Death, Be Not Proud

VENKATESH GOVINDARAJAN

She died fighting, gasping for breath, in front of my eyes, a little after midnight on January 10, 2020. A dark night in the northern hemisphere, literally for everyone, and metaphorically for me. In fact, the darkest my life has ever seen or will see. Varshita died fighting, yes. But, that is how she lived her life. We got married on December 6, 2007, and over the last 12 years, one month and four days, I learnt a lot from her, and was inspired and motivated and encouraged by her fighting spirit. Throw a googly at her [she got lot more than her fair share] and she would block it successfully and stick onto the wicket, enabling me at the other end too to score on, and add more hope to our married life. She packed a lot into the 4400-odd days we spent together as man and wife… and a lot more into the last months of her life, when whatever she did, she had my future happiness in mind. Now, this knowledge intensifies the pain I feel for this supremely sacrificial creation of God, who could not help putting others’ interests above hers, even in moments of dire distress and incalculable pain.

SHE’S JUST 48

Forty-eight years, and 197 days… of doing good and caring for humans and animals and birds. Did she not deserve many more, of all people? She could have taken some of mine so that both of us could live for the same length of time? Do you want to measure length then click here. God could at least have done that? A perfect compromise? She was by far the best of God’s souls, as my friend Kenny says from Sweden. God takes away the best first, says Ingjerd, Varshita’s close friend from Trondheim. Small consolation. If people say that I am a good man too, God could have cut short my life a bit and given those years to Varshita. Makes me feel agnostic…a transformation from the deeply-religious [but tolerant] person I have been. What is God’s Will, which we always say, must be done?

She married me and came over to Norway. Determined not to sit idle at home, as many wives get accustomed to, so easily, she started working at the canteen in the department I was pursuing my Ph.D. in. She innovated, prepared pakodas which were novelties for many Norwegian colleagues of mine. They all grew to respect her a lot. She also wanted to be closer to me for more hours every day and her presence at the department’s canteen close to the room I worked in, made that possible for her and me. I helped her load and unload the dishes from the dishwasher and clean up before she would lock the canteen and go home. The dedication she showed in mastering the Norwegian language ‘step by step’ will put school-girls to shame.

She went on to teach immigrants from different countries in the world who came to Trondheim [PhD students many of them], the Norwegian language at home, sometimes gratis and, at other times, for a pittance. She was like a godmother to many young wives who came over to Norway just as she had in 2008. Portia, a Sri Lankan lady, wept inconsolably at the funeral and promised to work hard and make the dreams which Varshita had for her, come true through dedicated efforts. In retrospect, she perhaps was created just to spend some time on earth, like Messiahs do, spreading good, caring and showing concern, before God would decide that she had done much more than what had been assigned to her. Oftentimes, I feel like Mother Mary would have felt giving birth to baby Jesus. Perhaps, God chose a mortal like me, to get married to His daughter, who He sent to terra firma to do some good and give some hope to people. Sometimes, I feel that, like Jesus the Christ, she decided to take upon herself a lot of pain from so many others around her, before she departed for Heaven, with exactly what Jesus said before he went back to God, his Father — ‘God, forgive them for they are not able to understand.’ And, I am sure that the ‘they’ includes me also. Most certainly.

ELEGY. REQUIEM

This piece is not a mini-biography, as that would fill at least 250 pages if not more [and, that is on the anvil, if any publisher reading this short piece, which could be looked upon as an elegy, or a requiem, is keen on investing funds in publishing something which would move, inspire, educate, motivate, encourage, touch and transform, all at the same time], but just a collection of thoughts, all random, which flashed across the so-called inner eye. Words, as our friend Håvard said, are hollow and shallow and often have a glaring disconnect with the feelings and emotions, pain and grief, suffering and sorrow, which well up in the depths of one’s heart. About things which could have been done, or things which should not have happened…and, then someone utters the maxim – ‘Man proposes, and God disposes,’ and you fight your anger, and curb your sense of rebellion against God’s will. God’s will be done, Insha’allah…and, one wonders what actually His Will is. It does not make sense all the time, and yet one is expected to blindly believe that one is not really wise enough to understand how His mind works. Did not Albert Einstein say so? So, who am I to rebel and question?

I oscillate between accepting grudgingly and complaining. What did we do, my wife and I, to deserve this? Tests, when you prepare for them and do well, often result in rewards, right? In school and later on at university, I thought tests were challenges one faced and surmounted and came out with flying colours. I was wrong. Naïve perhaps. We were never ambitious, never complained, never fretted, even as we saw others around us do so, complaining for the smallest of disturbances in their lives. Varshita once told me: “These guys do not know what pain is, or for that matter, what life is.” She was right. Just to console myself, must I feel that it was God’s will, and he wanted to take her away to a safer place, instead of letting a miracle happen? I read about miracles online and in magazines. Are these false stories, made up and fabricated by people who wish to spread the Word of God? I would never know. You readers also would never know.

CANCER: THE NASTY WRECKER-IN-CHIEF

I must make my peace with God, they say. It was cancer, that nasty wrecker-in-chief of happiness, and I could not have done much, when the doctors ‘prognosed’ that the end would draw near sooner than later. I am constantly reminded of things she wanted to do, things she wished for. Things she would have done, if God had given her a few more months and restored her ambulation partially. Just a few more months. Not more. As I said, we never demanded anything from the Almighty when we visited temples, gurudwaras and churches. We gave and gave, did not ask. We, of course, took whatever we received from God or His creations, with gratitude. My optimism and refusal to know the exact details of her condition, and my trust in God and medicine [together, not working at cross purposes, but God providing the healing touch through the pills she consumed, and the IV medicines which were administered to her — science and religion working together, as Einstein would have liked], made me think that miracles were possible. Every morning when the Sun would rise and we would have coffee together, watching the fjord from the living room window, I wanted to sense some epiphany, some blessing which would convince me that magic was about to happen. Magic which would stun the doctors and script a new course in the field of oncology.

