Prithvi woke up with a start. He stood straight, feeling fully awake, yet wobbly and foggy, like he had woken up from a hypnotic sleep.
“How long was I asleep?” he thought to himself. He looked around at the unfamiliar surroundings, he had woken up to. It seemed like an ICU he had seen in movies, only smaller. He was in a room full of medical gadgets and the people around him seemed to be talking all at once. He stared at the buzzing noise around him for a long time to understand what was happening.
A nurse hurried in with a bag of blood. She replaced the empty one that hung over the bed of a man covered in tubes. There was a tube down the man’s throat, an oxygen mask around his face, his stomach was open with blood that seemed to be filling up into the stomach cavity and overflowing. An old but resilient looking doctor was barking urgent orders to the others around him, and everyone seemed to be unquestionably tamed to this old man.
“Is the transfusion active?”
“Yes doctor”, replied a nurse.
“Dr. Patil, how is his pulse holding?”
“His pulse is down to 60 dropping rapidly…. 55…. 50…45…”, a man monitoring a screen near the head of the man on the bed shouted.
“Paddles! Charge to 200, clear!”
Prithvi could almost feel a jolt himself. Poor fellow, this man seems to be in real trouble, he thought.
Just then a nurse shouted, “Everybody, including all the interns, except the one assigned this case — OUT!” She literally pushed people out.
Prithvi felt her throw a piercing look at him. He was scared. He seemed to have a gurgling feeling in his gut. It was the same feeling he had felt when he was on a giant wheel the first time. He remembered that day.
It was on his 9th birthday and his parents had taken him to Wonder-la along with his friends. This was the party he had begged for, from his parents. Though he seemed outwardly excited by the prospect of exciting rides, he was very afraid to get onto the giant-wheel. He was pretending to tie his shoe lace and his friends who had most willingly climbed into a giant wheel were calling him to join. He was still pretending to fix his shoes and shouted to them that he will go in the next round. His friends continued to call him to join them.
His father had come by his side and whispered to him, “I will sit with you.”
So, he had climbed onto the giant wheel along with his father, clutching his father’s hand. And all through the ride, his father, a retired air-force lieutenant was telling him “Once you get over the fear, it is the most wonderful feeling to own the skies and fly like a bird”. Prithvi threw up after the ride, but immediately went for another round like he wanted to overcome the fear of heights and motion sickness all in one day. As he was ending his second ride, he saw his father’s face. His father had that proud look for a brave son and at that moment Prithvi knew he wanted to fly like his father. This was a week before his father’s death. One of the things that Prithvi never got over from.
Prithvi was out of the room, he found out by the card above the room that it was an ER operation theater. Prithvi looked around, and saw Ganesh, shouting over the phone.
“B-positive… need fresh donors…. Get them over right away.”
“What?” …. “No, we don’t know anything now… will tell you as soon as I find out. Please get these donors Ravi. Very critical.” He seemed to be sobbing.
Prithvi moved towards him to say he was B-positive and he can donate, just then he saw Vidya, his wife, accompanied by her brother Naren. Prithvi was irritated by his presence and more with Vidya who had brought him.
Why did she have to bring that haughty nincompoop? Does she think I cannot handle this situation? I have to figure out a way to stay away from his foolish banter.
And like wise, Naren started enquiring around showing off that he was a doctor. “Were his pupils checked for dilation?”, he was asking an intern, who had no clue. He went around saying he was a doctor, and if he could enter the ER operation theater. Some intern was pointing to the nursing station, asking him to check there.
There were more people streaming in, and all known to him. His secretary, his sales head, and many from his IT team. They were all crowded around Ganesh asking for updates. He wanted to join them but then in the corner of the room, he saw his mother sitting with her second husband, sobbing quietly. He went to her with a strong urge to hold her hands, but as always, his step father was holding her hands consoling her.
He was again filled with the same contempt that he had for his brother-in-law.
Why was his time with his favorite people marred with these vain idiots? In what way was this son of a bitch suitable to take his father’s place in his mother’s life?
For the first time in his life, he was irritated by the feeling that even after almost three decades he could not get over his step father taking his father’s place in his mother’s life.
He recalled the day his step-father came into his life. It was during his ninth standard summer holidays, four years after his father had died. His mother had never seemed to have come back to normal after his father’s death. Prithvi had come to terms with it, thinking that his mother’s grief at losing his father was that immense. But when she married his step-father, he was filled with contempt for her, and immeasurable hatred for him, so much so that, his mother was very relieved when Prithvi chose to move into a faraway college in Ooty for his PUC.
