A heart touching story of an indomitable mother who suffers the biggest losses and courageously stands up again to find her life force in children.
It was three in the afternoon. Reena Gupta was sitting at home watching a repeat telecast of her favourite serial Buniyaad. Just then the door bell rang. It was her husband Brijesh. His face was tense and he was panting.
Brijesh was a short, stocky man working as Senior Manager in Research and Control Lab of Rourkela Steel Plant. He was a very sincere and devoted officer to who seemed to epitomize the cliché ‘work is worship’. He was posted in the general shift, which commenced at 8 am and was supposed to continue till 5 pm. But for dedicated executives like Brijesh the shift would often extend till late in the night. Seeing him at this time, and that too in an agitated state, got Reena extremely worried.
“What happened? Is everything okay?”
“I just received a phone call from our Mumbai Liaison Office. Pramod is serious. We’ll have to leave immediately for Mumbai.”
Reena was about to say something but seeing the expression on Brijesh’s face, stopped. She knew he had reached his breaking point and it was now left to her to handle everything. She hurried into the kitchen and shouted for the maid who lived in the servant quarters. She then rushed to the bedroom and picking up whatever made sense, started placing the stuff in two small suitcases. She tried to focus on what she was doing, calling out instructions to the maid and mentally checking out the things she had to carry – clothes, cash, medicines, shoes, cards, ID proofs, shaving kit, toiletries, specs………….
Soon she lost sense of time. Frenzied packing, rushing to the railway station, scrambling into the train to Howrah; next morning hurrying to the airport and then boarding the flight to Mumbai – Reena felt she was moving in fast forward mode.
As Reena sat in the plane, her thoughts raced to another phone call around two years ago. It was 28th Feb, ten in the morning – how could she forget the date. It was a second Saturday and Saint Paul’s High School, where she taught, was closed.
“Ma, Pramod here.”
“Yes beta, bolo?”
“Vinod is in ICU.”
“I am speaking from Thane nursing home. You and Papa come as fast as possible. He needs you.”
Reena and Brijesh had rushed, just as they were doing now. Reena was swamped by an eerie feeling of deja vu.
Vinod and Pramod were identical twins.
When Brijesh and Reena came to know that she was ‘carrying’ twins they were thrilled.
“How I wish we have a boy and a girl,” Brijesh had said. “Our family would then be complete.”
“Why not two girls – I’ll call them Aplam and Chaplam, just like in your favourite song,” Reena had joked.
She however had an instinctive feeling it would be twin boys and she had been right.
Brijesh too forgot about his perfect family vision and took on the role of an ideal father in real earnest.
He was a sombre sort of man who kept to himself and rarely initiated a conversation. Beyond office, he spent time reading his daily newspaper, watching news and reading an occasional book. In any get-together he was one person who melted into the crowd and was happiest when left alone with his glass of orange juice – his favourite drink.
However, with the advent of the twins Brijesh semed to have donned an entirely new avatar. He would come home by six and head straight for the two cribs. He would take charge of his ‘twin bundles of joy’ and leave Reena to complete her other chores.
When the twins were around three he started telling them stories – not the ‘once upon a time’ types – but crazy ones which they lapped up with glee. He would enact the stories and indulge in mad cap antics. Reena would watch and often wonder, “If his boss, Mr. Naqvi, sees Brijesh in his elements with his sons, he will probably think he is hallucinating or his junior colleague has gone nuts.”
As Vinod and Pramod grew up Reena realised that though they were photocopies of each other in appearance, in mental makeup and emotional tuning they were completely different.
Vinod was shy and extremely sensitive. Pramod, on the other hand, was an out and out extrovert. While Vinod was into painting and poetry, Pramod loved action movies and rock music. Vinod was the ideal student – disciplined and dedicated. The top spot was reserved for him. Pramod was the irrepressible prankster, always up to some trick or the other. Almost every day Reena would get a call from the class teacher or a neighbour complaining about Pramod’s latest antic.
