by Shreya Ramachandran
Nataraj wakes up every morning with a crick in his neck and no desire to fix it. The newspaper is lying outside. He picks it up and reads the top headline and keeps it down. The air is fresh outside in the mornings and there is something like fog in the air even though this city is always hot.
That way, this part of Chennai is good. The leafiest circle in Adyar, prime residential real estate, clear skies, lots of trees, quiet lanes for walkers and only single-file traffic, silence. But still, the same old slog, day in, day out. Nothing new to imagine or expect over here.
“The bedroom downstairs still has things,” he tells Ranjini.
“I saw just now, when I picked up the paper. Ranj,I told you…”
“Yes, I’m moving it.”
“I can’t give you a time frame, Nutty. Drink your coffee.”
“Almost four months have gone by.”
“Let’s not talk about this. It’s morning.”
They eat in silence.
After Nutty’s father came home from hospital, he stayed in the room downstairs. T. S. N. – blue shirt, age 74, broken hip – silent for three months in the hospital until the sepsis started, then shock. Something wrong with the surgery. Body failing.
Ranjini had thought there must be something that could be done – move him to a different hospital to do a different corrective surgery, speak to the doctors again, get treatment. In this day and age there were a thousand and one medical inventions and solutions. T. S. N. was not even unhealthy prior to this – spry, two walks a day, a calm heart disease that didn’t flare up too often. Not much chest pain or congestion. Ate simple meals (although enjoyed an overabundance of filter coffee and sweets) and you could see the bones at his elbows.
“Again, same old vethakozhumbu,” he used to tell Ranjini, coming back from his evening walk with his white shirt drizzled from outside rain and his black umbrella flopping in his hand.
“Why, what can I do for you, Mama,” she would ask him.
“Some variety. As if I enjoy eating curd rice every day.”
“Not to justify myself but I’ve been out doing work all day, and then speaking to the decorator about getting these walls done. Your walls also. You all complain the house is a mess. Will I fix that or fix the food? It’s simple food and quick to make.”
“Don’t get angry with me, Ranjini ma, I’m simply saying you can do a little bit more for me. I am old and have few ways.”
Only when he came to the room downstairs was he okay with anything she did. The same red-and-blue checked bed sheet was always on the bed, he never asked for something different or said it was too old, too faded. Didn’t ask for any chair or cushion or readjusting. Nothing.
The credit card bills were staggering. “There has to be something we could do,” Ranjini said to Nutty. “I’m just – I can’t accept that no good hospital has an answer.”
“He is finding everything so difficult, walking, daily activity, so much pain. What more can we do Ranjini? He just – you know how he is.”
“He wants to die.”
“Nutty, please think for once in your life and then speak.”
“No, I mean – he told us the other day. Vikram and I were in the room. Had long life, all going up, going up. Now it has to come to a close. Doesn’t want hospital anymore.”
“He only said. And then that sepsis happened so fast. What can we do.”
“No. No. We didn’t do all those treatments just for nothing to happen at the end. I’m not a fool.”
“We didn’t pay so much to watch him die.”
The day T. S. N. made up his mind – no more treatment, no more hospital –maybe two weeks before he died, it was a quiet sort of day. Ranjini had a steel box with jam sandwiches. As usual, the lift up to his room had stretchers, some chemical smell, crowds of people. And magically everything thinned out when she reached the fifth floor. Nurses looked bored to talk to you, as if they were waiters or receptionists instead of helpers.
“T.S.N. sir has been complaining of leg pain again. Maybe you need to change the dosage,” Ranjini said in a monotone, to Nurse Sheela, though she knew there was no point.
Nurse Sheela outwardly looked put together – bobby pins holding her white nurse cap in place, neat white shirt, eyeliner – but the slightest personal interaction caused a big breakdown.
“Madam, we are doing all we can do for her, complaining every five minutes will not help.”
“Him, not her.”
“Patient is him.”
Nurse looked down at computer. Ranjini couldn’t imagine what she was doing, since every bill and invoice took at least three days to process in this horrible place.
“It might be nice if you could pretend to listen when I talked.”
Nurse looked up. “Yes, hip replacement patient. Madam, we spend all our time here. Only twenty patients on this floor.”
“Madam, hip replacements are very routine. We have bigger problems. This is a hospital.”
There was nothing to say to such remarks so Ranjini walked past and down the corridor, into T. S. N.’s room.
He was awake, looking through the window at the grey trees in this part of Anna Nagar. Ghastly yellow billboards outside, and loud lorry horns.
“Yes, Mama, hello.”
“I told the nurse about your dosage. Let’s see.”
Sometime after normal, routine talk, the conversation changed.
“Ranjini, ma, I know you are upset. But I want to go home. Enough of being here.”
“Mama, I don’t think you understand… I understand what you are saying, but…” His voice had seemed firm – not like it was just medicines talking – so she felt awkward to argue.
“I understand I will not have many more days left if I go home now.”
Nutty walked in.
“Discharge papers all sorted, Pa. They have a list of recommended follow-up people. Physiotherapists and counsellors. Some bone doctors.”
“Because you can’t walk.”
“I have nowhere to go.”
“Mama, if I may just cut in…”
“Ranjini, let him…”
“It’s okay, Nataraj, let her say.”
“Have you really thought this through? We can find a solution.”
“Ranjini, clearly he has thought this through. Plus you don’t know, maybe being at home will help. Maybe he will get better.”
“Nutty, I’m not arguing. I’m just wondering, have we thought about this to the extent we need to think about this?”
The nurse walked in to dismantle the plastic chair, pack his cough medicine, painkillers, and tablets into the bag, help him get changed into his white shirt and brown pants.
Ranjini and Nutty waited outside.
“Nataraj, you think you are doing a favour to him by humouring him but you are not using your head.”
“I am not humouring him, Ranjini. I truly think maybe it’ll work. He can come home, we can ensure his care…”
“What ensure his care? He doesn’t do physiotherapy even now. Why will he do it at home? He had another fit last night you know? After that he asked for the jam sandwich.”
“All that is just part of healing.”
“Nutty, all that is just part of the sepsis and the infection. Without further treatment it will not get better. Why does this family not want to hear reason?”
“Ranjini, you are not a doctor, okay? Nobody knows what to do. We are all trying our best. I care too. He is my father, you know?”
“Okay, I see.”
“Go take care of your father. Don’t ask me again.”
Nutty takes his last sip of coffee, tilting the tumbler back almost fully. Just like T. S. N. – won’t even leave one drop. Ranjini holds hers, still warm, one more sip left.
It’s not that she doesn’t want to clean the room. It’s easy – change out the bedsheet, remove the specs and books from the desk, some general wiping and dusting, taking away the plastic chairs from the corner.
But then they have to decide to throw or keep everything, and Nutty won’t be helpful at all.
She has to go slowly. He is too sentimental about this sort of thing.
Picture from https://www.flickr.com/photos/mpa/