellbeing or the obsession I possessed over him.
The house hunting was taking longer than expected and we had to extend our stay at the Dehradun cottage for another month.
One month seemed to have passed in a jiffy because I was constantly wandering the length and breadth of the country trying to find the perfect place to cosily settle.
Rishabh’s parents and my parents took turns to come over and stay with us for a few days so that Rishabh could be cared for when I was not around.
It was during this time that they realised something was not right with me. A constant sense of fear and insecurity lurked in my mind and I couldn’t come to terms with it.
It was precisely this reason that I was finding every place to be ineffective or not ideal for us.
My mother, besides being a naturopath, had a high sense of intuition. She insisted that I visit a psychologist casually to check on my mental health.
I was out raged and immediately disregarded her advice. I rushed back into my room and realised that I was flooded with remorse and extreme sensitivity. I cried to my heart’s content and felt lighter.
I began to introspect and realised that I wasn’t like this always. I was turning into an emotional fool and life was taking control of me rather than the other way around.
I deliberately paused, reflected upon the past events and realised that I needed help not because I was weak but because my mind was wandering.
I needed to gather my thoughts, my self-confidence and confide into someone who wouldn’t judge me for what I had become.
I went back to mom and hugged her. And we spoke.
“Mumma, I am sorry. I should not have reacted. You were right. I need help and I couldn’t see it myself,” I confessed.
Mom responded lovingly, “Beta, don’t I know you enough. You are my brave warrior. I saw that you were losing yourself in self-remorse and an unknown battle within. I realised you need help and I wasn’t the one who could help you here. I wish I could have but one cannot be an all-rounder. Besides, as a mother, I will never be able to bring out the best in you. I might get emotionally drained with you in the process.”
“You are right Mumma. Let me call Manali and find out who I can talk to,” I said.
Mom hugged me tight and gave me a kiss on my forehead reminding me of old times, my childhood. A sense of love came gushing through.
I called up Manali immediately without any further delay. I had already lost enough time. Manali responded in the fifth ring.
“Hello! Dr. Bajaj’s residence,” she chirped her usual statement.
“Hi Manali, Nisha here. Thank you for everything,” I expressed with a deep sense of gratitude.
“Oh! Come on Nisha. I have already mentioned before that we are family. And you don’t really have to thank me every single time,” she said.
“But Manali, I shall be indebted to you for your precious help, support and love. I also need another favour. That’s the main reason for my call.”
“Yes Nisha, tell me how I can help you? What are you looking for?”
“Manali, I need the reference of a good psychiatrist who can help me overcome my inner fears,” I concluded.
Manali immediately sent me the reference and contact number of her best friend and psychiatrist who lived in Dehradun. I took an appointment and went to meet her the same evening.
(At the clinic)
Dr. Mita was a pleasing young lady with poise and grace.
As I entered her clinic, I was awed by the simple, yet aesthetic decor of the place.
She welcomed me with a warm smile and asked me to sit down.
As i introduced myself, she said, “Manali has spoken to me about you. You can be assured that you are at the right place.”
I explained my fears to her in detail. In my long conversations with her that ran for a couple of months with multiple visits every week, I realised that the problem was with me and not the houses that I was hunting for to relocate.
Dr. Mita swiftly helped me get out of the world of apprehensions and fears that I was living in.
My stay in Dehradun had extended until the summer of 2006 but i totally did not regret it. I felt that it was a purpose meant to be.
Rishabh was responding well too and both of us were on our road back to recovery. We realised that it was love that had brought us together, made us stumble upon hurdles and overcome those paths with faith and togetherness.
Life changed and so did my perspectives. Routes became much better and visions much clearer.
The house hunting started again. And before we did that, Rishabh suggested a holiday to Conoor- a dainty little hill station down south. Since I had never explored this part of India, I immediately chanced upon this idea and agreed.
We booked our tickets to Coimbatore and then took a pre-paid can to this place.
A week at Conoor and I felt like I should live here all my life. Rishabh fell for the beauty of this place too and soon we both were fervently house hunting for a nice, cost place we could call home.
Within a week, we found a perfect home with an extensive tea garden attached.
Conoor is popularly known for its rich flower gardens, army base camps, chocolate factories, natural oil extract factories and tea gardens.
It was Rishabh’s imminent dream to own a prospective tea garden estate and bungalow. It came true with the house we had both chosen together.
The walls of this vintage house were made of stone and it looked majestic. There was a vast patio where we could relax and sip on tea while over looking the tea gardens beneath azure skies. The owner was getting old and couldn’t manage the burden of handling the workers or the vast areas that surrounded the place.
He was an octogenarian living with his beloved septuagenarian wife who now wished to move to a smaller house around Conoor.
We so fell in love with the old couple that we even offered them to house them with us if they would agree.
Looking at them, Rishabh and I felt that we could grow older, wiser and in deeper love with each other in this beautiful house.
The old couple were delighted at the offer of letting them stay but gracefully refused stating that though they had agreed to sell the house to us, they would visit us often. As often as their hearts called; and we gladly agreed.
So, the deal was finalised. We paid the token amount of agreement to buy the house and soon moved back to Dehradun to wind up.
The relocation was one of the best decision of my life. Today, as I sat on my spacious patio sipping on my favourite fruit infusion tea, the thundering rains reminded me of that fateful day without which this story could not have taken shape.
As I was lost in a deep reverie, I felt the warmth of that familiar hand on my shoulders. Rishabh had finally baked his favourite cookies and joined me for tea.
We both looked at each other in silence and communicated in a zillion words of the quietude that lingered.
We didn’t need words to express our feelings and love for each other anymore. Both Rishabh and I had come a long way since those days of struggle.
While we sat sipping our tea in the background of the pitter patter raindrops, the phone rang.
This time, I didn’t have to rush indoors to pick-up the landline phone. It was my mobile phone ringing and the screen name flashed Manali.
It was reunion time yet again.
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