“When the going gets tough, the tough get going”, Shibani had heard this saying many times. She had never given it a second thought, till the circumstances conspired against her.
She pushed back her chair and got up reluctantly. No time to sit and stare. She had chores to do. Peeping into her bedroom, she saw Satish was still asleep. Sighing, she quietly went to the kitchen to make his tea. Arranging some biscuits on a plate in a tray, she poured out the tea in a cup after adding milk and sugar to it. Carrying the tray to their room, she kept it gently on their bedside table. Satish was snoring lightly. She stood there for a minute, looking down at him. Seeing him asleep, it was hard to tell that he was not well; that he was slowly receding into himself and locking out the outside world.
They had been married for thirty-five years. Theirs had been a happy union, with the inevitable setbacks which they had ridden successfully. Life had been a bed of roses, with the usual thorns thrown in. But then, life is never perfect, is it? She had a lot to be thankful for, and she knew it. No complaints there. They had two loving children, who had done them proud. Happiness was —seeing them so well -settled, yes, for them as with countless other parents of their generation, well-settled meant, educated and married. She was not at all apologetic of the fact that she had wanted her children to marry at right ages. Not for her, or for that matter even for Satish, today’s mumbo-jumbo of —why marry? Marriage is an outdated institution…! No way, for them marriage was as valid a concept today as it was for their parents and generations before them. She was truly thankful to God that Satish had been well then and had enjoyed both Aditya’s and Antara’s weddings. God had at least given them some beautiful memories to live by.
The cherries on the cake were of course, their grandchildren. Oh! The pleasure of seeing them grow in front of you is incomparable to anything. Someone has really wisely said, “Grandchildren are loving reminders of what we’re really here for.” Both of them loved indulging their grandchildren and she was happy that Satish had had the pleasure of enjoying their childhood before the illness struck.
Satish was a Chartered Accountant, employed in Deloitte. He retired as a partner from their Risk Advisory practice. She had done MSc in Micro Biology and had been gainfully employed as a research assistant for a market research firm. She worked part-time, so that she could be around the children in their growing up years. It was by choice. Though she didn’t earn much, she was happy; she could do justice to both her roles, that of satisfying her self-esteem, living an independent life and being a hands-on mother. Doing a job kept her intellectually alive; she had always been a bright student and had looked forward to a career. Satish also had supported her decision to work and she had finally taken a call herself to work part-time as she wanted the best of both the worlds. All in all, it had been a win- win situation for her. She now enjoyed a relaxed life, pottering around her home, looking after Satish and enjoying her time with her grandchildren.
She knew, she had struck gold in Satish; she had heard enough stories of her friends and colleagues, who had no support of their husbands or families and had to leave their well-paying jobs to sit at home, against their wishes. Satish had been a refreshing change. He too believed in that to make others happy, you need to be happy first. So, he had supported her in her choices and together they had steered a happy ship.
Years flew by. Satish did well in his career and children grew up without seeing much turbulence. She, being good in her work, her firm agreed to all her conditions and peace prevailed in Kumars’ abode.
Their son, Aditya chose to be a doctor and daughter, Antara studied law. Both were working professionals. Aditya was married and had a son and a daughter, Atharv and Amruta, 8 and 6 years, respectively. He lived nearby and often dropped in with his family. His wife, Naina was a dentist and had a clinic in their garage. So she was always available for their young children. She too believed in being a hands-on mother and all in all, life cruised by happily. Some days, when the parents were busy, Satish and her had the pleasure of Atharv and Amruta’s company, after their school got over. That day would be a bustle of activity in the Kumar senior’s household. Satish used to look forward to pick them up from school and treat them to ice-creams and stuff forbidden by the parents.
Antara had married a lawyer, Pranav Mehta; whom she had met in college. They too were in the same city, though not that close by. Weekend visits and day full of fun was a given with both the children with their families coming home for ‘mom-cooked’ meals.
Life, in short had been sailing along happily with all age-specific milestones enjoyed by both of them. Even their respective retirements were celebrated with lot of cheer and they had looked forward to spending time travelling, enjoying their grandchildren and having their own space back.
Some years back….
But then, as they say, man proposes and …….; just when things couldn’t have been better, lightning struck! It had all started incongruously enough. He had started misplacing things, like his keys, his wallet and sometimes even his phone. They laughed it off. She got exasperated most of the time, as not a single day passed when they both were not looking for one of his things. Not giving it a second thought, she berated him many times for being absent minded. Then he started forgetting names -of distant relatives, neighbours, but even then, the warning bell did not ring in either of their minds. How could it? He had been a man of numbers, a Chartered Accountant, immersed in the world of numbers and left the sundries to Shibani.
