The Fatal llness
mother was dying. In the little white-washed cabin where she
lay, the occasional clank of the overhead fan cut into the sombre
sounds of the dying woman's moans, alien in its incongruity,
like an attack of hiccups at a prayer meeting. Munni, sitting
by her mother's bedside, tried to block her thoughts by concentrating
on this noise as one might try to hypnotise oneself by staring
into a flashing light. An impossibility. The drawn white face,
ugly in its suffering, could not be shut out any more than the
moans could remain unheard. Dying is a lonely business and so
though Munni sat by her bedside, her mother remained alone.
and me both, thought Munni. She looked involuntarily towards
the verandah knowing that Badol was miles away and that no miracle
would bring him to her at that moment. She had long ceased to
expect that particular miracle as the sick woman had an end
to her pain. The doctor had been quite clear on this point.
There would be, could be, no merciful blurring of consciousness
for her mother, no passing away of life dulled by analgesics.
can sedate her only so far," he had said matter of factly.
period of idealism had passed, as had those nights when, as
an intern, he sat up with his terminally ill patients. Now he
slept of a night when he could, grateful if his patients could
hold off from their primeval business of birth and death for
those few hours.
a certain extent," he had added, comfortingly, "Nature
will sedate for herself."
nature had not--at least not sufficiently--and the mother cried
out from time to time while the daughter shivered in distaste.
hated those animal cries of pain. She remembered the birth of
her son, her only child. The woman in the cabin next door had
either been in great pain, or very frightened, or possibly both.
She had kept moaning with pain. Lowing like a cow, Munni had
thought savagely, and had hated her with a venomous intensity
because those moans undermined her own resolution not to cry
out more surely than her own recurring pain.
mother's moans and whimpers were hardly self-indulgent. Yet
Munni hated her for them and herself for hating. And Badol she
hated for not being there. But then when had he ever been with
wedding-night, what is left of it. Her sisters-in-law have seated
her on the bridal bed hung with tinsel and have left her, lightened
of her jewellery but pretty enough in her ifshan kajal and mehendi.
Badol has come in and is standing beside her and her heart beats
wildly with a most unmaidenly excitement.
he is saying, "I must go."
"Go?" she repeats stupidly, "Go where?"
"It's a meeting. We couldn't postpone it. It may be the
start of something tremendous."
quick kiss and he had gone. She had remained seated all night
frozen with resentment and unhappiness but he never knew, as
he did not get back till noon the following day. That had been
over 20 years ago and what had started had been something tremendous
the Language Movement.
night after Badol returned, he had been loving and exhilarated,
misquoting half-remembered poets between kisses, and she had
forgiven him. A month later she was alone again for Badol was
in jail and the pattern had been set for their life. The Language
Movement had been followed by martial law and Badol, by now
a full-fledged party-worker, had had to go underground. Sometimes
she felt that he had buried their love underground too.
had said to her once, "When you fight against my involvement,
you fight against me and all I am and hope for. Try to understand."
all she understood was that their son had been two years old
before his father had seen him. As the years went by, the mainstream
of political movement seemed to have passed Badol by, while
a handful of comrades fought for causes lost beyond recall.
however, had not saved him from having a price on his head in
for the nine months during which a new nation gestated and was
born, they were apart yet again. She had been with her mother
in their village home. Badol and their village home. Badol and
their son forming part of an independent guerilla unit, cut
off from his erstwhile companions who foresaw their own doom
though the country be liberated.
when liberation came they were still apart for there
still so much to do.
have only just started our fight," he would say.
fan clanked again. It was almost human, like the sick woman
herself. Silent for a while and then suddenly there would be
the harsh metallic sound. Her mother whimpered again. Munni
looked at her. She was fleetingly conscious.
