Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Signs of an End

Signs of an End

As in everyone's life - there have been several instances in my life where I have had to face situations where relatives/grandparents have passed away. But during most of the scenarios, I've faced it only indirectly. For the first time in my life, on the 12th of Aug'05 - I saw death coming. PRN Iyer, a paternal grand-uncle, was suffering since two months. He was ailing. The pain in all his joints and legs made him immobile and bed-ridden. There was an attender by name Raja who took care of him. When we are free to walk and run, we hardly realize the freedom, agility and mobility that the marvelous human body holds. In the case when a person is totally restricted to bed, hardly able to move due to pain, and immobile - that is real agony. It is only then that we realise that the words agony and pain are so harsh on us. PRN had undergone 4 major surgeries in his lifetime, the most major being a hip and joint replacement one.

Most of the family folks shuddered speaking to PRN even when it came to casual talk as he was very blunt, loud and sometimes crude in his comments. Life in the soil of Kerala where feudal landlords are plenty, had made him one too. "I know it all, you dont!" was his tagline. And right from maidservants to relatives, no one was spared of shouts and scoldings. However, he did have a faithful servant who listened to all his taunts and abuses, the ever-quiet, the ever-tolerant - Narayanan, who served him well. He didnt believe much in God but cursed the Gods when he had problems.

But suddenly at age 88, there were changes, but his inner harsh qualities remained. He started suffering with ailments. It was just the age and immobility and not disease or sickness, inablity to move due to pain and his life was restricted to a cot in a room. But however harsh a person is, when we start seeing the suffering, we are deeply moved. PRN was disgusted with his life due to the pain and suffering. Once when Raja asked him in his rural dialect "Ayah, enna venum ayyah, sollunga ayyah" (sir, what do you want sir, tell me) PRN softly and rather in a gentle tone told him, "enakku....enakku....konjum vesham venam" (i...i...need a little poison) - and suddenly Raja's eyes were moist. Even though he had heard abuses from the man he was serving for a few months, he was shocked when he heard those words from PRN. There were bouts of shouts from PRN due to pain whenever he moved or wanted Raja to move his legs, and due to an infection in his ankle, the Doc came everyday to dress the wound and monitor his condition. As days passed, and pain mounted, with sleepless nights, PRN became more restless as ever. His memory deteriorated and there were times he spoke irrelevant things out of context, murmured words with no intent, and so on.

However, one day, a strange thing occured, right from the morning, he was too quiet. His eyes mostly closed, and he opened his eyes only for brief moments. Was this a sign ? No, maybe not, maybe he was just tired, maybe he was tired of shouting too, and well maybe not, maybe it was a sign ? Two days passed and PRN remained a quite self, really different from his usual mood. The quietness was a sign of relief from shouts of pain and agony and was as disturbing too at the same time. His usual diet which comprised mostly liquids was decreasing and Glucose-D was recommended.

PRN had cold and cough and was having a difficult time breathing. Raja retired for the night after feeding PRN some Glucose-D and water. As folks at home finished dinner, we started hearing strange murmurs and sounds. Was PRN talking in his sleep or was it the pain or the pain-killer medicine at work ? This was a sound which I had never heard. We tried to decipher what he was murmuring, but could hardly understand the sounds. Two words which clearly stood apart in his murmur was "Narayana....Narayana". Though he was away from his native village in Kerala for nearly half a year, his inner sub-conscious still had his old servant's name which he had retrieved from this thoughts.

Whats in a name ?

A month before, when someone told PRN, "Please start praying to God, you will get well soon" PRN had replied in a furious tone "Get lost, I will never chant Gods name". There's this tale in the epic "Srimad Bhagavatham" which narrates the tale of a king who never worshipped the almighty. He had 11 sons and as his days neared the end, he was still ailing and of all the sons, he started calling his youngest son, who's name was 'Narayana'. After calling out his name a few times and seeing him, he breathed his last.

In ancient days, most people in India named their children after a name of God - Ram, Krishna, Shiva, Devi and so on and so forth....were all common names and there was a hidden reason to this which most of us may not know. As you can relate to the above tale, it was due to the fact that the parents in their old age can call their names as like they call God, and even to ensure that God's name was repeatedly uttered when they were calling their loved ones. Of course, some also beleived that divine vibrations existed in the sounds of these names.

There is yet another explanation to uttering the names of Gods. Even if something bad is spoken of a person with God's name the speaker still derives blessings and not sins. However bad a person may be in his deeds or qualities, when he calls out the name of almighty, he is forgiven. This was true in PRN's case. He had called out his old servant, but unknowingly, he had uttered the name.

There's a rhyme and reason....

After sounds of "Narayana" - what we heard from PRN was even more strange, the murmur increased. His breathing was hard due to the accumulated flem owing to cold and cough. He was given a cough mixture which however made him more uncomfortable. I thought ...."once he falls asleep, he would feel better when he wakes up next day". But reality proved otherwise and though he had not fallen asleep, his eyes were closed.

As I paced the living room and gazed at the clock, it was past 11.30 pm, Folks at home started retiring to bed. A glance at the calendar showed me the dates 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 ...and so on in the page of august and revealed that the date that day was 12th. Indian Regional calendars (say tamil or malayalam) reveal astrological details such as star, rasi, etc. and on the next day the 13th of Aug, the star (moonsign) was Vishakam. It was the birthstar of PRN. All these stars occur once in every month as per the lunar cycle. As per astrology, when a person passes through a very bad phase at old age, sometimes the person's life ends before his star occurs in the next nearing month. This is one possiblity, the other being that otherwise, if the person lives till that star occurs the next month, then his situation worsens further in life. Either way it is bad.

Seeing PRN breathing so hard, I rummaged through the wardrobe and got a stethescope. As I kept it in his chest, what I heard baffled me. The sounds outside were that of hard breathing whereas there was distortion inside his chest that I heard through the stethescope. PRN heart's beat was not to be heard due to the rough breathing sounds inside his chest. As I moved the stethescope to the right side of his chest. I heard a sound which I had never before heard in my life. A humming sound which went (hmmmmmmm....) and was rather an ailing eerie sound. I could realise that this was not the sound of Life, then it had to be the sound of .....yes, the end was nearing ....or Was it ? I still had hope.

After a few minutes, PRN suffered from acute nausea and expunged the liquids he had consumed earlier. There was a still silence in the room. All of us stood still. I gathered courage to touch his hands and feet and thought that there was still life in him. I moved my hands slowly towards his nose and mouth. There was not a whiff of breath. He had passed away. I looked at the clock, it was 12 midnight. The next day was his birthstar. He had not crossed it.

"Sometimes the pain is so agonizing that the patient feels he will attain peace only through death....I'm telling this out of my own experience, I've met with an accident earlier and have almost gone to that stage of pain and death, and I've come back to Life" - said the Doctor who was treating him for a month. As he walked away, the Doc added, "In a way, I feel he is lucky, he did not have to suffer more".

"May his soul rest in peace"

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