You could have called her a celeb! There were endless debates on the events of her life. Her ailments became national news. And finally her death grabbed the headlines everywhere be it newspapers, TV channels or social media.
Well, what a life! Yes what a life when one had to spend it in a vegetative state for 42 long years. What a life when one came completely at the mercy of others for the basic necessities. What a life when one is forced to shed all dignity and endure an unimaginable existence beyond all human comprehension. Well, that precisely was the life Aruna Ramchandra Shanbaug led for 42 long years after she was tortured and sodomised by a hospital sweeper in one November evening in1973.
She had cried out to protest, strong as she was emotionally, but those cries had been cruelly throttled with a dog chain by a man who lusted after her and at the same time had resentment against her for she had sternly spoken to him for stealing dog food. Sohanlal Bhartha Walmiki was never charged for rape. He was later convicted with attempt to murder and robbery charges and after seven years of serving in jail he was a free man.
When I heard about Aruna’s death on May 18th, I was not sure whether to be happy or sad. I wanted to be happy because I thought at last her beautiful soul got the freedom from the battered body and could rest in peace finally. But even then I could not be happy. Moments from her life came flashing by. Thanks to Pinki Virani’s book Aruna’s Story, I knew many important details of Aruna’s life with utmost precision. The sensitivity which Virani used in the book helped me visualise all that the young, beautiful and high spirited Aruna went through.
A young inexperienced belle from Karnakata’s Haldipur had only dreams to make it big in this bad mad world when she came to Bombay. She led a life which her colleagues often at times could have said enviable. And that life she had achieved through her grit and determination. Nothing was easy in her life. She fought her way to achieve whatever she did. A competent and accomplished nurse at one of Bombay’s most famous municipality run hospitals, King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEM), engaged to marry a bright young doctor Sundeep Sardesai. Life seemed beautiful.
While reading the book I often got tormented thinking why Aruna, or for that matter why or how could someone be subjected to such inconceivable pain, torture and indignity in life. Nobody couldn’t ever do anything in several lives put together to deserve that condition. No wonder Virani, right after Aruna’s death, said she had died way back in November 1973 itself. True. Aruna should have died and being exempted from all the torture that she endured for years after years. Sundeep Sardesai, the bright doctor for whose clinic Aruna had been saving money, had waited four years for her and then vanished into the oblivion of his own world of success, opulence and happiness.
He could not be blamed because after all this was Aruna’s fight, completely her own struggle that she endured alone. And she indeed fought it for 42 long years.
Even though I supported Virani’s euthanasia plea for Aruna, at the same time my heart went out to the nurses and staff at KEM in Parel who looked after her for more than four decades. There were a lot of opposition about one bed being occupied at a government hospital for an indefinite period. In between she was sent somewhere else as well. Aruna’s condition worsened there. But it was the initiative of the nurses that brought her back to KEM once more.
Medical theories said Aruna was deaf, dumb and blind and almost a vegetable. Yet she was aware of what she went through that fearful evening. She could not tolerate any male presence near her; she even became completely paranoid when she heard a man singing a beautiful song on a radio in her room. The last day when Sundeep Sardesai came to bid her the final adieu, she couldn’t say a word, couldn’t move but her cheeks had become wet with tears.
Her tears of helplessness, her tears of desperation, her tears of dejection were shed for 42 long years.
Aruna’s plight, her struggle, her tattered self had no conceivable meaning. Great souls suffer the sufferings of humanity as a whole. Jesus Christ had endured insufferable pain for the betterment of the entire human race. Was Aruna’s journey in this mortal world a result of that? We will never know the answer.