As soon as she entered her two-bedroom apartment in Thane, a suburb near Mumbai, Shivani went to her daughter’s room. After toiling the whole day in office and coming back to find her daughter’s room in a complete mess annoyed her. Mechanically, she began removing the washed and the unwashed clothes thrown around, the untouched milk glass and the forgotten apple on the table, and the various tit-bits. She asked herself the same question that she asked everyday, ‘When will Naina grow up?’ Amidst the piles of books and stationary lying around carelessly, the sight of the little old bear always brought a smile on Shivani’s face.

Five years had passed and yet, it seemed like yesterday to her. She had left water to boil in the kettle, while she was looking in the refrigerator for fresh vegetables. Everything was as monotonous as usual. The dirty utensils in the kitchen sink indicated that either the maid had taken another unplanned holiday, or she found the house locked when she came. Usually, Naina returned from school by 2 p.m in the afternoon. Shivani went to her daughter’s room and knew that she had not returned yet. Assuming that Naina must have gone to her friend’s place to study, she returned to the kitchen. While she was washing the spinach and the potatoes, the telephone rang.

‘She will come late. I hope Mr. Bhatia drops her home,’ Shivani thought as she walked over to the telephone table. “Hello. Am I speaking to Naina’s mother?” a familiar voice asked from the other end. “Yes, Mr. Bhatia. This is Shivani. What happened?” What was communicated thereafter left Shivani’s face white and pale with fear and confusion.

As soon as the call was disconnected, she ran to the kitchen, put off the burner, clutched her handbag and rushed out of the house. ‘Naupada,’ she told the auto driver as she hurriedly boarded the auto. On other days, Shivani kept asking the auto-drivers to drive carefully and slowly. That day, however, Shivani wanted it to fly. The 10-minutes ride to Anshika’s, Naina’s friend, home seemed endless.

Naina’s face flashed before her eyes. What had happened to her suddenly? She looked fine when she left for school. Shivani cursed herself for shouting at Naina that morning. Naina refused to eat the poha that Shivani had prepared for breakfast. “Why don’t you tell me what you want to eat before-hand? Every morning, the same tantrum! Even I have to go to office. You are too old to behave like that. You are in class nine now! When will you learn to be more mature and responsible?” Shivani went on while she served Naina with hot milk and chocolate cornflakes.

The halting screech of the auto broke her thoughts. She pressed a fifty rupees note in the driver’s hand and ran as fast as her feet could take her. All kinds of negative thoughts clambered her mind. She pushed them away. ‘Everything is fine,’ she assured herself. Furiously, she rang the doorbell several times. Mr. Bhatia, Anshika’s father, opened the door. Without losing a moment, Shivani rushed inside. A gentleman was bending over the couch in the drawing room. Another step and she saw Naina lying unconscious on the couch, her face colorless. “What’s the matter? What happened? Naina, wake up!” Shivani called hysterically.

Mrs. Bhatia consoled her and said that Naina needs to be taken to the hospital, and they have called an ambulance. Meanwhile, the doctor told her that anything could be confirmed only after performing the required tests. Prior to that, he cannot say anything. The ambulance arrived within the next fifteen minutes. Naina was still unconscious.

The next few hours in the hospital were most chaotic. Shivani frantically paced from one lab to another, in between consulting doctors. The doctors seemed non-confirmative. After each test, another was advised, leaving Shivani mentally and physically exhausted. Naina had regained her consciousness and was equally confused. She kept telling her mother, reassuringly, “Mumma, it was nothing, but weakness, I’ll be less fussy about food now.” Shivani too wanted to believe her, but the look on the doctors’ faces told a different story.

‘Dual Progressive Leukemia’ was the doctors’ verdict. An extremely rare disease found in one of thousands cases. Shivani felt her world coming to an end.

When she first declared that she wanted to remain single throughout her life, hell broke loose in the family. Who had ever imagined such a thing in a small and conservative town like Kalyanpur! Her mother fretted over her; while her father tried to convince her for marriage. However, Shivani had made her decision. She had been staying and working in Mumbai for seven years now. Broken family back home and trodden relationships had taught her much, and developed a kind of a fear in her. She dreaded relationships. It was then she decided that she will make her life secured and comfortable in every way, and be an independent single woman. She worked hard and shuffled between a full-time job and free-lancing. In a few years, she bought a small apartment in Thane. She felt more secure financially. Yet, there was a void somewhere. It was then that Anita, a close friend, suggested her to adopt a child. When Shivani filed her application in a missionary, the look on the nuns’ faces was not agreeable. They cross-questioned her incessantly on her decision to remain single and adopt a child. However, her financial condition was assuring.

Exactly, four months after filing her papers, she received a call from the missionary. They had a two and a half month old baby girl for adoption. Shivani went to the centre, butterflies fluttering in her stomach. The moment she saw the child, she knew it was hers. The child’s bright eyes smiled at her, and as if prompted from within, she called her ‘Naina.’ The child responded with a smile. Shivani held the baby close to her heart, and felt so complete. This was her child, and she will never let any evil or suffering come onto her.