But they shared one common trait and that was their love for each other. Every time Reena would chide Pramod, Vinod would come to his rescue. Often he would try to take the blame on himself. She had often heard Vinod telling his twin, “Pammi, you’ve got such terrific brains. You study for a day or two and yet manage to figure in the first ten. If you work just a bit harder, you will very easily top the class.”
“Don’t be modest Vin, no one can beat you. And anyways, who is going to sacrifice football and friends for Maths and Science.”
Pramod was equally nuts about Vinod. Once a boy, who was a couple of years older, started a fight with Vinod. On coming to know, Pramod rushed to the spot and beat the hell out of the bully. After that incident no one dared to act funny with the seedha-saadha Vinod.
After completing their post graduation the twins had started working in Bombay. Pramod was a Marketing Executive for a sports goods manufacturing company while Vinod was a Computer Programmer for a publishing house.
Brijesh and Reena reached Mumbai in the afternoon and rushed to the nursing home. They found Pramod sitting on a chair in front of the ICU, staring into space. Vinod was no more. He had died of ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’.
Of the three, Pramod had been the hardest hit. They took him back to Rourkela. As the days passed, Reena saw her son virtually crumbling in front of her eyes. The effervescent Pramod, to whom silence was an anathema, would sit for hours, not uttering a word. How much ever Reena tried drawing him into conversation, she failed.
“He needs some kind of catharsis,” one of her neighbours, a counsellor told her. “If he doesn’t let go, it will be bad for him.”
One evening, as Pramod was in his room staring out of the window, Reena sat beside him.
“Pramod, I feel on 28th February there were two deaths in our family.”
Pramod looked at her, his eyes still vacant.
“The first death was sudden and using all my will power I am trying to get over it. Vinod died in flesh but his spirit lives on. But you, Pramod you are dying bit by bit, not in flesh but in body, mind and soul. And I can’t bear to see you die like this incrementally.”
“What do I do Ma, I can’t forget Vin. He seems everywhere. We used to do almost everything together – even in Mumbai we lived in the same house, had the same friends, and went to the same joints. Now suddenly he is gone. My eyes keep searching for him; my heart keeps aching for him….”
Reena looked at her son and seeing the agony in his eyes, couldn’t stop her tears from flowing.
“I understand fully beta. But just think would Vinod have wanted you to live like this – a living corpse. Fate snatched him away before he could live his life – you now have to live two lives – his and yours.”
Reena pulled him close.
“Beta, don’t run away from his memories. Embrace them, make them a part of you. Re-live every moment you shared – the fun, the joy, the camaraderie. Bring him back to life in these memories. From this moment you are both Vinod and Pammi – that’s what he used to call you, isn’t it? Pammi.”
She could feel Pramod sobbing ever so silently. Her bosom was wet with his tears and she knew that she had got back both Vin and Pammi.
Pramod stayed for two more weeks. The day he was leaving he told Reena, “I have decided to change Ma – change completely.”
Reena looked at Pramod’s earnest face. “You are perfect as you are, beta.”
“No, Ma. Vin always used to tell me take life more seriously. He wanted me to work hard and start my own small scale industry. Since he knew I was crazy about soccer he would tell me, ‘Hey Pammi, why don’t you start a small-scale unit for manufacturing sports gear? That way you can earn a decent living and also gift stuff to slum children. This would also enable you to build up little teams of sports crazy kids like you always wanted to’.”
Pramod had a far-off look in his eyes, “I am going to live Vin’s dream, Ma.”
When Reena and Brijesh entered the Airport lounge at Bombay airport they found quite a few people waiting for them. Officers from the Liaison office and Pramod’s friends were all there.
As Reena looked at their faces a few lines from her favourite bhajan seemed to float in her mind:
Tera tujhko arpan,
kya laage mera…..
(Whatever is yours is offered back to you – there is nothing that belongs to me)
At that instant she realised that it was all over. As she neared her son’s friends she could see it in their eyes. Pramod’s colleague Debashish,broke the tragic news.
