Volume 1, Issue 3
“I am just leaving. I will reach in half an hour. Is everything all right?” asked Rakesh, his heart beating rather fast.
Rakesh was sitting in his cubicle working on his presentation for the next day. It was six in the evening and all his colleagues were wrapping up to go home. He, however, had to stay for an hour or more to complete his work before he could head home.
“Still not finished?” said a voice, and looking up Rakesh saw Aakash, leaning over his cubicle, packed up and ready to go.
“Not yet,” Rakesh said with a heavy sigh. “Kids are going to be so angry. I promised Piyush that I will help him with his homework.”
“Well, then I will have to leave you to your work. See you tomorrow,” said Aakash, joining the people heading towards the elevators.
Rakesh sighed and turned towards his computer. He had to finish his work soon, and head home.
An hour later, his mobile vibrated and he saw a missed call from his kids’ nanny. “Even she doesn’t want to work overtime,” he said to himself and dialled her number.
“Sahabji, when are you coming home?” asked the nanny in a worried voice.
“I am just leaving. I will reach in half an hour. Is everything all right?” asked Rakesh, his heart beating rather fast.
“Sahabji, Srishti is having trouble breathing. She and Piyush were playing, and suddenly she started having difficulty in breathing. Her face has gone all red with the effort. Please come home soon, I don’t know what to do! I am so scared!”
“Don’t worry, I am coming. We will go to the hospital as soon as I reach home,” Rakesh said and disconnected the call. He almost threw his laptop in his bag, closed it, and ran towards the elevator. Once inside, he pushed the button for the ground floor and stood there, restless and gripped by a feeling of utter helplessness. “Even the elevator is moving too slowly,” he cursed under his breath. As soon as the door opened, he ran towards the parking lot to get his bike.
On the way home he got stuck in Delhi’s evening traffic. He felt like leaving the bike there and running towards home. He wanted to be with Srishti as soon as possible; but he knew that will take much more time. When he got stuck at a signal for the third time, he dialled the emergency hospital number and asked them to send an ambulance to his address. Forty five minutes later, when he reached his apartment he saw that the ambulance was already there, and the paramedics were transferring his daughter into it.
As soon as Piyush saw him, he ran towards his father. His expression was one of mingled worry and relief, as if consoling himself that his father’s arrival meant everything would be fine. Rakesh patted his son on the head, and they both walked towards the ambulance. Rakesh could see that his neighbours were watching from their balcony with a look of pity on their faces. He hated people who stared at those in misery with an expression of pity on their faces one moment, and the next moment carried on with their usual chores as if they had been watching a movie.
“Lakshmi, I know it’s late, but can you please look after Piyush a little longer?” Rakesh said to the nanny.
“You don’t worry about us and go to the hospital. I will manage everything here. It’s not like anyone is waiting for me at home. You three are my only family,” Lakshmi replied with a sad smile on her face.
Rakesh returned her sad smile, and patting his son, got into the ambulance. With oxygen support, he could see that his daughter was now breathing a bit normally. Her eyes, which were fixed on him, seemed to be asking why he was so sad now that she was fine.
Rakesh sighed and leaned back on his seat, trying to relax. His stomach was grumbling, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since afternoon. His mind wandered off to the past when Priya was still alive. They were a happy family. It was almost a fairy tale — a wonderful wife and two lovely children. He had everything a man could ask for, until the day he lost it all. Priya was returning from her office on her scooty when a man on a bicycle took a wrong turn and came right in front of her. She turned her scooty to prevent a collision, but at that moment a truck coming from behind hit her, unable to apply the brakes on time. Having been thrown off her scooty, Priya hit her head on the divider and died instantly.
When he heard the news, Rakesh could not believe his ears. It was Aakash who drove him to the hospital to claim the body. The next few months were a blur to him. He wasn’t even looking after his children, who were so young that they couldn’t even understand what had happened. It was Aakash’s wife, Maya, who looked after Piyush and Srishti, along with her own son. Disturbed and far from normal, he neglected his work and ended up losing his job. Although his boss tried to be understanding, after two months he called Rakesh in his cabin and said, “Rakesh, I know that you have lost your wife and are grieving, so I gave you time to get back on track. But I am afraid I have to let you go now; I have a company to look after. If you need any help, don’t hesitate to call me. I will do whatever I can to help you.” Rakesh didn’t reply. He only walked out of his boss’ cabin, packed his things and left without saying a word to anyone.
On Priya’s first death anniversary, her parents organized a puja in her memory. That night, he dreamed about her. She was angry with him for neglecting their children, the symbol of their love. Next morning, he was a transformed man.
Later that day, he went to Aakash’s home. He rang the doorbell feeling a bit nervous and ashamed of himself. He didn’t know how he was going to face his friends and his children. A few seconds later the door was opened by Maya.
“Oh my God! Rakesh, is that really you?” exclaimed Maya, looking surprised. “Oh please come in,” she added, moving aside to make way for Rakesh to enter.
In the drawing room, Aakash was also surprised to see Rakesh. They hugged and exchanging the usual pleasantries, Rakesh said, “I don’t know how to face you and Maya, or my kids. I have been such a jerk. I was so burdened by my own loss that I destroyed everything I had. I am ashamed even to ask for your forgiveness.”
Aakash patted his shoulder, and said, “Don’t worry, bro; you don’t need to apologize to us. We are friends, and both Maya and I can understand what you have been through. The ones who deserve your apology are your kids. They lost their mother and father in an instant, and they don’t even understand what has happened. We are here for you, to help you get your life back on track. You have to be both a mother and father to your kids.”
