Lonely … Alone

“Don’t you just love the feel of dew wet grass on your feet?” Shekhar asked.

“No, it actually feels like muck.” said Meera without even looking up from the book she was reading.

“Girls like this sort of stuff but not Meera.” thought Shekhar.

As if she could read his thoughts, Meera replied, “I love the feel of warm dry sand on my feet. It doesn’t stick and just slips through.”

“There I knew it! She would reply to something like this.” thought Shekhar.

Shekhar was not a novice when it came to girls but he usually was very unsure about Meera.

Meera was the daughter of his mother’s childhood friend. Though both the ladies had shifted to different cities after marriage but they had always stayed in touch through letters and phone calls. Shekhar had met Meera two three times over the years but that too as kids. They were almost non-existent for each other until one day his mother announced at the breakfast table, “Meera will be coming to Delhi. She has secured admission in the same college as you.”

“That’s good. She was always a bright child.” said Shekhar’s Dad.

“Meera, who?” asked Shekhar.

“My friend Dhaani’s daughter.” answered his mother, a little annoyed.

“Oh!” exclaimed Shekhar somehow anticipating Meera to be a danger to his comfortable ecology at home.

“She will be staying here for a week after which she will shift to the hostel.” said Indu (Shekhar’s mother).

“Oh!” exclaimed Shekhar, in relief.

The day soon dawned when Meera arrived. One look at her and Shekhar was sure she would be trouble. And how right he was … The one week Meera stayed; his parents were just head over heels for her. It was almost as if she was a daughter they never had. By the second day Shekhar was tired of hearing how intelligent Meera was, how she secured admission on merit, her rank during college etc. The final nail in the coffin was, she was an early riser and Shekhar rarely saw dawn. By the third day Shekhar felt like a stranger in his own house. Much to Shekhar’s relief, the week ended and Meera shifted to the hostel.

During the first year, they hardly spoke to each other. It was easy; they had different majors, and different classes. Whenever they crossed each other’s path, they just wished each other courteously, smiled and walked away. For almost one year no one in college knew, that Meera spent almost half of her weekends at Shekhar’s home. Her friends at hostel knew she went to Indu Aunty’s home but they could never guess it was Shekhar’s mother.

After the first year, all students were required to take up corporate projects based on their majors. The students started searching for relevant projects as soon as the second semester began. So did Shekhar & Meera. Three months passed, most of the students confirmed their summer projects in big corporates through their parents or resourceful relatives. But Shekhar did not have any luck in this front. His father was a government employee and mother was a voluntary retired school teacher.  Shekhar was trying hard but he did not get any relevant projects.

One long weekend, Meera was at his house. Shekhar was hibernating in his room, as he mostly did when Meera was around, when Meera knocked. “Hi, Can I use your laptop?” she asked. “Mine isn’t working and I need to send an urgent mail.” she explained.

Yeah sure, he passed his laptop to her. She thanked and walked out with the machine just to come back in a minute, “Password?”

“Mom’s name.” blurted Shekhar, immediately regretting as Meera commented, “How cute!!”

This was their first interaction. And soon they got talking. Shekhar realized Meera was actually not an intelligent geek. She was actually quite fun loving.

By Sunday evening, they had talked about everything – parents to professors and friends. Then Meera asked him, “Indu Aunty told me you still did not have a confirmed corporate project, can I help you out?”

Shekhar was a bit embarrassed. “No I will manage.” he said.

“Don’t hesitate; I too used my uncle’s help. Companies do not entertain students so easily. Moreover you can come to Ahmedabad and stay at my place. I can show you the city.” said Meera.

So it was done, Shekhar was able to get a project in a big corporate in Meera’s city and the two became friends like no one in college could have imagined.

Four years later, they both had plush jobs, common friends and secret unsaid feelings for each other.

One lazy afternoon, as Shekhar was visiting Meera. He thought it was the right time to tell Meera about his feelings.

“Don’t you just love the feel of dew wet grass on your feet?” Shekhar asked.

“No, it actually feels like muck.” said Meera without even looking up from the book she was reading.

“Girls like this sort of stuff but not Meera.” thought Shekhar.

As if she could read his thoughts, Meera replied, “I love the feel of warm dry sand on my feet. It doesn’t stick and just slips through.”

