Reading No choice but this by
By Salil | Issue No.2 Journeys | |

No choice but this

Sheela Jaywant

(A play in three acts)

The Cast

Mohan: About 20 years old

Mother, Kavita: 40 years old in Act I, 55 in Act II

Father, Vijay: 45 years old in Act I, 60 in Act II, 65 in Act III

Sister, Shyama: 20 years old in Act I, 35 in Act II, older in Act III.

Cousin, Girdhar: 25 years old, in Act I.

Cousin, Paresh: 25 years old, in Act I.

Shiv and Veena: Friends, a couple, in Act II.

Malti and Amit: Friends, a middle-aged couple , in Act II.

Act I

 

(A middle-class Indian drawing room. There are pictures on the wall, a three-piece sofa-set, a TV set in a corner, a fridge, a dining table with snacks on it, a small shelf with a phone. There is excitement in the air. Kavita, Vijay, Shyama, Girdhar and Paresh are all on their respective mobile phones, the first four standing in a corner each, and Paresh in the center. The conversations overlap in the beginning. Kavita is a bustling, caring housewife, full of energy, in jeans and t-shirt, immaculately turned out in Act I. Vijay wears a bush shirt and trousers at all times. He is a manager in a private firm and talks and gestures like any corporate-sector person. He too is immaculately turned out in Act I.)

KAVITA (cooing and chatting graciously): Yes, Tanuja, of course, I can make it. Except that I won’t have the car with me, so you will have to pick me up… Sure, sure, sure… I guess so. Which temple…no I haven’t been there. Do I have to fast? No, only on Tuesdays, but I don’t mind. Only fruits? What about tea? Alright. No, not today, I can’t, we’re having a celebration of sorts….Oh, nothing. In our house, when all of us are together, it’s reason enough for celebration. TV? I don’t watch much TV, why? I’ll see if I can remember the timings. In my house there’s enough entertainment as it is, no need for soaps and stuff. Never a dull moment here, I tell you.

VIJAY (practically barking into the air, very staccato): Who? How can that be? This isn’t the first time … What for? I couldn’t care when or why, but … certainly. (Clearly irritated) That’s what you always say. This isn’t the time to tell me … no, I’m at home. What for? … No excuses. Nothing less … I’m sorry, but I do have a personal life. If you have a problem, call up Dighe and sort it out amongst yourselves. I expect you to tackle this on your own. (Switches off the phone and puts it in his pocket. The rest are still on their mobiles). No time for myself. (Gazes around.) It’s good to have a family. I wonder how bachelors cope. How did I, ever? Where’s Mohan?

SHYAMA (Bubbling over with energy, lots of gestures, animated): Hullo? Tell me. No, yaar … I can’t tell you anything now. Later, later. In fact, when I met her, no, she told me she hadn’t seen him for ages …. ya-a, ya-a. In fact, last week only I went to her place. Ya-a, ya-a … Let it be. Who cares? Ya-a, ya-a. It’s supposed to be a surprise. Mohan hasn’t come in yet. We’re waiting for him. He’s expected any moment. I’ll tell him. No … Why should I? I believe that we have one life to live. Live it well and once is enough.

GIRDHAR (Laid back, sloppy posture): Forget it. Hello? Hello? Who? Speak louder, you’re fading out. What? Say again? Hullo-hullo? Sonu, where are you? What’re you saying? Where? For God’s sake, why didn’t you get in touch earlier? Eh? The signal’s fading, wait, call on the land line. The number is … do you have a pencil? Ok, give me a missed call, I’ll SMS it to you. Right-o.

PARESH (Pale, eyes darting around, trying to cut out the sound of the others, concentrating. His body posture indicates trouble. Light to focus on him): Mohan? Are you sure? Which hospital? Who else was with him? Who’s with him now? Don’t tell me. Yes, I have my ATM card with me. How much? Go ahead. It’s ok with me. I’ll tell Uncle. Hold on…Ok, I’ll call you back right away. Is it serious? How can I do that? How does one tell this? Yes, I know, there’s always a first time, but it’s hard. Ok, I’ll tell them.

KAVITA (at the other end of the room): Just some friends, not a party, really… Not often, sometimes… A couple of drinks, just rice and mutton curry, nothing much. It’s basically for the chat …They’re like family, these two. Come. Don’t hesitate … No, we’re going there the day before. She said to go fasting. Of course, that swami’s just too much. Each thing he says comes true. Each and every thing. Honestly. Yes, do come. Non-veg is ok, but not on Tuesdays. They’re fine. Shyama’s here, Mohan’s on his way…  what about the Gujjars? Did they say that? It’s their privilege to refuse an invitation. See, everyone does what he or she thinks is correct, right? It’s a situational thing. Good and bad isn’t about people, it’s about times and timings … circumstances change, people change, who knows what’ll happen tomorrow? I live life a day at a time.

