Just as light is more blessed when the darkness is severe, every morning was a New Year Day which I welcomed and celebrated in the dark uncertainty of todays. Even in the good old days I could speak of life only as mere existence burdened by innumerable responsibilities. Unlike many of my friends, I approached life with a frozen heart and a puzzled mind. My outlook on life demanded such a detachment and restraint. I had an intuition that the soulless joys and luxuries of life are not meant for me. The remnants of some bitter memories of childhood haunt me still and the insights gained from them overwhelm my mind even now. During those days I had never been seriously ill. Among my friends only a few knew about my hardships. But even they considered me a pleasant person and a pleasing companion. I took care not to hurt anyone. So I could always boast of quite a number of good friends in every field and each phase of life.
I started my career as a lecturer and retired from the collegiate service as a principal. The numerous colleges where I worked were no different from my home to me. In 1983, while I was teaching in the Government Arts College, Calicut, I was fortunate to visit a Sreekrishna Temple in the neighbourhood. During the month of Karkitaka, there used to be the recital of Ramayana and narration of various stories from it by the veteran poet Kunjunni Master. In those days, Prof. Santakumari and myself made it a habit to listen to his story telling. Back at the hostel, we used to read Ramayana everyday. I continued reading Ramayana regularly for twelve years. Strangely it was during the Karkitaka of 1995 that my ailment was diagnosed as the dreaded cancer. I considered it a reward for reading Ramayana for twelve years throughout the month of Karkitaka.
A lump near the left breast was proved malignant. It was Dr.Krishnan Nair of the Regional Cancer Centre who first examined me. After obtaining the Cytology results, he confirmed that I was suffering from cancer. I was told that excess of fatty food and mental stress pave way to cancer. But I have been a strict vegetarian. It is believed that women who abstain from breast-feeding children are more susceptible to cancer. Though I have only one child, I had breastfed and nursed her for two years. Then how could cancer make me its victim? “I have the blessings of God, He will never let such a thing happen to me, so Doctor, I will never be sick, let alone become a cancer patient”. I tried to convince him, but he just looked at me silently, sadly for a while.
My sister Kanakamma, who is like a daughter to me, had accompanied me to see the Doctor. She couldn’t suppress her tears of pain and despair. In order to console us, the doctor said, “All diseases come from the blue”. All that is unknown orginates from the limitless sky. The angels of distant heaven, I tried to believe, might have brought this fatal disease to me as a gift from God. It is, I thought, a manifestation of divine grace, a blessing in disguise; a unique reward for my good deeds.
A deathless flame began to illumine my soul. I sensed it as the kindly light destined to lead me. I can picture my state of mind as a disturbed ocean where wave after wave of negative thoughts gave way to still more positive thoughts. The philosophy of life that I learned so far and a world view that I gained from the experiences of others proved futile to console me. I then loved loneliness, lost faith in prayer, but mastered the art of communicating with the Infinite in solitude. Through that silent communication, I gathered valuable insights. I could very well understand that my life style and habits were not responsible for this misfortune. The soul has to face so many challenges as it passes through several lives. Disease, danger and poverty are obstacles by overcoming which, a being gains more strength while passing on to another cycle of life. The quintessence of good deeds gathered in each life leads one finally to the eternal bliss and ultimate salvation. If salvation is the goal, these hardships are mere thorns one inevitably has to tread on.
My grand mother had given me in her own ways the gems of wisdom on human existence. They started glowing in the dark interior of my mind. We gather grace or curse during previous janmas. The present life of a being is curiously entangled with its pre-existence. I felt, we have only our todays with us to be filled with divine grace, but had no idea regarding the immensity of sins commited or good deeds performed in the unknown past. We have only the present days at our command and hence I resolved to fill them with love and good deeds.
The doctor gave me a description of the possible causes of cancer. Food habits, life styles, way of thinking, mental stress etc can lead one to this killer disease. If mental strain causes cancer, I should have developed a brain tumour. But fate was benevolent to me. Thoughts that passed through my mind during those days cannot be rationally recollected in these distant days.
The doctor prescribed surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Chemotherapy was to precede the surgery and again was to be repeated after it. Then I should undergo radiotherapy that should last a whole month. I could not even guess how to face all these ordeals. I was troubled by continuous nausea. Lying face down on the floor, I prayed – “All knowing Mother, take me back into your womb, great saints, teach me the mantra of salvation, save me from this painful anguish”.
People at my brother’s home used to send me soup and gruel. With a spoon, my mother would pour it into my mouth. They wanted me to be strong enough to survive the surgical operation. My husband and Kanakamma insisted on the necessity of the surgery. I was not given a chance to express my assent or dissent regarding this, but it was all for my good.
On the very day the date of my surgery was fixed my husband Sri. Panicker returned home in the evening to find that all the electric bulbs and tube lights had ceased to burn. He had to spend a night in dim candle light. Considering this a bad omen, he managed to postpone the surgical operation. Though I was admitted in June, the surgery took place on the day of Deepavali, the festival of light, in November. After that I was without thirst or hunger and would vomit more than what I ate or drank. The nurses in the hospital used to compel me to drink as much water as possible, even though I would throw up soon. Whenever I was taken for chemotherapy, Mr. Vijayakumar, the construction engineer of the Regional Cancer Centre helped me to sit up and gave me support, ‘God, give me strength to withstand today’s chemotherapy;’ this had been my constant prayer. I left my fate in the hands of God. Those days were really nightmarish.
Mr. Janardhanan, my research student, along with two of his friends, volunteered to donate blood. The strength and energy of their youthful blood throb in my veins even now. Dr. Paul Sebastian talked to me on the day before surgery in order to give me courage. He told me about several patients rescued by surgery. My mind was brooding over those unlucky people who couldn’t survive it. Yet the conversation with him worked miracles on me by strengthening my mind and lifting my morale.
I was taken to the operation theatre at 8.30 in the morning. Dr. Mabel, the anaesthetist was an old classmate of mine. Her care and concern gave me a unique strength. I realized the depth and intensity of love that my dear and near held in their hearts for me. The physician who assisted Dr. Paul was Dr. Maya, the daughter of my colleague, O.N.V Kurup whom I respect as a guru. Before going to the operation theater, I met Dr. Iqbal who gave me courage and also Dr. Jayaprakash Madhavan who looked after me with a son’s love and concern.
I was subjected to anaesthesia. Stillness crept to each particle of my body. I could not feel anyone’s presence. At night, before I came to consciousness, I heard in the inner mind my sister calling out “Akkachi, Akkachi”, but I could not open my eyes. On waking after several hours I was overcome by an intense pain and fell from the surgical table. The nurses carried me back to the bed. Dr. Paul Sebastain gave me sedatives and consoled me with soothing words and drugs. I could sleep well during the night. My mother and sister were in the ward with me. Many of my near relations rushed to look after me in turn. Perhaps they were not certain whether I would survive or not. We did not dare to hope.
Several old friends of my school days came travelling long distances by bus just to visit me. But they were not given a chance to see me owing to the fear of a possible infection. Their letter from home read: “We did not want to see such an active person like you in a bed ridden state”. I had been a pet girl of my native village. Friends made offerings at Thrippara and Thrikkovil temples for me. Hearing that my friends were not allowed to meet me, the innocent neighbours thought that I was in a critical condition. There was even a rumour of my death. When I visited my school after a couple of years just to touch the sacred soil where I gathered the first seeds of knowledge, an old friend approached me timidly and asked – “Is it really you, Padmavathy? But I heard people saying that you are no more”. I answered, “It’s certainly I, your Padmavathy. We die only, if the Almighty wills it. He granted me some extra years to live”. Don’t think I am exaggerating. People of my village are so simple and straightforward. I don’t want to reveal the name of that friend. The so called moderns may ask: “Was it not a cruel and nasty question to a friend who returned to life after prolonged illness?” But the villagers have not yet learnt hypocrisy and pretensions.
The mother of K.S. Chithra, the famous singer was in the room near mine. Chithra and her sister Beena were students at the Women’s College and I knew them well. When my mother went to visit her, the board announcing that “visitors are not permitted” prevented her from entering the room. Next day, the board disappeared. A nurse told us that the bird had left its cage.
I consider my case as a unique one; a gift of rebirth from God as a result of ceaseless prayers of my friends, colleagues, teachers and relations. I had once bid them a silent farewell. But they did not discard me. A friend who stayed with me at the University hostel went to Mookambika temple and brought me a copper talisman. It is believed that the presence of the Goddess is in it. I worship that piece of metal as if it were an idol of the Goddess herself.
I had worked in many colleges from Kannore to Kanjiramkulam. My dear and near people offered prayers on my behalf at temples, churches and mosques throughout the state. After the disease was cured, I went to Pangode church to attend the mass according to the wish of Prof. Hilda Joseph, my friend. A student of mine wanted me to pay a visit to the Kaduvappally Mosque and I did so after six months of discharge from the hospital. Many non Muslims distributed sweets to celebrate my recovery when I came back from the Iman’s presence. Such offerings provided me with an inner strength. I truly believe, I got a rebirth. While undergoing chemotherapy before operation and post surgical radiotherapy for thirty days, I felt fed up with life and wished to succumb to death. But God had a different plan. He wanted me to survive in order to fulfill the mission of my life.
I thank sincerely all those who struggled to bring me back to life. My love and obligation to this mother earth and its inhabitants became the propelling force to recover miraculously and escape from the jaws of death.
K. PADMAVATHY. Is an outstanding alumni of the University College Thiruvananthapuram, being the Kerala University first rank holder. She belonged to the first batch of the Hindi post graduate course of the University College. She is one of the earliest doctoral degree holders in Hindi. For a long time she worked in the University College and was later Principal of the Kariavattom College. She has been a research guide for more than three decades.