She came as five, scrawny and poisoned. Orango-phosphorous substance that killed rats and vermin, the young doctor recognized. The sickly invasion had patterned her skin by then, and the doctor wiped it off her. Light had cheated her eyes. The pupils were constricted. The mouth and nose were cleared by assessment. The heart cradled a slow, dull rhythm. She was still breathing.
The young Pediatrician set up a steady drip of Atropine after calculating the dose for her meager weight. The mother had come with similar fate, too unconscious for the pangs of distraught, panicking love. Then they left them to their separate battles with unfortunate adventure. It was going to be a long night.
The call from the registrar of the female ward at 2 o clock in the morning pronounced that the mother had succumbed. Luck had tested the unknowing child, orphaned prematurely in a life that would require a great deal of tenacity. She had lived to only be stranded. She had fought, only to be burdened. She existed, only as a tiny inconsequential speck in the constellation of struggling souls whose sighs heaved and saturated this hospital air heavy with anxiety. But the smile she presented the doctor showed no knowledge. The smile she presented the doctor was innocent, fresh. It was a tender awakening of an extraordinary relationship.
It was the middle of a relentless summer in the small city of Mysore. The emergency ward of the Children’s Hospital had always been busy at times like these. It was the time of the year when the sun mercilessly poured in the heat to burnish these tall tables covered in flaky grey paint and line the rubber mattresses covered in a green rexin sheets, announcing sickness. Up above, a couple of fans protested in their rusty frames, doing only little to dissipate the unsettling stupor. It was a bewildering landscape and that sparked fear in the now-dilated eyes of the young one. Her eyes met the doctors with a hesitant, pitiful fixation. “She looked at me for another second or two and then the most glorious light lit up her face and eyes as a smile made its way delicately into her visage.” The doctor recalled later, “She sat up more erect and I rushed towards her and lifted her blanketed light frame into my arms.” My name is Parvati, she whispered to him.
Parvati’s questions would come later, on the lap of the weary pediatrician. “Where is my mother?” A simple query with a tragic answer. The poisoning was now a police case, and none could elucidate the mysterious circumstances under which the mother and daughter had been found splayed on a hotel floor. The doctor saw the child in and around, dropping by between his routine check-ups. His almost fatherly affection for the child grew between those rounds, she melted his heart. Once, they even escaped for a fun holiday, buying popsicles from across the street. He had showed her the reflection in the mirror, with tongue turned a gaudy purple from the savoring. She laughed then and changed his life.
There was something special about Parvati, something enigmatic, beautiful and simple. She was the face of eager honesty, a natural curiousness of a growing child. She was innocence that lived in troubled waters. She was an angel; she was bundle of joy that bought cheer to this fatigued hospital space.
The days had only been rolling. She was healthy now. She could run about and squeal in recognition. She could tell the doctor her stories from a comfortable lap. She could smile with fire in her eyes. A hospital was no place for a well child to be. What was to be her fate now? The police had decided on placing advertisements in the newspaper for someone to claim her. Else, she would be stuffed away to an orphanage. The doctor then cycled all the way to the Police Station for a word with the Superintendant. The ensuing conversation was persuasive, pleading and polite.
“He could see how much I had come to care about this little girl. That evening, when I went home on my cycle, Parvati rode in the back with me. She was quite delighted and kept laughing and singing all the way.”
The doctor had made an important decision. He had saved the girl from the clutches of death, and he had now assumed the duty to save her from the wrath of a merciless world. Parvati was to live with the doctor until responses to the newspaper ads came. Here, she became Jyothi, the light of the doctor’s life, the radiance that bought peace to his household. She came to be regarded as much more than just a somebody; she came to be family. There was a new fullness in the doctor’s heart, much like that of a proud father returning with a newborn. Jyothi scampered around all of the house, exploring with newfound excitement.
The little one was the new sensation, not just in the family, but elsewhere as well. A journalist promptly arrived on the doorstep one morning, begging for an interview. They turned him away with clever lies, protecting the child from media attention. Police Case, that’s how the papers would address her, not as Jyothi. The doctor wanted to shield her, fiercely protecting. The paperwork only found neglect in the Police Station. The replies that the ads expected never came, but a couple of people expressed interest in adoption. It was a bitter-sweet moment for the doctor who had nurtured the child so vigilantly. The attachment was strong, he wouldn’t let go so easily. He personally cycled to the place to meet with Jyothi’s prospective parents.
They met them in Bungalows, good families of aristocratic power. When Police Case and the death of the mother were explained, the couple politely declined from adopting the child.
“They feared the mother was of ill-repute. I felt a deep pain in my stomach almost as if I had been kicked by a horse.” The attachment had grown enough for the doctor and Jyothi to feel a joint pain.
Jyothi understood the rejection, even if she was too young to grasp the magnitude of such choices. It hit her hard. She only cried, and the doctor hushed her into calmness.
A second call came. This time, they were careful to not get their hopes up too much.
“I may be able to find a mother for you today.” The doctor told her. She was unusually silent, her eyes never leaving his face. They cycled again. The house was a poor one, on the first floor of a many-storied building. The family had three children, a homely mother and a loving father. Jyothi took one look at the house and fell deeply in love with it. The parents embraced her. They took Jyothi into their arms without hesitation or second thought.
The doctor knew it was time. He arranged for a familiar lawyer, and the adoption was made a quick, hassle-free process. This was a goodbye he would never forget. Jyothi, the light of his life, would light another family. She was to leave his household and find meaning in life. She flew away to the happy safety of a new shelter. He missed her often. Three months afterwards, he cycled to meet with Jyothi and her new family. They had shifted to a better locality and the little one was doing tremendously well. She smiled again and enriched the doctor’s life. At that instant, he discovered a sense of profound fulfillment within himself, a sort of calming enlightenment that comes with the knowledge of doing good.
Many years later, the doctor had migrated to England. He had set up medical practice there and was flourishing. Jyothi was a little thought in the back of his head now, a shadow, a question, a curiosity. A phone call from India from his mother informed him one day that Jyothi’s parents had visited. Jyoti was now in Singapore, happily married and mothering a baby boy. The doctor was delighted to find his answers. The parents had left for the doctor a statue of sandalwood, a mark of their respect, a token of Jyothi’s overwhelming gratitude. The little girl was all grown up now, but the thankfulness hadn’t left her.
The Ganesha statue of sandalwood sits today by the doctor’s bed-side table, reminding of a blossoming, an enduring bondage, and the beauty of human endeavor.