VIJAY (back on the phone): A deadline’s a deadline. So work through the night, then. Tomorrow morning. I’ll be in by eight … Not now…No, no … I don’t care … get it from somewhere, anywhere, ask Khobrekar about it … surely he has a phone? No, I do think about the future, and I think it’s high time you did, too, if you know what’s good for you. Well, call me back, then. (To no one in particular) Why are the young so irresponsible? Where’s Mohan, now? Wasn’t he supposed to be here before Girdhar and Paresh? Why doesn’t he listen to what he’s told. Kavita … Kavita. (Moves towards her, she moves away, talking).

KAVITA: What’s wrong with you? One sec. Mohan will come. He’s never late, why’re you fussing so? Must’ve got stuck somewhere. You’re always bothering him.

VIJAY: He could call. You aren’t particularly bothered, are you? You’re the one that’s spoiled him. Know what? He’ll be a burden on you one day if you aren’t strict with him now. Mark my words.

KAVITA: His battery may be low. Stop inflicting your moods on us. (Moves further away). When? (Vijay’s pestering her, so she turns towards him) What’s up, why’re you so edgy? Give Mohan a couple of minutes, Vijay, stop it. As for spoiling him and all that, too late, he’s a young man now, not a small child. And yes, I’ll continue to pamper him for the rest of his life. Why not?

SHYAMA (still in her own world): That’s so hot, ya-a, ya-a. Can’t tell you now. How cool is that … impossible …amazing … ya-a, ya-a. (Vijay is watching Paresh, and quietly moves towards him. Kavita follows. Shyama is still oblivious of the others.)

GIRDHAR (occasionally throwing a glance at Paresh, who is looking nervous and agitated. The others lower the volume of their voices as his goes up. He cuts short his phone call and goes to Paresh): OK, theek hai, I’ll call you back. Paresh, what’s up? (Paresh puts a finger to his lips). Are you all right? Who are you talking to?

PARESH (his body language indicates trouble, panic. The tone of his voice is sharp):Just where are you? Which hospital? I didn’t get the name. Where’s that? Already? How can they do that? Blood donors?

(There is silence in the room as everyone slowly cuts off their phones. The ‘bye’s echo softly, and as Paresh’s voice cuts through the silence, the light falls on the individuals, one by one. Each stands watching in his/her own way. Vijay looks impatient. Kavita is casual. Shyama’s still smiling curiously. Girdhar is the only one who looks anxious).

Five? How do you know that? OK. So … what do we do next? Sure. No, I have your number on my mobile. (Switches off his mobile. Turns to everyone). Mohan has met with an accident … no, it’s ok, he’s just a little injured, nothing much. But … they’ve taken him to a hospital. God, oh my God.

VIJAY: What happened? Who’s taken him?

KAVITA: Where’s he? Is he hurt badly? Oh my God.

SHYAMA: Cool, I’m sure he hasn’t paid his insurance. Baba had reminded him last week. He’s always getting into trouble. Was he with Richa? Who was with him?

VIJAY: Was he carrying his licence? I’m not going to pay a fine this time. (Turns to his wife). It’s your fault. You wanted him to drive, you allowed him to drive since he was sixteen. Where was the hurry?

KAVITA: For heaven’s sake, let’s find out what happened. Mohan’s a careful driver. Oh my God, I hope he’s OK. (Keeps placing her hands on her forehead and chest in a gesture of prayer).

PARESH: Someone from his office called up. He said he fell down and hurt his head.

KAVITA: So why the surgery?

PARESH: He was riding the bike.

KAVITA: Where was his helmet? Was he wearing it?

SHYAMA: Like hell, wearing it. Here, Ma, it’s under the sofa.

PARESH: He’s been taken to The Konawala Hospital. He’s undergoing some kind of an operation. His friends have paid some of the money. They said we’ll have to take some money, a couple of thousands, maybe. They said we’ll have to go there quickly. It’s a police case also. They said we’ll have to donate blood. They said the doctor said that he won’t be able to tell them … us … anything until after the surgery.

VIJAY: What surgery?

PARESH: I think he said neuro-something. I’m not sure I heard correctly.

SHYAMA: What’s that? They cut up his nerves? Or do they stitch them together?

KAVITA: Let’s go there, Vijay, he may be in trouble. Shyama, stop it. You’re the limit. Your brother’s hurt. Oh God.

SHYAMA: You always take his side …

VIJAY: He already is in trouble, deep, deep trouble. Always, when I least expect it, there’s trouble. A kind of law in my life. This morning, I thought, my children have grown, my responsibilities have been dealt with, now I can relax. But now I can feel the trouble in my bones. Call it intuition.