“Ms Bharati,” someone called. Shivani sprang up gathering her thoughts. It was Dr. Taneja, “Will you please come to my cabin?” Shivani followed him. Dr. Taneja handed her a cup of tea, “You’ll feel better.”

For the next half hour, the doctor explained the disease, its complications and its cure, though scarce. Shivani was dazed. Was he saying that it’s only a miracle that can save my daughter, my only child, my world? Has not science and technology progressed enough to combat the fatal blows of destiny and fate? Why Naina? Whom has she wronged? Her mind was flooded with numerous questions.

“However,” Dr. Taneja was saying, “there’s a lot we can do and there’s much more that you can do for your daughter. It’s not very late even now, and we do have chances, say two in ten. The right medication and more of belief and strength is what is required. I will do all I can, but you are her mother. You have to hold yourself together for your child.”

He was right, Shivani thought. She had to hold herself together for her child. The next two years were tormenting. Naina quit going to school as she fainted too often and was growing weaker. Regular tests and visits to the doctor were making her feeble, mentally and physically. The strong medication was affecting her eyesight, and so she could not read or watch the television. Music became her only solace. She felt lonely. Shivani took a break from her job. She wanted to be with her daughter and fight along with her. At times, Naina groaned in agony and pain. The little smiling bear, which Shivani gifted Naina on her fifth birthday, was always on her side table. “Look, it teaches you to smile and fight all odds; no matter what are the circumstances. If God brings us to them, He also gives us the strength to fight and win over them. Face the most difficult situation with a smile, and you’ll see how easy it becomes to survive them.” Naina held the teddy close to her and held Shivani’s palm tightly, “Little Arti! What makes you smile always?

Brighten your life with a smile,
Keep pace; hold your breath for a while,
God has his own ways
In your path, difficulties He lays
Have faith, dear; you have to go many a mile!

Shivani sat beside her daughter’s bed and sang to her. Though not a great writer, she found a great audience in her daughter. Naina loved listening to her mother reciting her self-composed poems and songs. “Ma, why don’t you begin writing seriously?” Shivani always answered with a smile.

The medicines worked slowly. Naina was getting better. However, her eyesight got weaker. Eye drops and spectacles took care of it. At times, she cried out of pain and fear. She always wanted to become an architect. While preparing for her board exams, she was also short listing various colleges and institutes to pursue her dreams. Her illness broke her and shattered her dreams. On those nights when the pain didn’t allow her sleep, she wept to her mother, “Ma, how will I study now? I have dropped almost two years. What will happen now? I don’t want to be bed-ridden with this pain. Why don’t I die?” Shivani looked at her in horror. Her daughter did not deserve all this! She did not deserve this!

There will come a time
When the sun will shine
With all its radiance and glory
The stars and the moon
Will smile at you
As you begin weaving your life’s story.

Dr. Taneja was a savior for her daughter. His medicines were like a miracle and his words comforting and encouraging, “Faith, perseverance, and medicines, and you will sail through, Ms. Bharati.” Although much frail and weak, Naina was getting cured. Gradually, she began reading and resumed her studies. She joined school again after two years and appeared for her board exams.

And now, after five years of sustained medication and patience, Naina was becoming herself. The same cheerful teenager, full of conviction and life.

“Ma,” Shivani heard Naina call. She looked at the little old bear and returned to the present. “Ma,” Naina called again, “Why are you so late today? There’s something waiting for you, beneath our little Arti.” There was an envelope kept there, which Shivani had barely noticed. She picked it up, least knowing what it was. School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi, it read. Shivani felt her daughter’s arms from behind her, “Yes, Ma, I have got admission! Your daughter will soon be an architect, a successful and famous one, I promise you!”

Tears welled in Shivani’s eyes as she hugged her child and felt their dreams coming true at last.
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7 Responses
  1. ashkd Says:

    Loved reading it.. :-)

    your writing has effects of Kanpur.. kanlyanpur.. Dr Taneja..

    natural writer you are.. would love to read more from you.. :-)

  2. Neha Says:

    Thanks Ashkd. I wrote this years ago and your comment made me read my stories again. Reading them now feels so different!

    And don't know much about Kanpur, though my paternal family lives there. I have just mixed matched names from everywhere :)

  3. ashkd Says:

    hehe.. then its super coincidence to choose these two names.. :P Dr Taneja is the best child-specialist in Kanpur.. he had been the doctor of even my younger brother when he was a kid..

    your stories have also motivated me to re-start my blog once again.. Afresh! :-)

  4. Neha Says:

    That's a true compliment. I will look forward to your posts :)

  5. phatichar Says:

    Tears brimmed up. I have no other words - speechless.

  6. Neha Says:

    @ phatichar - Thanks.... I reread it and had tears in my eyes too :)

  7. ritesh kuwar Says:

    its looks like you are a emotional girl .because in both the stories we can fill it