The thread of Rakesh’s thoughts was broken when the ambulance stopped. He got down, and watched as the hospital staff took Srishti on the stretcher, and carried her inside the hospital.
After completing all the paper work at the reception, he entered the cabin of the paediatrician, Dr. Lalit Sharma, who was giving Srishti a thorough checkup. He gave Rakesh a list of tests to be performed before he could make a diagnosis.
It took about an hour to complete all the tests, and while he was waiting for the results, he heard Maya’s voice. He looked towards the canteen door, and saw Maya and Aakash heading towards him. Seeing their faces gave him strength.
“Hi Rakesh. Hello Srishti,” said Maya, lifting Srishti in her arms. “Rakesh, I am taking her in the waiting lounge so she can get some sleep. It’s nearly morning, you know.” She carried Srishti away, and both were laughing and talking. As soon as they left the canteen, Rakesh sank into a nearby chair like a fallen tree. Aakash sat beside him, and said, “Everything’s going to be all right, bro, but you have to be strong. What did the doctor say?”
“He is waiting for the reports, but I think it’s something serious. I saw him consulting with some other doctors,” Rakesh replied in a broken voice. “I have to deliver the presentation tomorrow. I don’t know what I am going to do.”
“You don’t worry about work right now. I will talk to boss. I am sure he will understand. As far as the presentation is concerned, I will deliver it.”
“Thanks, bro,” Rakesh said with tears in his eyes.
“Mr. Rakesh Tandon, please meet Dr. Lalit Sharma in his cabin,” a voice announced over the speaker.
A few minutes later, both Rakesh and Aakash were sitting in Dr Lalit Sharma’s cabin, where they were joined by another doctor.
“Mr Tandon, this is Dr. Nikhil Batra, head of the oncology department,” said Dr Sharma, indicating the elderly doctor sitting beside him. “I am sorry to inform you that we have to admit your daughter as soon as possible. She is suffering from leukaemia.”
Rakesh felt as if he was falling into a bottomless pit. His head was spinning at the thought of his little princess suffering from blood cancer. He was brought back to reality by Aakash’s voice saying, “How severe is it? When will you start the treatment?”
“Srishti is suffering from acute leukemia in which the cancer cells divide very rapidly. We have to start the treatment quickly so that we can save her,” said Dr Batra, consulting the test reports. “I can see your daughter has AB+ blood group; that’s a good thing because we can immediately start blood transfusion. It is better to use AB+ but we can also use other blood groups if it is unavailable. Are you or your wife AB+?”
“My wife was AB+, but she is no more. My blood group is A+. Can’t you use my blood?” Rakesh said in a shaky voice.
“Yes, we can use it, but we will need frequent blood transfusions, so it is better if you can arrange for more donors. Now let’s not waste time. I will arrange for your daughter to be admitted to the hospital, and get her prepared for transfusion. In the meantime, you can complete all the formalities.”
An hour later, Rakesh was lying in a hospital bed, an IV tethered to his arm drawing blood from his veins.
An hour later, Rakesh was lying in a hospital bed, an IV tethered to his arm drawing blood from his veins. On a nearby bed, his daughter was lying, receiving blood from her father. Rakesh was feeling so helpless, he couldn’t control his tears. He felt like his life was crumbling right before his very eyes. First he lost his wife, and then almost lost his children, while grieving over his dead wife. Now his life was barely getting back to normal when his little daughter had been diagnosed with blood cancer. Why was God being so cruel? Why did his daughter have to suffer? Why couldn’t it be him instead of his little princess?
The next day, his mother arrived to help her son. During the day, she stayed at the hospital with Srishti so that Rakesh could go to work. In the evening, he would directly go from office to the hospital, so that his mother could return home. Lakshmi was now living with them. She was taking care of the home, and looking after Piyush. Rakesh was worried about his son, as he was not able to give him any time; but Piyush had become a lot mature for his age. He never complained about anything. On Sundays, he would go to the hospital to see his sister along with Lakshmi, his father, and his grandmother. He acted like an elder brother, making her laugh and scolding anyone who dared to talk loudly in her vicinity. Sometimes Maya and Aakash would also come to visit Srishti. She loved meeting Maya, who would tell her stories bring her lots of chocolates.
Srishti was undergoing very severe treatment with regular chemotherapy and radiation therapy, along with frequent blood transfusions. Despite the weakness induced by the heavy doses of medicines and radiation, she showed extraordinary strength, a trait, Rakesh felt, she had inherited from her mother. Even the hospital staff said that they had never met such a brave patient.
“I have treated many patients, but none of them, not even adults have fought cancer the way your daughter is doing. I am sure she is going to recover soon,” said Dr Batra one day.
After a difficult year of struggle, intensive treatment, and patience, Srishti’s final reports showed that everything was normal. Rakesh felt like he had returned from death. The doctors and the hospital staff were also happy to see Srishti well recovered.
That evening, Aakash, Maya and their ten year old son Rahul came to Rakesh’s home to celebrate Srishti’s homecoming. Everyone was very happy and glad that the difficult times were behind them.
At night, after tucking his kids in and kissing them goodnight, Rakesh made himself a cup of coffee, and sat in the balcony. He couldn’t remember the last time he had relaxed and enjoyed a cup of coffee. He looked at the sky, and saw a star shining more brightly than the rest. It seemed to him that the star was Priya smiling down at him, and telling him how proud she was of him and their kids. She seemed to be reassuring them that she was always with them, and she loved them a lot.