KAVITA: Stop it, you’re always sniffling. Why can’t you be less negative? I’m sure it’s just a fracture or something.

VIJAY: If it were, he’d have called up himself. Why was he taken to a hospital? Why didn’t he go there himself? Kavita, do you have some money on you?

GIRDHAR: I’m feeling faint. Can I stay at home? I can’t stand the smell of hospitals. Paresh, what are we supposed to do?

KAVITA: I have about five thousand. I have my ATM card with me. You take your credit cards. What else? Where are the car keys?

(Paresh’s phone rings and he grabs it).

PARESH: Ya? Oh, which corner? A Qualis? Sumo? What car? So where’s that car? Ok, yes, naturally. So where were you? And who else? Not at all, we’re on our way. I’ll check on that later. (Turns around and tells the others). Apparently he was turning a corner, must’ve been not more than seventy or eighty, and a Qualis came from the other side…wrong way…and slammed into him. He was flung and banged against a lamppost. That’s what happened. Luckily, Rohit and Karan were there when it happened. They took him to the hospital. He’s lost a lot of blood.

VIJAY: Did they take down the number of the Qualis?

PARESH: Don’t know.

KAVITA: That’s not important, is it?

GIRDHAR: You should go now. Go to the hospital.

(Everybody looks flustered, they are going round and round the room, looking busy, not gathering their wits about them.Vijay takes charge).

VIJAY: I’ll go. Paresh you come with me. Girdhar, you stay at home with Aunty and Shyama.

KAVITA: I’m coming. I’m not staying at home. Shyama, you stay, we don’t want a crowd in the hospital. Give me your phone, my battery’s low. Put it on charge immediately. Shyama, just switch on the light in the kitchen and light an agarbatti, will you? Say the Ramaraksha immediately, then eat a spoonful of sugar. Please, do that.

VIJAY: Do you think we aught to take some extra clothes and things? Just pack together some soap, and toothpaste, and brush and a napkin, underwear. What else? Take his rubber chappals.

KAVITA: We’ll take that afterwards. Let’s just go now.

GIRDHAR: Uncle, I’ll get it if required. Don’t worry. I have my bike with me.

PARESH: Where’s this Konawala hospital? Should I ask ?

VIJAY: I know where it is. Let’s go. (They exit. Shyama and Girdhar sit down comfortably; then within moments, get back to their phones, sms-ing in silence.)

SHYAMA: Giri, Anju knows about the accident. She says Raghu got a call from Sandhya who saw it happen. Do you have her number?

GIRIDHAR (bending over his phone): Here. It’s ringing. Let me talk first. Sandhya? Hi, what’s happened? We know. Uncle and Aunty are on their way. No, they should reach in a short while. Blood? What blood group? I don’t know. Ask Uncle. I’m not sure about these things.

SHYAMA: What did she say, what did she say?

GIRIDHAR: Didn’t your mother ask you to light some prayer and switch on the Ramaraksha?

SHYAMA (giggling): You’re too much. You said just the reverse. I have to light a lamp and say the prayer. Sure I’ll do all that. Just tell me what she said.

GIRDHAR: Nothing that we didn’t know. (Shyama goes in. Girdhar’s phone rings.) What? How long did the surgery take? Are they certain? What’s that…kwa what? Spell it. Quadra-plegic. Means? Oh-shit-oh-shit-oh-shit. Paralysed neck downwards? Forever? Can’t you ask someone else, I mean, a second opinion? What’s Uncle Vijay saying? Is Mohan conscious? No, it’s not a good idea to tell him. That’s right, he’ll go into shock. Depression. Yes, we’ll tell him after he’s recovered from the operation. Does Aunty Kavita know? No? That’s ok, get her home, then we’ll see. Anything you want from here? What about dinner? Ok, but come soon. More money? No problem, I’ll get some out first thing tomorrow morning.

SHYAMA (re-enters): Who were you talking to? Paresh? How’s Mohan?

GIRDHAR: The surgery’s over. He’s in the ICU, attached to some machines, he said. It’ll be a day or two before they can tell us how bad the injuries are. Uncle and Aunty will come home for dinner. And then one of them will go back to stay the night. Paresh will come afterwards.

SHYAMA: Big surgery, hanh? Mohan does things in style. No little tonsils, no warts, no cuts, straight into the ICU.

(Bell rings and Vijay and Kavita enter, in a hurry.)

KAVITA: Call up Aditi-Ramesh and Shobhana. We have to inform everybody.

VIJAY: Heat up the dinner soon, we have to go back immediately.

SHYAMA: Can I come, I want to see Mohan.

KAVITA: No one’s allowed to go near him. He’s all bandaged up and on a ventilator.

SHYAMA: What’s that?

