Love, Beyond Conditions

Mukesh Kumar 2
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Read Time:14 Minute, 8 Second

Sujal had never felt so lost before. He just couldn’t believe what he saw—everywhere there
was smoke, confusion, debris and the smell of raw flesh mixed with gun powder. His eyes
burnt with tears and the surrounding heat. He had to keep wiping them away to be able to
see. He didn’t know which way to go, which way to see. Where was his Aastha?
She had been here just few minutes ago covering the inauguration ceremony of the new
park for her news channel and he had seen her live on TV; and it was just a few minutes ago
that he had seen an explosion a few yards behind her. Now the whole place looked the
same. The air was thick with smoke and everywhere there were clusters of remnant fire,
scattered chunks of clothes and flesh, pools of blood and men in uniform working intensely
amidst the chaos and the cries to restore some sort of control.
He didn’t realize how he had reached that spot; nor did he know where to look for his
wife—his life—now. All he knew was that his Aastha needed him and he must rescue her at
any cost. He wiped his tears once again, took a deep breath. He ran to where his legs led
him, digging where there seemed even a slightest hope of finding her, all the while calling,
‘Aastha! . . . Aastha!’
In the process, he saved a few people buried under the debris of fallen walls and broken
wooden planks while unearthing a few others who couldn’t survive. People rushed to take
over and help, but where was his Aastha?! Sujal felt drained now. He knew his wife was
alive. She couldn’t die! Not now, when he needed her the most! Not when their life was just
beginning to blossom! She could not desert her Sujal! ‘Where are you, Aastha?!’ Just then
he noticed Sunil Bhatia, Aastha’s cameraman, sitting outside a rescue camp, heavily
bandaged and crying, with his hands over his head.
Sujal rushed to him as hope flooded his heart again. Maybe, he knew! Maybe he could
help! ‘Sunil! Oh, Sunil! I’m so glad to have found you! Thank goodness you are safe . . .
where’s Aastha? You were with her, right! Where is she?’
Sunil seemed overcome with increased pain at Sujal’s sight and refused to even look his
way.
‘Look at me, Sunil . . . please, look at me . . .’ Sujal pleaded his reactions stabbing at his
heart. ‘Don’t hesitate even if she’s hurt. I’ll take care of her . . . but tell me where is she,
please. Listen! Don’t cry . . . please don’t cry! Tell me, where’s my Aastha? Please tell me,
bro . . . please.’
But Sunil cried even more and could only manage to look at Sujal with sorry eyes. This
merely increased Sujal’s desperation and he looked around, inside and outside the camps,
yelling out her name. But she was nowhere. He returned to Sunil and said sternly, ‘Look!
Stop crying. We are here. Everything’s going to be alright. Tell me, where is Aastha? At
least show me where you saw her last, man!’
At this Sunil looked around like a broken navigator and at last pointed in a direction.
‘There . . . ’
‘There! By that rubble?!’ Sujal asked with hope.
‘In . . . that . . . rubble . . . I think.’
As Sujal broke into a run, Sunil called out to him and said, ‘I’m sorry, bro . . . but there’s
no hope.’
Sujal had to fight the tears that rushed to come and, deciding he had not heard Sunil’s
warning, ran to the place the cameraman had indicated. He sought her in the rubble and all
around it, with only her name on his lips, pushing aside every bit of wreckage he came
across—broken slabs of wood, shattered glass panes, mosaic wall pieces. But still there
was no sign of Aastha. ‘Aastha! Are you in there?’ he kept calling out to her. ‘Don’t worry,
your Sujal is here. He will save you. Hold on, dear . . . hold on.’ As he pushed aside the last
piece of rubble, all that he met was warm feeble ground. His hope left him, his limbs gave
way and he collapsed to the ground, shouting for one last time, ‘AASTHA!’
Sujal had never cried like this before in his life. He looked at the silent chaos around
him. His family and friends, like so many others, were still searching through the wreckage.
There were others too—the volunteers and officers still searching for survivors, the media
still covering the incident, the survivors and family members still crying for their loved
ones. There was a lot of activity all around him. Then why did only his world suddenly
seem to have come to a standstill? Why had it suddenly fallen silent? He could even feel his
heart slowly cease to beat, one beat at a time, as his tears flowed in such a rage as if
determined to kill him.
Just then something glittered in the sun and caught his attention. It was a little diamond
ring on a hand buried under debris a little away. He immediately recognized it to be the
same ring he had gifted Aastha on her last birthday. His heart lifted at its sight and he
quickly crawled up to it. After a few more laborious minutes of moving aside the debris, he
found his life again. There was his Aastha—limp, badly injured and soaked in blood! He
didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He pulled her up and held her tightly to his chest. He
heard a meek ‘Su–jal!’ escape from her lips before she passed out.
