‘You’ve toiled hard for months, John. Now relax a bit; sit by me, I’ll pat on your eyelids and make you sleep.’ — John heard this voice from the burning pyre of his father Sullivan. In the cold night of the 11th March’83, on the banks of river Yamuna, the last traces of Sullivan were being burnt away in form of smoke, leaving the memories of John’s walking on the busy city roads — holding the fingers of dad, Sullivan. The reasons for all running about in last two months seemed all lost — John’s eyes were getting shut in fatigued slumber, he was failing to remain awake, he was no more aware of his struggle in last two months.
* * *
This was a Saturday Evening in January’83. John was a bit surprised to receive a phone call from Jack, so late in the evening.
‘John, how are you all today?’ Jack said.
‘We are OK, how are you?’ John replied.
‘The reason I am calling you so late is that Dad is not so well and I like to talk a bit about him.’
‘What’s wrong, Jack, with Dad?’
‘Nothing in particular, John, but his whole body is failing. You know — he is aged, 83 years old.’
‘Yes, Jack. What does the doctor say, what needs be done for him?’
‘The doctor does not say much; no more new medicines, he continues with the medicines for blood pressure and arthritis. Now he cannot take much food and can hardly get up from the bed. I don’t know if I can do anything. I can only pray and let him die peacefully in the bed here.’
‘It’s bit late to visit you tonight, Jack; I would surely see you and Dad tomorrow morning — Sunday morning; I would be at your place around 10 am.’
* * *
Next morning, when John reached Jack’s place, Sullivan was in the bed. He was not willing to get up, brush his teeth and have breakfast. John held his hand and asked, ‘Dad, wouldn’t you like to have tea, you like to have tea anytime in the day. Would you have some biscuits and bread?’
‘No, I don’t have any appetite.’ Sullivan said.
John looked at his eyes — Sullivan has lost appetite for life, he doesn’t want to live any more. Usually, Sullivan wanted to eat more than he should; suddenly he lost all his appetite, he cannot feel hungry any more.
‘I don’t think we can do anything, John.’ Jack said, ‘He does not respond to anything I say. We can only leave him to God and He will do what is best for him.’
John was not listening to Jack. On seeing Sullivan, he remembered a sad event in the house of a Jamesburg neighbour. On one evening, about four years ago, John was invited to this neighbour’s place. Anthony was the eldest son of the family and he was married to Petra. Anthony was older than John by about 12 years, so John used to respect him as his elder brother. Petra, after being married to Anthony, developed a good relationship with John’s family; she, too, loved John as her younger brother. On this evening, Petra seemed a bit inattentive to whatever was happening; after a while John asked, ‘Is everything OK with you? How is your mother, is she alright?’ Petra wanted to tell something, but she could not, she was called by Anthony’s mum on some errand. After a month or so, John came to know what Petra could not tell on that evening. Petra’s mother died in the underground compartment of Anthony’s house. Petra’s mother was sick and there was no one to look after her. Petra’s father had died about 5 years prior to that, and since Petra’s parents had to spend most of their savings in Petra’s wedding, not much savings were left after Petra’s father died. Petra requested Anthony to get her mother in their house, so that Petra could look after. Anthony’s parents brought Petra’s mother to their house, but did not find any place for her in the main house; put her in a shallow compartment below the house. No one except Petra visited her, while she was there. Anthony’s parents, as well as Anthony and his brothers and sisters waited to see Petra’s mother die slowly. A doctor was brought, only after she had died, for getting the death certificate. John thought, his dad would die in the same way as Petra’s mother did four years ago. Poor Petra could not take care of her mother because her in-laws did not allow her; only thing she could share with her mother was a part of her own meal and some of her own clothes.
Later John heard that people in some villages follow the rituals of killing their old invalid parents and grandparents regularly; they put the old person in a bathtub like vessel and pour cold water on him till the invalid old person breathes his last; relatives are invited to enchant their loud prayers to God so that they can’t listen to the cries of the old dying person; they all feel happy and relieved that the old invalid useless person is sent to Heaven; after a while when they are sure that the old person has died they get the death certificate from the doctor and organise for the last rites.
‘Let us go to the lounge, Jack.’ John said, ‘We need to discuss a bit more.’
In the lounge, John said, ‘Jack, I don’t want him to die slowly like this. Would you allow me to get my physician to assess Dad’s health and advise us? I would go and get my physician here; I would get Sally here as well.’