“There I knew it! She would reply to something like this.” thought Shekhar.

“Meera…” said Shekhar, with all the courage he could garner, “Will you walk with me through the sands of time?”

Meera looked at Shekhar, “Is this a proposal?”

“No I just thought since we hang around so much, let’s get married. Of course it is a proposal, Meera!” exclaimed Shekhar. Meera laughed.

“So, will you?” asked Shekhar. “Will Me what?” asked Meera knowingly.

“Meera, Will you marry me?”

“Of course I will, Shekhar. I will even climb mountains with you.” said Meera and smiled.

Marriage was a sail through for them. Their parents agreed instantly. And sooner than they realized … they were married. The initial two years were smooth. And soon it was time for them to be parents.

Meera and Shekhar were blessed with a son. They were thrilled. Shekhar had recently lost his father. And Meera was relieved that with the coming of their son, Shekhar was back to his usual self. He was a caring father and was always ready to help Meera in whatever way possible. They named their child Roshan. He was the light of their life.

Immediately after birth Roshan had some respiratory issues but the doctor told them not to worry as children build immunity as they grow. The first three months passed and Meera’s maternity leave was over. They were worried about how to move forward, when Indu offered to take care of the child. She was taking up work from home educational assignments and could manage the same from anywhere. So all was settled; Roshan was to be under his grandmother’s care. Meera was relieved and overjoyed as she was very fond of her mother in law, whom she still called Indu Aunty as she always did.

Meera was back to work, but her heart was at home with her little Roshan. Nearly six months later, one evening, Indu summoned both Shekhar & Meera to her room. Little Roshan was fast asleep.

“Shekhar, Meera, when was the last time you consulted a doctor for Roshan besides his respiratory problems?” asked Indu.

“Why Ma?” asked Shekhar. “Indu Aunty, Is there a problem? Roshan seems to be just fine in your care.” Meera sounded worried.

“Yes Meera, I think we should consult the doctor about Roshan’s activities. I assume there is some developmental delay. He is ten months old and he is not even making proper eye contact. He does not respond to sound. At ten months, children do a lot of activities in their own capacity. Roshan seems to be lacking in most of them.”

“Ma, all kids are different. You are unnecessarily getting worried. I keep gathering information from the internet, Roshan may be a little slow, but he has respiratory issues and he may not be very agile due to the medicines.” said Shekhar.

“Gathering information doesn’t make you a doctor Shekhar.” exclaimed Indu, annoyed. “I first thought, it was because he was not used to me and missed his mother. But it is nearly six months now. This needs some sort of medical intervention.”

Meera who was quiet all this while said, “I agree with Indu Aunty. Whenever I see other children his age, Roshan seems to be like a new born. Even his respiratory issue seems to be more than just issues. I think we should get a second opinion.”

Shekhar was annoyed. It seemed like the two ladies had ganged up against him. Finally Roshan saved him by crying out loud. Meera immediately rushed to attend her son.

Alone Indu said to her son, “Don’t be in denial son. I know you understand the symptoms.”

Next week they spent taking Roshan to various doctors and collecting information.

Meera and Shekhar were waiting outside a neurologist’s clinic. What they had heard over the week about Roshan was not very encouraging. After certain tests and checkups, today the neurologist had called them for the final reports.

Meera was quiet. She just reached out for Shekhar & held his hand. Shekhar was restless. As soon as Meera, held his hand, Shekhar whispered, “It will not be anything. It is a business s with doctors now days to get a series of tests done by scared parents to make some bucks. Believe me it is nothing as serious as we think.”

Meera quietly looked at Shekhar. There was a tear in her eye. She knew Shekhar was trying to convince himself more than her. The assistant called out, “Baby Roshan!”

Meera carried Roshan . Shekhar walked behind them. The neurologist greeted them with a smile. But both could see it coming.

“So how is Little Roshan doing?” asked the neurologist looking at Meera.

“You tell us Doctor.” blurted Shekhar, in frustration.

The neurologist calmly looked at Shekhar.

“It is normal to be frustrated and angry, Mr. Shekhar. These feelings will subside and you will be able to look at things differently. It will take time, and time is on your side, Roshan is too small to be affected by the turmoil you are going through. But you will have to work towards this.” he explained.

“What is it exactly Doctor?” asked Meera still looking at Roshan.

