Sunday 29 November 2015

Ma asks me if I’m sure.

Of course, I am, I tell her. I’m not going for dialysis; no way! I’m opting for a kidney transplant straight before my kidneys fail totally. I’ve been reading up on it and am convinced I know what I’m talking about. When she asks me how I’m so convinced, I give her the spiel that dialysis performs only about ten per cent of the work a functioning kidney does.  It can also cause other serious health problems and complications, like anaemia, nerve damage, bone disease and what-have-you.

She nods absentmindedly as if she’s heard it all before. Did I really give her the spiel earlier? Don’t remember. When I add that I have already enrolled last month at the hospital for a pre-emptive transplant before my condition gets worse, she nods again. The only problem, I mention, is that the doctor at the hospital can’t give me a precise time frame when a donor will be available for me. Months, years… God knows.

Sometimes I think Ma will die bored to death listening to my repeated tirades and my strong views on generally everything, long before I kick the bucket.

Hi. I am Rhea, by the way. I’m twenty-five and not too well, but I manage; I’m a fighter. Mess with me at your own peril. Those who know me will testify to that.

It started four years ago when I developed lupus. Lupus, as you know, is an autoimmune disease with no cure. You learn to live with it with the help of medication; not a big problem. But six months ago, I began to experience more disorders – weight gain and puffiness in my feet, ankles, legs and hands. And my urine showed red. That was the last straw… I freaked and went for a check-up. Urine and blood reports confirmed that I had Lupus Nephritis or inflammation in my kidneys. Lupus Nephritis? Sounds like a goddamn Roman emperor, doesn’t it? Well, that’s me – Rhea Roy – I refuse to suffer from ordinary ailments like the ‘flu or a sprain. Too passé!

Psst… looking for a donor. Asap. Please pass the word.

Thursday 3 December 2015

I look at my mother fondly as she sits at the kitchen table doing her accounts. Short hair turned grey, spectacles perched on a perfect nose, a calm demeanour in a slender frame. Bina Roy –Ma for short – my pillar of strength, my rock, my fortress. Friend, philosopher, guide. The mother who raised me singlehandedly from the time my father left her for a younger woman. That was a long time ago. Time has dimmed my memory of him and dulled the pain. The wounds have healed, but they took their own sweet time to do so. Good riddance, Mr Roy… may you rot in hell.

“Of course, dear,” my mother says, cutting into my thoughts, as she sits down at the kitchen table to start peeling the potatoes, “but I don’t want to hear about it right now, if you don’t mind.” Huh? How the hell does she guess that I want to rattle her again by talking about my tragic death, but doesn’t want to give me the satisfaction of seeing her upset? She always knows what’s going on in my mind. Are all mothers like this?

“So what happened at work today?” my mother changes the subject before I can think of an indignant retort.

Hehe… as if I need an excuse to talk. I start with the latest office gossip as I help her prepare dinner. Mother and daughter – girl talk. Thanks to my graphic accounts of the shenanigans that go on at my workplace, my mother knows my colleagues almost as well as I do and loves my office stories. She listens to me prattle on and on throughout dinner, and I don’t think she gets bored. I love her for that alone.

Yes, I still go to work. In fact, I have a pretty good corporate career. I love my job and my colleagues – they are so supportive of my condition. To do well at my job is all the motivation I need to go on and on. And to be with Ma, of course.

Friday 11 December 2015

“Ivana is coming over tomorrow evening,” my mother says as we both do the dishes after dinner. I’d noticed a bottle of Sula Chenin Blanc chilling in the fridge. Ivana’s favourite wine. I say nothing. Mother senses my disapproval but chooses to ignore it.

Ivana is my mother’s friend and companion. They are very close. Too close for comfort, if you ask me. I wish my mom had found a good, kind man to hold her in his arms and take care of her in her middle age. But no, that didn’t happen. Bina found solace in the arms of a woman instead.

Let me tell you a bit more about Ivana. Ivana Ghosh was once married to an Indian doctor when he was studying medicine in St. Petersburg, Russia in the early 80’s. Those were the Soviet days when young Russian women were dying to get out of their own country to settle elsewhere, anywhere they could feel free without being watched, followed or hounded. Any place where there would be no midnight knock on their door, no arrest for attending rallies, and no censure for reading anti-establishment literature like The Gulag Archipelago. She chose India, and the eager, waiting arms of young Dr.Ghosh.