VIJAY: It’s a machine that breathes for him. Or helps him breathe. Like a huge lung-pump. He’s got pipes and tubes going into his mouth and his head is all bandaged. He’s still sleeping, though, and won’t be awake maybe till tomorrow. No point your going there, it’s very disturbing to the patient and nothing you can do, really. You can come tomorrow.

KAVITA (has gone in and comes out of the bedroom with a bag): Vijay, I’m ready, let’s eat and go. I’m not hungry, you eat. (Looks around). They say a family is the best support. We’re so lucky, so lucky. So many people we can depend on. Did you see all those others in the ICU visitors’ area? They seemed so sad, so alone. Touch wood, we’re lucky. So lucky.

 

Act II

(Same room. On one side, on a wheelchair, Mohan sits, strapped, wearing a supportive belt on his neck. He is covered by a sheet below his waist. A thin towel covers his torso. There is a tube coming out of his nose, another makes its way outside the chair from below the sheet and is attached to a urine bag. Vijay and Kavita are dressed as before, but look considerable older and tired. The element of fun is gone out of their speech. They are both watching TV. Silence for a couple of seconds.)

KAVITA: Vijay, switch the sound on. What’s wrong with you?

VIJAY: Oh, sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. Today’s exactly five years since the accident. Remember, we were together with Girdhar and Paresh?

KAVITA: How do you even remember that? It seems like a hundred years. I’ve forgotten what it was to be normal, to not think of Mohan for twenty-four hours, seven days a week, always, always. I wonder what people do who have children who are born paralysed. It’s hard. At least we had some good times, didn’t we? He hasn’t come out of this unconscious state since that day. I can’t imagine, one little mistake, one minute, one second, and a lifetime of this?

VIJAY (trying to change the topic): True. When are Shiv and Veena coming?

KAVITA: They haven’t said when, maybe over the weekend, I don’t know. (She turns, gets up and goes towards Mohan, checks the urine bag). Vijay, Mohan had hiccups the whole of yesterday. I rubbed that herbal ointment on his chest. I don’t know if it helped, but by evening they had stopped.

VIJAY: Suman hasn’t come in today?

KAVITA: She’s taken off for a week. Which means she probably won’t come for another twenty days. She couldn’t get me someone else, either. No one wants to help out with Mohan. Servants are like that. They all want to do a part-time thing. The moment they see him, they run. (Sighs and shrugs).

VIJAY: What about the nursing bureau? They have these people who help. We’d got someone from there once….

KAVITA (interrupts, irritated): Vijay, they charge a lot of money. I’m fed up of trying. I’ve tried word of mouth, through every friend I have. I’ve checked with the nursing homes…heaven knows how many we’ve experienced what with Mohan’s condition. Last month, I even went with Rohini to the Home for the Destitutes, hoping to get someone who’ll be willing to stay with us. But no, I couldn’t get anyone. I’m quite fed up, actually. Tired. Weary. Sleepy. Dying. Dead. Just look at him. Look at him.

VIJAY: Don’t say that. Mohan can’t help it. We have to do what we can. Saying it won’t help, won’t make it any better.

KAVITA (voice rising hysterically): Not saying it won’t help matters, will it?

VIJAY (soothingly): Kavita. Kavita. Please don’t. Not now. I’m tired, too. It’s office and home. Trouble at work, no rest at home. Relax, be calm. (The doorbell rings and Shyama enters).

SHYAMA: How’s Mohan? Is he still hiccupping?

VIJAY: No, he’s better, now.

SHYAMA: Did you have to give him any medicine for it?

KAVITA: No.

SHYAMA: Did you call Dr. Rajguru?

KAVITA: What for, the hiccups stopped.

SHYAMA: But we need to know why they happened.

KAVITA: What’s the big deal if anyone hiccups? It’s OK!

SHYAMA: For you and me, Ma, but for Mohan… We don’t know if they bother him. He can’t even tell us where it itches.

KAVITA: Maybe it doesn’t.

SHYAMA: Maybe it does. Who knows? Whom will he tell? How do you know?

KAVITA: I look after him, I would know.

VIJAY: How was your presentation?

SHYAMA: Good. Rahul’s got a promotion. I hope he doesn’t get a transfer. I won’t be able to leave you. And he won’t be able to go without me. It’s going to be a hard decision.

VIJAY: You go wherever you have to. Don’t let us keep you back.

KAVITA: She’s our only support. We need her by us. What if something goes wrong?

SHYAMA: Nothing can get worse, really, but yes, I’d like to be close by. At least once in a while we can meet.

VIJAY: Are you going to stay for a while or can I make you some tea?