He remembered fondly how his mother visited him every 15 days, and by his request without his step-father and they would have great fun planning some or the other outing around Ooty. This had gone on for a little over a year till his little half-brother was born, and then ended his healthy connection with his mother and his family on the whole. Despite his mother’s pleas he would hardly visit, and even if he did, it would only be for a day or two. He was always a part of summer camps, trekking groups, running groups and rock climbing groups during the holidays that his mother could not argue with him to visit her more or for longer durations.
He sat next to his mother for a while, and when he could no longer bear her sobbing, he got up to see what was happening. The doctors had not yet come out of the ER operation theater.
Ganesh and what seemed to Prithvi like his entire faculty and IT department were gathered around whispering to each other.
“Why don’t they give us some update?”,Naren asked. “It would not have been like this in Manipal, the doctors are more responsive there than here. Why Ramaiah though? Who chose this hospital?”, he demanded in an accusatory tone.
Ganesh quietly replied, “This was the nearest to the accident site and they have responded with right surgeons within very short time.” He got up to meet Ravi, who introduced him to the donors. Ganesh and Ravi went to the nursing station to arrange for the blood donation to the hospital to make up for all the blood that was being used up.
Prithvi walked away and lurked around the ER theater hoping to get some update. He entered into a frenzy of confused thoughts, he felt a gripping fear, and at the same time gratitude for something that he could not figure out. He felt someone jerk him into the ER theater, where he saw the old doctor covered in blood, asking the scrub nurse to push another epi. Before the she could respond, everyone heard the final beep on the heart monitor and the screen showed a complete flat line. For a minute, everyone stood still.
The old doctor broke the silence, “Please note the time of death nurse.” He walked out of the operation theater.
The head nurse called out to another nurse, ordering cleanup activities. Prithvi looked on wordlessly. The nurses didn’t seem to care for his presence. He sat on a stool nearby. He felt a sense of emptiness and peace as he saw the staff cleanup. The intern was stitching up the stomach, a nurse was cleaning the face and rest of the body. The head nurse called out to a staff for a fresh pair of clothes and a gurney. He stood still watching all the activity. It was as if the world stopped moving except for this activity. He wanted to say something, but nothing seemed to come out of his mouth. He was never a man with many words in such situations, but he very badly wanted to say something. The feeling of emptiness, was so intense that he wanted to scream, and he tried to scream, but no sound came out.
He remembered the day he was taken to an emergency operation for his left thigh hematoma surgery.
He had screeched in pain all the way to the ER and to the operation theater. All the restrain he had managed the previous couple of months, denying that his leg condition was serious, seemed to gush out. He was not just screaming for his pain, he was screaming for his unfilled dreams, he was screaming for the sacrifice he had made for his dreams and he was screaming for the futility of it all and he had screamed till the doctors managed to put him under. The sudden nothingness when he was under was what he was feeling now.
He felt for his thighs as was his habit ever since his operation, to feel the closed up wound on them whenever they throbbed, which pretty much throbbed all the time, that had resulted in his permanent limp. He could not feel the hump of the wound, he jumped down the stool to further examine, and he did not feel the constant pain that he was used to expect with sudden movements of his leg. He suddenly realized the pain which was a part of his being all through the last 20 years was gone. He felt a sense of relief but was puzzled by it at the same time.
How did this happen? He pondered and stared at the body of the man being cleaned up in front of him. His first thought was gratitude to that man who seemed to be the reason why he felt painless but was also filled with fear from the mammoth comprehension that was seeping into him. He stared into the face of the body and saw the face of a man who looked older than he was, with salt-pepper hair on the head and a well-trimmed beard and a slightly puffy face that typically came with constant drinking. His eyes were shut, and his lips were pursed but seemed like they were saying something, that he did not want to hear. Prithvi was staring at his own face on the body. At first, he thought his head was mixed up, but his painless leg made it more clear.
I am dead!?
This surreal fact seemed to strike him at his chest, he seemed to fall back away from the body. His body.
He looked on. At first with fear, and then with a deep sense of relief.
Relief from what? What am I, where am I, is this a dream or is this how death feels like?
He wandered around the room for a while, watching his own body, being attended to.