* * *
In the afternoon John, Sally and their physician Barlow came to visit Sullivan. Barlow was a specialist in the care of the aged people. He recommended that Sullivan should be immediately hospitalised, so that his blood pressure, heart conditions etc can be regularly monitored.
John started phoning all nearby hospitals and nursing home for availability of a bed. When one of the nursing homes, Ganga Medical Hall, gave some hope, John rushed to the hospital with Barlow’s reference and paid for a bed there. Then John got a taxi to take Sullivan, Sally and Jack to Ganga Medical Hall and got Sullivan admitted there. In the next week, either John or Sally remained in the hospital to ensure that Sullivan was comfortable in the nursing home and appropriately cared for. Sullivan’s condition got better and better. In the first week only, Sullivan started taking usual diet. The organization, John was working, paid medical expenses for the family and John could claim most of Sullivan’s nursing home expenses.
In the next two weeks, Sullivan got even better. Sally and John were not required to visit Sullivan for monitoring him round the clock. The doctors said that he should be discharged and appropriate care should be taken at home. After 3 weeks of hospitalization, John had to seriously consider whether Sullivan should continue at the nursing home. There was a limit on the medical expenses that could be claimed by John from his work. The rate of expenses was so high in these three weeks that John had almost exhausted his limit; had Sullivan remained in the nursing home for one more week, John would not be able to claim any medical expenses for Sullivan, Jewel, Deanna, or anyone else for the next one year. Though Sullivan was still getting some pension from the government organisation, he used to work, that pension was not enough even for paying the nursing home bills for two days. Moreover, Sullivan was helping Jack with that amount as Sullivan and Gaylene had been staying with Jack’s. Sullivan’s life savings in the provident fund had been already spent in buying the house for Jack 20 years ago.
What can John do now? He was considering whether Sullivan could be brought back to Jack’s place, as Sullivan used to be there before getting admitted to Ganga Medical Hall. When John discussed this plan with Sally, who was also visiting Sullivan in the hospital, she vehemently opposed. Sally said that Jack would not be prepared to take Sullivan back to his house anymore; Jack rarely visited Sullivan in the nursing home as he did not like the foul smell coming off sick Sullivan.
When John returned home, he asked Deanna to organise beds in their house, so that Sullivan can be accommodated there. Deanna firmly disagreed to oblige — she said Sally is already living with John-Deanna-Jewel in their two-bedroom house and there is hardly any space to accommodate Sullivan; moreover it would not be prudent to leave the tiny Jewel in the vicinity of her sick bed-ridden grandfather. John had the biggest dilemma of his life — he had no more funds to keep Sullivan in the nursing home, but where would he take Sullivan to after his discharge from the nursing home?
‘My poor dad’ John wished he could tell his father, ‘you’ve spent your entire mite for your brothers and sisters, when your father passed away leaving all his responsibilities on the shoulder of the 20-year old — you. You got your brothers educated and sisters married and then started the responsibility of your own married life. You struggled all through your life in making both ends meet; you worked hard — six shifts a week at your regular work place plus 4 hours every day in private tuitions. You could hardly save anything. Only savings you had after your retirement were in the compulsory savings in the provident fund; what did you do with these savings? You spent that money in buying a house in the name of Jack, as Jack paid for half the price of the house. Alas, no one lives in that house now. Had you kept that savings with you and continued in your rented flat, you could have some funds to live on.’
‘But, I don’t have any money now to get you treated in the nursing home. I don’t think Jack has that sort of money now to spend for you, nor can Jack sell that house to get some money for you.’ John continued speaking to Sullivan in his own mind, ‘had mum been alive today, I could have taken her advice. I still cannot forget that she asked me why I did not leave you and her in Jamesburg, instead of getting you two to Moon Town and then to Anysnag. Anyway, I can’t afford to keep you in the nursing home any more, I need to take you to somewhere, not to Jack’s flat, not to the flat where I live with Deanna, Jewel and now with Sally as well, but somewhere else — to another flat, less expensive than your hospital bed.’
John had to promptly look for a flat, where he would pay reasonable rent to accommodate Sullivan and Sally. It was a difficult and strenuous search in those days, long before the Internet was even conceived; John had to walk along the roads to find any poster/board for ‘To Let’, that too in the after hours, when he got an hour after work, after the visit to Ganga Medical Hall and before he entered his flat for having dinner with Deanna and going to bed. Indeed he seemed very lucky to get one at the rent he could afford. The new flat was in the walking distance from where John lived with Deanna, Jewel and Sally. John met the landlord, introduced himself and paid the rent for one month in advance.
