But it was not Suresh!
The darkness outside was making it difficult to see clearly. The street had only 2-3 lights and none outside his house.
When a flash of lightning illuminated the sky, Ramakrishnan Iyer could see a bearded man in a white shirt and veshti on the “thinnai”. There was also a white jeep of some sort parked outside the house.
“Yes? What do you want?” asked Ramakrishnan
“I heard Amma was sick. So I came to see if I could do anything” he said
“Who are you?” asked Ramakrishnan reluctant to let this man inside the house.
“I am Selvamani. I am the district secretary of the Makal Puratchi Kazhagam (MPK)” he said
“Look, we don’t know you. I think you have the wrong address” said Ramakrishnan as he tried to shut the door.
“ Please wait sir. You may not know me but our family knows Amma. She also knows us. Infact, she was present during my birth. My father Ayyan, had a small shop near the bus stand repairing shoes” said Selvamani with a smile.
Ayyan.. the cobbler! Amazing! Today his son was a political leader.
He looked back inside. Savithri was having another paroxysm of coughing.
Between the two of them they managed to support her and put her into the vehicle. “Strange are the ways of God” muttered Ramakrishnan to himself as he locked the front door.
The drive to the hospital through the rain soaked highway took more than an hour. Selvamani was talking on his mobile as he drove, making Ramakrishnan nervous.
But they managed to reach the hospital without mishap.
They were obviously expecting them because a team of medical personnel rushed out with a stretcher on wheels , putting Savithri on it the moment she got out. Someone was strapping and oxygen mask over her face and yet someone else was guiding him under an umbrella.
Selvamani asked someone called Anbu to “take care of Vadhyar ayya” while he parked the car. They followed the medical team into the lift and then up to the door of the Intensive care unit where a nurse stopped them. “No sir you cannot go in. This is a restricted area” she said.
“But she is my wife. I need to know what is wrong with her” he pleaded
“Don’t worry sir, she is in good hands.” She said asking him to sit down outside in the visitors area.
Selvamani was back. He had a paper cup full of coffee in his hands which he offered him.
Ramakrishnan took it from his hand automatically. He felt like a robot. “Sir, would you like me to get you some dinner” asked Selvamani. Ramakrishnan shook his head. He had already had his dinner. But this coffee was most welcome on a rainy night especially when he was sure that it was going to be a long one.
It was about an hour later when the “specialist” arrived. A middle aged lady who went rushing past him into the ICU. The nurse at the ICU reception smiled at him reassuringly. He bent his head down and started reciting his shlokas silently in his mind. Selvamani and Anbu stood nearby. Selvamani’s ears were glued to his phone as usual.
“Mr. Ramakrishnan?” he heard someone call out to him. It was the nurse from the ICU. “You may go inside now” she said.
Ramakrishnan took off his slippers outside the door of the ICU and tiptoed inside. He went down the corridor until he came to another hall- this one with a glass door. He could see his wife beyond that – connected to a ventilator.
“Don’t worry sir! Her condition is under control” he heard the doctor say as she emerged from the room. “We will keep her on the ventilator until tomorrow morning. I am confident that she can be moved out of the ICU by the afternoon ”
“Thank you… Dr…?” he fumbled looking for her name tag.
“Savithri!” she said smiling sweetly at him. “How can you forget me? I have come to your house so many times on my birthday to meet Amma” she said
Yes, he remembered now- Kuppan’s daughter delivered nearly fifty years ago! He also remembered with shame, his father and grand aunt making Kuppan and this girl wait outside in the backyard and forcing Savithri to bathe after she hugged the girl in blessing on one such occasion. Savithri had refused to do so. There had been a lot of tension around the house where Srinivasa Iyer the Vedic Scholar had not allowed his “polluted daughter in law” to enter the house. Stubborn girl that she was, his wife had stayed outside for two days refusing to eat or drink anything until his mother intermediated the situation bringing her inside. The visits had stopped after that.
Ramakrishnan was feeling very overwhelmed with gratitude. His eyes were filling up with tears. Selvamani was by his side. “Sir is anything wrong”? he asked. He shook his head and sat down on the bench outside. Selvamani continued to look worried.
“Sir don’t worry about the bill payment etc. That will not be necessary. This hospital is owned by a friend of mine. He and his family are very indebted to your wife. You see, she also brought them into this world – just like me and Anbu here”
Ramakrishnan was getting more and more overwhelmed by the minute . He was losing count of the number of children his wife had brought into this world! It looked like she had brought into this world almost all the persons of a certain generation in and around Mayavaram!
He remembered the blessing that had been given by almost everyone in the family and in the agraharam to his newly wed wife on the day she had stepped into their world- “Shata Putravati bhava” – May you be the mother of a hundred sons! Not only was she a mother of a hundred sons, she was also a mother of an equal number of daughters. After all, what else do you call a person who braves a lot of hardships and helps to bring you into this world? And she was not just an ordinary mother –she was a PROUD mother of many children who had grown up into good human beings- people who cared for her and for the good values in life.
His old feelings of vulnerability at the neglect from his two sons suddenly stopped bothering him. He had with him a town full of men and women who were his children too. His wife had delivered many and he had taught almost all of them. So weren’t they together the proud parents living among their children? So what was there to worry about?
He looked out of the window. The clouds had cleared and the sky had a red tinge around it. The sun was rising and a new day was being born!
( This story is dedicated to all those men and women ( usually women) who help a new life travel safely from the mother’s womb into this world. Again some explanations about Tamil words- “Thinnai” refers to the verandah outside traditional houses. “Vadhyar” means teacher.)