Should I go back into the body? Is it possible?
He stared at the body and felt a slight urge to try. But he felt himself going upwards and circle his body like a confused eagle looking at prey and deciding whether it wants to catch the prey or not. This went on till one moment, he could no longer bear the sight of his own body. He felt an urge to move away from it.
He found himself moving towards a wail that was coming from outside the ER. He saw his mom, step-father, wife and brother-in-law huddled at the entrance of the ER with Ganesh. His mother was crying uncontrollably. Vidya was just still with a look of anger and fury on her face. He chuckled.
Even in my death I can work her up into anger.
He sat next to her, wanting to tell her that it was the last time he would piss her off. He remembered the day he had first met her.
It was in one of his early courses as a faculty in his new institute. He was conducting a finishing school course. Vidya was sitting in the front seat, listening to him skeptically with her hand on her chin. She was quiet all through the two-week course, even in the sessions where the students were asked to share their worst fears and best times, she divulged very little, as if to say she did not care for any of this. It was the Thursday of the second week of the course, the day before the final day of the course. Prithvi limped across to her during the session and asked for a meeting with her after the class.
“Are you not liking the course, Ms. Vidya?”, he asked.
“It all seems like a scam to me”, said Vidya. She was wearing a white shirt on a lose jeans, and with her hair tied up on top her head and her spectacles made her look like a mean journalist to Prithvi.
“You think through this course I will recruit you into a zombie group that that would suck the blood off this population?”, Prithvi asked with a serious face.
Vidya looked at him with disdain, “You know all this grouping us into personality types and telling us what kind of people we are, is nonsense and is useless in the real world.”
“What did you expect when you enrolled? That this course will turn a beast to a beauty or a frog to a princess?” asked Prithvi, still with a serious face.
Vidya stood up completely annoyed by his nonchalant jest and turned to walk away.
He stopped her. “Look I am sorry, I did not mean to mock you. Tell me, I want to understand, what can be done to make this a better course for you?”
Vidya hesitated at first and then blurted, “First, stop putting on a holier-than-thou attitude. “I limp… so I am good at all this. I limp so I know the world. I limp, and I make a Mr. Know-it-all face so ever body should respect me.””
“Oh, my look caught your attention? That is more than I could ask for as a trainer”, he laughed. He mockingly enquired, “Do you believe my limp is real, or you think I fake that as well?”
She threw him a piercing glance. “You think you are the only one to have a limp in life? Physically or otherwise, everyone has a limp, otherwise why would people hop on to make-believe crutches like your training courses?”
Prithvi looked on with interest, “So what is your limp, may I ask? And clearly my course is not right crutch for your limp. Tell me what would have been a good crutch for you?”
And so their association had begun. She was like no other woman he had known. Her early conversations with him were more like science lessons.
“Did you know the difference between a tender coconut water and the tender coconut pulp is the cellular structure that grows from the water. The water is just absence of cellular structure”, she had shared when they were having tender coconut water on a summer day.
“The first part of the body to develop in a fetus is the anus”, she said when they were dining and discussing some training syllabus.
But the passion with which she spoke of such topics was actually what drew her to him. Within a very short time they had exchanged vows in a small ceremony.
Prithvi looked now at Vidya and asked softly, “Was I a good crutch to you? Was I the right one?”
Was she the right crutch for me?
He thought of the lifestyle he had created for himself that involved, travelling across cities for the most part of the year. Vidya had never complained or tried to change him. She would not ask much about his leg or the details of his whereabouts either.
She was a Type A diabetic who needed to attend to her body constantly throughout the day. Her diet and her insulin intake had to be monitored every waking hour. After the doctors forbid them from having children, she had added Guru Ravishankar’s Art of Living Satsangs into her routine and he had added few more of his training institute branches across the country.
Prithvi thought, we were both crippled and in pain and only crutch we got from each other was…..he thought hard…..we both accepted the crutch we thought we merited.
He remembered a quote by Colley Gibber— our hours in love have wings; in absence, crutches.
Few hours later, Prithvi looked around at an extraordinary scene in his home. His relatives, colleagues and friends had gathered around, with somber faces. His body was laid in the foyer of his Swedish architecture inspired home. His body was laid on a diwan with a lamp and a dhoop stand near his head. His face seemed to be peaceful in the backdrop of serene white sheets under his body on the diwan. His body was clothed in a white formal shirt. Vidya, ever composed, had ensured no one made a scene or a sound in the gathering. There was a backdrop of some chanting playing on a laptop near-by.