shona lokkhi," the lips formed the old terms of endearment
but her tone was abject, pleading. "I beg you don't let
them keep me alive any more. Tell them to let me go." But
Munni knew that they would go on trying. Thank God the resources
of this tiny mission hospital were too limited to prolong the
dying much further. It had been terrible enough as it was. The
transfusion a day before had had appalling results. Her mother
had just haemorrhaged all over.
tissues are so diseased," explained the doctor.
had longed to say, "Then stop trying. Let her go in peace."
she had said nothing. The useless round would soon start again:
the injections, the drugs, the drip... her mother must be dragged
back from death though her hands be fastened at its door like
a beggar at the gate crying for entry.
then it was all over.
could never remember clearly the events that followed. It seemed
to her later, that no time at all had elapsed between that sudden
last gasp from the bed and her calling out to a nurse, between
the nurse's feeling for the pulse and the hurried fetching of
the doctor, between the words of commiseration, the rituals
of death and the graveyard.
amazed herself by her punctilious regard for all that was correct
and conventional. She even sent Badol a telegram on her way
back to the little house where she and her mother had lived
since liberation, with Badol and their son occasional visitors.
The house seemed unchanged. It was too bleak and barren to be
came three days later--he looked pale and withdrawn.
had better come back with me," he said, "There is
nothing left for you here."
there anything left for me anywhere, she wondered, or for you
she said nothing. Badol was walking up and down; he had never
been able to sit still and even when seated always perched on
the edge of the chair or bed like a runner poised for flight.
He had another curious habit, this a legacy from when he still
wore shirts and trousers (from which he had graduated via khadi
kurta and pajama to the genji and
lungi he wore now) and used to stand over his friends,
arguing, his thumbs thrust into his pockets. There were no pockets
now in his attire and he continually brushed the palms of his
hands against his sides as though seeking the lost refuge of
He seems like a wrestler slapping his flanks with his hands
before taking up a stance, thought Munni detachedly. But the
aggression was illusory.
got a small cooperative going in the village," Badol was
it wasn't going well. Jomu, who had fought alongside Badol a
year ago, had set himself up to receive the relief aid, seeds
and fertilizer, and was selling these on the black market. The
villagers were not against this in principle, they merely wanted
to sell these themselves. They had fought too long against harsh
elements and no longer had any hope left. The drought following
the war and the rise of oil prices in the world had destroyed
a fragile economy ravaged by months of fighting. Planting a
field is basically an act of hope, a belief in the harvest.
They had lost this hope and so they argued and haggled with
Jomu who cursed them, but an agreement was likely.
and Badol had been together from their days as students. Next
to Badol in their guerilla unit, he had taken the most risks.
And he had suffered. His wife had burned to death when the army
had burned the fields in which she and some other women were
hiding. And that had been a merciful death compared with those
of his brother and son when they were caught trying to derail
a goods train.
now? Badol shrugged his shoulders and slumped down on the bed.
must go on. After all what else can one do?" he smiled
at Munni crookedly and put his arm around her shoulders.
am sorry about Amma."
unexpectedness of this undid her.
is the use of all this?" she cried out. "I don't mean
because you weren't here when Amma died. You couldn't
even be with your father when he died. I didn't expect you and
she didn't either. But what is the use of all this? More than
20 years of your life -- and for what? The cause you fought
for is dying, the country you love is dying and nothing you
can do will save it. You know when Amma was dying they
couldn't even give her a transfusion. She bled all over when
they did. Your precious cause and your precious country is just
as sick -- it is bleeding to death. You can't save it. It doesn't
even want you to. But we are still young enough. We could even
have another child. You could teach, we could have a home together..."
had got up and was looking out of the window. Munni wondered
if he had even heard what she was saying. But he had been listening.
he said, "when your mother was dying, when you knew she
would die whatever was done, did you stop?"
cried, "But I wanted to! She wanted me to tell the doctor
not to try any more. I just didn't have the courage."
Badol replied gently, "I am no more courageous than you,
writer, who passed away recently, was Founder Executive Director
of Ain O Shalish Kendra and a prominent social activist.