Loss is a trigger which unfairly labels life as a series of freaky incidents. Recently one of my dearest buddy Newton passed away, leaving me dazed , deceived and disillusioned . Despite having people who love me dearly, I felt extremely lonely.But optimism prevailed and reminded me of the time when someone new entered my life and changed it for the better . One vivid memory which I wish to share is the birth of my son Prithvi, three and a half years ago. It was when Mumbai was attacked by terrorists in the November of 2008.
I was whiling away time having masala chai at the hospital cafeteria slowly and anxiously since my wife Sudipta was in the operation theater. News channels were flashing the latest on the terror attacks. It was the the fourth day and operations in Mumbai were drawing to a close. Over a hundred and seventy lives lost and here we were at the Max Super specialty hospital, Saket, New Delhi, awaiting the arrival of another. There was too much confusion on the state of the baby and its due date that we decided for a caesarian birth. I was worried for Sudipta. I hoped that she will not suffer needlessly and it will be a quick procedure .
People entered the hospital lobby purposefully and disappeared in its caves pretty rapidly. Some emerged from its cavernous insides to leave and loiter. I ate an apple pie with my tea. The aroma of fresh bakes was too hard to resist.Then I decided to complete my breakfast with a cheese omelet pizza. It was seven in the morning and there was no knowing when my life will settle itself for the day. The Pizza was too hot for me to enjoy. I finished it nevertheless and decided to wait for Sudipta in the room. On my way, the guard at the elevator nodded as if congratulating me for a good meal. I couldn’t tell if his generosity made me happier as I was transmitting myself from an aromatic universe to one blessed with a sanitizer. Doors closed and the pungency of the germicides quickly engulfed me in that steel cage traveling to the third floor. As usual I glanced up and watched the numbers change from 1,S,2,3 and then heard that robotic Japanese announce the arrival of my destination.I strode towards the nursing station to pick up the room keys while admiring a black & white picture of a twisted rope hung on the wall.
“Sir! your baby has come.” The nurse declared as soon as I drew close.
“So soon?! ” I blurted, not realizing that it may have sounded a bit odd to the other person. I mean, I had just finished a cup of tea, an apple pie and a pizza. Well! things happen fast. Looking back, it was just nine months. Sudipta grew big, had nausea, took this folic acid and that argenine and had to go through uncomfortable examinations at the hands of a garrulous Bengali gynecologist. Everything is over now. Someone is already here. I don’t know whether it is a boy or a girl. I don’t know whether it is fair or dark. I don’t know what to do.
I am told to go to the I.C.U. The lobby guard stops me and inquires about my intentions. I tell him I was here to have a look at my baby. He plucks a sheet of paper and asks me to fill in my wife’s name. Then he goes through a list and declares there was no baby of Sudipta Dubey.
I am relieved. To reconfirm I go to the nursing station and am promptly sent back with the reaffirmation that the baby has indeed arrived. The guard relented and asked me to don a shoe cover and a flimsy apron. I could go inside and have a look. Inside there is another nursing station and a sprawling array of nests taking care of some dozen odd infants. The ambient temperature is a strange comfortable warm. I nervously tell one of the nurses that I believe my baby has arrived.
“What is the patient’s name?” She says in that same Japanese robotic baritone. The question irritates me. Sudipta is not ailing. She is not a patient.Nevertheless I cite my wife’s name. She confirms and leads to me a nest, nay a bay. In that bay, a little creature is squirming and making faces. Its eyes roll occasionally, fists are clenched with great might. Then it releases the tension, extends its fingers almost like talons, curls them again catching something imaginary and pulling it towards itself. I look around at the rest of the landscape. Every one of those infants is sleeping soundly. I look at the nurse who I presume was looking at me closely.
“What is it?” I realize that I am trembling. Some moments of lovemaking flash across my mind. Which one resulted in bringing this odd hairy creature into this world?. Meanwhile the nurse proceeds to determine the gender by uncovering the baby’s loin. There is a label attached to its bay. It says B.O. Sudipta. Male. 2.845 Kg.
