The birthday gift

She could be called the quintessential Bong beauty by all possible standards. Always to be found with a cheerful disposition, Sanjana was one woman who was friends with everyone. Be it the fisherwoman’s mother-in-law, the neighbour’s two-year-old son or the renowned industrialist’s chic wife – everyone was her close friend. Married at a considerable young age, she had two grown up children but that status did nothing to thaw her ever present charm and soulful indulgence. A darling to her parents and even after 20 years of marriage, the most beautiful woman to her ever doting husband, Sanjana was one person who never had many complaints from life.

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 There were situations when at times life seemed not too smooth for her. Her daughter’s academic status wasn’t going as well as she had expected. Moreover Sanjana had always wanted to carve a niche for herself, find her own standing in life. And that was not taking shape too well. However, those problems were also sorted soon. She got a job that she dearly loved and her daughter slowly stabilised in her academics and everyone in the family heaved a sigh of relief. Things were picture-perfect in Sanjana’s life and she was every bit thankful for it.

The calm sky, the pleasant cool tranquil feel of the wind is often a prelude to an impending ferocious merciless storm. The storm approaches with a pitiless intensity and unleashes its fury over all possible objects big or small.

 It was a pleasant April morning. The day after was her birthday and she knew her husband Manav must already have been planning something extraordinary to gift her this time. She wished her daughter Sanvi was with her. Her heart had broken when they had sent her to a hostel. However, Sanjana knew it was for Sanvi’s well-being only that she needed to stay away from home and finish her education.

“April is the cruelest month, breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain.”                            ― T.S. Eliot’s, The Waste Land

Suddenly these lines came to her mind. Nay, April is a fantastic month. It’s the month of her birthday. She must have been reading too hard these days. Quickly, putting all bad thoughts at rest she got ready for her office and with a beautiful smile breezed into the office. She was feeling wonderful and beautiful. Nothing was going wrong or could go wrong. Life in a small town had a beauty of its own. Life passed by in its own rhythm and slowly its dwellers got used to it so much so that they made it their own rhythm as well.

When she returned home she saw Biddu, her son, solving Math problems with his private tutor. Even though Biddu was very young, she wanted to see him growing up to be an engineer one day. She hated herself for this. “How stereotypical of me,” she often gushed to Manav and together both of them dreamt of getting old together. Manav said, “You will still look gorgeous like this when you will be 90 and I will still be as crazy about you as I am today.” These sweet nothings were her world and she cherished them wholeheartedly while thanking her God.

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It was almost 9 PM but Manav was still not home. She knew she should have been worried but that day she decided to keep her calm since tomorrow was her birthday and her husband must have been planning something really big. Her parents would arrive next morning. She could barely count the minutes.

Manav came after 10.30 at night. He looked very haggard and disturbed. And he was unusually rude. Sanjana was upset. It’s her birthday eve and even if Manav was acting to be nasty so that she couldn’t guess his surprise, she was not happy. During dinner he apologised for not being able to bring any gift for her since he was tied up and promised to take them out for lunch tomorrow. Was Manav having an affair? In the 20 years they had spent together this was the first birthday he was behaving like this. Sanjana was almost in tears.

Sanvi called as the clock struck midnight to wish her pretty Mom happy birthday. Biddu came with a card. Sanjana tried to wake her husband from sleep and told him to wish her happy birthday. He somehow managed to utter those two words from his seeming slumber. Her father wished her happy birthday but when her mother’s turn came to wish her she broke into tears and couldn’t speak to her. Funny things were happening to her and Sanjana felt slowly unsettled with time. She crept back to bed but even after trying a lot, sleep eluded her. It was almost 2 AM and she was returning from the washroom when she suddenly saw a white envelop somewhat hidden under Manav’s laptop. She opened it fast. Even from the faint light of the street light she could make out it was a medical report. She was surprised beyond words. Why did Manav hide his health condition from her? She took the piece of paper and took it to the next room to read clearly. It was not Manav’s but her report. Sanjana had been diagnosed with Stage IIIA of stomach cancer.

Manav snatched the paper from her hand. “How dare you read my paper,” he said. Her face turned from being completely blank to realising the intensity of the situation. Tears started trickling down her face. First a droplet or two then came down the stream and that never stopped. Manav didn’t make any gesture to stop or console her. He kept staring at her almost in a state of stupor. Minutes passed like that and then hours. Just as Manav didn’t look away, her tears did not stop even for a minute. Time had come to a standstill.

Months have passed and Manav hasn’t left any stone unturned for his wife’s treatment. He is going places to almost hunt for the best possible doctors to treat his beautiful wife. Sanjana on her part has been quite brave. The chemotherapy took away her beautiful tresses but failed to steal the enthusiasm in her spirit. With a fine wig, and a stunning smile she looks as beautiful as ever. Her parents have been brave as well and her mother is doing her best to keep up a cheerful disposition even though she sometimes falters. Her children have not been told of her ailment yet. The battle is still on. The end result doesn’t matter. What matters is the fighting spirit and the will to go on. 

Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

                                                                                                           ― John Donne’s Death, be not proud

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