An ambulance is running on the streets of Chandigarh, one of the famous Union Territories in India, at 3:30 a.m.
It’s a particularly cold winter night. The ambulance is cutting through a thin layer of smog created by the firecrackers and fireworks of the Diwali celebrations, the previous day. A boy who seems to be in his early twenties, is sitting right next to his father. The boy’s name is Karan Khanna and his father’s name is Abhinav Khanna. And the man lying unconscious with his left eye slightly open happens to be the boy’s paternal uncle, his father’s elder brother, Abhimaan. Karan is constantly touching his hand in order to affirm his status as “living”.
And before he knows it, he sees a big signage board in front emitting bright red light which is struggling to cut through the thick layer of smog around. As the ambulance approaches closer, the word on the board, ‘EMERGENCY’ becomes clearer. The ambulance finally arrives at a Government-run hospital and a medical college called P.G.I(Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research). The ambulance staff makes the patient lie on the stretcher quickly and pulls the stretcher till the emergency ward.
- So here I am, in a big hall which does not seem to be that big, as most of its area is covered by people. People who are strangers to one another. Our paths have never crossed but all of us are going through the same experience today. It’s an emotionless state all of us have attained. I can see two sets of people in front of me. The first set consists of people who are fighting for their lives. Some of them have given up but their bodies are not allowing them to escape. Some are trying to escape from their physical being but maybe some power per se is not allowing them to. What can be the reason for such a power to not allow a person to perish? The body has given up, the mind has given up, and the heart is alive because of the manual ventilation. What happens when you’re stuck between life and death? :
The room is filled with stretchers on which the first set of people is lying. The ward does not have beds instead the people have made beds out of the stretchers. They have used blankets, bedsheets and shawls on the stretchers for the patients to be comfortable. The second set of people consists of men, women, children, parents and friends, whose eyes are glimmering with hope, some have given up and some are wishing for this to end as they can see the person, whom they are buying the medicines and injections for, gradually going away from them.
They know that all these tests which the doctors are prescribing every six hours are going to confirm this. They are exhausted in every possible manner. Too occupied to worry about the surroundings, Abhinav and Karan find
a spot for Abhimaan whom the hospital staff has been carrying on the stretcher. Two young men in shabby sky-blue uniforms like surgical suits come running to the stretcher. While Karan is busy looking at his uncle twitching his arms and legs, Abhinav starts to explain to them about what has happened to his brother.
He explains, ‘My son called me saying that my elder brother has had a seizure attack…’ while pointing at Abhimaan.
Karan has his eyes fixed on Abhimaan. ‘How did I end up here?’ ‘Am I really doing this?’ ‘Saving this man?!’ ‘Helping this man?!’
It’s been two years since Karan moved to Mumbai. He has been studying film making in a film school. He had worked as an intern in an esteemed advertising firm and he wishes to join the firm again as soon as he finishes his course, in the capacity of a copywriter. He lives in the suburban part of Mumbai in a shared accommodation, locally known as a P.G.(Paying Guest). It’s been a while so he is used to the hustle-bustle of the city. In fact, he has always wanted to be here. People keep complaining about the exploding population and crowd everywhere in Mumbai, but he enjoys it. Initially, when he wasn’t so pally with his institute buddies or his P.G. roommates, he used to go to a mall or a restaurant and pick a table that would be surrounded by people. He didn’t like to eat alone so this would give him the feeling of having dinner with his extended family.
He disregards the popular belief of Mumbai being full of greedy monsters lurking around the streets all day. He had lost two of his valuable belongings and got them back. One of them was a bag which had his laptop along with a few clothes and a diary.
He had left the bag in the back of an auto seat. An area behind the seat which is still infamously known as the Bermuda Triangle. Because if you happen to keep any of your stuff there, you’re probably going to forget taking it. Luckily he had written a few contact numbers of his friends in his diary. Yes, he has always been an old soul. The auto-rickshaw driver happened to dial one of those numbers after having gone through the stuff in his bag. Then Karan got a call from his friend whom the rickshaw driver had called.
Karan was very excited about the approaching Diwali break. As much as he loved Mumbai, he always craved for some good old Punjabi-ness in things. Breaks like these would act as oxygen for him to survive in the la-la land. He was doubly excited about the weather. One of the very few complaints he has had against Mumbai, has been the weather. He really used to enjoy the winters back home but couldn’t experience any of that in Mumbai. So, he packs his jackets and woollens and off he goes to the city beautiful, Chandigarh.
He has always considered spending time with his family to be really cathartic and therapeutic. It was the day after Diwali when something drastic happens in his life. They say that you only are the sum total of the experiences you have had in life. An experience just like that was awaiting him.