Next morning, Sally and John came over to take possession of the flat. It was a two bedroom flat on the top floor. John hired two cots for two rooms, one for Sullivan and the other for Sally. Deanna thought, this was a good opportunity to get rid of Sally. She made sure that Sally moved with all her belongings, additionally Deanna lent Sally some utensils, plates, glasses, and cups, so that Sally could prepare and serve meals for Sullivan and her. Deanna wanted to ensure that Sally would never return to live in John — Deanna apartment.
While Sally organized the flat for Sullivan, John went to Ganga Medical Hall. He cleared the hospital bills for last four weeks; got Sullivan discharged and took a taxi to get to the newly rented flat. When the taxi reached the flat, Sally was waiting for them. Now Sullivan and his kit-bag of change clothes etc needed to be carried to the top floor flat; John realised that he had made a big mistake by choosing a flat; Sullivan needed to clear three fleets of stairs to get to his room. Sullivan was not very heavy, still too heavy to be carried by John alone. Sullivan managed to limp through the stairs to the first and the second floors, but the third set of stairs reaching the top floor was very steep, Sullivan virtually sat on the floor, as he could not walk any further. John realised why this flat was available at such a cheap rate; but nothing could be done then, he called Sally and asked her to wait with Sullivan and went downstairs to gather some help. John managed to get help of the gatekeeper of the house; the gatekeeper was a stout man, he put Sullivan on his shoulder and managed to carry him comfortably to the top floor, where Sally helped Sullivan to his newly arranged bed.
Next couple of weeks went alright. John was happy that he had solved the problem of keeping Sullivan at a comfortable room, where he could see the sunrise daily, if awake at that time. Sally, indeed, enjoyed the sunrise daily in the brief time when she used to get ready for preparing breakfast for Sullivan and herself. Around 9am, Sally used to go out for the school, where she was a Mathematics-teacher. Before going out, she ensured that morning chores had been done by Sullivan. John’s regular physician, Barlow used to visit Sullivan once a week, though in the first week he had to be called a few more times. John used to go to work from the flat he lived with Deanna, but while returning from work, he always visited Sullivan and Sally before going to his own flat.
Deanna was not happy that John returned home late every day. She complained to John that she was getting scarcely any time from John and she was not in a position to carry on — ‘How can I carry on, if you don’t spend a little time for me? I am your wife; I cannot survive without your love and attention’. One of the John’s neighbours would soon leave their neighbourhood and go to a far-away place for his new job. Deanna wanted to invite this neighbouring couple and their son to a good dinner at their flat.
As John had been working for ICL — a software-hardware vendor, he needed to visit clients very often. Every month, he needed to be away from home to the client sites for two to three weeks. For Sullivan’s illness, he pleaded to his boss that he could not go away leaving his father Sullivan in the city. Last few weeks, since the day Sullivan had been hospitalised, John could not leave the town to go to client sites. Now, as Sullivan was reasonably OK, John informed his boss that he would be prepared to visit remote clients; this would give him some tax-free per-diem funds. His next visit was planned for the 12th March.
As the 12th March is the date, John would go away; Deanna fixed the dinner date on the 11th March and invited the neighbouring couple. John bought the required grocery on the 10th, so that Deanna could cook on the 11th before the visit of the neighbours.
At the recommendation of the physician Barlow, one associated nurse Delphi used to visit Sullivan daily for dressing some wounds near the pelvis. At this point of time, John was short of funds. Since he was avoiding trips to the clients, he was missing on the special allowance paid on such visits. In order to save some fees from Delphi, John decided to carry out some of the dressings himself, he did the dressing for five days and informed Delphi to resume the dressing job from the 12th when he would be away.
On the 11th March, when John returned from work, he was aware that he would be leaving next morning for the client site. He had the necessary reservation for the transport; he also carried with him the special suitcase with necessary tools and manuals, required at the client sites. He also remembered that Deanna had invited the selected guests for the dinner that night. As usual, on return from work, John first went to the newly rented flat to visit Sullivan. As John stepped into the top floor, and kept his briefcase and the special suitcase, he found the anxious and concerned face of Sally. On asking her, John came to know that something must be happening to Sullivan, he seemed to in a pain, but could not say anything and express anything. John tried to ask Sullivan, but could not gather any more extra information, but he could feel Sullivan’s pulse, he was alive and had senses. Desperate John went out for Barlow, but he was not found, not in his chamber, or in his house. John left a message for him — ‘Please come to visit Sullivan, as soon as you can.’ John was not sure what was happening — he believed in a superstition that if you don’t get the doctor when you call him, the patient is in a great danger. John was not a great addict of smoking, yet whenever he needed to solve a big problem, the first thing he needed to do was to light up a cigarette.
