Friday, August 31, 2012



            Ajai came down from Nashik to Mumbai to meet his fiancée, Nandita Sharma.  Ever since their parents arranged their marriage some three months ago in her home in Mumbai, Ajai had been coming down regularly every weekend to meet her.  He had a well paid job in Nashik with one of the country’s largest private banks.  He was doing well in his job and already got two promotions in less than five years.  So, when his match was suggested to Nandita’s parents they jumped at it and got in touch with his parents in Agra.  Everything worked smoothly and his weekly weekend visits to Mumbai started, once the formal engagement was over.  Not wanting to use his to be father-in-law’s car, he would ride his two year old 350 cc Royal Enfield mobike.  It was the only model which had the power he wanted and yet fell within his budget.  Also it would enable his lady to hug him tight while riding pillion.  He reveled in racing at high speed, slamming the brakes or going in for sudden jump starts.  He did everything with his two wheeler which would make Nandita cling on to him and press hard against his back. In Mumbai he slummed it out with a colleague from his bank, though the place was a good 14 kms from the Sharma residence.  While smaller towns like Nashik had thousands and hundreds of thousands of two wheelers, they are a rarity in Mumbai.  That is because Mumbai has excellent intra city bus and rail network and also because parents considered the vehicular traffic in their city too heavy and too dangerous for two wheelers.  Only brave souls rode two wheelers in Mumbai.
            That Saturday evening Ajai took Nandita for a movie in a multiplex.  They were getting back to Nandita’s house for dinner.  The movie was Amir Khan’s ‘Dhobhi Ghat’.  It got rave write ups in every broad sheet, tabloid and magazine worth its salt because it did not follow the usual Bollywood masala formula and also it was directed sensitively by Amir’s wife, Kiran Rao.  Ajai’s opinion was it was so so, nothing great and all the superlative reviews were so much hot air.  Nandita contested his views strongly and said she agreed with the reviewers and it really was an out of the beaten track film.  She was all praise for Kiran Rao’s maiden directorial effort.  Playfully Ajai blamed her for being a feminist who cannot find anything wrong with any woman’s effort in any field.  The lively and light hearted banter went on till they stopped at a set of traffic lights sandwiched between a powerful BMW sports model in the front and an impatient delivery van driver behind who never stopped racing his engine making one hell of a racket.  Nandita, sitting behind Ajai gave up all efforts at continuing the discussion and started doing up her hair.  The lights turned green, the BMW shot out and Ajai went into one of his high powered jump starts to race after the BMW.  With hands up on her head doing her hair she had no support and fell off behind the bike only to be run over by the impatient delivery van driver.
            Ajai had gone past the cross road ignorant of Nandita falling off until he was stopped by a traffic police constable standing is his way waving his hands frantically.  An astonished van driver reacted instantly and slammed his brakes hard and swerved right as fast as his power steering wheel allowed him to.  But in a city which believes in tailgating it is next to impossible to do anything to save anybody.  The van driver’s valiant attempt to save the girl fallen on the road failed and its left front wheel rode over Nandita’s back.  The sudden braking and swerving right of the van resulted in the Honda Civic on its right scraping itself on the bumper of the van.  Worse still, the Maruti SX 4 behind him, unable to stop quickly, rammed into the rear of the van puncturing its own radiator.  The Honda driver got out and rushed to pull the girl from under the van.  By then police whistles started blowing hard and a fat constable waddled across pompously.  As there was nothing he could do for the injured girl and god knows when an ambulance can reach them in the chaotic traffic, he agreed to the Honda driver taking the injured lady to the hospital.  He did his police duty by taking down the number on the front number plate and sternly ordering the driver to come to the police station and give his statement.  By the time the van driver and Honda driver lifted Nandita carefully and put her in the back seat of the Honda Civic Ajai managed to reach the site and as he cannot take her on his mobike he agreed to the Civic playing the role of an ambulance and he decided to follow it.  He introduced himself as Ajai Pandit and thanked the Civic owner who gave his name as Shekhar Srivatsava.  Shekhar sped off to the nearby Leelavati Hospital.  A thoroughly shaken Ajai took time to call Nandita’s father and asked him to come to the hospital.  He was further held up by the police trying to charge him with “Rash and Negligent driving”.  Shekhar made the necessary advance payment on his credit card and got her admitted and then waited for Ajai.  As soon as Ajai came Shekhar left as he was already late to meet his supplier over dinner in South Mumbai.
            In the next four and a half hours Nandita’s parents and two of their neighbours came to the hospital.  Nobody was telling them anything about what happened to Nandita.  On her father’s request their family doctor managed to take time off to come to the hospital and found out that her spine was damaged and corrective surgery was being done by a team of surgeons.  It was well into the wee hours of Sunday when Nandita was wheeled into the ICU, bandaged and still under the effects of the anesthetic.  Dr Kulkarni, who headed the surgical team, called her father aside and told him that they had done their best and nothing can be said for certain about the degree of her recovery.  When pressed, he reluctantly admitted that in the worst case scenario she may be paralised below the waist, but miracles can happen.  He discreetly told a tear shedding Mr Sharma to keep their fingers crossed and hope for the best and assured him that the hospital will do its very best to get her on her own feet.  They all realised that the young lady has a long life ahead of her and they want her to be as normal as possible.  Mr Sharma correctly deduced that his daughter cannot walk any more.  He wiped his tears carefully and walked back with put on confidence to tell everybody that the surgery had gone off very well and there is nothing they can do by staying back.  Nandita’s mother stayed back and all the others went home.  Her father spent a sleepless few hours worrying about her disability which will stay with her for life.  He could not reconcile himself to the near certainty of his daughter becoming a paraplegic.