Did she love the Indian doctor who fell in love with her, or was it just a marriage of convenience? I don’t know. I never met the man. But they were married for many years, presumably happily, till he passed away. That was long before my mother met Ivana through some Senior Dating site three years ago. Or Gay Dating site… I’m not sure how. Never asked Ma. It feels a bit creepy to think of my mother – my own mother! – sleeping with another elderly person. Eeek! It is always gross to imagine one’s parents having sex, isn’t it? But old people do it a lot more than you think, I’m told.

Another question I haven’t ever asked Ma…. why did she not choose a male companion? There was no man in her life after Mr Roy (I refuse to call him my Dad or my Papa) as far as I can remember. Maybe she tried, and maybe Ivana did too but didn’t find the men they were looking for. It doesn’t really matter – I love Ma to death and I want her to be happy.

But …..Ivana?

Saturday 12 December 2015

We settle down in the living room to await our guest. In my heart, I hope Ivana doesn’t come so that I can spend a quiet evening with my mother. I scan the social networking sites on my iPad, while my mother switches on the TV to watch Arnab Goswami vent his wrath on some hapless guest on his show who made the mistake of accepting an invitation from that news channel.

The doorbell shatters the comfort of that moment. It is Ivana.

“Hello, Rhea! How are you?” She gives me a peck on the cheek when I answer the door. Hmmm… it always crosses my mind whenever I meet Ivana that she must have been quite a stunner thirty years ago. Age has not withered her much. However, today she is looking a bit wan. I smile back and tell her I’m fine. “Hale and hearty!I kidney you not!” She doesn’t get the weak joke but smiles anyway. She knows I don’t like her very much for any apparent reason. But, as always, she is polite and kind to me, which actually irritates me a little more. Oh well, that’s me! We exchange a few pleasantries as I bring her into the living room. Ivana’s accent still has Russian in it after all these years in India. But to her credit, she has learned to speak Hindi and Bengali, which her late husband had patiently taught her to enable her to get along with her in-laws.

My mother gets up and they hug each other tightly. I can’t help but notice the love-light in my mom’s eyes. Both women settle down while I get the wine and glasses. I too join them for a drink.

“Just one glass, dear,” Ivana tells my mom. “You know my condition.” What condition? Turning to me with a smile, she tells me, “You’re looking better, Rhea.”

I shrug. Better than what?

We talk about this and that. After some time, I sense it is time for me to leave. There is an unspoken sadness in the room that I can feel, and I wonder why. Leave these two oldies to their privacy, I tell myself. I bid them goodnight and retire to my bedroom.

I sit up in bed and work on the presentation I have to give in a couple of days. The sound of conversation comes in faintly from the living room. But then, after a while, there is the faint, unmistakable sound of sobbing. What’s that all about? I seriously hope it’s not my mother; I can’t bear to see or hear her cry. Setting my laptop aside, I tiptoe out of bed, creep up to the door and open it ajar silently. Thankfully, the hinges don’t creak.

Their backs are turned to me. From where I stand, peeping stealthily, I can see Mom is bent over, sobbing. Ivana is sitting on the arm of the sofa, with an arm around her companion, trying to comfort her and murmuring something lovingly. I close the door and go back to work.

Wednesday 23 December 2015

I come home from work to see my mother sitting in the dark. She is just a silhouette against the window in the fading light of the winter dusk. I ask her if she wants a cup of tea. She nods.

We sit with our teacups, facing each other by the window looking out at the world passing by. I don’t interrupt her thoughts and sip silently, lost in my own. The long Christmas weekend is coming, and I have plans. I want to spend it with my friends.

“Ivana is dying, Rhea.” my mother blurts out.

The hot tea scalds my lap. I didn’t see that one coming. “What do you mean, Ma?”

“Her heart is giving way. She has congenital heart disease. The doctors are giving her only a few months to live.”

I ask her when she had come to know. Surprisingly, Ivana had kept it a secret from her all these years. Then why now? I do not ask that question because I already know the answer. Ivana’s time has come.

“You mean she needs a heart transplant?”

“Yes, Rhea. She is on the waiting list for a donor’s heart. Her blood type is O+. That’s common enough. She should get some donor. But when?”