SHYAMA: I’ve just had some. I’d gone to Shilpa’s. She’s stitched some gowns for Mohan, they can be worn from the back, and you can tie them in front. In cotton checks. They look smart. Only thing, she wanted to try adding a bag at the side for his things. Here.( She approaches Mohan and taps him lightly on the head)….hi, Mohan. How’s you? Guess what, Shilpa’s sending a gift for you. I’ll get it next Saturday. You need a haircut. Ma, I’ll tell the barber on my way home. Mohan, Jiji was asking about you. I said you were fine. Fine. She didn’t know about your accident till recently. For the last couple of years she was abroad, see? Remember Jiji? No?

VIJAY: When will Rahul get to know about his transfer?

SHYAMA: Oh, maybe in a month’s time.

KAVITA: Don’t stay back because of us.

SHYAMA: You need me.

KAVITA: Rahul needs you too. Your future lies before you. Go ahead.

(The bell rings. Vijay opens it. Shiv and Veena enter. From the comfortable body language one can see they are obviously close friends. They wear contemporary stylish clothes,)

VIJAY: Hi-i there. What took you so long?

VEENA: Hi Kavita. Oh, Shyama’s here, that’s nice, am seeing her after what, three years?

SHYAMA: Aunty, I’ve been getting news about you from Ma-Baba.

SHIV ( walking towards Mohan): Hi, beta, how’re you today? Look what I’ve got for you. (Takes out a pair of stockings and a big yellow bib). Look at that. You look fine today.

KAVITA: Mohan’s colour is blue, Shiv, why’ve you got him something yellow?

SHIV: There has to be some variety in one’s life. And yellow’s a cheerful colour.

VEENA: We picked it up from Swami Jai Ram’s. It’s been blessed by him.

KAVITA: You and your swamis. I don’t know how you get into these things.

VEENA: You know, spirituality is a good thing to learn about.

KAVITA: I’ve forgotten all about it.

SHIV: Just a little bit of meditation in the morning, just fifteen minutes, will help you.

KAVITA: Help me sponge my son? Help me pour feed into his tube? Change his diaper? Empty the urine bag? Help how, tell me?

SHIV: It’ll help you to deal with the stress. Come once, just once, to meet guruji. It’ll make a difference to your life.

KAVITA: You know what’ll make a difference to my life? Tell that guru to come here for one year, (mimics Shiv) just once, and work with Mohan, see what it’s like to look after him. I can assure you, it’ll make a difference to his life.

VIJAY: Kavita, they’re trying to help you, trying to be nice. What’s got into you today?

KAVITA: Everybody comes here, tells me on which days to fast, which stones to wear, I’ve done it all. I’ve walked miles barefoot to temples, churches, caves, rivers, you know that. I’ve prayed to every god, goddess, stone and …did anything change? I’ve prayed so hard…you know, Veena, Shiv….if he had died, I’d have wept for a month. Now, I have to cry for lifetime. Alone.

SHYAMA: You’re not alone.

VIJAY (aside): Don’t let this bother you. She’s in one of her moods. Don’t let this affect your decision about Rahul’s transfer. You go. Don’t worry about us or Mohan.

SHYAMA (watches her mother sniffling and sobs): How can I? Look at her. Look at you. Always smiling, always tired. Never a moment to yourselves.

KAVITA (tossing back her head): Ah, let’s look at the bright side. (Laughs artificially.) There are parents with alcoholic sons and wayward daughters. We had no problems with discipline, eh?

VIJAY (joins in, also laughing artificially): Ha ha ha. Yup. We’ve saved a fortune on petrol. Friends always come in, we don’t go anywhere.

SHIV: There’s this homeopath …

KAVITA (very controlled, very nasty): We’ve tried unani, herbal, ayurvedic, yogic, Eskimo, aboriginal, every kind of medicine. Yes, and homeopathy, too. Someone told me … was it you … that there was a cure in the Shinto texts somewhere in Japan. I have the money, if you can give me the address …

VEENA: No, really, Kavita, listen to him.

KAVITA: Get out, get out. I don’t want to see you all now. Get out, you get me? Out. Out.

VIJAY (guiding them out unwillingly, but firmly): It’s been a bad day for her. Don’t take it to heart. Come some other time. I’ll give you a call. Sorry about this. (They leave).

SHYAMA: Ma, you can’t do this to friends.

KAVITA: They don’t understand. No one understands.

VIJAY: She’s right.

SHYAMA: Well, you can’t live by yourselves, isolated. It’s getting lonely. You fight with anyone who comes. Yet you want people to come and crib and crib if they don’t. Why will anyone want to visit you any more?

VIJAY: They’re fair-weather friends. And they can’t talk beyond clubs and movies and what happens in their office.

SHYAMA: That’s normal talk. You took VRS so you could get the money for Mohan’s treatment. Now you have this two bit job. Was it their fault that you are no longer their colleague? And yet, they make the effort to call you up once in a while. What do you tell them? ‘We’re fine, fine. Could you call some other time, we’re busy with Mohan.’ There’s no reason why you still can’t celebrate or have a formal dinner … maybe at home, if not out somewhere.

