I am afraid of praying. I am scared because I fear that God might respond in a manner that is totally against my wish. This notion eternally lurks in my mind because after the first and only time that I so devotionally and sincerely prayed I was answered with the biggest tragedy of my life.
It was around 6:30 in the morning on the 2nd of September 1997, a Sunday, and the day of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival in India. I sat with my wife Mamatha on our Kitchen Dinette sipping my morning coffee glancing at the morning headlines on Sunday Times. Mamatha sitting across with the coffee cup in her hand, said “Mohan, you have never carried out Ganesh Puja at home in our nine years of marriage. Why don’t you do the Puja today? I bought a cassette that has a full narration of each step of the ritual along with all the chants”, she said excitedly. I glanced at her through my reading glass to see if she was pulling my leg. After several debates about obeisance to a higher force and failing to change me she had given up. This time she seemed serious.
I always believed that God was beyond appeasement through worship, but Mamatha’s excited eagerness and her pleading eyes made me accede to her wishes and carry out the puja.
I put on my holy thread, took out my Dhoti that I had stuffed in a corner in my wardrobe and sharp at eight went to the Puja room. Mamatha had already placed Lord Ganesha on a bed of Rice grains, adorned him with the choicest of flowers and Gajje Vastra, (symbolic ornament made out of cotton) on the podium in our Puja room. Mamatha brought my eyeless angel and my eldest eight-year-old daughter Yogita holding her hand, carrying my son Rahul on her trunk with Rachita behind. Yogita sat against the wall playing with cassette cover listening to the chanting on the recorded Cassette while Rachita sat on next to her and my one and half-year-old Rahul sat on my lap. I carried out the whole Puja diligently lasting for about 45 minutes with the help of the priest in the form of a Cassette. I was surprised at myself that I could surrender my ego and dedicate myself so well to a ritual in spite of my impiety.
As the Puja came to the concluding part with the priest shaking the holy metal bell continuously, Mamatha turned towards Yogita and Rachita and put their two little palms together to form the Namaste mudra. Rahul vigorously shook his head in refusal.
One of the thoughts while carrying out the Puja with all my heart for the first time ever in the 39th year of my life was Yogita’s welfare. She had been developing bouts of mild fever repeatedly over several weeks. Except for her lack of eyesight and slight developmental delay, Yogita had been a very healthy girl, rarely falling sick.
“I would like to run a few routine blood tests on her. Take her to Pathology lab get these tests done” Dr.Prashanth, her Paediatrician had said the previous day after noticing the swollen lymph nodes below her ears. Mamatha and I had taken Yogita to the lab the same evening where they drew out her blood and had asked me to come back the next morning, Ganesh Chaturthi day to collect the report though it was Sunday and a festival day.
“Mona, Thanks for the Puja. What time shall we go to collect the report?” Mamatha asked me as soon as the Puja got over.
“We leave at 10,” I said.
After finishing our delicious Modakas (Fried sweetmeat) and our breakfast, all the five of us went in my new Ford Escort. It was a bright and beautiful monsoon morning. I parked the car in front of the Pathology Lab with the car blasting with Yogita’s favourite Alan Parsons Project music.
The lab was located on a bustling street, but luckily the street was empty due to the festival. The thin and fair girl at the front desk asked me to come back by 11:30 for the results. It was around 10:30. Yogita loved long drives with music, and we went for a drive around the outskirts of the city and went back to the lab at 11:30.
I went in and waited in front of the front desk since the thin, fair girl was not to be seen. A few minutes later she came out and said “Sir, Dr.Raman wants to talk to you. Please go inside”. I felt jittery since it was not usual for pathologists to talk about the report to patients. I went inside the chamber. Dr Raman was a short fair man with a countenance of scholarly arrogance and sat looking at a report with his two hands. He asked me to take a seat.
“Who is this girl, Yogita?” he asked me looking at me.
“She is my daughter,” I replied, and a chill ran through my spine, and my mind went blank. “Why? Is there something wrong, Doctor?” My voice started to crack.
“Have you come alone?” he asked.
“No, my family is waiting in the car.”
“Don’t you have any other adult with you?” he asked me, staring at the report in his hand. He did not want to tell the results to me directly on my face.
“I am Dr Sridhar’s brother. Why, what is the matter?”