Hmmm… my blood type. We are also similar in size.

I remark in jest that since I am going, going, gone anyway with my lupus and my kidneys, I can donate my heart right away to ‘that woman’ and the two of them can live happily ever after.

Uh-oh! Me and my mouth. That didn’t go down so well. My mother turns to look at me, her lips set in a thin line. Her gaze is steady and hurt. Her eyes film over with tears. I look at her dumbfounded, wondering what was it that I said that pissed off my mother so much. I mean, I talk like this most of the time – you know, morbid black humour, and she generally ignores such comments.

“You don’t know Ivana, Rhea. You will never understand her.” Ma spoke cryptically, trembling.  “She is such a noble person that she made me cry with her offer that evening when she was here last. You can never be the person she is.”She gets up and walks away, leaving me in the chilly dark room, sitting by the window. Her parting shot, “I love Ivana. I don’t want her to die. I want to grow old with her!”

What the hell was that outburst all about? What offer?

Friday 25 December 2015

It is 10 a.m. on Christmas Day, and my mother hasn’t got out of bed. She hasn’t spoken to me for two days. She looks older and haggard. She must be really worried about that phirangi. Is this what love is all about? Huh?

I’m at the receiving end of her cold shoulder. Can’t stand it. But I too am not making any overtures. Let her thaw and come around. That’s me…

Merry Christmas.

Thursday 31 December 2015

It is New Year’s Eve. I am getting ready to go to the best party in town, and really dabbing on the war paint. The gang will be here soon to pick me up. I have taken my meds; I should be all right for the next few hours. Really want to let myself go, and just enjoy myself. Life is too short. In my case, really a fact.

The doorbell rings and my mother quickly goes to answer it. It is Ivana. Not looking so well. But Ma looks pleased to see her. So they’re going to spend a quiet evening at home and bring in the New Year. Funny… Ma never mentioned that Ivana was coming over today. But then she hardly talks to me nowadays.

Wednesday 8 June 2016

My eyes are closed, but there is a blue-white glow on my eyelids. I open them to see the harsh lights of the ICU glaring down at me from the ceiling. My body is numb, and I feel a wave of nausea coming on as my vision clears. It must be the anaesthesia. I look down at my body. My abdomen is swathed in cotton and bandages. It hurts like a wound. Must be the incision that they said they’d do as part of the procedure. My left arm is hooked up to an IV drip. It hurts to move my leg, but when I do, I feel the tube of a catheter on my thigh. My mind clears slowly. Yes, the kidney transplant, of course …. has it been a success?

There is another bed to the right of me. The patient turns to look at me and tries to reach out to me by extending an arm. I recognize the blue eyes of my donor. My eyes glaze with tears of gratitude, and I try to reciprocate. Our fingertips touch.

A figure looms above me in a surgical mask. I recognize my surgeon. He gives me a two thumbs up. I nod and smile, relieved. So the operation has been successful.

I black out again.

Monday 20 June 2016

Back home. Still too weak to resume work, but am enjoying the attention Ma is showering on me, taking care of her only daughter. She looks so happy now. Ivana, I hear, is up and about. Russian constitution – strong as a horse, recovered faster than I did, despite being double my age. She is telling all and sundry about the brand new heart she is going to get in a couple of months. Yes, she has found a donor. She is jokingly singing that Titanic song that her heart will go on and on…

I have to admire that woman. I owe her my life. She didn’t do it for me, though. She did it for my mother, I think. She sacrificed an organ in her body to give to me, just to see my mother happy, the one person she truly loves.

Didn’t see that coming – a donor from such an unlikely place.She didn’t have to do it – this selfless act. What life lesson can I take away from this, I wonder? Well, for one, there are really good people in this world. Not everyone is like yours truly. Secondly, one can never be fully prepared for what tomorrow can bring. And finally, Life is an exam where the syllabus is unknown and question papers are not set. But you can be tested at any time. The way Ivana was. And she passed with flying colours.

I wish I could like her a little more. She is a far, far better person that I can ever hope to be. Maybe I’m just jealous. But that’s me!


Written by Beetashok Chatterjee

Beetashok Chatterjee is a seaman by profession. This old sea dog is also a wannabe poet/writer, avid reader, music lover, movie buff, cricket enthusiast and a restless spirit.