Pramod had gone for a meeting to Khandala. On the way back, while getting into a taxi, he had suffered a stroke and collapsed on the spot. The postmortem verdict was the same – ‘Deep Vein Thrombosis’.
The next few months were hell. Reema couldn’t believe this could happen to them again. Two young, bright, and apparently healthy lives snuffed out just like that! What sins had the youngsters committed and what wrong had she and Brijesh done? Everyone knew they were God fearing, kind and honest people who had never harmed anyone. Then why had fate dealt them such a cruel blow – not once but twice?
Reena wanted to end her life but she knew she couldn’t leave Brijesh and go. What would happen to him without her?
After Pramod’s death Reena had stopped going to teach. Three months later Father Robert, the Principal of Saint Paul’s suggested that she resume her duties.
“Mrs. Gupta, it will help you forget your sorrows,” he said.
After a lot of persuasion, Reena agreed.
On Monday morning she went to the temple, offered her prayers and went to the school. She was to teach Class III-A.
As she entered her class she saw a sea of expectant faces gazing at her. She looked at them and froze. It couldn’t be. She closed her eyes and looked again. Yes, what she was seeing was not a mirage but a reality. Sitting in front of her were Pramod and Vinod – not just the two of them but many, many more – looking at her with the same love and affection. How could she feel she was lonely, how could she curse God for snatching away her sons? He hadn’t taken them away; rather he had multiplied them.
A few days later Anju Grewal, Reena’s colleague in School, had come home. She looked at a flower vase which was on the dining table and exclaimed, “Reena, such a beautiful vase. Where did you get it from?”
“My Pramod had bought it for me for my birthday, from Mumbai.”
“Oh! So sad! But Reena, you should not keep it with you. Every time you look at it, it will remind you of poor Pramod. And poor Pramod will remind you of poor Vinod. You mustn’t keep it.”
Reena stared hard at Anju and then said very softly, “Anju, in that case I should destroy every pore of my body. Because every pore of my being reminds me of my sons. But tell me why should I be terrified of their memories? They are all I have left now. I can’t shun them or shrug them off. Rather I shall preserve, nurture and treasure them for as long as I live.”
Reena and Brijesh had gone to visit their neighbours Kalyani and Ashutosh Dasgupta. As they were leaving Kalyani told Reena, “Bhabhiji, please don’t mind but can I ask you something?” And without waiting for her answer continued, “These ladies often ask me how you can continue to lead a normal life after what happened to you? I too am really surprised. Had this kind of tragedy befallen me either I would have gone mad or committed suicide.”
Tears sprang to Reena’s eyes but controlling herself she said, “Kalyani, I am thankful to you for your concern. But I don’t want to pine away for what might have been. Rather I feel grateful to God for having given me my sons’ company for at least twenty five years. And moreover, I don’t feel Pramod and Vinod are dead. I see my sons in my students. And I am so lucky every year I get a new batch of Pramods and Vinods to love and care.”
Brijesh saw Vinod sitting at his study table. He was bending over writing in his diary. He could clearly see the words of the first line: “You shall always my presence feel.”
Suddenly the words started fading in a blur…….
He woke up. He was lying in his bed. It was still dark. He went to Vinod’s room. The study table was just as he had left it, with the diary on top. He sat down and opened the diary. He then picked up a pen and started writing:
“You shall always my presence feel
I am an indomitable spirit no one can still
My strength emerges from His mighty will
Your scars, your wounds He shall heal.”
An hour later when Reena entered the room she found her husband Brijesh sitting and staring at the pages of a diary lying in front. She read the words – the writing was his but the words weren’t. The words were their son, Vinod’s.
She placed a hand on Brijesh’s shoulder and whispered, “I have found my God in children. You find our children in God.”
He looked up and tears started rolling down his cheeks.
(This story is based on the actual life script of Late Mrs. Renu Verma and her husband Mr. GP Verma who lived in Rourkela).
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