By Arnab Ghosh
I closely watched the two blanched leaves just underneath the bud. I was unsettled about whether to give it a splash of water or to call the horticulturist for an inspection. I bent to have one more look at the bud. It was green with a tightly closed tip and the sepals glued together, not allowing anyone to survey the inside. The horticulturist advised me to sprinkle some liquid NPK and water it a little. I obliged.
I knew her since she was seven. She never failed to amuse me with her innocuous capriccios. She used to make me admire even her wrong dance moves. Sometimes, I would feign dismay as if I was not happy with her performance only to pique her childish anguish. That attribute was so dear to me. I vividly remember her, all dressed up in red, gleefully walking to a temple with the rest of us, occasionally thrusting herself heedlessly into another group of visitors. The next moment, an ox appeared out of nowhere and struck her from the back with its giant horns. She wasn’t hurt, to our relief but was so flabbergasted that it took her at least a minute to recover before breaking into a paroxysm of thunderous sobs. Throughout the return journey, I had to mollify my little sister-in-law who was still crying her eyes out despite being offered my rightful share of edibles too.
The next morning, even before rinsing my face, I rushed to see it. I was perturbed. Five leaves had fallen off and the bud looked pallid, showing no sign of blooming. I had to save it at any cost. “Is it dying?” I muttered to myself. I made up my mind to skip the office and watch it every moment. All the pesticides, manures, fertilizers, sprinklers lay beside me, ready to serve. I watched the bud more closely. This time, in the afternoon, it was swaying in the mild breeze but to my relief, not a single leaf fell off.
She started to take tuitions from me when she was in eighth grade. During classes, she was not only attentive to lectures but was also alert so as not to miss on the nonsensical tales of adventure peppered with tongue-in-cheek taradiddles narrated by her pals in low whispers. I wouldn’t let our intimacy butt in on my pedagogy. I scolded her and even made false threats of a generous thrashing whenever she seemed inattentive. I remember clearly, it was the 25th of December and I made her write the same essay several times (I didn’t even allow her to leave on Christmas despite her several pleas). Her style didn’t live up to my expectations. I made her write until I was content. She was restless. But I was recalcitrant not to allow her any respite until I saw drops of tears on the edge of her lashes, ready to be shed. A memory from the distant past suddenly swept over me. Once she hurt herself while playing as a kid and I placed her on my lap and wiped off a drop of tear that was about to climb down her cheek. I was astonished at remembering such a trivial detail. “Dadabhai, it’s Christmas”, she whinged with a lachrymose face. I had returned to the present. I gave her a peck on her forehead and let her leave for the day. She had scored pretty well, above 80% in her 12th board exams. I could clearly remember the day of her graduation from high school. I still feel her touch on my feet that she made as a token of gratitude. ‘Can you dance with those wrong steps the same way you did in your childhood’, I asked. She blushed. She was eighteen by then, fully grown-up.
For the next two days, though I kept a close vigil, I didn’t find any significant difference. The third morning, when I went into the garden and observed it, to my surprise, I could notice the soft yellow hue inside veiled by the sepals. Has it recovered? Is it blooming? I called the horticulturist and explained to him what I saw. He advised me to apply another dose of organic manure and water it every alternative day. He was optimistic about its recovery.
“Dadabhai, I’m strong enough to endure the chemotherapies and….and even amputation. What do you think? Can’t I live without my right hand? There was this little boy of seven who coped up with all those medications for leukemia with a wide grin. I’m not alone, dadabhai. There are lakhs of fighters like me “, she said.
She had returned home just the day before, after undergoing rigorous treatment for six months in Vellore ever since she was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. She was yet to receive months of treatment but was speaking as if nothing had changed. I knew that she was rattled from inside. I could tell, from the gloom in her eyes, that she was just maintaining a masquerade of grit to sound over-realistic. I didn’t utter a word but just stared into her eyes, unable to find words that could relieve her from the torment of having a vastness of uncertainty lurking in front of her every passing moment. Turning away from my penetrating gaze, she complained, in that typical coaxing voice that she used to blarney me in her childhood to allow her a leave,” can you please ask maa to spare some taste in my food?”
“What do you want to eat?”
“Naaah! I’m fine with whatever she cooks. I must follow these restrictions for better”, she said, assuming an air of reasonability that was so uncharacteristic of her.
I remember her last days. One evening, I was seated beside her with her left hand on mine. Then suddenly she blurted out, “dadabhai, will you do one thing for me when I mightn’t be here?” I had to bite my tongue to appear phlegmatic and not betray any emotion. I nodded.
“Dadabhai, do you know why I like the color yellow? It gives one vibe of friendship, optimism, wisdom, power, and joy all of which I have in me. Will you please place a bouquet of yellow roses on my bosom after my death?”
“I will”, I mumbled. My voice dwindled. I paused for a while. “I won’t let your joy, your wisdom fade away. I will make your emotions live “, this time I was confident. I kept my word.
Here you are, healed, blithe, and warm. Your wisdom transcends the realm of mortality. Now you are swaying with full vigor in the gentle breeze, donning the charming dark yellow and radiating the whiff of life. I feel relieved of the task of keeping your emotion alive, now that you are brimming with life once again. The friendship will linger on….forever.