KAVITA: You, you … it’s a good thing Rahul’s got a transfer. It’s a good idea for you to go away. We’re getting to be a pain.

SHYAMA: I didn’t say that, I didn’t mean anything … I’m just trying to tell you that people do help. They want to, they don’t know how.

VIJAY: Everyone helps, for a while. Then they come less often, just call. Then even the calls stop. Shyama, Shyama, you come because we’re there. You would feel like doing more for Mohan. But there will come a time, if you were here constantly, that even you would wonder where it’s leading to, whether it’s worthwhile. Family helps. Only family helps. But family also gets tired. We’re fighting nature, age, with medicines, nursing care, artificial this that and the other. But we can’t stop. Can we? What to do?

(The bell rings again. Vijay opens the door. Kavita and Shyama are adjusting something about Mohan. Their friends Amit and Malti enter Malti is clad in a saree , and Amit, middle-aged, in bush shirt and pants.)

VIJAY: It’s so good to see you. For more reasons than one. We were all feeling rather low.

KAVITA: Honestly. Veena and Shiv were over. They do come sometimes. Unfortunately, I said some rather nasty things to them. I must apologize. Anyway, you two come in. How are you, how have you been, ages since we met. Come. Can I get you something to drink? Have some tea?

AMIT: That would be nice. And some biscuits.

MALTI: Whatever. Can I help you Kavita?

KAVITA: It’s good to hear someone asking to help out.

VIJAY (in a warning tone): Kavita, let’s not start off again.

KAVITA: OK. OK. OK. (Leaves the room).

VIJAY: So, what have you guys been up to?

AMIT: Same old things, nothing new. Our routine hasn’t changed in years.

VIJAY: You can say that again. Ours hasn’t changed in years either. That makes two of us.

AMIT: I … ah … I didn’t mean it like that. How’s Mohan doing, though?

SHYAMLA: Uncle, there really can’t be anything new with Mohan. He’s been like this, just like this, for five years now. No movement. We don’t know if he itches. Can’t swallow, can’t pee. I don’t know if he can hear. He does open his eyes, sometimes, but there isn’t any … well, life in them. I don’t know if he can hear. We play him music every day, because someone said that works. No matter what anyone says, we do it. Or used to do it. Now we don’t believe anyone.

MALTI: Ah yes. But you shouldn’t give up. Positive thinking helps. I’ve read about patients who’ve recovered after fifteen, twenty years. Who knows, Mohan might wake up one day.

(Kavita enters with mugs on a tray.)

KAVITA: Who knows, the sun might rise in the west some day.

MALTI: I’m not joking. And with all this stem cell research and micro chips being implanted in the brain by neuro scientists, it won’t be long before people like Mohan get well.

VIJAY (sipping from his mug): Sure, but we might not be around till then. (After a long pause.) That’s our fear. What happens after we’re gone.

SHYAMA: Baba, I’m there, why don’t you ever remember that.

KAVITA: But you have a family. You have responsibilities you must take care of. Mohan’s not your burden.

SHYAMA: He’s not a burden. He’s a patient. He can’t help it.

VIJAY: No matter what you call it, he’s a burden alright. All the positive thinking in the world can’t stop the backaches after a day’s work. All the prayers in the world don’t wipe the saliva that drips from the mouth.

KAVITA: Let’s talk of something else. (Turns to Amit). I told you, Shiv and Veena were here a while ago. They drop in sometimes. Nice of them. Actually, I lost my temper with them. You know, they’re into swami shopping, earning nirvana points for the afterlife and so on. It’s become the in thing, once you’ve made your millions here, get proactive, find out every means to get happy, be peaceful, stressfree, turn into little angels.

VIJAY: Kavita, enough.

MALTI: That’s true. One can’t expect swamis and gurus and whoever to straighten out one’s problems. It’s all in our karma. It’s preordained, decided by what we’d done in our past lives.

VIJAY: Oh, for heaven’s sake. What’s that supposed to mean?

MALTI: Don’t mind my being frank. Suppose in his past life, Mohan had done something really, really terrible, then….

VIJAY: Oh, and what about the karma of the driver of the car that rammed into him … What had he done to deserve an opportunity to do this to Mohan? I guess all sinners lived on the east coast of India … the tsunami happened there. Serves them right, eh? And those earthquake victims and others … all of them deserved it … they must have done something bad in their last lives, right? It’s a lovely philosophy, it explains a lot of things. But I needn’t follow it. I don’t.

AMIT: Don’t get it wrong, Vijay. See it’s like this. Maybe Mohan’s soul was to attain nirvana, but he required just a little bit of goodness to do so when he took this life. Now to prevent any sinning, before he could sin, his soul gets trapped in a helpless body. His body can’t sin, so the soul can’t get any negative points. So at the end of this life, he’s going to be free.