Deanna was a bit angry, when John turned up so late after the work — ‘Why can’t you come in time, when you know that I have to get the dinner ready for the guests tonight?’
‘Be kind to me, Deanna; stop losing your temper. Dad is not well; I don’t know what is happening. I went to get the doctor, he was not there. I would go back to Dad now and then to the doctor again. Don’t look for me; don’t go to the other flat if I am not here.’
Deanna realised the state of John’s mind and said, ‘Hope Dad gets better. You don’t need to be here. I would tell the guests that you are busy at work. Come home only when you are in a position to take dinner here.’
John went back to Sullivan’s bed. Sally was waiting by the bed. John could see that Sally had lost all hopes — John rushed to Sullivan to feel his pulse, nothing could be felt. John put his ear on Sullivan’s chest, no murmur could be heard. John had some lessons in the first aid; he tried to resuscitate Sullivan but to no avail. He set out for Barlow again.
This time Barlow was available at his chamber. When John reached there, Barlow had already read John’s message and was getting ready to visit Sullivan. On hearing from John, Barlow could not hope of reviving Sullivan. He said that he was sorry that he was away to another patient when John visited him last.
Barlow examined Sullivan and wrote down the death certificate. Barlow told John that as Sullivan’s organs were failing because of old age, he could not get any particular reason of his death but a general heart failure. John thought perhaps Sullivan would have lived a bit longer had he continued in Ganga Medical Hall and regularly dressed by Delphi; unfortunately John could not afford to spend any more under the circumstances.
As Barlow left, John looked at the still face of Sullivan, he felt relieved that there was no need for him to run about, not for a good doctor, not for a good hospital, not for a good flat, not for someone to take care of him.
‘Now, what’s next?’ John lit a cigarette to think what he could do now — he took Sullivan from Jack’s premises with promises to get him better, but could not keep those promises, now he needed to inform Jack and organise for cremation of Sullivan’s body.
‘I have to phone Jack and give him this news’ John told Sally and went to a house where he could phone by paying money.
‘Dad is no more.’ John said, when Jack responded to his phone call.
For a moment, Jack was silent; then he said, — ‘I am coming over with my car. I would take a trailer for taking the body.’
‘I would inform the relevant neighbours, who will be going with us in the funeral.’
* * *
John went to inform the relevant neighbours that his father had now died. Since Sullivan came to the neighbourhood only three weeks ago and had never stepped on the road, he was not known here. But all of them came to pay homage to John’s departed father.
It was already 10 pm; John went to his flat to inform Deanna. He checked from outside that guests have already departed; he knocked the door and gave the sad news to Deanna.
‘I have to go there too and ask Sally what needs be done now,’ said Deanna. She took hold of Jewel from her bed. John locked the flat door and together they walked to the other flat where in the top floor Sullivan’s earthly remains were waiting.
* * *
John was watching the road from the top floor flat — Jack would soon be here and mortal remains of Sullivan had to be taken away. About a dozen men assembled near the front door of the house. They managed to get a cot for carrying Sullivan’s remains and lots of flower bouquets. Within half an hour of the phone call, Jack also arrived in his car plus a trailer. Jack came up and looked at Sullivan’s bed; tears rolled down his face, Sally also started weeping. John still could not weep or cry; he gazed at Jack; he gazed at Sally and also at Sullivan’s face; he wondered why Sally had not cried so long and started crying as Jack appeared.
A few men went upstairs carrying the cot with them. Sullivan’s body was lifted from the bed and laid on the cot. Two men carried the cot down the steep steps of the top floor. John was wondering whether the cot will fall off their hands. He remembered how tough it was to get Sullivan to the top floor, when he rented this flat three weeks ago. Now the cot with Sullivan’s body could be easily taken down, there was no anxiety that Sullivan might be hurt somewhere in his frail body.