            The next day the outside of the ICU was packed with Nandita’s family, friends, co-workers from her mall where she works as a procurement officer, neighbours and well-wishers.  Shekhar came but nobody was being allowed to see her and he did not meet Ajai, the only person he knew, as he was inside the ICU, evidently holding his fiancée’s hand.  He went away as he had to catch a flight to Bengaluru to meet some business associates.  That day Mr Sharma realised that somebody called Shekhar Srivastava had put in a deposit of two lakh rupees on his credit card to get his daughter admitted.  Apart from the name and the credit card number nothing else was known about him.  No address, no phone number, nothing. Nobody seemed to know him and Ajay admitted that he knew only his name and did not have the time or presence of mind to ask for more details as they were all in a hurry to move Nandita to the hospital as soon as possible.  A grateful but confused Mr Sharma was at a loss to figure out a way to pay this Srivastava back and thank him.  He knew it will be next to impossible to get any details from the credit card company.  His anger against the system rose as he knew that these credit card issuers are more than willing to give all the details to telemarketers, for a price of course, but will throw the confidentiality clause at him.  Days went by, Nandita was shifted to a private room and she was healing steadily but Shekhar did not come again.  Ajai called every day from Nashik and kept himself updated on his fiancée’s progress towards normal health.  As usual he came the next weekend and spent all the time with Nandita in the special room regaling her with cooked up stories and encouraging her and planning what they will do once she is back on her feet.  The following Wednesday evening saw a shy and diffident Shekhar coming with a bunch of flowers and a box of pastries bought from the cake shop in Oberoi.  He apologised for not being able to come to see her any earlier as he was out of town on work.  But her father broke down into tears at meeting his daughter’s savior and thanked him repeatedly.  The next day he made it a point to go personally to Shekhar’s production unit in Saki Naka where he makes disposable syringes and gave himself the pleasure of personally handing him a cheque for two lakh rupees.  Shekhar asked him to stay on for a simple factory lunch which was shared by everybody from the lowliest employee to the owner.  Mr Sharma was very impressed with Shekhar, both as a responsible citizen and an enlightened employer.
            The third weekend after the accident saw Ajai coming to Nandita’s house to see her back from the hospital and totally bedridden.  For the first time he entered her bedroom as she cannot come out to greet him at the door as she had been doing happily till the accident paralysed her for life below the hips.  This realisation had hit Ajai like a shower of rocks.  On getting back to Nashik he phoned his parents in Agra and discussed the issue at length.  They were concerned for Nandita, no doubt, but lovingly pointed out the inadvisability of trying to live with a paraplegic for life.  Moreover, what help will she be in advancing his career in the bank?  An engagement is not final like a marriage.  He did not come the next weekend and the weekend after.  The Sharma family had correctly deduced the engagement was off.  Predictably, Nandita was deeply disappointed.  The family did its best to keep her spirits up, but everybody and Nandita knew it was hopeless and she will be bedridden and single for life.  Who will tend to her when the parents are gone?  Both her younger teenaged brothers promised to look after her, but the parents knew that the daughters-in-law will resent it.  Nandita sensed it and in spite of her own doubts kept up a brave and happy face and talked relentlessly of what she will do to be on her own.  At nights she cried into her pillow bemoaning her fate.  At times she asked herself the inevitable question “Why me?”  But quickly added “So what?”  She got the best treatment possible in the world and she has a wonderful family standing by her.  She will never, never ask for more.
The engagement gifts given to Nandita and her parents were couriered to Agra. The break became final and irrevocable when the gifts given by them to Ajai and his parents arrived in two different parcels, one from Agra and the other from Nashik.  Nandita steeled herself not to cry or go into a depression.
About two months after Mr Sharma gave him the cheque Shekhar came to see her on a Sunday morning.  The girl was good looking.  That is all he knew about her.  It is always a pleasure to see a PYT, even if she is engaged.  He had always discriminated in favour of his friends who had pretty wives.  No harm meant and no bad intentions.  He was aghast to see her bedridden at home, as different from hospitalization.  He deduced there was nothing more the doctors could do and condemned her to rehabilitation at home and psychological conditioning to accept her fate.  He was shocked.  Shyly he gave her the slab of Cadburys Milk Chocolate he brought for her.  He came in a fairly jovial mood expecting to see a fully recovered Nandita and looking forward to seeing Ajai and having some fun asking him if his bank will give him a loan for a somewhat risky venture.  He noticed the conspicuous absence of Ajai on a Sunday but chose not to comment on it.  He drew his own conclusions about his absence and made up his mind.
“Miss Nandita, you will not remain in bed”.
“I don’t have wings, I cant fly”.  She smiled.  Her milk white teeth shone with youthful health.  Shekhar smiled thinking of the Colgate toothpaste ads.  She could well be one of the models in such ads.  May be she is better looking than all the toothpaste models.
“No, you will not remain in bed.”  Shekhar’s tone was firm and brooked no contradiction.
“Okay.  I will shift to the floor.”  She smiled again, but a tear escaped from each eye and the smile dissolved.  It happened in spite her determination not to show defeat.  He wiped the tears with his not so clean handkerchief.  She let him do.  She also whimpered, which she would not normally do.  He kept her smiling as best as he could.  He decided to make it his mission to make her walk again.  As it was getting later and later in the day and lunch was getting delayed, the inevitable happened.  He was asked to stay on for lunch.

