One night in Might, when the clouds had darkened the skies outdoors, my mom sat quietly within the room in our home which we had forcibly made hers after she fell significantly unwell final winter. In that twilight, when the solar had set and the lamps had not but been lit, she checked out me and stated, “I will not get to donate my physique any extra. Nobody will take it in the midst of Covid.” “Do not be foolish,” I advised her, upset that she had seen the reality earlier than its time. “Covid will probably be gone and forgotten earlier than your time ends.”
My mom was obsessed about donating her physique. It started six years in the past, proper after she had a small stroke that made her left hand much less dexterous. The docs had implanted a machine proper above her coronary heart that was a defibrillator-cum-pacemaker. It was a mini-version of the sort you see in medical exhibits which shock hearts again into regular rhythm. The battery-powered overseas physique that fashioned a small lump on her chest made her extra acutely aware that pure our bodies die.
She bought maintain of the cellphone variety of an NGO which organised cadaver donations for organ transplants and for instructing anatomy in medical colleges. Regardless of my protests, she coerced me into making contact and getting her registered. Maybe this was her approach of coping with disbelief. Those that imagine can take refuge within the afterlife. My mom in all probability sought which means after dying by guaranteeing that her physique continued to have an lively life even after she had left it behind.
Final week, she died. She had moved to my sister’s residence, and it had been precisely three months since I noticed her in flesh and blood. Her docs had advised us that she would not stand an opportunity towards Covid and we had to make sure that she had no guests. Not solely did that imply that her household could not go to her however that even her common blood assessments needed to be staggered over for much longer intervals. Medical doctors needed to be consulted solely on the cellphone or through videocalls.
Video-calls weren’t new for my mom. After my father died, three years in the past, until the final six months of her life, my mom lived alone. Independently. Each night, my daughters dialled her landline and introduced “Inform thamma (grandmother) to modify on her video-call.”
It was a every day ritual which had its personal acquainted notations. My mom would costume up for this ceremony – tie her hair in a bun and placed on some lipstick. She needed to look good for my daughters and, extra importantly, look effectively. Both sides introduced what that they had eaten or had been going to eat for dinner. My daughters would inform her if that they had kathak or piano follow. Generally they might present her their sketches and work. And it all the time ended with “shubho raatri” or good evening.
Now and again, I’d ask her to point out me her ankle or take the cellphone digital camera nearer to her eyelids to test whether or not fluids had collected there. It was a continuing battle that she needed to struggle as her weak coronary heart meant her physique wasn’t capable of flush out fluids with out robust medicines. That in flip affected her kidneys and at occasions made her sodium ranges drop sharply.
In regular occasions, each fortnight once we visited her for lunch, I’d push my thumb into her ankles to see whether or not they had been swollen. She would examine my face intently to catch any fleeting signal of fear. After which she would say decisively, “I’m high-quality, cease fussing. Your worrying will make me sick.” This grew to become a every day affair over the 5 months that she lived with me.
However the lockdown ended that. Even cellphone conversations grew to become more durable as she bought more and more breathless. Her voice grew to become small and turned inward. She in all probability saved all of the day’s power for the night video-call with my daughters. She nonetheless tied her hair, placed on a contemporary layer of lipstick and utilized kohl in her eyes. However the calls started to get shorter and her phrases started to get vague. From the opposite room, I may hear my daughters asking her to repeat what she had stated. Usually, she did not have the power to talk once more.
Sooner or later, in direction of the tip of July, she requested to see everybody’s faces. She stated “tomraa bhaalo theko” or “keep effectively” in Bengali to every one in every of us. That was the final time she confirmed her face. She advised my sister ‘ I’ll name the children when I’m feeling higher.’ That day by no means got here.
Within the isolation of the lockdown, my mom slowly grew to become disoriented. She may now not rise up from her mattress and started to really feel an inexplicable ache that shifted between totally different components of her physique. My sister lastly determined to interrupt social-distancing norms and bought a doctor to come back and see my mom. He discovered nothing unsuitable along with her, or a minimum of nothing that was not already recognized.
When she was lucid, my mom had stated she shouldn’t be taken to a hospital ever once more. During the last six years, she had suffered 4 lengthy stints of hospitalization and he or she did not need any extra. My sister labored out a compromise by hiring a hospital mattress, and getting an oxygenator that continuously pumped oxygen into her failing lungs. Regardless of my mom’s protestations and the worry of exposing her to Covid in a hospital surroundings, my sisters and I started discussing the choice of shifting her if issues turned for the more serious.
Then, one morning, my sister stated my mom was in all probability getting higher. She had eaten a full banana for breakfast – essentially the most that she had eaten in a very long time. As I listened on the cellphone, my sister requested her whether or not she can be open to consuming one thing for lunch as effectively. I assumed I heard my mom’s weak voice say sure. “If she has an urge for food,” I stated to my sister, “then she might be getting higher.”
Inside minutes, my sister referred to as me once more. This time it was a video-call. My mom had collapsed all of the sudden and wasn’t responding any extra. By the point I made it to her residence, the native physician had already arrived. “She is gone,” my sister stated. Identical to that, earlier than I may attain to be by her aspect, or maintain her hand whereas it nonetheless had life.
I made the decision to the NGO which she had found. No, they wanted a Covid-negative certificates to take her physique. I made a couple of extra cellphone calls to see if a check could possibly be accomplished even now to get a certificates. It was unlawful, I used to be advised. COVID-19 did not kill her, nevertheless it killed her final want.
So my mom was burnt on a pyre, surrounded by a few offended monks who had been deeply irritated and offended that we weren’t going to hope for her soul. For she did not have one. She was a being made from simply flesh and blood, who lived and liked. And who all the time remembered to say “shubhoraatri” to my two kids. Good evening, Ma. We’re awake. Sleep your everlasting sleep.
(Aunindyo Chakravarty was Senior Managing Editor of NDTV’s Hindi and Enterprise information channels.)
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