* * *
Sullivan’s body was rested in the cremation area. The priest carried out some rituals and read out some scripts. Jack, as the eldest son of Sullivan, needed to carry out most rituals, worship gods and departed Sullivan as well before putting the flame of fire onto Sullivan’s face. John stood silently close to Sullivan’s body; he was watching the rituals without saying any words. Though Jack was busy in putting flames to Sullivan’s body, suddenly he looked at John — John’s body was slowly falling on that of Sullivan. Jack rushed and got hold of John, he said, ‘It seems you are too tired to stand here, please be seated — a bit away from dad’s body. You would get burnt otherwise.’
Indeed, John was very tired; he worked hard during the day, took only a couple of sandwiches for lunch and had eaten nothing since then. John got seated, but still could not remain up and erect, he thought he might fall anytime. Somehow he managed to escape from there for a few minutes and lit up a cigarette. For the first time he realised that he needed to smoke, he was feeling uncomfortable because he could not smoke in presence of his elders. He came to his senses after the cigarette and came back to where everyone else was. No more he was in control of the situations; only a few hours ago he was keeping controls on what to do next, while strategising for the best treatment for Sullivan. He was just one person in the small crowd, who returned, after the cremation, to the flat where Sullivan breathed his last.
* * *
The morning, after the death of his father, John had to make a quick trip to work. He had already phoned last night to one of his colleagues that he would not be in a position to make a trip to their client; this morning he needed to return the special suitcase containing gadgets and manuals for the client.
Sally was wondering whether she could return to John-Deanna’s flat, as she clearly knew Deanna would not want her back again. When John returned from work, he told Sally to prepare for going back to their flat in a week’s time. In the mean time, they would need to pack up the belongings of Sullivan and hers, cleanse the flat and hand it over to the flat-owner. He knew that Deanna might not have wanted this way, but he thought it would be very expensive and troublesome for Sally to rent a flat for her own use; Deanna must accommodate Sally as their guest till she could find a suitable alternative.
* * *
John had been preparing for a change of job and he would have joined his new employers Data Consultancy Services on the 1st of April, had he not lost Sullivan on the 11th of March. Fortunately, he had not yet submitted his resignation to the prevalent employers ICL. On the 12th March, he visited Pavan, the Deputy CEO of Data Consultancy Services, and requested for allowing him to join by the 1st May. Pavan obliged him and sent him a letter of condolence for untimely departure of his father. John continued to serve ICL in the best manner he could; fortunately these two companies operated in different sorts of markets, not competing against each other. John, by custom, needed to wear special apparels for mourning and hence could not make any visit to ICL’s clients.
* * *
A ceremony was organised by Jack on the 26th of March to bid farewell to Sullivan and remember his contributions to our life. John admired the way Jack organised this ceremony; when John asked how he should contribute here, Jack asked him not to worry much as he would take the necessary funds from their dad’s account.
Around 50 people were invited by Jack in this ceremony. As per customs followed in Sullivan family, offerings were made to selected gods and goddesses with the guidance of a priest, who had to be paid for this work. The invited guests were also served with food and drink. Mourning was observed for 15days in Sullivan family, where Jack, John as well as their wives wore special mourning dress and apparels, they also took strictly vegetarian food. At the end of 15 days’ mourning, they started wearing normal clothing and eating normal food only after serving lunch/dinner to priests and invited guests.
After the dinner with guests, eulogies were read by guests and hosts. John could not say any word. He could not share his grief with others. Jack read out a prepared speech; John liked what Jack said, he never knew Jack had so much love and regards for Sullivan. One sentence in Jack’s speech hurt John most — ‘When in his school days, Dad took a pledge that he would never smoke in life, and he honoured his pledge through his entire life.’ John remembered, he could not help but smoke when his dad has passed away and he was confused on what to do next, even during his cremation.
For last few months, John wondered why Jack was not taking adequate care of Sullivan. Even on the day of paying final tributes to their dad, when he heard Jack would spend Sullivan’s money for his funeral, he wanted to ask why Jack could not spend Sullivan’s money for his treatment. Now he watched the invited guests who were sharing grief with Jack while appreciating his speech. John thought he had not ever paid respect to Sullivan in the way Jack did in his eulogy; John prayed — let Sullivan’s soul be pleased with respect and regards from the invited guests — ‘May his soul rest in peace’.
In midst of these happenings, John didn’t realise that HSC exams would start on the next Monday the 28th March, which meant a lot to Coelle, yet to be sixteen, the brilliant student appearing the exam; Sally would also be busy as an invigilator on the exam days and for marking Maths papers later on.
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