Being a maker of syringes gave him some link to hospitals.  He met the wholesale stockist to whom he gives his product for retailing.  That guy took Shekhar to the purchase officer in the Hinduja Hospital.  He in turn took him to the Head of the Physiotherapy department.  Shekhar told him about Nandita’s problem and what he wants to do for her.  Not knowing the situation fully the Physio Head asked one of his best physiotherapists if she is willing to help the patient at her home.  Desire to help someone with her skills and the prospect of some extra earnings after hours made the lady, one Mrs Patil, say yes.  Monday evening 7 pm saw Shekhar arriving at the Sharma house with Mrs Patil in tow, much to the surprise of Nandita and everybody else in the house.  She never realised that Shekhar was determined to do something to make her walk.  Surprised yes, but delighted too, beyond measure!  The grind started.  The first step was to raise one leg at a time at the hip joint.  Just five degrees to start with.  It also meant simultaneously bending the knee inwards at 5 degrees.  It was done for each leg, one after the other.  But it took a good nine days to achieve this very modest target.  The legs were raised with the back flat.  Then the legs were kept flat and the back was raised.  Then to 8 degrees.  After the 12 degree rise was achieved, there were three days of consolidation.  There were days when she felt pain as some sensation was still left at the hip joint.  She bore it silently.  She shed silent tears.  Some days she cried aloud in pain.  But she never said no to the twenty minutes of daily torture to get her legs to bend.  Through all this Shekhar sat with Nandita, sometimes holding her hands to share some of her pain and reassure her that he was there physically to comfort her.  It was the first step to be able to sit in a chair with the thigh horizontal and perpendicular to the torso.  Then came the additional exercises to bend the legs at the knees to the fullest extent of 135 degrees.  Mercifully it was painless as paralysis made that part of her body insensitive to any kind of pain.  But it was a nightmare for the physio lady to correctly assess how much to bend the knee joints on any given day.  She cannot afford to tear any ligaments or tendons.

