Didi visited us and stayed with us for a few days last week.
She is the elder sister of one of my best friends; if i can rank my friends, her brother would occupy the Top Position. To be exactly correct, i should say ‘occupied’ because he is no more. He succumbed to cancer 9 years ago, when he was in his early fifties. Like him, i used to address her as ‘Didi’ and still do that.
I cannot describe how close we were; I can only say that we were very close. Our friendship lasted for exactly 40 years, that is, till he was called back. We became friends the day we began our College-life. We had the same subjects; we were in the same Tutorial Group. We were together till our Post-Graduate Course. However, our choice of careers made us take two different paths but we were always in touch. First there were letters written in long hand; this gave way to e-mails. Whenever we happened to visit our city at the same time, we were definitely meeting. Whenever one of us happened to visit the other’s place of work, we made it a point to meet each other. And each such meeting would start with a bear hug.
I have preserved most of his letters and print-outs of his e-mails. His last e-mail to me was on the 18th May, 2003.
Both brother and sister remained unmarried. After the death of their mother and father within a span of one and a half months, she took charge of his household while he remained engrossed in the demands of his job. On the 10th May, 2003, he mailed me saying that he had undergone an operation to remove a tumour which was found to be benign. So I felt relieved. Four months later he informed me that another tumour, this time malignant, had developed below his knee and doctors were considering the option of amputation of a leg. He was worried more about Didi regarding how she would manage when he won’t be around. Shortly thereafter, the cancerous growth overpowered him.
That was the beginning of Didi’s ordeal. She did not find any encouragement from her uncles and cousins.
This was a trial by fire for her. She emerged as a strong person, steeled her mind and took courage in both her hands. She decided to live her own life and took charge of her life.
He was in Central Govt. Service and was posted in Delhi when the end came. In spite of all the efforts of her well-wishers and his admirers in the Govt. she did not get family-pension or other benefits from Govt., as a sister is not entitled for these as per Govt. Regulations. Meanwhile, compounding her problems, some unsocial elements tried to take advantage of her helpless position and grab her parental home and the land on which it stood.
She was undaunted. She took a momentous decision. She decided to sell it off the sprawling parental house and live in my city which is nearby. God helped her. She found a person who was a good friend of her father and who agreed to let a portion of his building. With the help of some kindly persons, she quickly disposed off her parental house and occupied the rented accommodation. She has been living there since 2004. Another close friend of ours, who was a high ranking Govt. Officer and a couple of erstwhile subordinates of my deceased friend, provided her with moral and logistical help.
The courageous lady lives all alone there and manages everything herself.
My job had taken me all over India. So i had no means for helping her settle down. I retired in 2009 and settled in this city. Sine then, i have been giving her a little moral support to live a reasonably trouble-free life. The interest on funds left by her brother and the sale-proceeds of her parental house takes care of her financial needs.
I shall cite only one example of the grit and determination of this courageous lady, who never admits defeat. She lives all alone and occasionally, memories of her loving brother overwhelm her. On one such time, she felt very depressed and was choked with emotion. She could not swallow the food she was taking. She felt like giving up the effort and just lying in her bed. The next moment, she gathered back her courage and decided to fight the depression head on. She told herself that if she would not take food, she would die and that would be letting down her brother. So after pushing each morsel to the food channel in her mouth, she drank some water to force the food to go inside!
I salute the indomitable spirit of this brave lady.