By Sudha Narasimhachar
Jyothsna looked like an angel in the white cotton saree with a lovely orange and black border. She was all excited. Bhaskar had promised to take her to his house today. Jyothsna took extra care to project a good image of herself to Bhaskar’s family, because the first impression really mattered. It was not an ordinary meeting. Bhaskar was going to announce to his family members about his intention to marry Jyothsna.
Jyothsna first met Bhaskar about two years ago when he came to her organization to arrange for an automated wheel chair for his friend Vinod. Jyothsna was a bit surprised that Bhaskar brought his friend to her organization, because normally such persons were accompanied by the immediate family members. As the two of them waited in the lounge, Jyothsna was very impressed with the way they were interacting with each other – happy, confident and carefree. She had been working there for the last four years and never had she seen some spastic person, who was totally dependent, being so cheerful and witty. She was reminded of the popular scientist Stephen Hawking. Thereafter Bhaskar visited her office on a few occasions regarding certain modifications to the chair, payment, etc. She got curious one day and asked him, “How is it that you are always coming here for your friend? What about his family members?”
“I am a member of his family too”, replied Bhaskar with a smile.
Jyothsna could probe no more. But she was somehow attracted to Bhaskar. She gradually befriended him. He worked as a Management Consultant in a multi-national company and Vinod worked as a software professional in a multi-national company.
“Software professional! How did he become a software engineer? He is so dependent on others”.
“That’s a long story. To make it short, he works with just one finger and he has impressed everybody with his intellect and wit. Thank God that he has been recognized. He is lucky to be in a wonderful family and blessed with a Godly mother”.
Jyothsna got closer to Bhaskar and eventually learnt a lot about Bhaskar and Vinod. Their story only made her intuition stronger. She wanted to join the wonderful family. She proposed to Bhaskar one evening. Bhaskar was surprised. Of course, he too had grown fond of her but never expected the proposal to come so soon.
“Why are you not reacting? Are you not happy?”
“Of course I am happy Jyothsna. But it is too sudden. I do not know what to say. Ours is not a normal family. I am yet to tell you many things. I wonder whether your parents, who are leading doctors and run a hospital, will ever agree to get their only daughter, an upcoming orthopedic surgeon, married to an ordinary Management Consultant. It’s just not that simple. You just know that I accompany Vinod every day to his office and pick him up back from there in the evening. But the story is much more complicated”.
“What is it Bhaskar? You are throwing bomb shells. I know how close you are to Vinod. My parents will have no qualms in letting me decide my life partner. You are from a decent family. Your father is a Principal of a Junior College and your mother works for a Bank. You are educated, have a good job and have such good values to be helping your friend so much. Your brother is a bright student studying in an Engineering College. What is it that my parents have to object?”
“Okay. Let us not argue too much. I will take you home one day. You can then decide”.
Today was the D-day. She had taken leave from her busy schedule, as today was a public holiday. Bhaskar arrived on time and picked her up from her home. She had introduced Bhaskar to her parents earlier but only as a friend. Just yesterday, she revealed to them her intention to marry him. They did not react immediately. She briefed them with Bhaskar’s family details, his qualification and job.
“Jyothsna, we thought, being a doctor, you would choose a doctor as your life partner. We need not explain to you about the various factors that make a doctor’s life very different from that of others. Only a doctor can understand those factors”, said her father.
“Appa, I agree with you. But love does not occur after analysis. I was attracted to Bhaskar for various reasons, mainly for his good values, decent behavior, noble thoughts and compassion. For me, my profession is going to be my aid to serve this society. Of course, I will earn my livelihood but eventually I want to serve the society. I feel Bhaskar would be a very good companion for me in this journey.”
“You are yet to meet his family members. Meet them and then decide Beti. We trust your maturity”, said her mother.
As Bhaskar and Jyothsna entered that simple home, Snoopy, the pet dog welcomed them with his friendly wag. Jyothsna was taken aback to see so many people in the living room.
“This is my father Krishnamurthy, my mother Mangala and my brother Bhuvan.”
“Welcome. Please sit down beti”, said Krishnamurthy.
“This is my other mother Praveena, my sister Kalyani, her husband Vasu, their little bundle of joy Shruthi, my brother Vikram and of course Vinod. That is Jayamma aunty.”
Jyothsna was perplexed. ‘Other mother? What does he mean?’ thought she.
“This is Dr.Jyothsna”, said Bhaskar addressing everybody in common.
“Jyothsna, you might wonder seeing so many people here. Feel at home. We will explain everything”, said Praveena politely.