Every day saw Shekhar bringing something for her.  May be flowers, chocolates white, dark or bitter, magazines, CDs of movies or popular TV shows.  Or just his ebullient good humour and charm.  His daily visits, including weekends were not lost on the older Sharmas.  As long as his presence kept their daughter happy and in good spirits it was okay with them.  Nandita, fondly called Nandu at home, also seemed to have taken his daily visits for granted.  Actually she did look forward to them.  Her younger brothers, Ramesh and Sunil took it for granted that Shekhar will come every evening.  If he keeps their sister engaged they don’t have to feel guilty for not keeping their disabled sister humoured.  One day, more as a joke than in any seriousness Sunil asked Shekhar if he can help solve one of his science questions.  After that both the boys took their problems to him.  Not just about studies but also about other problems in their school or college.  Occasionally he was asked to stay back for dinner.  Sometime during the second month of physiotherapy he had to go to Delhi for three days.  Imagination or reality, Nandu’s mother thought her daughter seemed disappointed with Shekhar’s absence.  The cheerfulness in her face was somehow missing.

That night, she opened up to Mr Sharma.  She was happy, no doubt, with her daughter regaining activities she seemed to have lost forever.  It was so heartwarming to see the cheerful face of her daughter.  She seemed happy even during the day, perhaps expecting to see Shekhar in the evening.  But where will it all lead to?  Is their sensitive and helpless daughter expecting too much from Shekhar?  What will happen when, at some point, Shekhar decides that there is nothing more that physiotherapy can do and stop coming in the belief that he had done what best he could for a paraplegic girl.  So many confusing thoughts were churning in her mind.  Her husband, equally worried about possible consequences, including Nandita descending into depression, could not say anything to set his wife’s apprehensions at bay.  They hugged each other in desperate need and tried to sleep, hiding their tears from each other.  But Nandu had no such qualms.  She slept happily and soundly every night.

Shekhar brought a beautiful blue Salwar Kurta from Gyan’s in Karol Baug in Delhi.  The sales girl assured him that size zero will fit his lady snugly.  He asked Nandu to try it out.  The next evening she welcomed Shekhar looking resplendent in the dress he brought her.  That brought a visible glow of satisfaction on his face.  In a few days both the thigh and knee joints had become fully articulate in both the legs and she could sit in a chair for the first time.  There was much clapping and hugging and kissing when Nandu was successfully eased into a chair.   Mr Sharma and the boys promptly voted for buying a wheel chair.  They asked Shekhar to join them and all the four men went off to buy a wheel chair.  Back at home a coconut was broken to welcome the wheelchair and Nandu was made to sit in it.  She propelled herself happily into each room in the house.  Every room appeared to be new and somehow different.  She was blissfully happy at her new found mobility.