“He is Autistic.” said the doctor.

“What, how can that be? Isn’t it genetic?” questioned Meera in a shock.

“It can be genetic, but not always. I understand none of you have a family history.”

“No, I checked with my parents. We never had anyone with a history of any form of mental or neurological ailments. Diabetes runs in the family, but I am absolutely healthy.” said Meera.

The doctor looked towards Shekhar. “My grandfather had some behavioral issues.” he said.

“Can you throw some light on it?” the doctor asked.

Shekhar told him as much as he could remember about his grandfather. The doctor patiently heard and then said, “It still doesn’t seem to be genetic. Yes your grandfather had some social behavioral issues, but they don’t indicate autism. Roshan’s case seems to be more due to some physical duress suffered, may be something during birth. Can you please send over all his birth related reports and details about the respiratory issues, you said he is having. I will share it with a very good specialist. I will call you once I have discussed his case.”

“Shekhar, Meera” the neurologist said, “Many autistic people have been able to keep successful careers. You will have to work with your son. It may be tiring at times, but believe me, children whose parents understand and work with them, have shown better results.”

Meera smiled, “Doctor, thanks we will put in all our heart & soul for Roshan. I will hand over all the reports tomorrow.”

Shekhar looked at Meera, as they drove back home. Within this week, her whole demeanor had changed. She looked old and tired. In just seven days, their whole life had changed. He looked at Roshan. For a moment he almost wished they had not become parents. He felt guilty about it immediately. Meera kept holding Roshan long after they returned.

Shekhar woke in the middle of the night. Roshan was in the crib, fast asleep but Meera was not around. He quietly moved out of the room, to check. He saw Meera, crying. His mother was consoling her. Shekhar returned to their room.

The neurologist referred Roshan’s case further to a specialist. It turned out that Roshan’s respiratory problems were more severe than assumed. And could be life threatening also.

Suddenly their perfect life became a series of therapies, doctor’s visits, consultations.

Meera left her job as Indu had to leave for another project. But she kept visiting frequently. Meera’s parents also supported but in the end it was Shekhar & Meera’s turmoil. It was their fight. Meera completely devoted herself to Roshan. Shekhar initially drove them to the clinic and therapy sessions but gradually Meera took charge of everything. Shekhar now spent more time at office.

Some days Roshan used to be fine, but some days were difficult. Meera was very attentive. One day during a visit to the neurologist, the doctor asked Meera, “Where is Shekhar?”

“He is at work. You see, since I left work, Shekhar tries to make our ends meet. So he really can’t attend every session, Doctor. But if he is required, he will come.”

“Please, if he can. We will keep the session on Saturday if it is comfortable. It’s time to start joint sessions with parents. I will introduce you to the therapist and she will take it further.” said the doctor.

That evening, Meera informed Shekhar about the doctor’s advice.

“Joint Session, What for?” he exclaimed.

“Well, the doctor says, now Roshan is coming of age where he needs to be prepared for school and social interaction.” explained Meera

“He is more than two years and he can barely speak Meera. What sort of interaction is he capable of?”

“That is why he needs help Shekhar. What is the matter with you?” said an annoyed Meera.

“Why don’t you do it yourself? You know everything.”

“Shekhar, its time you should also know everything. You don’t even hold Roshan anymore. You think I don’t see it. It is almost as if you blame him for changing your life.” shouted Meera.

For the first time in two years, she reacted. They used to have a fair share of fights earlier but since Roshan was diagnosed with autism and respiratory troubles, Meera had not reacted. In fact all she spoke about was about Roshan’s therapies and improvement. Initially Shekhar used to listen but soon he stopped listening and Meera stopped telling. Twice they tried taking Roshan out on a family outing, but once he had a respiratory attack for which he had to be hospitalized and the second time they took him to a party and he did not move out of the car. They tried hard to convince him, but in the end, they just came home. After that Shekhar never discussed any outings

Saturday dawned and Meera was ready to go. Shekhar tried to avoid but he finally walked out. Meera had not spoken a word to him since Thursday. They were quiet in the car. Meera kept wiping Roshan’s mouth which kept dripping of saliva. Her own dress was wet around the shoulder but she didn’t seem to care. Shekhar felt as if he was sitting next to a complete stranger. He somehow avoided even looking at Roshan. It was two years and he could not come to terms with Roshan’s condition. He had heard his friends and colleagues talk about their kids but Roshan was nowhere similar to any of them. The other kids, smiled, laughed, ran, babbled. Roshan cried, dripped saliva, barely moved and never made any attempt to speak. He kept having allergies, breathless attacks and now even hid at the very sight of people including Shekhar.

