As I stood in the Mumbai hospital halls surrounded with the three most important men in my life, tears seeped deep into my heart when we heard of my mother’s diagnosis soon after she was rushed from the hospital room to the ICU with chest congestion.
I was attempting to stay strong while my father, brother, husband and I all had our ears painfully wide open when a torrent of wordage such as “life-threatening”, “bad luck” and “grim situation” were pouring out of the doctor’s mouth. My mother was diagnosed with a very rare autoimmune disorder after two months of having a Fever of Unknown Origin (FUO) and a plethora of tests to identify the cause.
Therein started the long days and nights in Mumbai for the next three months, most of which were spent within the confines of the hospital. This wasn’t the exact plan I had in mind for that time. Instead, what was in the books was to see the northern lights in Iceland, and to eat tapas and sip sangrias with my mother and father in Spain, after my mother would first cajole my father into meeting me there. Circumstances changed. I adapted. Instead of the serene light show in Iceland, I witnessed the roaring lights and sounds of the exuberant Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Instead of sipping sangrias, I was getting addicted to drinking sweet masala chai with my father in the hospital canteen.
Thankfully, my mother got a second chance to live. Even though she had to be rushed to the hospital again a couple of months later, she fought through that too. Each time she got out of the critical state, it was like the dawn of a new life when she could eat again through her mouth or take a step with her bare feet. Her tenacity to live is why she is still here with us today fighting each day to get stronger.
In the nights, the four of us swapped between sleeping on recliners in the hospital and in a small no-frills apartment close by. We rented the old apartment from an altruistic sister for a negligible price out of the kindness of her heart. It had all the bare-essentials we needed – a mattress, fridge, filtered water and a working toilet with hot water. I ran into the sister a couple of times when I went back to the apartment and one of those times really stuck with me. “I was very touched when you said we have all the comforts here,” she said in the sincerest of tones. I had forgotten that I had expressed that to her when we moved in: an intrinsic realization that I don’t need much to be happy.
It then occurred to me that there are certain moments in life that you value the most and it is such moments you live for. I remember when my mother opened her eyes to look at me and when her whispers turned into more audible sentences. I cherish the time my father and I sat on the park swings to pause our racing thoughts and remember what it was to feel naive again. I appreciate not missing out on the time we took my mother out for drives through the Mumbai streets, thick with traffic. I won’t forget her invigorated smile when she peered out the window at the bustling Bandstand promenade and the brimming food scene on Carter Road, visualizing soon being out there again.
My birthplace, a home that I have been far away from for years, taught me about what was truly important. I used to be afraid of what the future holds and of whether it would clench me with shark teeth. But I realized that I was already brave. After all, I was brave through the three months in the most critical of times. The part that was missing was in believing that what I want is within me and that all the rest is background noise.
Nobody can explain why the leaves may change color suddenly and know when they would turn again. Life is a constant state of metamorphosis that is a lot of times well beyond our control. But every day is a chance to grow and the dawn of a new life. We don’t need a life-threatening situation to get a second chance to live the life we want to live now.
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