Soon the time had come for Nandu to stand erect and try walking with a walker or crutches.  After two days of trials the walker was given up in favour of a pair of light aluminum crutches.  Every evening Shekhar would make her hobble on crutches so that she was not necessarily confined to the wheel chair all the time.  Shekhar broached the future with Nandu.  He wanted her to do two things.  Take up a career that can be handled from home and get into some sport for the differently enabled persons.

Indian students love “Made Easy” books.  So she decided to exploit that window of opportunity to earn some money.  Shekhar approved it, much to her satisfaction.  The very next day he came with some seven different made easy books on maths and high school science subjects that were floating around in the market.  Together they discussed what she could do best and also have good prospects for sales.  She chose maths as she is good at the subject. After a quick scan she also decided that maths is her choice as the three books he brought were not up to her standard.  She was confident of doing better than those books.  So, the laptop was now being put to different uses apart from aimless surfing to while away time.  The time she spent watching the TV also came down drastically.  She restricted herself to watching just three of her most favourite soaps.  The laptop has now become less of a play thing and more of a career tool.  She found a purpose in life, thanks to Shekhar. 

Then Shekhar suggested that she should get out of the house.  Going for a drive was not what he had in mind.  The doting family had been giving her outings as frequently as they could.  They changed the family car to a Qualis and modified it so that she could be wheeled into it.  It was not fully automatic, but served the purpose, with the family always there to help her in and out of the car.  She was anyway wheeling herself out of her bedroom to help her mother in the kitchen and chasing her brothers all over the house for fun.  It was more fun than hobbling on crutches with someone beside her to make sure she will not fall.  One fine evening she asked Shekhar to wait and wheeled herself into the kitchen and made him a cup of tea.  She used to do it for Ajai. Unobtrusively Shekhar had slipped into Ajai place.

Shekhar suggested a paradigm shift.  He wanted her to take to a competitive outdoor sport.  He gave archery, fencing, basketball and football as options to choose from.  Nandita was thrilled at the prospect of going out of the house and playing a game.  Without batting an eye lid she opted for basketball, the game she used to play in college.  She was already visualising the thrills of maneuvering her wheelchair to dodge the other players and raise herself in the chair and plop the ball into the basket.  She even tried to raise herself erect in her wheel chair.  Even the thought was exhilarating.  She was completely sold out on it.

Nandita took to the special wheelchair used for playing basketball like a fish takes to water.  The feeling was akin to her adoring the first cycle she got for her eighth birthday.  She reveled and lived out her dreams in the one hour she spent daily at the special sports facility for people like her.  Joining others like herself in any endeavour was an ennobling and satisfying experience for her.  Shekhar was there with her five evenings a week at the paraplegic games facility to encourage her.  His approval and encouragement was something very special to her.  Her life became full and extremely busy with writing books to make maths comprehensible to all and sundry, helping her mom in the kitchen and trying her hand at cooking, chasing her brothers, arguing with her father on the deplorable state of the country and what she would do if she were the prime minister and playing basketball and watching her favourite TV serials and movie CDs.  Her life has become as close to normal as it can be and she was supremely happy.  Lately she even started bullying Shekhar to get her way with him.  Normally she treated him like a god and never questioned his suggestions or actions.  Looks like continued familiarity was changing the equation.

Time flew and the first anniversary of her falling off the mobike came round.  There was a celebratory dinner at home.  Their home got packed with family and close friends sitting or standing at every available place.  The doctors who operated on her and Mrs Patil who infused strength into her limbs and confidence into mind were there as special invitees.  Two magnums of Champaign were opened to much cheering and backslapping and complimenting Nandu.  Nandu and the family were having a whale of a time.  There was radiance on Nandu’s face and a wonderful glow.  May be there was a halo too!  The happy and boisterous noise was reduced to sudden silence when somebody tapped a spoon loudly on a glass table.  People instinctively turned towards the source of the tapping.  What did they see?  Shekhar, looking debonair in a dark suit took three rapid steps to Nandu, kneeled and asked: Miss Nandita Sharna, will you marry me?

DVR Rao (Nani)

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