They reached the clinic. They were introduced to a counselor. As Shekhar and Meera sat before the counselor, Shekhar realized, Meera knew each and every aspect about Roshan, many incidents Meera described had happened while he must have been around yet he knew nothing about them. The counselor asked them to come for another joint session as soon as possible and that too without Roshan if possible.

As they were moving out the counselor called out Shekhar, “Mr. Shekhar, what you are going through is a kind of withdrawal; make an effort to be a part of your family again.”

They attended a couple of sessions together, but soon Shekhar made excuses for not attending them.

Two more years passed, Roshan’s condition deteriorated and finally the child succumbed to a severe attack. Neither Shekhar nor Meera cried. After the funeral, when everyone including their parents had left, Shekhar told Meera, he was leaving. He did not feel he could bear the burden of their relation anymore. Meera did not say a word. Next day morning when Shekhar woke up, Meera was nowhere. All her things were also missing. He tried reaching her on the mobile but she did not respond. At around noon, he received a SMS from Meera, “I am at my parent’s home.”

More than a month had passed; they did not contact each other. Indu and Dhaani (Meera’s mother) were worried. Meera remained silent whenever her parents tried to talk about Shekhar.

Indu’s efforts in making her son understand things over the phone were futile.

So one morning she reached Shekhar’s home. It was a Saturday and Shekhar could not find any reason to save himself from his mother’s wrath. First she made him clean the entire house. She did not help him but sat on the sofa, engrossed in a television serial where the daughter in law was scheming to kill the mother in law. But though her eyes were glued to the idiot box, she could still point out what corner did Shekhar missed cleaning.

“Ma, you are treating me like a teen ager.” said Shekhar.

“Well you behave like one.” answered Indu.

“What do you mean?” Shekhar looked up at her surprised.

“You know what I mean. Leaving Meera in such grief when you actually wanted to run away from yourself.” said Indu.

Shekhar was quiet for a moment and then he spoke, “We lost each other the day Roshan was declared chronically unwell, Ma. And too add too it autism. Every day since then I lived with the truth that I am to blame for it. Don’t you see, the symptoms were similar to Grandpa’s”

“No I don’t. Your grandfather lived with us for nearly 15 years. The problems you saw Grandpa face were due to age. He did not adjust to well socially but he was not incapable of leading life on his own. How can you blame yourself? I too have read Roshan’s reports. It was probably due to lack of oxygen during birth. Did anybody say you were at fault for Roshan’s condition?” exclaimed Indu.

“Ma, she never said anything but I could feel it in Meera’s eyes.” said Shekhar. Indu, held her son’s hand. She knew he needed Meera more than ever. She knew Meera needed him.

“I saw the strain between you the day you came to know about Roshan’s actual condition. I thought maybe you needed to spend time together to come to terms with your pain; so I left.” Indu said to Meera. She had arrived earlier by the morning train. Meera was surprised to see Indu at her parent’s house.

They were sitting at the terrace. Meera was quite. Indu held her hand. “You know Meera, your parents, I or any of your friends can comfort you with words but the only one person who can share the pain is Shekhar. I left you alone so that you and Shekhar can be together. And you two, even after being so much in love, chose to be lonely.” She told Meera about how Shekhar was blaming himself.

 “I never guessed he was blaming himself. I thought he was ashamed of Roshan. It seemed as if he was not able to overcome the fact that Roshan would never be normal.” said a shocked Meera, after listening to Indu. Indu held Meera’s hand but it seemed she was far away.

“If only Shekhar had …” was all Meera could say.

Two days later, as Shekhar opened the door to leave for office, Meera was standing outside. He did not know how long she had been waiting outside. She looked exactly as she did on the first day he had seen her except for her eyes…

For a moment both of them stood still and then Shekhar reached out and took Meera in his arms. They both cried. Tears welled up for years in their eyes over flowed and they stood still in each other’s arms.

  • Vibha Lohani

 

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