Initially, she always brushed his forgetfulness aside, maybe a preoccupied mind; still to get over his retirement, maybe. She knew, men have it tougher-retirement blues, as they call it-than women. But things were definitely not normal, it dawned on her the day when Satish came home from his morning walk, looking ill at ease and upset. On enquiring why he had taken so long to return, he gave her a puzzled look.
“I just couldn’t remember where we stay. Our address. My mind went blank.”
“Oh, come on…as usual, you must be lost in some thought. How many times I have told you that you are no longer the CFO, there’s no one waiting for your instructions and no more are any juniors waiting for you to spout some gyan!”
Oh no, Shibu…I was not thinking that at all, I know that I am a retired person now and have accepted it with race, let me tell you……but…..this was something else. I suddenly blanked out…all I remember was walking towards home one minute, and next minute absolutely lost as to where to go,” he said, looking distressed.
She still took it lightly. “Come, come, don’t overthink…you mustn’t have slept well, these things happen…, it must be a one off. Don’t worry. Come on, let’s have our tea,” so saying, she had passed his cup to him and sat back to have hers.
But things went from bad to worse. Satish had always enjoyed teaching; his favourite weekend activity was taking their childrens’ maths when they were young. Now, with time hanging large on his hands, he had voluntarily joined a nearby coaching class for aspiring Chartered Accountants and went twice a week to teach Accounts. Two days after the morning walk incident, he had as usual, gone to take his class. An hour later, the front bell door rang. Surprised, as she was not expecting anyone, it was too early for her maid to come, she had gone to open the door and was startled to see Satish in the doorway. He looked absolutely spooked.
“Hey, how come you are back so early? Wasn’t your class till twelve?” she asked lightly, taking in his scared demeanour.
“Shibani, I don’t know what’s happening. I went there as usual, met some colleagues, had a cup of tea and left for my class when the time came. But….I couldn’t find the room! I wandered all over the corridors, looking for my class. My students found me after a while on the second floor, walking cluelessly ….!My class, Shibani is on the ground floor! Why did I climb two floors? When did I climb up? I have no recollection of it …Oh God! Shibani, what’s happening? The principal was kind enough to make me rest for some time, make me drink some water and re-schedule my class for tomorrow. But, Shibani……,I am scared…this has never happened before….” he broke off helplessly.
Both looked at each other terrified. They were intelligent enough to understand that this was not normal. Then she began joining the dots. His ringing the front door bell, after his walk, in spite of carrying his set of keys. His losing interest in watching the current (read: political) news from his favourite channel on TV; something which he had never missed for anything in the world, even if the house was full of children and laughter. His reluctance to water the plants, a job he loved doing. His fumbling for lyrics of a song —was a good singer and he loved singing old Bollywood songs— now he struggled to remember the words….that incident two days back, forgetting his way home …She felt her first shard of apprehension that day.
Things soon turned dark enough. One day she entered their room, only to find Satish sitting on the bed, looking lost. His eyes were vacant, his face expressionless, he looked…lost! An involuntarily shiver ran down her spine.
“Satish? Satish? What’s happened? What are you thinking? Why are you not watering the plants? We are going out, remember? To buy Diwali gifts and lights? So why are you whiling away the time?”
“Huh? ..umm..what?” he looked at her vaguely, as if trying to figure out where had he seen her before. His eyes, blank, misted; as if some clouds were passing over in his mind. Her heart skipped a beat.
“Oh, yes,” he said, after a pause, still looking lost. “Yes, let me …get to it,” he said, wearily getting up from the bed and shuffling slowly towards the door. It was as if he was willing himself to move, but lost about what to do, where to go.
A sliver of fear raced through her being. This was definitely not normal. Something was amiss. It could not be ignored any longer. His listlessness, his lethargy hit her even more, knowing how enthusiastic he always had been about any work they had planned for the day.
He had to see a doctor. This forgetfulness could no longer be ignored.
Aditya and Antara were told. Aditya recommended a good neurologist. Tests followed…CT scans, MRIs …. nothing made sense….! He was made to solve some tests. Simple math, logic …Diagnosis arrived at – early onset of Alzheimer’s. Their world came crashing down around them. Doctors were reassuring but grave. It had struck very early, he was considered very young to have been afflicted so early; but there was no reason to pinpoint to. It could happen to anyone; one theory being that extremely intelligent and workaholics were more prone to it than the so called ‘happy-go-lucky’ ones! Who could have thought Satish’s intelligence and his hard-working nature would lead to this? But then, that was all conjecture. Even the doctors don’t know why it happens.
