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Brother could not obtain tickets for all of us in the same train. So he did the next best thing. Two tickets were booked for mother and him in the train which left first. For father and I, tickets in a train which followed half an hour later were booked. As soon as we reached station we arranged for a stretcher to carry father to the train. We also arranged for two people to carry father into the bogey on the arrival of the train. I was worried. How will I manage it alone? Getting father into the bogey and making him comfortable? Looking after him the whole night?
Brother said that once they reached Alwaye (now Aluva), he would arrange for a stretcher before our train reached the station. He also asked me to throw our luggage out as soon as the train stopped at the station. This would give him an indication of the bogey which we were in. Since ours were current bookings, one did not know the bogey number in advance. And the train would halt at Alwaye for only three minutes.
Mother kept silent. It was obvious that she was worried. She was worried about our getting into the train once they left by the earlier train. She was worried if I would be able to look after father for the whole night. She was worried if I would fall asleep and miss the station. She was worried about so many other things. But, of course, her worry about father’s condition topped all.
Fortunately nothing unfortunate happened and everything went on as we had planned. Our berths were in the first class compartment. There were only about half a dozen passengers in the bogey, which could accommodate 72 passengers. Even before reaching the station, I was ready with the luggage. As soon as the train stopped, I threw the luggage out and ran back to help father get up and walk slowly to the door. Remember, the train halted there only for three minutes. By the time I managed to get father up slowly, brother was near us with two other people to help us. They carried father out of the train and seated him on a wheel chair kept ready at the door. There was no provision for a stretcher in the station those days. Brother had also arranged a taxi which had been waiting right at the exit gate of the station.
The journey from the railway station to home would take about an hour and a half. On our way we stopped at Muvattupuzha. That was where two of our uncles, father’s elder and younger brothers lived and worked. While kunjaphan (younger uncle) had an office, the elder uncle didn’t. He used to look after the accounts of several establishments on a freelance basis. It was early morning and kunjaphan hadn’t reached his office yet. So we wrote a small note and inserted it into the handle of the door.
The note simply said, “We are taking father home. Please come.”
It was elder uncle (valiaphan) who saw the note first. He used to come early and when he saw the note he immediately telephoned kunjaphan and they both came home. Telephone facilities were available within cities and towns those days, though long distance calls were still a dream.
The car could go only up to a distance of about half a kilometre from home. There was no road beyond that. We arranged for a chair from a relative’s house, which was nearby. Within a few minutes the news of father’s arrival from the hospital spread like wildfire and a lot of people gathered around us. Several people volunteered to help us. They carried father on the chair up to home.
By the time we reached home, a lot more people, mainly relatives and neighbours, had gathered there. Some of them thought he had recovered and was discharged from the hospital. But this feeling soon gave way to the realization that he had been discharged not because he had recovered, but because he was beyond any kind of recovery.
Father had terrible pain all over the body. In the initial few days the pain killers given from the hospital gave him some comfort. But in a few days, even this became ineffective. Every second he was suffering. He was still very conscious and knew what was going on around him. He recognised those who visited him. He talked to them. His mind was as healthy and as alert as ever.
He was secretary of the Thamarakkatu branch of Kerala Yogakshema Sabha, a community organisation. When people from the organisation came to visit him he became very talkative. He talked about their future programmes. He asked when the next meeting was to be held. When they said it was after a fortnight, he asked them to have the meeting right in the room where he was lying. He could, thus, attend the proceedings! It looked like it was only while he talked of matters interesting to him that he forgot about the constant pain.
We used to have regular visitors and all the time home was brimming with people. When one day I accidentally, or should I say carelessly, put on the radio in the next room, mother told me, “Switch it off, father will be disturbed.”
Father heard this from his room and said, “Well, I shall tell you when the sound becomes unbearable to me.”
It looked like he knew exactly how his condition was going to deteriorate at each stage! Right from the very beginning, when he was diagnosed as suffering from cancer, he had foreseen something like this. He knew in his heart of hearts that his fate had been sealed. But he very much wanted to fight. He was not one to surrender meekly, even if it was the deadly cancer on the opposite side.
He knew his end was near. He was not worried about mother. He knew she would be all right, she was a brave woman. He had full confidence in his children and knew that we would take care of her. He was not worried about his eldest son; he had a job and was married and settled. He was not worried about his elder daughter. She was married and settled, too. He was not worried about me either. I was already employed. But he was worried about Girija, his youngest daughter, who was nearing marriageable age. He probably thought this was a great responsibility for us. I heard him talking about her marriage to close relatives who visited him. He had this worry as long as his mind was alert.
The pain was not letting him have peace or comfort even for a second. Every moment he lamented about the unbearable pain all over his body. Grandma used to visit us every day and used to spend a lot of time with father. She was a great believer in God and used to constantly chant prayers. And she used to chant them a little louder so that father could hear it and have a little comfort. One day grandma was sitting on his bed slowly massaging his chest.