“Ammas, I have an announcement to make. Jyothsna and I want to marry, provided you all do not have any objection. But I do want Jyothsna to know all details about our family and then make her final decision. As far as I am concerned, I have no problem, except that I am not a doctor and Jyothsna should not have any complex because of that. My only condition is that my life partner accepts all the members of this crazy family whole-heartedly and does not come in the way of my friendship with Vinod”.
“Bhaskar, are you done with your mini-lecture? Don’t scare Jyothsna. Let us first tell her our story”, said Praveena.
Jayamma, the cook, brought hot pakodas and coffee for everybody.
“Jyothsna, do you mind listening to our story here in the presence of everybody or do you want privacy?”
“It’s your choice aunty. I have no problem either way”.
Praveena took her to the garden in their backyard, excusing from others in the living room.
“Bhaskar, you can come along, if you wish”, said Praveena. Bhaskar joined them and Vinod started teasing him, “Go along. What if mom poisons Jyothsna’s mind like those evil moms of TV sitcoms!”
“Jyothsna, I used to work in BHEL. Did you know that? I met Satish in BHEL and we got married just one year after we decided to marry. Satish’s family members are all gems and I felt elated to enter such a lovely family. Kalyani was born two years after marriage. Vikram was born three years after that. Vinod, our special child came into our lives two years later.
Satish and I were shocked when we found Vinod not growing up like our other two children. We could sense right from his first month that he was not a normal child, because he did not show any of the normal milestone growth symptoms. We took him to so many doctors and hospitals but finally it was Dr.Bharadwaj, who broke the shocking news to us.
“Look here Ms.Praveena. Accept that your son is a Spastic. His nervous system is totally dysfunctional. We cannot do anything. If hospitals and doctors are promising you that they can improve his state with some treatment, they are only fooling you, to make money. He is just a vegetable. Take care of him as long as he is alive. Do not waste your money, time and energy”.
I had not even heard the word ‘spastic’ in my life. Vegetable? How am I going to bring him up along with two other normal children and my job? I was doomed. Satish and I cried that whole night. Satish came to terms with the fact soon but I could never accept the bitter truth. I applied for leave and locked myself up in the room with little Vinod for months together, crying, brooding and thinking of all evil plans. ‘Should I kill the child and commit suicide? Then who will take care of Kalyani and Vikram? Should I kill them too? What is their fault? What right do I have to take away their lives? Then how will Satish bear the grief? Who will take care of him?’ My mind would be ever thinking.
“Satish’s parents, my parents, his siblings and mine gave us a lot of physical and emotional support. My mother once advised, “Jyothsna, for a mother a child is a child, whether he is intelligent, foolish, good, bad, beautiful, ugly, tall, short, fat, thin, healthy or sick. Vinod is your special child. He needs you more than Kalyani and Vikram. God has sent him to this planet with some mission. You have no right to break that mission. Accept him with love and grace and carry on with your life. You will find some solution some time in your life.”
That day, I felt like having received a revelation. I quit my job because taking care of a special child requires total dedication and a lot of time. My family members supported me by taking care of my other two children’s needs, while I devoted most of my time for Vinod. I took him to physio-therapy sessions. After six months, I took up a course in physio-therapy, because the therapy had to be a life-long effort. Everyday, I used to massage my child’s limbs for hours together, as he kept screaming out of pain, only in the hope of seeing life in them. I could never reconcile to the fact that my Vinod could not attend school or play like other children”, Praveena could not hold her tears.
Silence filled the room. Tears rolled out of Jyothsna’s eyes too.
“You might be wondering why aunty is relating her story so much in detail to you. There is a reason Jyothsna. Aunty, shall I continue?” asked Bhaskar. Praveena nodded and wiped her tears.
“When Vinod was six years old, aunty carried him to the nearby nursery school, begged them to admit him on the promise that she would accompany him everyday. The management agreed and aunty carried him religiously to the school. Vinod’s expressions on hearing the children and the teacher were good enough for the mother, though he could hardly repeat anything in clear words. Aunty held his hand and made him write whatever he could-just strokes.
“When Vinod was eleven, aunty read about this world-renowned neuro-surgeon who was visiting India from the US, to attend a conference. She pulled heaven and earth to meet him for half-an-hour. He referred her to a leading surgeon in Bombay. Uncle and aunty took Vinod to Bombay and the surgeon performed a very risky spinal surgery on Vinod. That surgery merely helped Vinod to straighten his lower limbs, though he could do no more”.
Praveena intercepted, “I took a very big risk, as the doctor told me that Vinod could lose his life or his condition could worsen with the surgery. My prayers were strong. But I had not even crossed the first hurdle, with thousands of others left”.