“Mr and Mrs, Kumar, I am so so sorry to have to tell you this, but it seems quite certain that Satish has Alzheimer’s.It’s pure bad luck. I am so sorry. As you know, there is no cure, we can only manage it,” said the Dr. “Correct medication and lifestyle changes will keep it under control, maybe slow down the progress…but don’t worry..we will be all together fighting it as much as we can.”
It was as if time had stood still. It was difficult to grasp that their entire life was going to change. Their plans for their future now nothing but sawdust. Their dream of seeing the world now only a dream! He would never see his grandchildren grow. He would never engage their minds, solve their queries, show them the world …
Life style changes occurred. Their children grew up overnight. They became the primary caretakers. They fussed around Satish and her all day. One call from Antara every morning and one from Aditya became a norm. Aditya took to dropping in at all odd times, just to check up on them. The situation brought the family even closer; though how she wished it had been in these circumstances!
His wallet now had a folded note, with his and their names, with their contact numbers written in bold. He was to avoid going out alone. He was made to take supplements. The doctors advised him to solve puzzles, do some mental activity to keep his mind sharp; to keep his brain in working condition. The pace of their life slowed.
They tried to lead a life as ‘normal’ a possible. Fun, games and laughter continued when the family got together. But Satish was slowly changing; receding from them all. It broke her heart to see his vague looks and vacant smile……
Thank God, Satish had seen their children settled in their careers and life before this affliction had set in. Yes, he was now distant from his grandchildren, who were growing up fast; but then, they remembered their loving ‘Aba’ from their childhood days and were protective of him now. Antara was expecting too and a sense of sadness enveloped the glad tidings. Satish would never even realise he has another grandchild.
“Satish, wake up! Time for tea,” she shook him awake. Satish opened his eyes slowly and gave her an unknowing look. She waited. The disoriented look faded from his eyes and he smiled, a happy smile of a child on seeing his mother. Yes, that is what she had become—his mother! Sometimes, if she was lucky, he remembered her —Shibu, his wife. But, increasingly, now it was the smile of the innocent-vague, a smile which said, ‘I -know-you-but-can’t-place-you’.
She had got used to it by now. At first, she had cried to herself in the bathroom, away from him. She had cried for the present, she had cried for what could -have-been, she had cried for the opportunities lost, she had cried for the glorious future lost. Just when, the time had come to live for themselves after settling all the responsibilities, to be with friends or to just enjoy each other’s company; their life had taken a blind turn and they had found themselves grappling with the unforeseen.
Satish sat up slowly and extended his hand for tea. Picking a biscuit, he dipped it into his tea and took a bite. He loved having his biscuits like that. She wondered about that. He had not forgotten this— such a trivial thing according to her— but he had forgotten his childrens’ names, his favourite game-chess and his friends. Such was the effect of this diesease! Mercifully, she was still hovering somewhere on the horizon of his memory.
“Shibu?” she heard Satish calling out her name, softly. Jolted out of her reverie, she saw Satish had opened the door of their room and was beckoning her to the veranda. He was smiling and his face was awash with love. She turned and walked up to him. “Come, Shibu, let’s sit outside.” He took her hand and led her out. He waited till she was comfortable in her chair before flopping down in his. They sat in compatible silence. She looked at him askance, he was just like the olden days, alert, happy and fully in his senses. Just as the doctor had predicted, he was perfectly fine a moment and lost in his world, the next. She just had to make most of the time, when he was mentally and physically with her. Sometimes she was Shibu, sometimes not. But then, when did they ever say life was fair? She had learnt soon enough to count her blessings; their happy years together, their wonderful loving children, their financially settled life and their memories.
She knew it was going to be a lonely and rugged road ahead. But then, when was anything ever given on a platter? To anyone? There’s always a spoke in the wheel. It was now up to her to make the lemonade out of lemons given to her by life.
Her plethora of hats -of a wife, a mother, a nurturer, a breadwinner, a friend, a grandmother, -that she had always worn, now had been added with another one-that of a caretaker! No issues! her head and shoulders were strong enough to carry this burden too, as lovingly as she had carried the others in the past.
Like an eagle, who soars far above the clouds and but his eagle eye sees even the smallest of insects and swoops down for it, she too had to soar above the everyday humdrum life and not lose focus. The focus being Satish and his welfare; the focus being gathering some stolen moments from his fast-receding memory.
After all…in the autumn of our lives, we have to be ready for any exigencies…and she was as ready as anyone else to take on this new challenge. Yes, the road ahead led to winter, but winters too are beautiful if seen through a soft lens. Hers would be too. Her soft lens was sitting placidly next to her, oblivious of the pitfalls ahead; but she knew he was her strength and she his, and come what may, they would pull through these dark frosty days and weather the upcoming storm together!
Que sera sera……whatever will be, will be!
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