“Adenocarcinoma it is,” the doctor reported, resting his thick glasses over the document on the table as he cleared his throat to speak a few more words.
“Lung cancer in its fourth stage. I assure you nine months from here after which the condition would start worsening if not looked upon. Meanwhile treatment is available and I would personally refer your case to the best doctors in the city. You need to seek appointment at the earliest.”
Sitting between his parents, 22 year old Raman could hardly comprehend what the doctor said, save for the first two words—Lung Cancer. Equally stunned were his parents, their eyes well up with tears.
By now it had turned dark outside. The Sun had left for the other part of the globe, giving way to streetlights. The three walked home silently even as their minds resonated with equal chaos. There were numbers to be dialed and decisions to be made.
Back at home, Raman retired to his bed. He recollected something about Rutuja. The way he shared his petty college life problems with her and how remarkably she would come up with her one-size-fits-all solution. “When nothing goes right, go to sleep,” she would say. That night Raman discovered something about sleep. He shut his eyes and tried to sleep but in vain, for the problem was no longer petty.
One often considers sleep as a tool to detach oneself from worldly problems and start afresh with renewed vigor. But how can you sleep with doubts raised on the very possibility of a start, forget about renewed vigor.
In hindsight, Raman thought of all that had occurred to him in the past few months. How his mild coughing would grow severe. A few pills from the family physician and the coughing would recede, only to be back with increased intensity. The doctor suspecting tuberculosis recommended tests for the same. It was no tuberculosis and surprisingly the coughing had gone. It was only when last week he had coughed up blood that he was subjected to a string of tests. And here he was with the result—Positive. Pondering over his doom he involuntarily surrendered to sleep. The last he felt that night was his mother running her fingers through his hair.
The next morning Raman woke up late. He could hear Aunt Sunanda and Uncle Sam from the drawing room. They were the only friends the family had. Other relatives kept their distance. Amidst sobs, Raman’s disconsolate mother stuttered as she narrated the ordeal of the night before. About how the wrath of God had fallen upon her only son. Oh, was it her failure to observe her fast the previous Maha Shivratri or had she erred in her prayers to Lord Shani? All sorts of irrational thoughts crept into her mind. She was ready for every possible penance for nothing can be more agonizing for a mother than the knowledge of the imminent demise of her only son.
Raman’s father was a retired army man who had well mastered the art of holding onto emotions. The emergency demanded him to postpone his tears for a later day. Uncle Sam, his comrade-in-arms stood beside him. They were perhaps discussing the course of action to be followed which was inaudible to Raman. Seeing Raman enter, Uncle Sam greeted him with a customary pat on the back.
“Good morning champ!” he exclaimed.
“Morning,” whispered Raman in a voice that had gone hoarse due to sleep.
Uncle Sam won’t mince words. “Don’t you worry Raman. We will fight this out together like a family. You will do your best, soldier. Won’t you?”
Without letting Raman answer, he continued.
“Now freshen up. We have an appointment with Dr. Khan. He is the best.” he said in an assuring tone.
Uncle Sam and Aunt Sunanda admired Raman for his intelligence. The couple had lost their newlywed son and his wife in a car crash a few years ago. Back then it was Raman’s family that had helped them endure their loss and now it was time to switch roles.
Empathy is a scarce emotion. It requires the hand of shared experience.
While the family arranged for his treatment, Raman prepared for his ultimate departure. Although a cheerfully optimistic individual, he did not wish to spend the rest of his little life in ignorance and mysticism. He wore a red shirt that Rutuja had gifted him on his previous birthday. He had preserved it for special occasions until now that he thought of exhausting every odd memory. There is a strange thing with memories; they can make you smile but not happy.
Dr. Khan’s clinic was a 20 km drive into the city. It was a sprawling health-care facility with crowded yet noiseless corridors. Accompanied by his family, Raman waited for his turn along with a range of patients cutting across age groups. Be it 4 year old Madhu, 22 year old Raman or 50 year old Ashok, cancer didn’t seem to discriminate on grounds of age.
It was early evening as Raman waited in the car while his parents exchanged brisk greetings with Aunt Sunanda and Uncle Sam. Dr. Khan had gone through Raman’s reports and had assigned an early date for getting him admitted. He had apprised him about the feebleness and hair loss among other nitty-gritty stages in the course of his treatment which seemed more dreadful than death itself.
On their way back home Raman’s family took a slight detour. His mother’s urge to visit the Shiv Mandir was met with equal enthusiasm from Raman for the temple was contiguous to the shoreline. He had missed being at the beach. Trying to cling onto a fistful of sand he would dream at large, building mental castles, until his empty fist would break his reverie. While his parents found their solace within the temple premises, Raman would find his at the beach. He thought of all his life that he could recollect. College being the most vivid of all his memories. It was bliss until final year propelled individual ambitions to the forefront. It had been less than a month since graduation. Raman’s academic excellence besides cultural presence had earned him friends that fingers couldn’t count. He won’t let them know a thing about his disease. He would be ignoring them all. “Them” included Rutuja.
A generation that considers contemplation a waste of time, where “let go” and “move on” are buzzwords, it was easy for Raman to be labelled arrogant and life to be normal for all but him.
Holding his fist high against the backdrop of the setting Sun, he watched tiny grains of sand slip through. Perhaps everyone is holding onto these grains of sand with no control over the fist.
“Raman! Hurry up dear, it’s getting late,” his mother called for him.
“Yes it is,” he said as he set to leave.