10th November 2008. Raju has completed another year. He is thirty-one today. Another milestone goes past. Another year. Another cycle of seasons. The world keeps moving.
How, one may ask, does one move ahead, year after year, on the long road of life? What is the 'zindagi ka safar' like? No two safars are the same. In some cases it is a smooth passage. Birth, growth, flowering, decay and death, all under a gentle benign sun. Those are the lucky ones who have the luxury of taking life for granted. The world belongs to them and they partake in all its glory, moving on from one milestone to another without much ado. In some – not so lucky – cases there is a bit of upheaval on this long stretch. Not always cool and shady, it turns dusty and potholed in places. And then one has to grit one’s teeth and tide over the uneven patches, praying that the journey smoothens out again.
In yet other cases it is a long, long haul. When there are no even stretches. The sun is harsh and scorching. The landscape is nothing but stony mountains and dried bramble which cuts you and you bleed. When the path is beset with obstacles, treacherous marshes and deep ditches. When it gets hard to plod along and you try to clutch at the stones that poke and jut by the side. Or the exposed roots, twisted and gnarled, that seem so sturdy but dwindle at a touch. When nothing, nothing seems to help you along, all is hostile, unfriendly, discouraging.
It has been one such long journey for Raju. A long haul without respite. There have been no roots to clutch, no straws to grab at. Only an indomitable will that has kept him going all these thirty-one years.
Let me go back in time – before the first milestone that marked his coming into the world, this day, thirty-one years ago. When he was being readied for life. When he was the size of a pea or a marble or a pebble, yet to be born. At that point, came the first blow, the encounter with rubella. The pea-sized body was still taking form, the cells still growing and splitting, the limbs beginning to take discernible shapes when the cankerous microbes invaded the pea-body and poisoned it at its very inception. Poisoned the life-stream, the brain, the heart, the liver, everything.
That was his first set-back. But he hung on. Bravely. Tenaciously. He came into this world, amid fireworks and celebrations on Divali day. Fond parents called him Timtim, thinking his eyes would twinkle like stars. Or like the lamps that glowed on that moonless night. Raju opened his eyes to the world. But the eyes would not see. For they were glazed over with cataract. Congenital cataract, symptom of the rubella encounter.
In the first lap of his race, i.e., in his first year of life he grappled with two cataract operations. The film cleared, the eyes tried to focus, but the brain did not comprehend and the eyes could not see. Yet another blow, the brain refusing to cooperate.
Raju did not follow any normal milestones. He kept his own pace. Trapped inside a body that would not respond, he fought on. The nervous system refused to cooperate but he groped his way. He did not learn to talk or to walk, or even crawl. But he tried to explore the limited area of his cot. When he became too big for the cot he was moved to a bigger bed. His hands reached out to those who tended him. He asked them for love – not in so many words but with his smiles and the noises he made.
At the age of twelve he was still a baby. But he was strong. He was healthy. He would try to sit up and drag his unwilling body across the room. Then he lost his vision in one eye. It just filmed over – a post-operative condition that can occur sometimes. That was another door closed for Raju. He still fought on. He tried to focus with the other eye, squinting at the light that streamed in through the windows. He still smiled. He still tried to reach for the light. He still gurgled with pleasure when hugged and kissed.
Then the convulsions took place and he had to be put under regular sedation. Yet Raju fought on bravely.
Around his twentieth birthday the second eye filmed over. Another door slammed shut, but his spirit battled on. The teeth decayed. They rotted and fell. The pain was excruciating. Dental treatment being impossible, he suffered on. In between the pain he smiled and was happy. His vision gone completely, he no longer tried reaching for the light. Confined to his bed, he bided his time patiently.
At thirty-one today, his body seems to fail him steadily. It causes him pain and all he can do is cry. Stiff with pain, he lies in bed patiently, hugging a stuffed toy. From time to time, when he is tired lying on one side, he cries for help. Then he is picked up and turned the other side. From time to time his needs are attended to. He is fed, washed, changed and kept clean.
He still has pain-free moments when he smiles. When he gropes for helping hands around him, holds them tight and expresses his gratitude. The body may have betrayed him but he knows there are people around him who love him. Their prayers are with him. He continues to struggle.
Like Veer Abhimanyu on the battlefield, caught in the chakravhyu. Veer Abhimanyu, destined for a particular fate because of a certain knowledge received in his mother's womb. Veer Abhimanyu on the battlefield, surrounded by enemies on all sides, luck turned against him. Arrows raining down on him. His horses killed, his chariot broken, his armour rent and torn. And yet Abhimanyu did not give up. He fought on. Bravely, tenaciously, to the end.
Raju is a valiant little soldier, he does not run from the battlefield. Even today, on his thirty-first birthday, his indomitable spirit continues to fight.
Yes, it’s been a long, long, struggle, Raju, but you are doing well. Keep going, my boy, keep going.
Raju fights on bravely.