She was rushed to a nearby hospital and the doctors immediately took her into the
operation theatre. Many hours passed, and they were still inside with her. Their family and
friends sat over the benches in the corridor, waiting and wishing for the operation to end
successfully, but Sujal couldn’t afford to move away from the OT’s door. He stood outside
it and looked on as if he could see all that was happening inside—the nods and gestures of
the doctors, the exchange of surgical equipments, the questions and confirmations in their
eyes, nurses using cotton balls after cotton balls to control her bleeding, the monitoring of
her heartbeat and other vital signs through machines, the cuts, insertions and stitches made
on her body. He twitched at the last thought, feeling the prick and pain of scalpels and
needles. It must hurt her too, won’t it? Only that she wouldn’t feel it. She had long been
unconscious and he wondered if they had even needed the anaesthesia for her; and all the
while, he wished for a miracle. He wished his heartbeat would reach her even as he stood
here in despair while she lay there in distress; and like a fairytale effect her spell would
break, her eyes would flutter open much to the amazement of the doctors and nurses, and she
would murmur, ‘Water’ or ‘Sujal’.
He waited long moments for the doors to fling open and the doctors to emerge, beaming
to declare, ‘It’s a miracle! Aastha’s completely fine. You may take her home now.’ But no
such thing happened. The red light continued to glow overhead, the door remained closed
and every moment continued to be an ordeal. The air suddenly grew thick around him and he
couldn’t stand there any more. He rushed to the window across the corridor and stood there
looking at the commotion below and the setting sun further beyond, fighting his tears that
hadn’t dried yet. His mind moved over everything that had happened—how so many
people’s lives had changed in a split second, maybe for ever too, because of one senseless
and mindless act of violence inflicted on them by some heartless brutes; and how nothing
made sense anymore, except the little life, now threatened, flickering or extinguished within
their loved ones.
He didn’t turn back even once to look towards the door. He neither had the courage nor
the need for it, but he immediately knew when the red light was switched off at last, and he
was there by the door before anybody else could reach and before even the doctors could
emerge. Dr Mayank Sharma emerged, looking his usual composed self. Mayank was
Aastha’s close friend and Sujal knew friends never spelt doom. He forced a faint smile and
conveyed to them in his casual doctor-like tone, ‘The operation was successful. We have
removed almost all the foreign particles from her body and treated her wounds. Second
phase of the operation is under way, but we need to discuss few urgent matters. Can any two
among you come into our senior doctor, Dr Sethi’s, chamber?’
He went away without further talk, and Sujal wondered as to what it takes for someone to
be this composed even after seeing his friend caught between life and death! Maybe years of
dedicated practice as a top surgeon! But what were these urgent discussions he talked
about? A sudden fear gripped his heart and he couldn’t manage a thought, as his father led
him along.
The few minutes they had to wait outside Dr Sethi’s chamber were some of the longest in
Sujal’s life—enduring every moment, fearing every moment. At last, Dr Mayank ushered
them in, every part him being the epitome of composure; only his eyes seemed to betray him.
There was restlessness behind their calm. Sujal sat looking at them suspiciously, ready to
talk on Aastha’s behalf while knowing that he should let his father handle most of the
discussion.
‘We are lucky to have found her before too late,’ assured Dr Sethi. ‘Our team is still
attending to her and we hope she responds well.’
‘I hope Aastha isn’t critical, sir!’
‘She’s gone into coma and we need to keep her under observation.’
Coma! Sujal looked stricken.
The doctor continued, ‘We, however, can’t wait for her to revive and there’s an important
procedure we need to do to save her.’
Another blow hit Sujal hard on his heart.
‘What procedure, sir?’ Even his father’s voice couldn’t hide the fear behind them.
‘We all have seen her right hand. She’s lost a major portion of her forearm from wrist to
elbow . . .’
‘Replace it,’ Sujal suddenly spoke up realizing what Mayank was referring to, the feeling
of something tearing that he had felt when he had pulled her out of the rubble, returning to
him. He clenched his fist to suppress it.
‘I’m sorry Mr Raiwal, but that’s not—’
‘There are so many ways,’ Sujal interrupted again, ‘grafting, re-building, whatever.’
‘That’s not an option here. It will only increase further complications. Her hand’s lost its
life.’
‘Revive it then.’
‘Try and understand, Sujal. She’s in a very fragile state and we need to do this operation,’
Mayank broke in.
‘There’ll be some way out . . . please find it,’ Sujal pleaded.
‘Her blood isn’t clotting, Sujal. Our team is at present trying to help her achieve that.’
Sujal only shook his head in denial.
‘We need to save her and amputation is the only way.’
‘I deny the permission,’ Sujal said in a cold voice and left without letting them say
another word.
Sujal stopped by a little fountain in the hospital’s yard, his helplessness killing him. He
knew he’d be approached again and he wasn’t escaping. He only wished Aastha had
somehow escaped this attack. Mayank came and stood beside him.
