Satire in the Age of Letters and Technology- more than just a pinch of it.
It was the 8th of May 2003 when it happened-I was twelve then. They said that a cab had hit her while she was trying to cross the road. The doctors said that she was in an extremely critical state and that we should not set our hopes high. Dad rushed to the hospital, my mother would not stop crying, gran wept on the other side of the phone and I could hear my baby sister’s heart thudding against my chest as she tried to make sense of the tense situation. I said nothing. I felt nothing. ”But I met her only that day”-I said to myself.
People say that cousins are your first friends-they come into your world and light it up like a thousand candles in the sky. I believed every bit of it having spent the initial years of my life in the company of my cousins.I was always a recluse but they had seen a side of me that nobody ever had. My Barbie dolls and Doctor Sets, my Monopoly boxes and Play-dough belonged to them as much as they did to me.A game of hide and seek meant winning a bar of my favorite chocolate as they would never let me lose and a session of cricket meant my brothers would allow me to bat for as long as I wanted. They made me happy, they pampered me, they cared for me and were there for me when I needed them most. I could not imagine a life without them- ever!
She was my favorite among all my female cousins, she was the eldest and the most loving of them all. I have my earliest memories with her as a 4th grader, she was in the 11th standard then. Despite the massive age difference between the two of us, she never treated me like a baby. She was a person of few words, but somehow always opened up before me. It was like we shared a bond that cannot be defined- two unusually quiet people who could not stop talking when in each others company. She spoke to me about her love for Mathematics and told me how much she disliked English Literature. She wanted to become a business woman, a successful one who could afford a mobile phone and drive her own car. Mobile phones were a novelty back in those days and I was fascinated when she told me about them in intricate details. Her facial expressions would vary as she would recount one fact after another- excited, happy, smug, lost- everything one could think of. I hardly understood anything I was told, these words were Greek to me but I never complained. I liked it when she spoke to me about the most random of things in the world, they may have been highly esoteric but her words had a charm underlying them. I think she had some kind of an allure that could make the dullest of things seem interesting. I wanted to emulate her, I looked up to her the way young girls look up to popular female popstars for inspiration. Despite her effervescence, she was one of the most sober people I had ever known. She was very down-to-earth and to such an extent that she never showed any form of excitement let alone pride even when her results said that she stood first in class (which she almost always did). There was only a smile on her face, a smile that was an embodiment of her humility, her modesty. Her eyes would always shine, they had a kind of brilliance only diamonds could possess. Yet they shone not because she was vain, but because her purity reflected in them. She had many a reason to be vain- she was the prettiest sister I had- her peaches and cream complexion, translucent skin,sharp features and bright smile would cause envy wherever she went. But she probably never realized it or maybe she was too grounded to accept it. I remember how my grandmother would apply a dot of kohl on the back of her neck to ward off what she called the ‘evil eye’. I never understood why she did this but the only reason my sister could cite was that the accumulation of these black spots would make you look like someone with thick hair especially when you experience a lot of hairfall. We would always laugh at the idiocy of this hypothesis and it was almost like a patent joke that we shared.
She was always protective of me, no matter what. She would always support me whenever I would pick up a fight with my brothers, she was probably the only person who could stop me from crying every time my mother scolded me for some folly of mine. This did not however mean that she would try and spoil me- she did rebuke me on a few occassions, but so light was the chiding, that you could not help but try and make things right because they were so evidently replete with love. I remember the time when we lost my uncle, my mom’s brother.We were all kids then- I was ten and it was a very strange feeling as I had no clue what losing a person felt like. Moreover, we were all secluded and sent to my grandmother’s place as we were not supposed to witness the last rites. I remember crying with the rest of my kins unable to understand what exactly had gone wrong. She was the one who calmed us down- she knew what had happened and tears were conspicuously gleaming in her eyes, but she held them back to look after us.She told us stories and and played games with us without ever letting us know the seriousness of what was going on outside.She then looked like a mother to me- her fragile frame, chaste face and musical voice totally contradicting my assumption- but her warmth and love were of the kind only a mother could possess. She was like my favorite soft toy-one that I treasured the most and could not possibly part with. It was remarkable how she never made me feel like she was a cousin, I always considered her to be an elder sister I could call my own. She was however a friend first- a fierce friend whose value could not be compared. Age never really mattered to her – to us.Never.
Time flew and distanced those bound to each other by virtue of happy, innocent, infantile memories. I was nearing my teens and she was busy studying for a degree in Business. We lived in the same city, but hardly met- only a few family functions brought us all together. The strong ties were subdued-never lost- but hidden deep down somewhere. I last met her during a cousin’s wedding. She told me I had grown taller and looked pretty. Pretty, I then realized was what she was- time had added to her beauty and had blessed her with a lot of grace. She was roughly nineteen yet the aunts around could not stop looking for a groom for her because she was so beautiful and perfect. We spoke about life, I told her about school, she told me about college and all her friends.I noticed that she had applied make-up and told her that the glitter on her eyeshadow looked very good and that mom would never allow me to use cosmetics. I still remember what she said ”Don’t ruin your delicate skin, you shall be eighteen in another six years. Six years is a very short time. You can paint your face then” We laughed for a while and then my little niece took me away and she got busy helping the bride with the train of her trosseau. I remember waving to her a few hours later as I had to leave early, hoping we would meet soon. She waved back with the usual cheerful smile on her face. I never realized that it would be the last time I would ever see her.
