The Catalyst

The summer of 1994, the Gulmohar in its blooming glory with each red petal embedded in tinges of yellow and orange shades, betrothed to the gentle morning breeze was enough to delight a six-year-old.  I was free to frolic around the vast estate where my parents lived and worked for the Seth family. I loved to draw and color, to dwell in the kaleidoscope pouring out my immaculate imagination on the blank drawing paper. But baba said painting was for hussies and being the ‘boy’ of the family, I had the eternal responsibility to forward the family line and support it aptly.  Nothing intrigued me, till I laid my eyes on Seth’s newborn Brinda, for the first time. My protective streak towards the infant from then on rose with graded intensity. Life chugged on and the next decade saw me transform into a rebellious, inveigling teen hooked to the weed. Baba had run out of castigatory options while amma was afflicted with last-stage breast cancer.  In the imbroglio, Brinda Seth was the only soul in providing the much-needed buoyant spirit. We would play together in the enormous estate and the girl with a golden heart had long penetrated my tough veneer.  And then amma met her maker, rendering my brawny endurance bare...  I returned after cremating my mother and rushed to the secret groove, a sacred place created by Brinda and me. The large bamboo shoots meddling with the notoriously wild foliage made a good getaway for us wayward cohorts. Today, I needed it more than ever. I bawled hugging my lean legs close to my chest trying to drown in my miseries when I felt a light tap. “Vishnu, please don’t cry…” Brinda’s sweet voice permeated my doped-up senses. “…here take this.” As I sniffled, she handed me a ‘Frooti’ tetra pack. The halted tears crossed the boundaries of my lids yet again. Amma had loved the drink and I looked perplexed at the ten-year-old who seemed to be handling the loss with greater maturity. Brinda loved amma as well and amma always treated her like a princess offering her the tastiest morsel of anything she cooked up. Hugging her I cried my heart out, stoking concealed embers deep in my heart’s chambers. I promised myself to turn over a new leaf for Brinda’s sake and ditched the pot… completely.  The next decade was tectonic, beginning with Mrs. Seth perishing in an accident when Brinda was fifteen. Mr. Seth plunged into the business abyss. Baba was forced to retire after severe arthritis rendered him inefficacious for driving and I stepped in.  My job was perfunctory at best but I needed to fund my art and above all Brinda needed me. We were two peas in a pod and despair over losing loved ones had brought us closer than ever in the following years.  Eventually, Brinda began her medical studies, staying in the hostel during weekdays and visiting home on the weekends. I went through the motions of life during the week only to see my sunshine at the end of it.  Her soothing voice on phone calls every night was the narcotic balm to calm my mind’s frenzy. We had outgrown the old groove and now our rendezvous continued in her room. I climbed over to her window using the protuberant creepers and climbers I had intentionally helped grow along her sidewalls.  On a cold December 31st night, we sat huddled in her boudoir, the penetrating moonbeams washing us in their silver glow. I held her lithe body as she rested her head on my chest.  That midnight, we shared our first passionate kiss under the sky lit up in multifold sparkling-crackling hues as the world around us caroused the night away.  Brinda was my muse, my breath of fresh air, and also my impuissant fear.  On my following birthday, Brinda gifted me a blue umbrella. I chuckled at the absurdity of the gift when I had a few of them rotting away in the dark corners of my little servant quarters.  “Vishnu, you are my umbrella…” holding my stubbled rough visage in her soft palms, she said, “…you are my protection from the turmoil of life storms. I love you… but you know that, don’t you?” She had chirped, overwhelming my ecstatic soul.  On completion of her internship a couple of years later, I wanted to pop the all-important question. That evening of September 2016, in our favorite café hangout, I went on my knees to her utmost joy and held up the opened blue umbrella now inscribed with white paint.  ‘WILL YOU MARRY ME?’ She blubbered and squealed simultaneously as she nodded. “Yes…yes… Goddamn yes already.” The entire café erupted as I enfolded her into an embrace, promising a lifetime of benevolent togetherness. Mr. Seth, the proverbial maverick prelate erupted from being a dormant volcano. He exheridated his darling daughter not before showering me, an insolvent artist with the choicest of profanities.  But Brinda stood her ground. We tied the knot in a simple ceremony with only my frail old father and a few compadres in attendance. Our marriage was an incipience of a turbulent tryst. Brinda slogged it out at the local hospital giving up her dream of studying further.  It killed me to see the occasional despondent look marring her beautiful face as she stood staring into oblivion by our modest kitchen window. But nothing changed our feelings for each other which only grew gustier with every passing day. Brinda cajoled me to pursue art full time and two years later I got my first major commission for a popular art gallery. I was the new kid on the block and the hot favorite fauvism painter. The gate to our fortunes had opened but it was no serendipity… For the past few months, Brinda had bouts of forgetfulness. In the frequent states of fugue, she would fail to remember the day or date or her duty timings. She would forget the names of colleagues or close friends, her phone number, or the house or locker codes.  In the following months, I was absorbed by work in the gallery. Brinda would be fast asleep by the time I returned home and would be long gone off to work when I woke up the next morning, I failed to notice subtle changes in Brinda’s behavior… I overlooked events like she would cook the same item twice, leave the burner on or the cupboards messed up, a far cry from her neat persona.  I remained oblivious to the fact; the love of my life was chipping away bit by bit. One day in September 2019, I had thrown a party to celebrate a huge contract acquisition. The entire evening passed but Brinda didn’t turn up. None of her colleagues knew her whereabouts. Panicking, I ran along the streets like a man possessed fearing the worst.  I finally found her seated in the park outside her maternal home now a run-down property post her father’s relocation. She smiled when her roving orbs fell on me but her expression was indelible. She didn’t recognize me… Our ordeal had just begun. After a series of tests, she was diagnosed with early-onset of Alzheimer’s disease, the mutant variety. That I was devastated was an understatement. My world had collapsed; Vishnu was non-existent without his Brinda. Brinda’s symptoms got worse and it was a matter of months… she was confined to institutional care given the progression of her cognitive decline.  The debilitating disease had left my wife a mere shell of her former self as I waited on the brink helplessly watching her fade away. Today Brinda doesn’t remember anything or anyone and is unable to walk or talk anymore. She has to be fed and bathed while she looks around confused. Given the pandemic situation, I was scared by her recent bout of pneumonia, but the worse had passed and though she was now on inhalers, she was breathing on her own.  I had recently found a few of our old pictures and wanted them to help her tide over the next couple of days till I saw her again. I never lost credence to her remembering me… I walked into her room dripping wet from the sudden lashing downpour as I had stepped out of my car. I placed the folded wet umbrella on the chair when I saw her eyes glisten with unshed tears. Brinda resplendently looking at the faded blue umbrella that I could never part with. Tears flowed unhindered while I got the object of her attention closer.    “Yes…I will marry you… Goddamn yes...already...” She wailed manifesting emotions after months. Shedding tears of my own, I held her frail body close. The door to her mind was closed but today this old blue umbrella opened a tiny window of hope… it was the taciturn catalyst! Author note: Alzheimer disease is the most common form of dementia. It affects your memory, thinking, and behaviour. It often progresses to the point where it affects daily activities and functions. Experts don’t know how to prevent Alzheimer disease. A recent study in Neurology suggests that beta-amyloid may begin accumulating decades earlier than believed, starting as early as our 20s. The symptoms presented below 65 years of age constitutes, early onset of Alzheimer’s disease (usually has genetic links). It’s very rare in people in their 20s   Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!