VIJAY (very slowly): I can’t believe I have friends who are telling me this. I can’t believe I can ever get over the fact that my son deserved this or was made to live like this to better a future life somewhere. Isn’t there anyone who talks about the here and now? Isn’t there anyone who’ll come to help wipe a bottom? I don’t want to know how to free my spirit. I want to know who will look after him after I’m dead. Who will take care of all of us when our hips need replacement … and god knows that will be sooner than for you … when our eyes can’t see and we are tired. Then who, who will look after Mohan?

SHYAMA: Baba, I’m there.

VIJAY: You’re the only one who might. Rahul’s a wonderful, wonderful person. He will take the responsibility. I know that. But it’s hard. So hard, that I won’t blame you if you gave up.

SHYAMA: I won’t. I won’t. You know that.

KAVITA: I know that. You will care for Mohan. Shyama, you are getting late. You better leave now. Keep us informed us about Rahul’s transfer. And don’t worry, we’ll manage, you take care of your life.

MALTI: I think we need to leave as well.

KAVITA: Do drop in like this once in a while. We do get lonely, and we think of you so often.

MALTI : We think of you too. Feel so sad … how different things were … and I remind myself … how lucky I am. Can’t you keep a nurse occasionally?

KAVITA: We do, sometimes, but it costs a lot of money. A couple of times, when there were emergencies, we weren’t there. So now we hire one when we really need one, like when one of us is ill or something. Otherwise, we get along with the help of a part-timer.

MALTI: He’s heavy now.

KAVITA (gently stroking Mohan’s face): He’s a man. He’s lovely. (She bends to adjust his feet). Ouch … my back. Ow. This is what bothers me. The aches and pains that have begun. It’s the age, I guess.

AMIT: Chalo, chalo, we’ll come some other time, I’m waiting, Malti.

MALTI: Bye. See you, Kavita, bye Vijay.

(They all leave. Kavita and Vijay go back to Mohan and adjust the various tubes and sheets).

KAVITA (holding her back): They come here to remind themselves of how lucky they are.

Act III

(Mohan is in a corner, on his wheelchair. Vijay’s watching television. On a table, there’s a big portrait of Kavita, garlanded, with agarbattis lit before it. Nothing moves for half a minute. Only the sound and flickering light of the television breaks the monotony. Then the phone rings. Aims the remote to mute TV on mute.)

VIJAY: Yes? Who? My goodness. Hi, this is a surprise. Where are you calling from, Suresh? I think I’m hearing your voice after, what, a decade now? How did you get my number? That’s right, I took VRS about a year ago. Thank you. No, Kavita had bad lungs, fibrosis. She got worse over a period of time. Yes, she was in the ICU, then. She gave up, in the end, I think. (Chokes as he talks. Wipes his nose on his sleeve.). It’s been a year and a half now. I’m on my own. Shyama is back in Mumbai. She comes in whenever she can. Her children have their board exams and she can’t come in daily, but she comes. Whenever she can. Mohan’s the same. You heard, right? Yes, after the accident, he’s been the same. No, no change whatsoever. I have to manage, it’s become mechanical now. I can’t think of not doing something it’s become a habit, changing him, turning him, pouring in the feed, clearing his mouth, sponging…..you have to go? Ok, bye, then. (Puts the phone down, holds his head, then looks up). He wasn’t interested in Mohan. Had I talked of shares, he’d have chatted for ever. (Gets up and goes to fidget with something around Mohan. As he bends, he gets a catch and tries to straighten his back. It’s painful. He struggles, then eases himself into the sofa.) This is only going to get worse. What am I to do? Kavita, wish you were here. Wish you were here. (Looks at her photograph from a distance.) Remember, we’d got around to forming a trust for Mohan, so he would get looked after we were gone. Shyama will, I know she will. But it’s going to be so hard, so hard for her that I don’t have the heart to let her do it. I know…you know, Kavita, how we’ve struggled to care for Mohan. The late nights, the aching hands, twenty-four seven all year round. I don’t want Shyama to go through this. I don’t.

(He moves up to sit upright, twists to ease his back, then gets up and limps to the other side.) I don’t have much affection left. None at all. The tears have dried up. The grief is gone. The injustice rankles. That a moment’s mistake, someone else’s mistake, ended in a lifetime of hardship for me. For us. What did I do to deserve this? What did Mohan do to have been punished like this? Who was that driver? Does he even know of us? Does he ever think of that moment when he slammed into a bike, long years ago?

(The bell rings, he takes a long time reaching it. Shyama enters).

SHYAMA: What happened? Why’re you limping?

VIJAY: Just a catch, had gone to adjust Mohan, age isn’t going to spare me. I’m fed up of life, of living.