Prithvi watched on as people paid respects to his mortal remains. He was surprised that there were so many.
Did they come for me or for Vidya, or for the sheer curiosity of seeing me lifeless? he pondered
He remembered the inauguration of his last institute in Coimbatore, where had invited a group of five local small industry business leaders for a panel discussion on ‘Impact and Influence’. One of them was a COO, who had previously worked with Prithvi in his Mumbai branch for training his staff for high performance. This COO had made a speech about Prithvi and his training program during the panel discussion
“The key to surviving in this digital world whether you are in a small corporation or a large corporation is to have the ability to, very early and consistently in our careers, strike results or outcomes that make an impact in the business context. And as we grow in our careers, we need to be able to influence our teams, our management or our peers even to steer through the constant changes that the technology or the industry throws at us. On both these aspects, Mr. Prithvi Belavadi through his well-designed training programs for our company has hit the mark, be it in terms of coaching our young teams to bring about impactful solutions in our electrical designs or in terms of motivating our senior teams to influence the successful implementations of the changes in our ecosystem. This has not just steered our company into navigating through our changing business goals, it has also helped some of the individuals to discover their potential and use them to scale our company outcomes as well as their own careers and personal aspirations. The training programs in TFB strongly reflects the very nature of the man that Prithvi is, “results” but without losing the perspective on the sensitivities involved around the human nature and behavioral aspects. That is the reason he has so many followers in the social media and business circles”
Prithvi looked at Mr. Veeramani, who had made this speech six months back, pay his last respects to him and felt deep gratitude towards him for letting him know that his life’s work, though was not his first choice had meant something to someone.
Would I have been able to feel this sense of ‘met purpose’ if I had been a pilot? And for 20 years I spent unduly cursing my fate that did not allow me to follow in my father’s footsteps, he thought with a settling feeling.
On the eleventh day of his death, his family were gathered around to immerse his ashes in the Cauvery river near Srirangapatna. As the priest was chanting the “Asthi Visarjan” mantra, Prithvi looked on. The priest was explaining to the family that the whole purpose of this ritual is to ensure the dead person goes to a better place where he is peaceful and happy. Prithvi looked on, now battling his existence in the form of a ghost. He had reached a point where he was in a constant fear of where this was headed.
Am I doomed to exist like this?
He felt a deep sense of panic, so much so that he moved away from the river-side where the rituals were happening. He felt he was stuck with no means to go anywhere else.
Just then he saw four figures coming down the steps. He felt himself drawn back to the place where the rituals were happening. Vasundhara accompanied by Priya, Ganesh and Rohit, joined his family. Ganesh made a quick round of introductions, and the rituals continued. Vasundhara was holding Priya’s hand and standing few steps away from the priest and the family. The priest handed the urn that held Prithvi’s remains to Vidya. Vidya asked Ganesh and Naren to join her in pouring the contents into the river.
He was never a religious person, but Prithvi felt grateful that he was survived by people to whom it meant something that he was in a better place.
He looked at Vasundhara and remembered the day of the reunion when he had come to the Marriot hotel, Bangalore where his college reunion had happened. He had not been able to decide, whether to meet Vasundhara or not, so he just sat on a corner table near Vasundhara’s table. He was masked by the pillar next to him. He watched her speak about her children with the same twinkle in the eye that she had whenever they met 20 years ago. She spoke with pride about her husband who she was saying was a better parent than her to her twins.
Though he had a strong urge to just drop by her table and announce himself, he restrained himself. Not even for the world would he have wanted to ruin that twinkle in her eye. He had remembered his father’s words, when he had wanted to pull a fish out of the aquarium and hold it in his hand. His father had said, “You can hold the fish if you are sure the fish will breath in your hands and not if you are going to take the life out of it”
Prithvi had one final look at Vasundhara, who was looking distantly into the river with tears filled eyes. He then felt something draw him higher and higher, in great speed towards what seemed like a tunnel of light. For the first time since he had died he felt peace and nothingness and he realized, that this was what he had unknowingly always wanted, more than anything else in life. All his thoughts, memories and feelings even, seemed to get washed out by the light ahead of him and although he could not have explained what was ahead of him, he felt completely ready and willing to go through with what lay ahead.