He was a young man. Dark, very dark. Short, slim and extremely well built. Only if you looked closely you would notice the strength in his lean muscles. The sun and the salt of the sea had created this man: an embodiment of life itself. He was a typical Telegu fisherman. Always smiling, he knew neither Hindi nor Bengali. He always tried to communicate through his smiles—which brought back the nostalgic memory of my solitary trip to Puri, in the Bay of Bengal and the evening sessions with my fishermen friends with fried fish, which they procured and the bottle of rum which I paid for.
He had no reason to smile though. His ten-year-old son was admitted with an incurable disease of the muscles – a form of myopathy. The child could not stand or walk; nor sit without support. He had been born a healthy child; had started walking and playing normally and then started becoming weak. He was diagnosed as suffering from Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and was destined to die in a few years. Why did the child smile so much? The father and the son would talk the whole day long, smiling as if they had no worries in the world.
As a rehabilitation professional, one of my toughest duties is to pronounce death sentence on children. A perpetuating dilemma for me. Should I or shouldn’t I tell the parents that the child is destined to die. Many doctors don’t. They don’t want to see a breakdown of the parents. But my questionable philosophy orders me to go ahead.Tell them the truth; they have a right to know. But there is always the lingering doubt. There was no dilemma here. The father already knew. Someone else had done the job for me. But why did they smile so much?
A letter reached me from ‘Make A Wish “ Foundation, a voluntary organization, which tried to fulfill the last wish of children destined to die. A trip to Europe or just a plane ride or a meeting with Tendulkar perhaps. A noble deed indeed. I was thrilled. I decided to propose the golden opportunity to the fisherman’s son.
It was a difficult task. I only knew two of the innumerable Indian languages – Hindi and Bengali. But I managed somehow, with sign languages mostly. And then I knew I had been able to communicate fairly well.
Because the father broke down. He started sobbing. Uncontrollable sobs. Like the waves in the sea on a stormy night. It was quite late. I left confused. What had gone wrong?
And then I realized. The father had some hope hidden somewhere in his mind. Make a wish – a last wish –had destroyed all his hopes. *
After a troubled night I made it a point next morning to meet the father first. They were not there in the hospital bed. Sister on duty told me that the father had left with his son the previous evening on his ‘own risk bond’.
Where are they now? Father and son?