SHYAMA: Why are you always so negative? Always moaning and groaning and cribbing. Think positive.

VIJAY: What about? If you were in my position, old, lonely, and burdened, horribly burdened, with Mohan, you wouldn’t have anything to smile about.

SHYAMA: I’ve told you so many times, call me whenever you want to go out …and go out. Why do you stick to the house all the time? Go for a movie, go to your friends, go for a walk, just go.

VIJAY: If I did that more than two or three times, you’d get fed up. Then the excuses will start….the tuitions, the commitments,…

SHYAMA (Consolingly, coaxingly in the beginning, then slowly getting irritated): No, I won’t make any excuses. You know me…

VIJAY: (aside) I know human nature. I’ve learnt it, learned about it, the hard way.

SHYAMA: Why don’t you ask for help? I’m there. You don’t do anything at all the whole day long, that’s why you’re frustrated. It has nothing to do with Mohan. Why don’t you watch television?

VIJAY: I do. But it doesn’t interest me. How does an earthquake in Kashmir affect me? The Delhi blasts won’t change my life. It adds to others like Mohan. Injured, permanently dependent on their aging parents. The killed don’t worry me. It’s a relief to know they are free from all troubles.

SHYAMA: You’re morbid. You need to see a psychiatrist. I’m going to get you an appointment with one. You need help. I’m in a rush now…

VIJAY (in an aside): That’s what I meant. There’s no time, always in a rush. Life was never meant to be stretched like this. When Nature says, ‘this is the end’, we must learn to let go. We allow doctors and hospitals to keep us breathing, hearts beating, for what? Life is meant to be lived…(to Shyama) Shyama, if I get a stroke or something, if I’m unmoving, in hospital don’t try to save me. Let me go. When my time is up, don’t ask them to put in tubes and medicines, let me go.

SHYAMA: Why do you always keep talking like this, it bothers me. Heaven knows, I’m always so depressed these days. You need help, Baba. I’ll see if I can come tomorrow. Bye now.

(She leaves, hesitantly, after having fussed over Mohan and checked out the drawing room for mail, tidied up here and there.)

VIJAY: Kavita, forgive me. I don’t know what else to do, I’m at my wits’ end. I gave him birth, and I will give him death. Before I go, I will release his soul to wherever it was meant to go. His time had come many years ago. We held on, we kept him back, and we’ve paid the price. Kavita, I know you will agree … wherever you are, take him, take care of him. Mohan must go before I do. I’ve done my duty… and I’m going to do it now.

(Takes a sheet, goes across to Mohan, throws it over his head. Flashing lights, confusing music, as Vijay ‘murders’ his son. The lights go off for a couple of moments. In the silence, there are stern voices that say: “Homicide, not amounting to murder” “Euthanasia, it’s illegal, but what the hell, everything that’s legal needn’t be correct” “How could he take his own son’s life? His own flesh and blood?” “What could the man have done? Were you going to take Mohan to your house to look after him?” “ If I were in his place …” “But you weren’t … only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.” “Oh, these patients are routinely given a morphine drip in municipal hospitals. In villages, they aren’t fed … where a hand can’t earn, the mouth can’t eat. It’s only we urban educated kinds who can think of caring for those who border life and death.’ ‘ What right do we have to take a life when we can’t give it?’ ‘Don’t the disabled have rights, too’ ‘Those who are concerned about the rights of patients such as these must spend a compulsory two years in looking after them. Then they’ll know’ ‘That’s ridiculous argument, you don’t have to get cancer to know what it feels like.’ ‘You’re the one that’s ridiculous, giving advice and deciding what’s right and wrong when you haven’t a clue what happens to these families over the years’… a cacophony of sound, and the lights come on.)

VIJAY (holding a paper in his hand): The doctor didn’t ask me how it happened. Maybe he had a suspicion, maybe he didn’t. I don’t know. Here’s the death certificate. Strange, I feel more relief than grief. I don’t know what to do the whole day long. I’ve spent my entire life in the service of a blob of flesh. Mohan. Now, to tell Shyama …

(He goes across to the phone. The Curtain falls.)

Sheela Jaywant has been a hospital administrator, a guest-relations person in a hotel, a teacher and librarian. Her short stories have appeared in many anthologies and have won various prizes, including in competitions held by www.toasted-cheese.com, Elle, Random House and Fundação Oriente, Goa. 

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Issue No.2 Journeys

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Editorial: Journeys

“Everything is a journey,” was a reaction to my choice of the theme ‘Journeys’ for this issue of Tambdi Mati. Inevitably so, since life is a moving-on. And since Joseph Campbell reminds us of the Hero’s Journey, we may for a moment believe, immodestly, that we are in congenial company. People in Goa are used [...]

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