“Oh,” he said and continued “I know him. I will call him later and give him the results” he said. I realised immediately that something was terribly wrong.
“Please tell me Dr. Is there any issue with her?” I asked him petrified.
He was silent for a few seconds.
“There is a huge problem with this girl,” he said, avoiding my face. “I don’t know what to say.”
“Why, tell me, Doctor. What is it? What is wrong with her?” I was almost choking with tears, panic and shock.
“She has a very advanced form of leukaemia. It has reached Stage Four. I will call your brother…” His voice trailed off.
I felt as though a steel rod had hit me suddenly with full force. I froze. I slowly got up from my chair even as Dr.Raman was telling me something. I came out of the chamber and held on to the reception table. After a few seconds, I left the lab without even asking for the report.
I watched my tall, beautiful Yogita lose weight drastically as weeks passed by. She became a shrink-wrapped skeleton within months. By the second week of December, Yogita was passing bloodstained stools, and her constant vomiting became unbearable to watch. She had lost more than 15 kgs. Her cheeks had sunk entirely in, and her body looked like a long stick and her arms like tender twigs. Her inability to express and indicate her distress amplified our grief. It was really heart wrenchimg.
Each of the five steps at the exit felt like a step towards eternal damnation. From across the street, I saw Yogita sitting in the backseat with both her feet up. Rachita was seated next to Yogita. Mamatha was in the front passenger seat with Rahul on her lap, clapping his tiny hands to the beat of the music. The car stereo was on, and I could hear it from the lab’s entrance where I stood watching with tears in my eyes.
I took slow steps and crossed the road, took the driver’s seat and fastened my seat belt. I did not turn down the volume or say anything. After a few moments of silence, Mamatha sensed that something was wrong. She turned to me and asked “What is it, Mohan? Where is the report?” Mamatha then saw my tears. I had started to cry, and Mamatha joined me without even knowing what was wrong. “Tell me, tell me,” she screamed hysterically and switched off the music.
On the 19th of December at around 11:30 in the morning as Mamatha and I were changing her sheets messy with her vomit, Yogita suddenly went into convolutions and started to make strange noises. She was gasping for breath as I held her in my arms, and suddenly her wheezing and breathing stopped. I shouted out to my brother at the top of my lungs with my voice cracking up. Sridhar came up running from his clinic downstairs and called out to the nurses. He immediately laid her down and started CPR. He frantically tried to resuscitate her without any response and declared her dead at 12:00 noon.
I told her. Mamatha started screaming, and I had no energy or strength to calm her down.
The eyeless angel of my life was gone forever.
It is often said that the worst punishment God can give to any father is to see his child die. How is it that on the very day that I spent more than an hour praying to God, a nightmare of a calamity occurred in my life? Was Yogita’s terminal illness at such a young age Cosmic retribution for my past life Karma, or was it divine intervention to end her pain and suffering? Did her soul choose me to father her or did my soul enrol for parenting her?
Was her brief time on this planet meant to resurrect me as an individual? Was she fortunate in a way that she was liberated from the misery that she would undergo in a lustful and cruel world given her incredible beauty? I have spent over two decades seeking answers to such questions, and I am not even near the beginning of any possible clue.
“Couldn’t see Mamatha and Mona struggling to parent her”, said a guest to her husband eating a snack of Samosas with Yogita’s dead body still lying in the hallway at my house awaiting a Hindu Priest. I broke down and screamed at the top of my lungs “why does everyone feel that it is a relief? Why don’t they understand?” It was the saddest and lowest point of my life. Yogita did not get the respect that she deserved even after her death, and I will never forgive the wretched ones of the world for that. It made me very angry that the society felt that Yogit did not ‘deserve’ the sympathy as ‘normal’ children.
Such is life. It is like a moving river that slowly but surely carries away all the things that enter it. I slowly started to forgive myself for not remembering her. I had learnt a new language on life called ‘someone whose child has died’.
Today marks the 22nd death anniversary, but I am happy for her since I believe from the bottom of my heart that there are no tears where she resides now. But my question is still not answered to this day.
A few months after Yogita’s death, after a hectic day at work, before retiring for the day I suddenly felt terribly guilty and angry at myself. I had not thought about Yogita at all for a full day. “How can I forget my own child, my angel who could not see but who gave me a new vision?” I slapped myself in my mind.
Why did God punish Yogita for my prayer?