• Pallavi Rao

Lord Shiva's Blessing

Day18 of #21days21sarees

I get tired putting up a brave front. The fact is that I am under as much stress as the rest of the country. The 21-day saree challenge has been a saviour. It makes me look forward to the next day, rummage my handloom saree collection of years, yeah, have a bath and get dressed in these otherwise gloomy days of the #lockdown.

This is a Maheshwari from Madhya Pradesh. It is a gift from Indianartizans Artizans and my dearest sister and pillar of support Preeti Nagarajan


12th standard Mamta was the eldest and brightest among

the ‘chillar’ cousins who lived in the flat on our right. I am not exaggerating. There indeed were four couples, including the octogenarian toothless Baoji and Biwiji, and their 12 grandchildren.

Apart from being a class topper, she was a beautician in the making. Her favourite topic after movies was beauty care. I was too young to understand the senior girls’ obsession over natural remedies to become ‘fair and lovely’ for she seemed to be neither. I however, did notice her impressive thick mane that she oiled seven days a week and tie in two-pigtails with different coloured ribbons.

Theirs was always a full house. The disadvantage of having such a huge family next door was the constant disturbance by way of loud shouts and fights that we were ear-witness to, the clanging and banging of utensils, the clinking and screeching of the sole hand-pump in the colony that Baoji had installed in their back yard.

The advantage being, we never had to worry about play. Never a dearth of numbers! There came out in numbers in the evening. All shapes, ages and sizes. None that great at sports, Bhaiya and I would play gully cricket with them; Jindals Vs Raos. I was a good runner and managed to keep the wicket during the change of overs for Bhaiya to do the honours.

We played that evening too-Mamta, Nidhi, Renu, Sapna, Rinku, Ritu, Kavita, Seema, Deepak, Nitu, Reena and Vicky in order descending order and Bhaiya and I. Till it was dark and we were called inside.

The next morning, we got to know that Mamta was admitted to Safdarjung hospital.

The Jindal family was in a frenzy. All the action was concentrated in two houses. Theirs and ours.

The latter because ours was the only house in the entire colony that had a telephone in the early 80’s. Good news and bad news was received by us on that heavy black telephone. Be it marriage fixing, the news of a heart attack of a distant relative or a once in a blue moon generic call, the phone never stopped ringing. Passing on a message to Nagar Uncle or calling Mrs. Mathur in time for a trunk-call was part of our daily errand.

Mamta’s chotti bua came home with huge tears in her eyes. She always spoke in a jarring falsetto. She narrated how Mamta was found unconscious at 4 am to be rushed to the Safdarjung emergency by chacha.

With 20 family members in a two-bedroom DDA Flat, the elders slept on folding cots and charpoys while the ‘bachcha party’ slept everywhere-on the floor. Mamta too.

No one knew what transpired. She was fine the previous evening, talking about her the homework she had completed in advance to enjoy the Sunday movie on Doordarshan. And now she was apparently struggling for life.

However, much Daddy and Mummy tried to question, all they said was, “pata nahi kya hua.” The doctors had asked all the routine questions and more. If she had consumed something wrong, if something had bit her, or if she was allergic to some food. The family replied in the negative. All possible tests were conducted, nothing yielded a conclusive explanation. It was almost 48 hours. The doctors were at their wits end. The condition was serious.

We could hear Baoji and Beeji doing the Mahamrityunjay paath in a soft tone morning to night.

End of day two, badi bua came home to speak to the Safdarjung doctor from our telephone. She had determination writ large on her face.

What Daddy heard next baffled him. She choked a little, cleared her throat, and said, “Doctor saab, wo family wale batana nahi chahte the, lekin main unse ladkar aayi hun, aapko batane ke liye.” She paused and continued, ‘wo us parson subah jab usse behosh paya tha, to actually (she cleared her throat the third time), wahan ek saamp tha. Usne usse kaata ya nahi ye nahi maloom par us din ghar mein saamp pakda tha humne”

Daddy and Amma’s jaw dropped.

Deer Park, the evergreen deep woodland, an envy of many Delhites, was next to our colony. It was the beginning of monsoons, and a lone snake lost its way into the Jindal household.

And they did not feel the need to inform it to the doctor! They actually thought it was a matter of coincidence that the 16-year-old was found unconscious next to a slithering serpent that moved around the eleven other children.

The head of the family insisted, it be treated as Lord Shiva’a blessing and safely returned to the park. Instantly a big basket was inverted to capture the snake with bricks and utensils kept on top lest it slither away.

Mamta was then rushed to the hospital.

We do not know what the doctor replied. I presume he must be seething in anger for the call got disconnected abruptly. Badi bua broke down, “Bhaisaab, kya kahien, andhvish aur superstition le doobega in sabko”

She was late in informing the doctor.

Mamta slipped into a coma. The following days and weeks there were a constant flow of telephone-call visits, coordinating hospital duties and getting regular updates from the doctor.

Exactly a month later, came another call giving the sad news. Mamta was no more.

A complete waste of life. The doctor was distressed at their behaviour. He apparently said, had they known on day one, she could easily have been saved. They had looked all over her body for injury marks but found none, hence exasperated.

It was only when badi bua mentioned the snake did they check her body on day three.

They eventually found the venomous snake bite on her head, hidden beneath her thick mane that she oiled seven days a week.

Till tomorrow. Stay Safe. Stay Home.

Picture Courtesy Rian Narvekar

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