I had rarely witnessed Acchan being sick. I was away from Kochi when he had a severe jaundice attack in 1995 and was hospitalized. I was not even informed since I had taken up a new assignment in Bangalore, and my parents felt that I should be focusing on my career, and not worrying about domestic issues.
On the morning of August 22nd, I managed to put a brave face and insisted that I would go and meet the doctors along with Acchan. I told him “Let me handle it from here. I am not a boy anymore.”
We drove down to the hospital and doctors told him that he had a minor nodule that was malignant in his liver, which would be difficult to operate on. They kept saying that if we were to treat it quickly, there was still hope. They also advised Acchan not to take a look at the Radiologist’s reports.
I sensed a false sense of positivity. No one was looking into my eyes and talking. Everyone seemed to be happy. I insisted on having a private chat with the oncologist who told me that there was no treatment for liver cancer to the best of his knowledge. While my heart sank again, I still did not cry. He advised me to try my luck with the best hospitals in the country so that they could at least give him a better quality of life before death.
When we walked out of the room other hospital staff crowded around Acchan and he suddenly became his usual self. He started cracking jokes and teasing the nursing staff in his usual playful manner. Everything looked normal and I started to feel much better.
As we were about to leave, Acchan pointed to an empty wall and said that there would be his photograph with a garland around it next month. He told an administrative staff that it would be his duty to keep the garland fresh and the photo free from dust. Everyone around suddenly started weeping.
Once back home, I decided that there was no point crying. I called up some of the younger doctors with whom I could at least communicate freely, and decided that if there was even a one per cent chance, we needed to explore that. Acchan was dead against any treatment, as he was quite clear that there was no hope. I argued. “Science has progressed so much. Every day we hear of new treatments for cancer, and I am sure that there could be a cure if we approach the best. Let’s just meet the best doctor on the subject in India, and maybe across the world.”
We started a frantic search. Advice kept pouring in from all quarters. His peers and classmates across the globe started calling in. After much deliberation, we zeroed in on Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. We managed to get an appointment with Dr Mohan Das, perceived to be India’s finest hepatobilary oncologist.
Two days later on a Sunday afternoon, Amma, Acchan and I flew to Mumbai. His jaundice had worsened by that time and he looked really ill.
My good friend Krishnan K V, who served along with me on board of IQ Techmedia was kind enough to arrange a taxi. Another friend had already booked a hotel room.
Acchan was always punctual and preferred to reach earlier than an agreed hour or time. While the appointment was at 9.30 AM, we arrived at Tata Memorial Hospital at 7.30 AM.
Tata Memorial Hospital said to be the finest cancer hospital in the country is one of the most chaotic ones too. You have thousands of patients from across the country, poor and rich, powerful and weak, young and old consulting with the specialists at the hospital every week. Everyone is treated equally and no one gets preferential treatment.
While Acchan was always busy and rarely paid attention to the day-to-day school activities of his children, whenever I joined a new school, a new college, or a new course, he was always there to enroll me in,to sign the papers and pay the fees. He was there when I joined my first school back in his ancestral village. I switched schools twice later and every time he was there, registering me into a new school. Similarly, at Maharajas College for my Pre-Degree, and also for my engineering college admissions. At the cost of sounding clichéd, each of these instances started playing in my mind like flashback scenes from an old movie.
And here I was at a registration counter enrolling Acchan for the first time and perhaps for the last time. Irony at its worst.
After waiting for five hours, we met Dr. Mohan Das who after examining the reports, and a five minute physical check-up called me in. He told me that the cancer was already past the third stage and entering into the final stage. The nodule what Acchan’s peers had described was a tumour — the size of a coconut. He pronounced that his maximum life expectancy would be another three months. Acchan’s liver was almost cannibalized by cancer, and his kidneys had started to fail. Doctor added that it could be just three weeks before he died from a multi-organ failure.
I kept staring at that man almost amazed at the ease at which he predicted my father’s death. His eyes were emotionless, cold, and inconsiderate. But somewhere there was also a sense of helplessness. I pleaded with him to do another check-up.
‘This cannot be true, there has to be a way out’, I said. I blurted all my bookish knowledge on cancer treatments kept suggesting different treatment options. He patiently kept telling me that all options had to be over-ruled as it was too late.
Acchan looked very relaxed; he knew his end was near. He looked resigned to that inevitability. Amma was hopeful; she said her prayers may work.
Back in the hotel room, I burst into tears in the bathroom.
That night, all three of us slept for the last time together. As a family, we used to sleep in the same room every night till I was almost 12 years.
As I tossed around in the bed next to them, I told myself that everything is perfect even now. I still have Acchan with us; he is sleeping next to Amma. We are still together as a family. No one has left us. There is peace and tranquillity. World is still beautiful…
Through the night, I cried silently. I wished somehow that I could bring time to a stand-still and reverse the clock. I hoped that the night would never end, that the night never had a morning. How I wished that those moments froze in time. How I wished that!