If I had given up hope and started the countdown, would I have been able to infuse hope and courage? But, she knew. She was trying to tell her friends, her shrink and her doctors to talk to me and make me understand the truth. She told them that I was not in the know that I was fighting a losing battle with her. This, one of her friends told me on the January 13, 2020. However, she tried hard never to tell me anything which would puncture my faith in God and my undying hope. The shrink, it seems, told her that I knew what was going to happen, and that I was strong enough to understand that and keep fighting — this may not be a place where I may present a cricketing metaphor, but here goes. Quite like having to stop a rampaging opposition from scoring eight runs in the last two overs of a T20 match, but holding on to fond hope, and bowling and fielding hard.

The last holiday we had, was in Stavanger, a city which she wanted to visit always. We got a room on the 13th floor. The last movie we watched in the cinema was Frost-2. We got seats in the 13th row. The room in which she breathed her last was numbered 5053, summing up to 13. Three days after she passed away, I would turn 48 — January 13, 2020. It all seems ominous now. We were not triskaidekaphobic anyway. That number had brought us some good tidings before. Most of the good movies we watched in the good old days, we used to choose seats in the last row – that was the 13th one always in theatres in Trondheim.

She wanted me to get a permanent job, even as she knew she was declining. She wanted me to buy a home for myself and have a ‘good life’ [that is what she said in August 2019, and the arrow of pain which pierced my heart still stays there]. She just wanted to live a few more months with me, she said, and see these things happened, in front of her eyes. We had a reasonable plan, and people, perhaps, envied us for that. Often, one has everything and one envies someone for their resilience, dedication, never-say-die attitude. I may be over-reaching, but perhaps not. In the days leading up to her demise, she wanted me to go home and take rest [I refused]; she wanted me to go to the university [I did not], she wanted me to go to the gym and work out and rebuild my physique [I thought that petty]. I was happy I made that decision and stayed on with her, fasting and praying at the hospital. But, perhaps, God never ever listened to my prayers. As Kishore Kumar sang, Har dua meri kisi deewar se thakra gayi..beasar hokar meri fariyaad waapas aa gayi [Every prayer of mine seemed to hit a brick wall and not reach God; my beseeching always proved futile].

I saw her deteriorating rapidly. Could not open her eyes, could not consume solid food, could not walk, stand, or even sit up in bed. She was always trying to tell me something, but dysarthria intervened. I fought hard, hoping against hope, as I saw her fighting too, struggling to accept her fate [the rawest of deals any good and virtuous human being could be conferred with], writing God’s name incessantly with hope; imagining that the ‘toy-monkey’ in the playroom in the hospital [for kids who come to visit their ailing parents, or grandparents] was Lord Hanuman himself, imagining that the little black dog which Stein got with him to see his father Lars in one of the neighbouring rooms, was Saibaba himself. I was naïve. Foolish, perhaps. Or, maybe, just fighting hard, trying to win a cricket match which everyone said I and my wife would surely lose. I recall Amitabh Bachchan in AnandAnand ke liye, mein kuch bhi maan saktha hoon.

THE FINAL ADIEU

The last ten minutes of her life, in the early hours of the January 10, 2020. The Hanuman Chalisa was playing continuously on my cellphone. Hariharan. A voice she admired. I hope the verses were reaching her ears. I sat beside her, held her hand. I hope she could recognise my touch. They say that the tumours in the brain affect nerve impulses and the sense of touch, along with the senses of sight, smell, hearing and taste are affected and gradually destroyed. I am not sure whether she could hear what I said, or feel my touch. She had not opened her eyes fully for two full days. I told her that she would always live in my heart. That whatever I do in the future would be in her honour and memory — and, thereby only good and virtuous deeds, to make the world a better place [if at all, one can have such an aspiration and not be labelled as a naïve idiot]. That she would be safe in God’s hands, away from all the pain and suffering. That she must bless me from heaven as an angel. She opened her eyes wide, one last time, saw me [I hope she could see me and that the tumour in her occipital lobe had not damaged her eyesight fully], and then gave up the ghost. I would never know what she wanted to tell me, and I would never know if she could see me, feel my touch and hear what I said. That will continue to niggle me till the day I give up the ghost someday and join her in God’s abode.

Varshita, you often wept and beseeched me to save you, as if I were God. I am sorry. Despite all my prayers and efforts, and faith I held on to, I did not stand a chance against that most inexplicable of things — God’s will, Khuda ki Marzi, Insha’allah, Waheguru di fateh. You have attained moksha, as you passed away listening to the Chalisa and the Mrityunjaya Mantra alternately, on a Friday, as a lady whose husband was alive, and at your side. That, they say, guarantees one salvation. You deserved a lot on this wretched terra firma, and you did not get that… but, you trumped everyone, my dear. You have attained moksha.  You had the last laugh and you deserve it a lot. As you would not be reborn now, I cannot even say that we would meet again in our next births.

So be it. It is apt — my little gift to her for every Valentine’s Day, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.