Father then told her, “Mother, the pain is excruciating. I can’t bear it any more. Please tell me, Mother, what should I do?”
What could grandma say? She said, “Chant the names of God, Son. You will feel better.”
Father then began to chant the different names of Lord Vishnu, “Achutananda Govinda, Achutananda Govinda, Achutananda Govinda ...”
Then he suddenly shifted to, “Narayana, Narayana, Narayana, Narayana.”
And again to, “Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama.”
And then he told grandmother, “O, Mother, all the names are so long, I can’t chant them.”
Grandma immediately got up and ran to the next room. She cried uncontrollably for a long time. How can a mother bear the sight of such condition of her son?
His condition worsened sooner than expected. He soon began to hate all kinds of sounds, even subdued human voice. All kinds of light disturbed him so much that we had to keep the doors and windows of his room closed always. No light was put on in his room even during nights. Even a zero-watt bulb disturbed him. We had to use a small kerosene lamp which was kept in a corner of the room for us to move around with the light to his bed side blocked. The agony took him over completely. He could not sleep for days together. He continuously used to mumble in pain. He almost constantly kept his eyes closed. But he was not sleeping, the pain did not allow him to have even a moment’s sleep.
The disease had now spread all over his body. The small swellings which had started appearing several weeks ago had now spread to almost everywhere in his body. The painkillers had become totally ineffective, too. He had difficulty in breathing. His breathing could be heard (or should I say felt?) beyond even two rooms. While during day time, there used to be several of us near father, throughout the night one of us used to be with him constantly. We took turns for a few hours to stay with father. We used to gently massage his body, the only comfort we could give him. I don’t know if he experienced any comfort from the massaging. Maybe he didn’t feel anything at all. The unbearable pain had completely taken over his body and mind.
It was the middle of October 1979. Two weeks had passed since father had been discharged from the hospital. Half the time the doctor had given him was over. It was Saturday the 13th. I was sitting on the bed and gently massaging father’s body. It was several hours into the night. The activity had become so routine and everybody was so accustomed to the sound of his breathing that I didn’t even realize that father had stopped breathing. I continued to massage his chest without realizing that something was amiss.
But the sudden silence didn’t escape mother’s attention who was resting in the third room. She was not sleeping, either. It had been several days since she had any sleep at all. Suddenly mother called up, “Jayanthan, are you awake?”
I said, “Yes, mother.”
She was silent for another moment. Then she came running in panic and looked at father.
She gently placed her hand on his chest and suddenly burst out, “Oh! God! Transfer father on to the ground. I don’t know what to do. Call uncles immediately. Oh! God! Oh! God!”
As per our custom, the first thing we do after one’s death is to shift the body to the ground, in the lap of mother earth. A lighted lamp would then be kept near the head and a few other things such as a coconut, near the feet.
It took a few seconds for me to realise the impact and meaning of mother’s words. It is then that I noticed that the constant sound of his breathing had stopped.
Due to the passing away of elder uncle a week ago (see anecdote ‘one’ below) and due to father’s precarious condition, most of our close relatives were staying in relatives’ houses nearby. (Our house was small and couldn’t accommodate them all.) Within the next few minutes, everybody had assembled at home and started discussing further course of action.
Father, who was only 49 years, went down fighting the deadly cancer. He was cremated the next morning.
It took us several weeks to reconcile to the fact that our dear father was no more with us and will never be in future. We were worried about mother. But she proved stronger than we had anticipated. She recovered faster than we expected, too.
It was a week after we had arrived home from the hospital with father. Our elder uncle, who was a freelance accountant, was working at one of his clients’ place. He could not even for a moment get the condition of father out of his mind. He used to come home every day in the evening and visit father.
That day he told a friend, “I don’t know how we will face mother if Kesavan (father) passes away. How will mother endure that? What will we do to console her? I don’t think we will ever be able to do that.”
There was silence for a moment. Suddenly he tightly clutched his chest and leaned forward on to the table in front of him in terrible pain. People around immediately rushed him to the hospital. But before reaching hospital, he had breathed his last. It was a massive cardiac arrest. This was a week before father passed away.
So, instead of one, grandmother had to endure the untimely loss of two of her sons in quick succession within a week!
A few years after father passed away, once I went to visit Rajan ammavan (uncle) during my holidays. He told me of an incident that happened in one of the initial days after father had been diagnosed as suffering from cancer. Once before going to Vellore on a routine visit, father told him,
“One of these days if you see a small news item in the newspaper that somebody like me is found dead on the railway tracks, don’t worry and don’t be surprised either.”
It took a long time for uncle to convince father that he should not even think of any such foolish thing. Father knew his was a journey of no return. He was fully aware of the seriousness of the situation. He basically didn’t want us to spend (‘waste’, in his words) a lot of money on a ‘lost case’! He was only trying to speed up things which would eventually happen sooner rather than later.
His was a wait with total realization that the end was nearer. And he was fully prepared for that.