‘I can’t let this happen, Mayank,’ cried Sujal, sensing the friend in him.
‘I can understand,’ Mayank replied gently, ‘Come with me.’
Mayank led him to the ICU. where Aastha lay. As Sujal entered, clad in a surgical robe,
he found her lying still, a dome-shaped cover over her body. She was heavily bandaged and
looked so delicately brittle. There was swelling in most parts of her body and her wounds
still seemed ready to burst. She was being supplied with glucose and blood intravenously
and an oxygen mask helped her breathe. He yearned to touch her, yet the fear of harming her
turned him numb. Mayank moved the white sheet a little aside to reveal her hand. The sight
of it brought Sujal’s hand to his mouth and he looked away ‘You need to be brave, Sujal,’
began Mayank, his desperation finally evident. ‘You can see the degree to which her bones
have suffered burns. Her nerves . . . blood supply . . . everything’s been cut. The pain must
have been horrible for her. It’s a miracle she’s alive.’
‘It’s . . . so blue!’ Sujal blurted out in fear.
Mayank nodded. ‘It’s turning toxic. Doctors don’t consider comatose as a good thing, but
I’m glad she’s not witnessing this part of her life . . . We can’t wait for more than a hundred
minutes now.’
‘Then do it,’ Sujal said, sounding really lost and walking out of the room, a part of him
dying with those words. He didn’t cry anymore, tears didn’t have the power to console him
or comfort his heart anymore. A nurse approached with a statement to sign, which he did
without another thought, even as his family looked on. ‘We are helpless, Dad,’ was all he
could say.
As two wardens wheeled Aastha again towards the OT, Sujal whispered, ‘I’m sorry,
Aastha . . .’ The last drops of his tears finally fell.
The next few months passed away in a haze with lots of visitors coming in and offering
him words of encouragement, and Sujal not being away from the hospital for more than a
couple of hours every day. Aastha’s condition improved at a very slow rate and Sujal
stopped paying attention to what the doctors had to say after the first week of her operation.
Before the operation they said it was necessary in order to save her life and, after it, they
said they needed to wait for her to revive in order to rule her out of danger. He, instead,
chose to sit by her whenever they allowed, listening to her breathe and the beeps of the
monitors as if his own life depended on them, and pick signs from her condition. Every day
that passed gave him only one report—his Aastha held on to life and she was in pain,
immense pain. Though her wounds and burns had begun to heal, she showed no signs of
revival. The tumult inside him threatened his entirety but on the outside he was the paradigm
of calmness. Only those who knew them well could see the storm he battled within him.
After all, their love had withstood the test of time, distance and trust.
The pain filled her as she slowly regained consciousness one evening, and Aastha
moaned even before she could open her eyes. By the time doctors rushed in, she was crying
profusely. Outside, though Sujal had found his heartbeat again, he realized he didn’t have the
courage to face her. What was he going to tell her! A few hours later, after her situation was
brought under control and Mayank turned to leave, Aastha called him back, saying, ‘How
long have I troubled you?’
‘Not long enough to tire me, sleeping beauty.’
‘My whole body aches . . . but I don’t feel anything in my right hand.’
‘Don’t worry; you won’t feel any pain anywhere else too by morning.’ It was too early to
shatter her with the truth. Her family was then allowed to visit her. Sujal crept in last and
the others kept their meeting short—to allow her to rest and give the couple some time
together.
When they were finally alone, Sujal slowly sat beside her and embraced her.
‘Don’t ever leave me again, all right!’
‘When it happened . . . I feared I’d never see you again.’
‘Hush! Don’t say that . . . Thank you for coming back.’
Aastha tried to smile despite her pain, relief flooding her.
But she is not able to lift her right hand!
They softly talked into the night even as apprehensions gnawed at his heart, as he noticed
fear and panic slowly settle in her eyes.
‘Sujal, can you do me a favour?’she requested before too long.
‘Say,’ he managed, fearing the worst.
‘Remove my cover . . . I don’t have the courage to.’
He froze for an instant, too shocked to react. ‘Aastha . . . listen . . . ’ he stumbled.
‘Please!’she pleaded, gripping his hand and nearly in tears.
He silently acquiesced and, moving closer, he gradually lifted it just enough to confirm
her fears. The next moment she had buried her face in his arms, stifling her cries and
denying what she had just seen.
He cocooned her in his love, letting her cry her heart out.
‘How am I going to manage without it, Sujal?’she lamented between her sobs, as the first
wave of shock slowly passed away.
‘We’ll work it out somehow,’ He assured her. Prosthetics was an option. But he didn’t
tell her that. It depended on how much mobility her arm regained. Nothing was certain yet.
‘But it’ll never be the same again.’
‘Then we’ll start afresh,’ he added, smiling faintly for the first time in months.
She nestled in his arms, shutting her eyes to the trauma, finding strength in his warmth and
life in his love again.

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