Incredible! He is here, out of Sudipta’s tummy. He has kicked her from inside, made her sick and gave her so much pain. From me he stole a fun, beer loving companion and turned her into a mother. I stand mesmerized, wondering whatever is going on inside that little head and why is his back so hairy? What is that little black patch on his arm?Oh! and they have put a blue plastic clipper on his navel. There’s a green stem sticking out from under the clipper. His head is a little big for his body, his skin is full of wrinkles. Will he, when he grows up, wear a white lungi, have a pot belly and scratch his back with a Janeau? Will he sport a mustache? Will he become a chartered accountant? I am afraid of the future. He is busy moving his arms, this time trying to pull an imaginary rope towards himself. His face is full of scary expressions. I do not have an urge to pick him up yet am in a crazy space,aware that he is a part of my flesh and bones.
His head looks a bit lopsided. Larger at the back than the front. Is that normal? The chin is nonexistent, but he appears to be fair in complexion. He has nipples too, but faint. Does he look like me? He doesn’t look like either of us. He looks like E.T.
I wonder whether Sudipta is back.Is she OK? Does she know how to handle him? Will she know how to feed him? Look at his mouth, it resembles a blob of water struggling to keep it together on an unstable surface. How will that help in suckling his mother?
I look beyond the bay, out through the window. The city is awake to its compulsions. Inside it is quite, out there must be a world of mind numbing noise. Rumbling, tumbling, hissing and grinding, generating heat, kicking dust, fighting to keep itself going. Looky here mateys, another bird has landed for you to fit somewhere. He can have pakoras while overseeing digging of a tube-well. He could learn to sing and dance. He might make a lot of money or win the U.S open. I notice flats with black propylene water tanks dotting the landscape. He could worry himself by climbing the roof to check whether there is water in his tank or not.
How will he live differently? What will I ‘allow’? What will I refuse? What will I let go? How will he handle freedom and how will he handle constraints? I turn away from such thoughts and stride out of the I.C.U.
In our room they wheeled Sudipta in a little later. I feel helpless and impotent. An hour ago they took her away, plucked our child out like some vestigial fruit and now are depositing her back. She is not allowed to eat or drink. They sustain her through a thin plastic pipe. “How are you?” That must be the silliest question. She must be confused too.Has she seen the child? Then she said that he cried out loud as soon as they took him out.
That is the most appropriate response for this world.
Then a nurse brought Prithvi in his bay. We look at him as if observing some archeological artifact. The bed sheet is green and his coppery,pale skin shines through it. The doctor walks in and gives us a demonstration in handling of the baby. He warns us to never let the railing of the bay down as the baby can roll over to the floor. Then Prithvi farts. There is some more rumble inside his little tummy. Things are buzzing there, trying to express themselves in this world. Little Prithvi is like the earth. The center of his being is fluid and active and the outside is quivering, manipulating the many fractured expressions of his experience with life.
Like a journey into an unknown land, my time with Prithvi has its weather and other discoveries. I can predict very little of his nature. In the the last three and a half years, his taste of music has changed from Black Sabbath and Steely Dan to Rabindra Sangeet. He dislikes chocolates and loves peanut butter. He has stopped crying at school. The world seems to be bringing him in. How long and how far will he hold himself, I don’t know.
Life appears to be an aggregation of accomplished milestones, but not all the milestones are of our own bidding. A lot is mystery unraveled, something one can never really be prepared for. One has to deal with as it comes. Like profit and loss.
Newton is gone. I can feel his presence in my breath and on my lips. When I lie on the bed, I don’t miss him at my feet. He is so ubiquitous.Now Frodo is here. Little creature filling big space. Jumping, playing,squealing,scratching and biting. Whenever he wants he graces our life with leaks and poops. And we are happy, carrying on. Who amongst us could have predicted that day when Newton left and who could tell the character which is there now. Life has such ways to take away and give back. It introduces us to different flavors. We only have to say ‘Yes’.