One night in Might, when the clouds had darkened the skies exterior, 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 informed her, upset that she had seen the reality earlier than its time. “Covid might 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 type you see in medical reveals which shock hearts again into regular rhythm. The battery-powered overseas physique that shaped a small lump on her chest made her extra acutely aware that pure our bodies die.
She acquired maintain of the telephone variety of an NGO which organised cadaver donations for organ transplants and for educating anatomy in medical colleges. Regardless of my protests, she coerced me into making contact and getting her registered. Maybe this was her method of coping with disbelief. Those that consider can take refuge within the afterlife. My mom most likely sought which means after loss of life by guaranteeing that her physique continued to have an energetic life even after she had left it behind.
Final week, she died. She had moved to my sister’s dwelling, and it had been precisely three months since I noticed her in flesh and blood. Her docs had informed us that she would not stand an opportunity in opposition to 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 exams needed to be staggered over for much longer intervals. Medical doctors needed to be consulted solely on the telephone or by way of 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 change on her video-call.”
It was a day by day ritual which had its personal acquainted notations. My mom would gown up for this ceremony – tie her hair in a bun and placed on some lipstick. She wished to look good for my daughters and, extra importantly, look nicely. Both sides introduced what they’d eaten or had been going to eat for dinner. My daughters would inform her if they’d kathak or piano follow. Generally they might present her their sketches and work. And it all the time ended with “shubho raatri” or good night time.
Every so often, I’d ask her to point out me her ankle or take the telephone digicam nearer to her eyelids to test whether or not fluids had collected there. It was a continuing battle that she needed to battle as her weak coronary heart meant her physique wasn’t capable of flush out fluids with out sturdy medicines. That in flip affected her kidneys and at instances made her sodium ranges drop sharply.
In regular instances, 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 positive, cease fussing. Your worrying will make me sick.” This grew to become a day by day affair over the 5 months that she lived with me.
However the lockdown ended that. Even telephone conversations grew to become more durable as she acquired more and more breathless. Her voice grew to become small and turned inward. She most likely saved all of the day’s power for the night video-call with my daughters. She nonetheless tied her hair, placed on a recent 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 might hear my daughters asking her to repeat what she had stated. Usually, she did not have the power to talk once more.
Someday, in the direction of the top of July, she requested to see everybody’s faces. She stated “tomraa bhaalo theko” or “keep nicely” in Bengali to every considered one of us. That was the final time she confirmed her face. She informed my sister ‘ I’ll name the youngsters 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 might not stand up from her mattress and started to really feel an inexplicable ache that shifted between totally different elements of her physique. My sister lastly determined to interrupt social-distancing norms and acquired a doctor to come back and see my mom. He discovered nothing improper along with her, or a minimum of nothing that was not already identified.
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 continually pumped oxygen into her failing lungs. Regardless of my mom’s protestations and the concern of exposing her to Covid in a hospital atmosphere, my sisters and I started discussing the choice of shifting her if issues turned for the more severe.
Then, one morning, my sister stated my mom was most likely 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 telephone, my sister requested her whether or not she can be open to consuming one thing for lunch as nicely. 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 known as me once more. This time it was a video-call. My mom had collapsed out of the blue and wasn’t responding any extra. By the point I made it to her dwelling, the native physician had already arrived. “She is gone,” my sister stated. Identical to that, earlier than I might attain to be by her facet, 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 number of extra telephone calls to see if a check might be carried out even now to get a certificates. It was unlawful, I used to be informed. COVID-19 did not kill her, but it surely killed her final want.
So my mom was burnt on a pyre, surrounded by a few offended clergymen who had been deeply aggravated and offended that we weren’t going to wish for her soul. For she did not have one. She was a being made from simply flesh and blood, who lived and beloved. And who all the time remembered to say “shubhoraatri” to my two youngsters. Good night time, 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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