Some gritty/fortunate souls hide their suffering behind their smiles. Isn’t it worthwhile to learn a thing or two from them? Read on to appreciate the tenderness of such situations… Ed.
My three year old granddaughter shouted ‘Dora!’ We were all attending a wedding function in Bangalore and almost everyone turned around to see her.
I did not know her real name till I was introduced to her. My little granddaughter had named her ‘Dora’ because her hairstyle resembled that of Dora, who was the girl’s favorite comics character.
But this Dora was different. She was a middle aged woman sporting a rather weird hairstyle not matching with her age. She was bubbling with enthusiasm and talked animatedly with all the guests who attended the function. She was moving about effortlessly and making friends with little ones and the elderly alike.
My wife later commented about her hairstyle and mentioned to me that because of that, she had been nicknamed ‘Dora’ by our granddaughter.
I asked my wife, “Have you not noticed that she is wearing a wig?”
“That I do not think is a wig. Maybe she has coloured her hair”, she responded. The colouring again did not suit her age.
“Did you notice the parting line? If you look at it, you will be clear that it is a wig. May be she is bald inside!” I insisted. It was not my normal practice to comment about women's appearances but this was a glaring exception.
I noticed an older person sitting quietly in a corner. ‘Dora’ would occasionally go to him, spend some time, then move back to meet others.
In course of time, a common friend introduced her to me along with the older person sitting in the corner. It turned out that he was her husband. What a contrast between the quiet husband and the hyperactive wife!
I tried to engage him in a conversation. It took some time to break the ice. However slowly, he opened up.
He had been working in the USA in the field of health care and had retired just a few months back. This was his first visit to India after retirement. The couple who had become American citizens had just a daughter who was about to enter university. The daughter, who looked totally Americanized, was also moving around with the mother.
The girl was learning classical music and was keen to exhibit her talents. She was to give a sort of impromptu performance later after the wedding function.
Since I personally knew only a few people in the gathering, I stuck to this new acquaintance. Our conversation drifted from topic to topic, covering Indian politics, American economy and so on. Finally, we came to the inevitable personal information.
His wife was a doctor, specialized in cancer treatment and was working in one of the famous hospitals in America. She had a traditional South Indian name Sneha. I wondered “What a beautiful and apt name for such a friendly person!”
Our talk continued. Sneha's husband Parasuram slowly opened up. I was asking him what made them stay in America when things had gone from bad to worse. As a doctor specialized in cancer treatment, she could easily find a good job here. Even he could think of a second career in the field of his expertise.
Parasuram was hesitating before he tried to answer. He started with, “It is a story of struggle. May be it will not interest you.”
I was wondering how to respond to this. It was up to him to narrate the story or keep it to himself. I had no business to intrude into their private affairs.
However, he started again with, “Did you notice anything odd with my wife?”
Again it was an embarrassing matter for me. What right did I have to comment on a stranger, that too of the opposite sex? I just remained silent.
He did not leave it there. Now that he had started, he was prepared to go through with it.
He said, “You must have noticed her wig?”
Again this was an awkward moment for me. I thought it better to remain silent. Now I knew he would come out with the rest of the story by himself.
He said. “She had lost all her hair!” I wondered what could have caused this and how this could affect their return to India.
She is suffering from a rare form cancer. She opted to go through chemotherapy and in the process, all her hair is gone.
I was shocked. Here was a person so full of life. What a sad past was hiding behind that friendly smiling face?
“The cancer has spread in spite of the treatment. You know it spreads silently. Now her days are numbered.”
“Is she fully aware of this?” I could not control myself.
“It is her line of specialty. How could she not know it?”
“You said she works in a hospital. Is she continuing after all this?”
“That is the reason we are still in the USA. The hospital takes care of her medical bills. Her medical insurance is effective as long as she works. And the insurance covers me also. She wants to continue the protection for the family as long as possible. We shall continue in the USA as long she works and gets treatment.”
I had no words. Here was a woman so brave that she was able to hide all the sorrow and move around like a friend even among strangers.
We left after some time with silent acknowledgement of Parasuram's worries. When we took leave of Sneha, I could not detect even a trace of sadness or depression.
In a few days we literally forgot “Dora”, but were jolted one day by the news that she was closer to her end, being bed ridden. The inevitable finally happened and the news came to us through grapevine. I heard that she remained bubbling with life till the last moments. I sat in prayer for a few minutes for the courageous soul to rest in peace.
On the day I received the sad news, I did not know that the same demon within was active inside me as well. In a couple of days, my test reports confirmed it. The saga of Dora has given me courage, lifted my morale up and given me the strength to fight and I will.