Escaping Mortality

Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely coincidental. This piece is through the eyes of the protagonist, a fictional being.

Have you ever been at both ends of the emotional spectrum simultaneously? It is perhaps the most complex, conflicted way to feel. When you want to be happy because you’ve achieved something after much struggle, but there is a whole other realm of sadness, awaiting your proximity to suck the air right out of your lungs. I went through this feeling, roughly about 3 years ago.

It was February of 2013, and I had just won a National level competition. My prizes included a big fat cheque, a not-so-great-but-exciting tablet and a year’s supply of breakfast cereal. Imagine my joy, for I shall be feasting on different flavours of Kellogg’s Cornflakes every morning rather than just the boring Original flavour I eat every day. The competition took place in Pune, and I took the flight back home that evening. Only to return home to the solemn faces of my parents and my brothers; trying to be supportive of my success, but their sorrow harrowing any attempt at celebration. I feared the worst, which till then was the death of someone close to me. Instead I received something that would put me in a never-ending loop of my worst fear.

My father was 43 that time. He had a moderately successful career and provided my brothers and me every comfort, catered to our every whim, sometimes beyond his strength. We grew up in complete awe of our father, and were immensely grateful for everything he made possible for us.

About six months ago, Appa came back from a business trip to Amritsar, and almost promptly fell sick. It started out as a fever, which did not come down for a month. That’s when we started getting incredibly worried. As the weeks passed, his condition became worse. He started become weaker, his joints started swelling. He could no longer bear Chennai’s pleasant December climate. A strong man and an excellent badminton player, he could no longer carry a bag from his room to the car. This was the man who single handedly carried our entire luggage when we went on vacation and probably carried my younger brother while at it. He could no longer go to work, and spent most of the day in bed, trying to sleep over all his pain.

My mother took over, and became perhaps the most real superhero I will ever know. She worked all day, provided for all of us, took care of my father, paid for everything, and still managed to keep sane with my brothers and I all facing important examinations and processes in life that needed their support. She did her very best to keep us out of what seemed like our father’s rapidly decreasing life span.

They spent a huge chunk of their lives’ savings on trying to find his problem. My parents have probably been to every top specialist in this city and even to some overseas. They would have collected Appa’s blood no fewer than a hundred times to perform the various tests, but to no avail.

Up until February 12th, 2013. I had come home to finally understand Appa’s problem; he had Auto Immune Vasculitis. The doctors had assured us it was manageable and with proper medication Appa would live for another solid 40 years. But that day changed all of us, especially Appa. What he went through after that up until today changed me as well.

Appa’s realisation that his life literally depended on that small pill made inflated his stubborn, super-independent persona. My poor mother, working all the time and taking care of him trusted him enough to consume his medications. But he soon slyly went off it, and over the next 2 years wreaked havoc on himself and on us. My parents’ marriage was hurling down a canyon, he became more and more distant. My younger brother became more rebellious and demanding, and there was nothing the rest of us could do to make him understand the situation at home. The man who was recovering enough to go to work soon found himself back in square one. And then one day, he told his doctor that he would rather just die sooner.

I shall not bore you with what happened next, but here’s the short gist. My mother found the one thing that could shift my father’s attitude towards living, and slowly she got him out of his shell. They found him a better doctor, and started him on a new regimen which he now respects and has found peace with. Life slowly started going back to normal at home.

In between all this, I was stuck. Emotionally craving for normalcy to return. Physically deteriorating as I found solace in full fat food. I moved out of home, frequently returning to ensure that the vestiges of sanity remained in our house. I was scared of my father’s mortality, I was terrified of my own. As a victim myself, this wasn’t the first time I ever faced the question of life’s purpose.

This is not an article where I explore my revelation. I am still stuck. But I have managed to wriggle myself into a far more comfortable posture. And I did this by understanding that Appa’s purpose in life did not end because he was pulled down by some disease. He may have had a temporary lapse at the purpose of his mortality, but he found something to hold on to. My mother, despite being faced with the worst crisis imaginable to her, managed to retain her purpose in life as she became the sole provider to my family, monetarily but most importantly, emotionally. They provided me with the best possible education I could get, both literally and figuratively.

I remember walking down the coastline, thinking about this whole phase of my life. The waves reminded me that despite gravity’s best efforts, the winds always succeeded in pushing the water up a little bit, repeatedly. And I sat down by the sea and wept.

Adithya Padmanabhan Venkatachalam


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