for my grandfather.
A man waits for his death.
It is monotonous. Days pass and he cannot move. He can’t tell night from day, or doesn’t want to. Hours are no matter for the mortal. His legs have given up on him. His mind is numb. He cannot say if it is life that has given up on him, or he has given up on life. It is perhaps a bit of both. His organs started to fail a year ago.
Obviously it was his kidney that started to give way. A sign of the life he lived, perhaps. A drink every evening at 7 pm. Aar. You. Em., he used to say. Two cubes of ice. Soda. For the more lavish evenings, whiskey. Call him a connoisseur. You wouldn’t be wrong. Dialysis tied him down. It stripped him of his independence – he moved out of his home, left his red typewriter, his law books, his letters. His alcohol cabinet, his photographs, his television. It tied his body to a clock. Words and numbers on pieces of paper. Fluids. Urea. Creatinine. Too many other people started to tell him what to do. What to eat. When to sleep. When to use the bathroom. His body started to rule him. No more alcohol, no more chinese food, no more travelling alone, no more driving, no more visits to the British Library spending an hour at every shelf but knowing exactly what he wanted, no more quiet evenings on his sofa with all the lights turned off, no more no more.
They say many things. Sodium levels. Pulse. Urea. Blood pressure. Sugar. These numbers don’t matter anymore. They all say the same thing. His brain is shutting down. The Hindu crossword is useless. He always preferred the Guardian. A weekly visit to the British Library. (One day, I would like to look at the list of every book he’s checked out). World War, detective novels. American writers are useless. They think they are too clever for their own good. They have no flair for language. It is too sharp, even today. So sharp it breaks your heart.
Lift me up! Make me sit up! He raves. This is Tyagaraja, he says in between screams. Semmangudi. Sukhi Evaro, he asks. Kharaharapriya, he identifies. Ramaaaaaaa, nannu brovara, he shouts. He shouts the name of his deceased brothers. He wants to go to them, but his body does not let him. He holds on to his body as much as he wants to leave it. My brother sits next to him while he is delirious. He is trying to do the crossword with him. The capital of Wales, he asks. The old man pauses. Double-U, he says. It is not always the obvious, he says. He shouts for the attendant again. Takemetothebathroom takemetothebathroom takemetothebathroom takemetothebathroom takemetothebathroom he says. He yells, and rants and raves it. In two minutes, he is threatening to file a police case against the attendant. Take. Me. To. The. Bathroom. Nannu lechu!
I want to die. Let me die. Have you come to see me because I am dying? I am dying. I will not get better. Tell her I am dying. Turn off the music. Let me die in peace. Take her out of the room. What do you do with a mad woman for a wife? I need to go to the bank. I need to go to HDFC. Take me to the bank. I have to do something there. Take me to the bank. No money, he used to say under his breath. He would say it all the time. When he was driving his old fiat, he thought I couldn’t hear him, perhaps. When he was working. Pauses between typing. He would stare into space and say emphatically – no. money.
A man waits for his death.
A green monitor beeps every time his pulse falls. His breath rasps. A tube at his nose for oxygen. A tube in his nose for food. Even in a coma, even when he’s leaving, he’s holding on to himself. His hands fidget constantly as if he is tying his veshti. His hands fidget – he thinks he has dropped a tablet. He puts it in his mouth and drinks a glass of water. His hands fidget with his IV fixture (I don’t know what it’s called). Eventually, they can’t find a vein anymore on his hands, so they put it in his legs. There are sores and blood clots all over his body. Put some petroleum jelly on it, they say. He fidgets with his diaper. He hates his diaper. He has been reduced to human being from man – his diaper reminds him of that.
His daughters sit around him reading Sanskrit shlokams. The Vishnu Sahasra Namam, they read. The Lalita Sahasranama Stotram, they read. It is for themselves, more than it is for him. They want him to go in peace. They want the strength to let go. He, himself, preferred reading the Sundarakandam. It is much more poetic. He was never a religious man, he preferred to pray in his own way in his own time. It is possible he can’t hear them now, anyway. His daughter-in-law has dispensed with the shlokams, and simply chants the same line over and over again om namah shivayah. He would have been amused. Even in his coma he fidgets with the heart monitor on his middle finger. Even in his coma he resists.
It cannot be said that the man waits patiently. He waits with anger and bitterness. He waits, but he doesn’t want to wait. I say Good Night, he says Good Bye. I say I’ll see you in the morning, he says allllll the best. He is afraid. He is in pain. He is suffering. He just wants it to end. Even an animal can go to the bathroom by itself. What am I? Call him! Tell him I want to go to the bathroom. He is stripped. Of his dignity, of his pride, of his independence most of all. He flinches every time someone speaks to him with the slightest hint of sympathy. Go away, he shouts. Po! Po! Po! Po! Po!
The man wants no sympathy. He just wants to be left alone. He wants to be treated for the hyper-intelligent, powerful man that he used to be. He doesn’t want to be this human being anymore. He wants to take a shower, apply powder, sit by himself in the evening, then eat some freshly fried vadams with a glass of rum. He wants to live, not hang on to life by numbers. The man is tired of waiting.
The man dies.
Death comes to him as an afterthought, but the man dies with a smile.
He will pour himself a glass of scotch now – something fine, something aged. He will drop two cubes of ice in it. He will put a record in the gramophone. Abba, perhaps.
Can you hear the drums, Ferrrrrnannndoooo?, he will sing with an exaggerated South-Indian Accent.
I remember long ago another starry night like this
In the firelight Fernando
You were humming to yourself and softly strumming your guitar
I could hear the distant drums
And sounds of bugle calls were coming from afar
They were closer now Fernando
Every hour every minute seemed to last eternally
I was so afraid Fernando
We were young and full of life and none of us prepared to die
(There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando
Though we never thought that we could lose
There's no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando)