Out of Breath


Ayush was pacing up and down the hospital corridor, his hands clasped together in a silent prayer. He would occasionally glance sideways at the entrance to the ICU expecting the doctor or nurse to emerge any minute now.

But he was more worried as to what could be possibly going on in his mother’s mind as she sat there on the chair just outside the entrance to the ICU. Aradhana ji appeared to be lost in a trance of her own. It had all happened so quickly.

Her husband, Keshav Mittal, was a veteran lumberjack who was known and respected by all in their little town. This morning, she had been packing his lunch when he had called out to her from the threshold of their house asking her to hurry. A few minutes later, she had hastened her way to the door from the kitchen only to find him sprawled on his back in the front yard having a seizure. A half lit cigarette lay right beside his hand.

Everything seemed to have happened way too fast after that. The servants had come running, thrust a metal key in his hand and somehow managed to get him into the car while their youngest son, Ayush had made necessary calls to the hospital.

Half an hour later, here they were outside the ICU waiting to hear from Dr Rao, their family doctor.

Ayush rushed to the entrance just as he saw Dr Rao emerge from the ICU.

“How is baba, doctor saab?”

Dr Rao struggled to look Ayush in the eye.

He had been acquainted with their family for over three generations. He knew for a fact that all the men in the Mittal household had been chain smokers and despite the fact that this habit had claimed one too many lives, it seemed to have been passed down from one generation to another. They had refused to stop smoking even after being told their lungs were failing and had smoked all the way to their death bed. This was primarily why he hated being the harbinger of bad news.

“Say something!” Ayush’s voice turned tense even as he guessed the news that Dr Rao was about to share.

“I really wish I did not have to be the one giving you the news, Ayush saab.” Dr Rao started slowly. “But it becomes my responsibility to do so as the doctor in charge. I am sorry to inform you that your father is no more.”

“What happened?” he asked hoarsely though he already knew the answer to his question.

“Respiratory failure.” Dr Rao said quietly.

Ayush nodded in response.

“I think it would be best if you could inform your brother so that we can complete the formalities as soon as possible.” Dr Rao added.

Ayush nodded again.

Seconds later, he smiled sadly as he realized the irony in informing his elder brother, Madhav about their father’s death. Ayush was expected to tell him that lack of oxygen had killed their father, while Madhav was chopping down an entire forest of trees elsewhere oblivious to any of this.

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