“When Vinod was fourteen, aunty heard about another native doctor in a remote village of Andhra Pradesh, who treated such cases. She went there, stayed all alone for one year, carrying Vinod to the doctor every other day. The treatment was very painful and her stay there was not easy, as Kalyani and Vikram had to be cared for by uncle. By then uncle was transferred to the North and thus he had no support from anybody else.
“Just as the treatment there was getting over and aunty was yearning to get back, she heard the shocking news of uncle’s death in a road accident.”
“Can one family be showered with so much sorrow? Yes. It happened in my family. I was doomed. I came back with Vinod, just able to move one finger after such a harrowing treatment, to take over the entire responsibility. For a couple of months, I was lost. My brothers and brothers-in-law offered to take care of us, if we went to their houses. But I did not want to burden anybody. I took up a job in a private bank in Mysore. From then on life became more challenging. I admitted Vinod to a nearby school. But he required someone to help him physically. That’s where entered Bhaskar, who was Vinod’s classmate, in our lives. He is God-sent. He started taking care of Vinod in school and when he wanted to be his scribe, he had to sacrifice a year and become his junior. Since then the journey has been a tough but successful journey, thanks to Bhaskar”, Praveena said, hugging Bhaskar.
“To make the long story short, aunty fought tooth and nail with the CET authorities to permit Vinod join an Engineering College and I supported him physically, writing all his exams. We are proud today that Vinod is the first ever spastic Software Engineer of the country! In this struggle, Kalyani and Vikram sacrificed a lot, as they received very little attention from aunty. They became very responsible and mature at a very young age and started supporting aunty in all ways, especially after uncle passed away.”
Jyothsna could just not get any words. She felt like having seen a serious movie. She looked around the room, which happened to be Vinod’s room and stopped her gaze at an enlarged picture of Vinod and Bhaskar with a trophy.
“That’s the picture taken at New Delhi. Vinod was awarded the highest prize for achievements by Physically Challenged people and Bhaskar was awarded a special prize as the ‘Best Friend in a Millennium’ by the Government of India. Jyothsna, I told you all this for one main purpose. Bhaskar is just not a good friend of Vinod but now has become a part of our family, assisting him from morning to night. He broke his educational journey for four years for his friend’s sake. I have to salute his parents, who have magnanimously agreed to this arrangement. After retirement, Bhaskar’s father moved to Mysore with his family. We all live in this twin-house, so that Bhaskar can spend time with his family also. Now, whoever is going to enter this family has to accept all of us and understand our close ties. Bhaskar is like my own son and Vinod is like Bhaskar’s parents’ own son. We all make a happy family. Touch wood, so far we have had no relationship problems. Bhaskar’s mother takes care of the kitchen most of the times, his brother assists us in so many ways, while Vikram takes Bhaskar’s father to the hospital for his check-up and Kalyani’s family is treated with love by all of them, whenever they visit. These days, girls love to live only with their husbands, enjoying total privacy. But here, you can never dream of such a totally private life, because Bhaskar will never leave Vinod. I tried to advise him on so many occasions. I told him I will engage a full-time nurse for Vinod. But he gets very upset and says that he would rather die than staying away from Vinod. Will you be able to adjust to this large family?”
Jyothsna was choked. She remembered reading an advertisement in the matrimonial column some time ago, ‘Wanted a well-settled, MBA/MS Brahmin groom for a fair and good-looking software engineer aged 25 years. Parents to live separately.’ In an age when extended family concept was going almost extinct, here was a strange family, where not only blood relatives but friends have also sacrificed so much in order not to waste one life as ‘vegetable’. Hats off to the struggle of the great mother!
“In fact, I should be lucky to join your family aunty. My parents will be proud of my selection. I understand Bhaskar’s importance to your family and will never come in his way. Instead, I will also try to complement in my own way”. Saying this, Jyothsna fell at Praveena’s feet. Praveena was touched. She lifted her gently and hugged her. Bhaskar was very happy.
As the three of them came into the living room with radiant smiles,
all the others who were waiting eagerly shouted, “Congratulations!” Jayamma ran out of the kitchen with the sugar box and fed a spoon of sugar to Vinod and Bhaskar. She was in tears.
“When is the wedding?” asked Jayamma.
“Are you forgetting Jyothsna is also from a family and her parents have to accept us?”
“They will accept. My heart says so. Let’s meet them soon”, said Krishnamurthy. Snoopy understood everything. So it seemed by the way he wagged his tail vigorously!