The accident occurred roughly five months after the wedding. 8th May was also my mother’s birthday so I could not forget the date even if I badly wanted to. Dad said that some passersby carried her to the hospital post the accident and informed her parents using the details mentioned in a notebook that she was carrying. She was bleeding a lot and the doctors were poking her with injections left right and center. She never responded- her body was in a stone like state with only her heart beating. They operated upon her to find multiple fractures in her body and severe brain damage. Dad gave us the news we did not want to hear- the damage done to the brain was beyond repair.My heart sank the way a stone dropped into the water does. Despite the heart-wrenching details we were provided with and inspite of my mother’s constant sobs, I did not shed a tear.No, I was not trying to be strong, I simply could not cry. It was as if my mind had stopped working, I could hardly react when we received the news of her going into a coma. My dad being a doctor knew the truth behind the situation- she was now a corpse with a beating heart.Her brain was dead. She had lost all sense of the world, she could not respond to any stimuli, she was in a deep sleep- so deep that there stood bleak chances of her revival. I only remember going to the hospital with my parents to see her, though I never ended up going inside the room as I could not muster enough courage. I knew deep down that I would not be able to cope with the shock of witnessing her in a vegetative state. I would not be able to bear the fact that she could not open her eyes and look at me- speaking was out of question. I saw my aunt cry like she had never cried before. I last saw her shed tears when her brother- my uncle expired. She was a strong woman but on this occassion, she came across as the most susceptible woman to me. Her unusually taut skin looked wrinkled, there were dark circles under her eyes and they were bloodshot due to all the crying. She looked at me and cried more and thats when it hit me- I could suddenly perceive the helplessness of the situation. I knew I had to get away from that place as soon as possible. My aunt would always be wonderstruck when she would see the two of us playing together and say ”they are so alike”.
A week had passed and she showed no signs of improvement. The doctors had given up on her but despite trying to explain the scenario a hundred times over, my aunt and uncle could not come to terms with the fact that she would not be back to what she was before. She was given every possible medication in the world- to no avail.Weeks passed into months and the situation was the same. She was shifted back home from the hospital and a few nurses were appointed to look after her. But what really was the point? My life which had been converted into a hollow because of the setback was gradually going back to normal. School made me busy and friends kept me distracted. I however did keep tabs on her once in a while through grandma who would visit her occasionally. She would always say the same thing : ”she looks like a dead body which can breathe, her body has shriveled yet the grace has not deserted her visage ”. She would cry every time she said this and I would fight with my tears, trying my level best to hold them back. I never could go and see her, its not that I did not want to- I simply could not bring myself together to go. Her parents also began to accept the harsh truth and stopped alienating themselves from the society. I started to see my aunt and uncle at weddings and other such family events. Never once did I ask her about my sister- I would simply smile and mutter a few formal greetings, but I could read the pain on her face. I was aware of the way she looked at me, I knew I reminded her of an inseparable part of her but I could not let my emotions beat me. ‘I have to be strong’ I would say to myself and this continued. Almost eight years had passed since the accident. My life had changed completely- I achieved a lot and lost a lot more. Things kept me occupied and the incident was merely a distant memory but one that continued to haunt me.
I thought about her every single day of my existence and it is no exaggeration. I thought about what had happened to her and what she must be going through at least once every day. I always wanted to see her, but somehow could not. It was as if I had created a world for myself where I imagined her as someone who was very busy with her life to take some time out and meet us. I attributed her absence in those dozen weddings and other family events that happened over the years to a packed work schedule. I would not visit my aunt’s place out of a sort of fear that was embedded in me- I could not describe the kind of fear it was. I just did not want my parallel world to break down in front of me as I faced the harsh reality. I had already gone through a lot during the nineteen years of my life. My parents had been in a state where they had almost lost me but nothing could compare to what my sister’s parents had seen. Watching your child writhe in pain but never speak is enough for a parent to die a thousand deaths inside.Whenever I read about the Aruna Shanbaug case, I could not help but think about my sister. Was a concept as controversial and tabooed as Euthanasia even worthy of being spoken about let alone be suggested in a society like ours? Would her parents understand the meaning of ‘mercy’ in the term ‘mercy killing’? Some times, things are much better if one prefers to remain silent. She was destined to suffer, she had some kind of an agreement with the three Goddesses of fate where she accepted nine years of agony in silence. She was the kind of person who could do that, she was saintly more than anything else. She died a week before this was written and I learnt of her death a day before I wrote this.
People often use condolences like ”She lived a good life”, ”She was God’s favorite child, so He wanted her close”, when other people die. Was this relevant in her case? Did she even live a good life? Had she seen enough of what is known as life? Eighteen years of dreams, hopes, hard-work,love, success and failure amounting to nine years of a silent wait for death – Should I then call her God’s favorite kid? Should we even believe in the existence of God for that matter? These questions refuse to leave my mind. She was a gem of a person who deserved a long blissful life filled with all the success that one could think of. What had she done to deserve what she was given? I remember when I cried in dad’s lap the night I learnt of her death, he said ”She died nine years back, she has just attained freedom from the misery of being chained”. Yes, I would like to think that she is pain free now in a happy place where the angels cannot help but feel envious because of the new and far superior addition to their lot. She was an angel and there was no doubting this truth.She was my angel.
I prayed for her last night, like I always did- this time for her soul.
Mom said that she looked like the most beautiful bride in the world during her funeral. I smiled. I knew best.