My father’s voice had a surprising lightness to it as he spoke. The medicines that helped him control his wild mood swings over the last two years also reduced him to a rather mournful figure, with an eerie quietness always hanging about him. I was used to him sounding distant, so it was strange that he sounded almost happy over the phone.
“Are you able to communicate better with the patients now?”
“Yes”, I interjected, before my husband could respond, “He is posted in the COVID ward now, so most of the patients are locals who speak Tamil. Those who speak Bangla and Hindi are the ones who get referred here for consultation.”
“I pray for you every day. It will get better.”
“Thank you, Acha“, MB said, and proceeded with some light conversation before my mother took over again. As she went over various occurrences of the day and the intricate details pertaining to everyone in my family, my attention was drawn towards a WhatsApp notification. I rushed to open it, still humming appropriately to my mother. From the corner of my eye, I saw MB frown, and I quickly set my phone down and zoned in to my mother’s voice again.
After the call was done, MB looked over at me quizzically.
“I don’t have this, you know? Growing up, it was just my parents and I, and even they do not understand me. You have all these people who look out for you, and sometimes I feel like you do not give them enough credit. You are so used to having them around that you take them for granted.”
It was true, and I knew it. I kept quiet. K had once told me the same regarding two of my cousins. She had found them extremely charming and funny, and wondered aloud why I did not seem to care a lot for them. I did not have an answer to that at the time, except wondering inwardly that maybe they did not fit into everything that I considered ‘cool’ at the time. I liked them, obviously, but I had never looked at them as people I would attach the adjectives ‘awesome’ or ‘amazing’ to.
“You know how you ranted about prayer the other day?”, he continued. “About how it doesn’t make sense.. but it feels good when someone says they pray for you. That they remember what you’re going through and took a step hoping things get better for you.. it makes one feel a little less lonely.”
This last one month has been exceptionally bad, and I have found myself spending a considerable amount of time pondering over a reason to live. The only one that stood out is that MB needs to get through three more years of his ordeal at this institution, and it would be quite selfish on my part to leave him to fend for himself. It hasn’t been enough, though. This is probably the saddest I’ve been in a long time; unable to work, literally pushing forward against time in an attempt to survive.
Now, listening to him, I wondered why I never put in the effort to talk to everyone more. All communications to me came through my mother and I often wondered what would happen if she weren’t there to communicate them. Would that completely cut off this entire support system of mine that MB was envious of? Relationships take time and effort, and I’ve not been great at sustaining them. Like a million other things, I was jealous of S when he spoke of how he talked to all his relatives regularly. But unlike all the other surreal stories, this wasn’t out of my reach. All I had to do was dial them up. Talk to them. Listen to them. Learn from them.
I took out the notepad on my phone and made a list of all the people I cared about. The first 20 came rushing out. The rest trickled down my mind, one at a time, and soon I was looking at 46 names I held close. People who deserved my time and attention for the umpteen times they had given me the same. People who I wanted in my life, irrespective of when it might end. Whose stories I wanted to be a part of for as long as I could.
I was searching for a reason to live, and here I had 46. I felt the hint of a smile creeping up the side of my lips.