8.30pm on a hot and dusty April night.
” The food in your house is really bad; can’t be eaten” , he said, with a completely disgusted look. “Remind me tomorrow to take you out and help find you a cook. ”
“Yeah sure”. she replied irritatedly. ” All you can think about is food, sitting comfortably on that lounge chair, while I run around in the heat of the day trying to make things work, ensuring life runs smoothly and work gets done. Be happy with what you get and learn to be satisfied rather than complain all the time”.
An hour later, she returned, feeling guilty at her rude behaviour. After all, he was an old man and at that age desires are very limited. She had no right to rebuke.
” Come on, stop sulking,” she said, pretending to sound a little gruff. (She couldn’t possibly allow him to know how utterly remorseful she felt? That would be his victory and he would use this blackmail with her every day). ” I’ll make you some custard with Sugar Free and we’ll see about more tasty food tomorrow”.
” Custard? “, he asked in disbelief, like the little child who’s been given a prize not allowed otherwise.
” Yes, I’ll make it for you. Just this once”, she responded. ” But don’t make a habit of it will you? I won’t have the time every day.”
As the aroma wafted from the kitchen he rubbed his hands in glee relishing the thought of this unexpected ‘ prize’, drool making its way out of his dry, chapped lips and down his chin. He sat down at the table without a second reminder lest she change her mind and lapped up the bowlful as she continued to eye him with a bit of amusement, a bit of disdain. “Could someone really live only for food? ” she thought, mentally ticking away the chores lined up for the next day.
” Thank you, that was very nice, ” he said happily to which she nodded, a softness in her heart but none yet in expression.
2 am, a knock at her bedroom door
” I can’t sleep, I am feeling very restless. Is anything the matter with me? ” , he stood at her door and asked. Alert to his expressions, she noticed a glazed look in his eyes and felt a chill through her spine. ” No it couldn’t be…yes, it could”, she thought worriedly. She made him lie down, rubbed his back, gave him a sip of water and half a Dispirin. ” It’ll be all right, you just need to rest and not think so much” .
She paced up and down outside his room wondering, thinking of the next course of action, if she should call someone, wake up the neighbours. No, it was just her overactive mind. He would be fine after a sleep.
About 4am, she was still pacing outside when he woke up and said he still felt uneasy. She decided instantly that she’d wait no more and called for an ambulance. The nearest hospital said they had no ambulance available. Banging down the phone in disbelief she woke up the gardener and asked him to help put the old man in the car. She ran around cellphone in hand, barking instructions, collecting papers, thinking of all that might be needed as she helped him get ready. She would’ve taken him in his pyjamas but the man said no. ” I cannot possibly go to see a doctor in my night clothes. I must shave and get dressed. Even if I don’t wear my tie I must at least wear a clean shirt and trousers”, he insisted. ” You really must be the last Britisher left in India”, she exclaimed. ” Hurry, will you or allow me to help you wear your clothes”. ” Not at all. I can do it myself” he pushed her aside with sudden strength and closed the door. ” This is not the time for being embarrassed. There’s no shame in allowing me to help you wear your clothes”.
As the decibel increased the door opened as suddenly as it had closed and there he was, white shirt, grey trousers, hair oiled, face clean shaven and handkerchief and wallet in place. “Let’s go” she urged but he wouldn’t budge till he had found his watch. “You don’t leave home till you have all your things in place. You kids will never learn”.
5am, on the road, she hit the accelerator having already alerted her brother, who in turn , the hospital. Thank god for ‘knowing’ the right people, she felt relieved for the first time in so many hours.
5.20am she rolled in and the stretcher was waiting, the doctors all in attendance with all the instruments. The thin white long strip of paper confirmed that it was a stroke, a silent one but an intense one. A few seconds of deathly silence and then it was action and a medley of voices.
Injection…can’t find the nerve…the pulse has dropped too low…wheel him in…let’s try our best…madam, please move out of the way…allow us to do our work…how can you just give up…all we can do is try…we are not God…am I all right? is something happening to me…Sir, don’t speak. Conserve your energy…I want to see my daughter…you can’t stop me…and take all these needles out…no bedpan…I can walk till the toilet…Dad, don’t be silly…allow them to do their work…yes, all is going to be ok but I need you to be calm and quiet…little ashi baby, she will be waiting for me…and Mummy too…take me home, I don’t want to be here…sir, will you allow us to do our work…how can you use the needle which fell on the ground…that’s infected…get another…madam, please give way, a jab in the heart, yes, a jab in the heart…that’s our last hope…
5.40am, tears streaming down her cheeks she stood by the wall trying to digest the noise and what it meant, watching a fiesty man fight a battle…all alone despite 15 people around him
5.45 am, ” Where are you? Can you give me some water? “. ” Sure Dad, ” she leapt up as the medics made their way out, their faces telling the story, leaving her alone with the old man, tired but still with a glint in his eyes. She sat on the bed and cradled his head in her lap, ” Be quiet and save your energy, here take a few sips”. ” Babyjee, I am so perplexed, said he… … … and then , as quietly as she must have drawn her first few breaths in his lap, he quietly drew his last.