His Dadi(paternal grandmother) who is actually around 80 albeit, she looks ten years younger than her actual age, is sitting at the dining table. Being an army officer’s wife, she has always been very particular about the dining hours and almost every day to day chore. Her name is Garima. She is with Divya, her daughter-in-law and Karan’s mother, who is meticulously helping her in setting up the dining table.
The whole house was initially made like a bungalow with an open terrace. But soon people in that area either started to sell their terraces or got them converted into houses. The bungalows eventually transformed into three storey buildings having three separate flats. But this is the maximum an owner can build as it’s not allowed to expand beyond the three storeys. So, the ground floor and the top floor belong to the Khanna’s or rather to Garima and Praveen Khanna, Karan’s grandparents. They have rented out the house on the top floor and they had sold the terrace when it was just a bungalow. The second floor doesn’t belong to them anymore.
The Khanna’s residence is a humble abode with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. An extended backyard or a veda as it’s called in Punjabi or other North Indian languages. The veda used to have a mango tree long back, when it was just a bungalow. Karan and his cousins still reminisce about the times when they used to help their elders in turning the raw mangoes into delicious achaar (pickle).
There are two sitting areas in the house. One is just beside the kitchen which has always been preferred by whoever is cooking. As one would have to travel less with the dishes. But if there are more than five people then the big living room would be preferred. It is the only lavishly decorated room in the house compared to the other modestly decorated rooms.
The dishes are served on the table. One glance at the dishes, and you would know that it’s a Punjabi household. Rajma chawal (rice with red beans), Shahi Paneer (creamy cottage cheese) and Baingan ka bharta (eggplant stew). Granted, that all of these are vegetarian dishes but even then, it is quite a Punjabi affair. Contrary to the perception of Punjabis always hogging on chicken and then drinking alcohol to gobble it down. Divya, Karan’s mother is a perfect blend of Himachali and Punjabi culture. Her facial features are very sharp. She has a small and pointed nose. Boy-cut, with a black mole and a pair of spectacles on her fair skin. Garima seems to be like an aged version of Divya sometimes. The same amount of poise and dignity oozing from their demeanour. She also has a golden yet modern pair of spectacles gracing her face. Both the ladies seem to be fiddling with the dishes, waiting for the gentlemen of the house to arrive.
Garima, Karan’s grandmother says in Punjabi, ‘Aiss vaari Diwali te kam pataake jalaaye lokaa ne!’ Which can be loosely translated into, ‘Not much of fireworks this Diwali!’ Divya takes a beat to process and replies, ‘Yes that’s right Mummy (mother-in-law), why are they taking so long?’
And here they are. The gentlemen of the house, Abhimaan and Abhinav enter the dining room. And of course, followed by Karan. The way Abhimaan is walking, it’s pretty evident that he has faced a lot of injuries on his right leg. He is evidently shorter than Karan and Abhinav in height. He is not very fat but his paunch is still very evident through the sleeveless sweater that he’s wearing. He has a dark complexion and for some reason, he never sported sideburns on his cheeks. Abhinav on the other hand is the tallest of the lot at 5 feet 9 inches. He sports a finely groomed moustache and a pair of half-rimmed spectacles. He is over 50 but doesn’t look his age. Probably because he doesn’t drink or smoke. He has been a boxer during his school and college times. So, the years of disciplined labour are showing in his demeanour. Although he is wearing it very casually.
Karan is somewhere in between, in terms of height, at 5’6’’. His facial structure and hairline are very similar to his mother’s but his personality and voice are strikingly similar to his father’s. He looks like a perfect blend of all the people at the table. He sports a light stubble and a pair of thick-framed spectacles. His eye power is only a little deviated from the normal and yet he likes to wear it when he’s in the house so that everything appears to be in 1080p full H.D.(high definition) as compared to 720p or sometimes 480p.
Everyone settles down and starts chatting while serving themselves with the delicious homemade Punjabi food.
Garima says, ‘Karan, I have had this made especially for you. Baingan ka Bharta!’
‘Wow! That’s like my Dadi!’, Karan exclaims and pounces on the bharta.
Abhimaan laughs and says, ‘Ooh I forgot about Rashmi. RASHMI!’. Everybody quiets down and looks at Abhimaan. Abhimaan evidently realises something.
He chuckles and says, ‘I had forgotten. Never mind, she’ll be back soon.’ ‘Your Tai Ma(Aunt) will be back soon Karan!’ ‘Till when will she stay at her maika(her maiden home)!?’, he says this to himself.
An awkward silence creeps in.
Karan notices the tension in the air and consciously tries to break it, ‘Ahem..Mummy, I think I should stay back and spend the night here at Dadi’s.’
To which Garima says, ‘Yes you must Karan. Poor guy must be having a hard time in Mumbai alone. Let me feed him properly and send him back healthy.’ Everybody shares a peal of casual laughter and Divya nods in approval.