May God Bless You, Dear

Mukesh Kumar
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Read Time:7 Minute, 18 Second

The small, hard grains of rice were now soft, white and flaky. Cooked. The steam—that had
till then swirled inside the stifling confines of the pressure cooker—now prepared to make
a grand exit, announcing to the world that its goal was accomplished and it was free to
become one with the universe. It gathered momentum and gave one final victory whistle—
the intensity of which would have given the Hogwarts Express a run for its money—and
escaped into eternity.
The neighbour sat up in consternation, cursing the jobless, thoughtless and sleepless old
lady who had no better work than to cook at three in the morning! ‘But the old lady is not so
thoughtless every day,’ a part of his brain reminded him, and he remembered the delicious
rasgollahs she had prepared for him a couple of days ago. Indignation simmering down to a
grumble, the neighbour reached for his earplugs and dived into his half-completed dream
again.
‘That’s four. Should be enough,’ thought Brinda, counting the whistles while adjusting the
red coin-sized orb of kumkum on her forehead before walking over to the kitchen to switch
the stove off.
She worked on a raita and ten minutes later, sure that the steam would have completely
exited the cooker by then, she opened the vessel. The mouthwatering aroma of kashmiri
pulao wafted through the early morning breeze, making the neighbour smack his lips even in
sleep. Perfect, just as Rajan would love it.
She had worked very hard yesterday on today’s menu, finalizing and changing it three
times, before she finally decided on it. It had to be kashmiri pulao, rajma, aloo paratha and
raita, Rajan’s most favourite dishes. Nothing else would fit the occasion. She had carefully
remembered to get all the ingredients required for cooking the lunch yesterday itself, and
was now breezing through her cooking, already past the halfway mark.
A while later, the hot parathas, spicy rajma and other dishes sat on the dining table, all
neatly packed—first in aluminum foils and then in Tupperware boxes—waiting for their
creator to dress up.
Brinda chose a peacock-blue Kanjeevaram, the MS blue, named after the Queen of
Carnatic music, M.S. Subbulakshmi. Rajan had gifted it to her on her retirement and it had
looked perfect on her. All of sixty years, she had looked resplendent in that sari,
commanding respect and exuding warmth as she sat through her retirement party.
That was the thing with Rajan. Everything he did and said was perfect, or at least nearly
so. Be it in business or personal life, his decisions were always bang on. He was a master
of people management and he exhibited his skills both at work and at home, adeptly guiding
his son without being authoritative or imposing. It was this amazing trait of his which made
him a hero in the eyes of his son and wife. Unlike other young men who thought it was
unfashionable to pay heed to their father’s advice, Arvind still hung on to his father’s every
word. So did Brinda. Rajan was like the magical mirror in Brinda’s life, one she looked up
to whenever she wanted an opinion.
Brinda appraised herself as she wore a string of jasmines over the bun she had tied her
hair into. Rajan had come to love this look of hers in recent years. Before that, she
remembered, gently pushing a hairpin into the bun to hold the jasmines in place, he had liked
her plaiting the hair and letting a foot-long double string of jasmines hang from the top of the
plait. His love for seeing flowers in her hair grew mostly in the later years. When they were
young, during courtship and right after marriage, he liked her to let her hair loose. The scent
of her hair gave him a high that no joint in the world could match, he had told her on many
occasions.
Placing the lunch basket carefully beside her on the back seat, Brinda nodded to the
driver. He had already revved up and kept the car ready for Madam. He had been with the
household for many years now and knew the importance of this day. Therefore he certainly
didn’t want the car to cause any kind of hitch by failing to start in the early morning chill.
The car was just turning the end of the lane when Brinda’s phone rang. Even before she
looked at the screen she knew it was Arvind.
‘All set?’ he asked, emotions constricting his voice. ‘Did you make any sweets?’
‘No, son. Your father does not like sweets, remember?’
‘Of course. Just asked. Hope everything goes well. Take care, Ma.’
It took just twenty minutes to reach the place, thanks to the empty morning roads. As the
car entered the compound, Brinda could hear sounds of Suprabhatam in MS’s voice floating
through the morning breeze. Rajan loved these verses.
She got down from the car, which the driver then drove away towards the parking lot, and
walked towards Rajan’s room. As she neared it, she could hear the nurse’s voice, ‘Good
morning, Mr Rajan. Hope you slept well.’
She did not hear any response.
Rajan was sitting on his bed, in the posture the nurse had made him sit. His eyes were
lost in some far-off, unknown realm, searching answers for questions that did not exist.
Brinda fussed over him for some time, changing his sheets, making him wear a new shirt and
dhoti, combing his hair. Then she sat by his side and read the Gita the whole morning. Every
now and then she looked up to her husband’s face to see if there was any sign of cognition.
None whatsoever was forthcoming. She collected herself and went back to reading. She
maintained a stoic appearance and never showed signs of the pain she felt seeing her dear
Rajan in this state—right from the day she came to know of his ailment.
Dementia. That’s what had hit the Rajan family. When the dynamic and flamboyant Rajan
began to get lost in mid-sentence, everyone was amused at first. The amusement soon turned
to horror when the condition was diagnosed. As he degenerated and increasingly became a
vegetable, Brinda and Arvind had no other choice but to leave him in a palliative care
centre, since Arvind’s job required him to travel extensively and Brinda was no longer
strong enough to single-handedly take care of everything. That’s how Rajan landed in this
place.
Though Brinda knew that this disease was degenerative with no proper cure, she had
hoped for some sort of recovery. The doctors had told her it would be possible only through
a miracle. But God was not in any mood for miracles just then. Rajan’s condition went from
bad to worse.
It wrenched Brinda’s heart to see her husband like this. He seemed a shadow of his
former image. Or perhaps a previous birth. She hated to see him undergo the agony and pain
the treatment was causing. The self-made man Rajan now dependent on another person to
even pee. Unable to bear Rajan’s plight, Brinda had made the decision after consulting
Arvind.
It was mid-day. Time for lunch. Brinda took out the lunch basket and laid the items on the
table beside Rajan’s bed. She put a little of each item in a plate and repacked the rest.
Giving the rest of the food to the nurse, Brinda said, ‘It is my husband’s birthday today and I
made some special food. I would like all you good people who take care of my husband to
have some. Please take this and distribute it among your team of nurses, would you?’ The
nurse happily obliged and went to share the treat with her colleagues.
Brinda closed the door behind the nurse and returned to Rajan. She sat for a moment near
him, wishing for his lost eyes to turn their focus on her, just once. Closing her eyes, she
planted a soft kiss on Rajan’s forehead, concentrating the full intensity of her love into those
two little arcs and stamping them on to his skin. A minute later, Brinda took a small vial
from her handbag and added some of its contents to the food on Rajan’s plate. She started
feeding her loving husband spoonfuls, singing softly:
‘Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear Rajan, happy birthday to you.
May God bless you, dear, may God bless you, dear,
May God bless dear Rajan, may God bless you, dear.’
Tears streamed down Brinda’s eyes. The red orb on her forehead somehow resembled the
setting sun, as if it knew this would be the last day it would shine on Brinda’s forehead.
From tomorrow, white would be the only colour in her world. Praying, ‘May God bless my
husband with an easy and painless death,’ Brinda went on feeding the poisoned food to the
person she loved the most.

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