My earlier years in Bombay- Dorabjee
I recounted some incidents of my earlier years in Bombay, now Mumbai, in my post Helped by known and Unknown- friends.
The following relates to the later half of that period.
What you are about to read is a love story; not the kind where the starry-eyed boy and girl sing and dance around trees. It is about the relationship, in the evening of their life, of two people who lived a rich and fruitful life. It is about tenderness, care, pain and love.
When I first met Dorabjee, he was nearing his retirement. He was much elder to me ; and more experienced at work; yet, he treated me, his boss, with regard and due propriety. He impressed me with his assured and unruffled way of doing things. I came to rely on his judgment of persons. We became a sort of friends. The reason I say that is, even outside the work relationship, he treated me as his senior. I was a bit uncomfortable, in the beginning; but, later, I learned to accept it, because he was at ease with that mode of communication with me. We did develop mutual regard. It was through Dorabjee I gained some familiarity with the Gathas (the book of Zarathustra); and , I later discovered the close relationship between the Gathas and the Rig Veda.
(Please see my post Rig Veda and Gathas -revisited)
Dorabjee lived in the Parsi colony tucked inside the Dadar area, with his wife Nadira and daughter Yasmin who worked in Bank Of India near Flora Fountain ; and, at 30 was unmarried, as is the case with many Parsi girls. Dorabjee appeared contented and well settled in life and was looking forward to a happy retired, busy life doing what he loved to do most. Social service and gardening topped his list of post retirement agenda.
One evening, after work, while we were having our customary tea at the Parsi Dairy Farm, I noticed that Dorabjee looked rather pensive. I asked him what the matter was. After some persuasion, he opened up.
“Nadira “, he said “has not been talking to me for sometime. She behaves as if I am just not there. She ignores me .When I try to talk to her, she looks out of the window. Yesterday her sister in Poona called me up to say Nadira complained I had not been treating her well, these days. Her sister wryly remarked she could not believe that ; and, asked with a chuckle , if there was a “problem” (kya chakkar chala rahe ho). I was so embarrassed I could hardly say anything. When I tried to question Nadira why she lied to her sister, she got furious and shouted at me. I had never seen her like that anytime in all our 33 years of married life. Nadira is not herself. I just do not know what to say or how to say”.
As I listened, I sympathized with the good-old-honest Dorabjee. He was truly distressed. On impulse, I suggested he could think of taking Nadira to Lonavala for the weekend; that might do her some good. He brightened up a bit.
When I met him next, about a week later, I casually asked, “How was the trip to Lonavala?” . “The trip to Lonavala and return was good,” he morosely said, ” Lonavala was as usual”. He explained, while driving to Lonavala she looked exited and happy as a child; she looked out of the window at the hills, clapped and shouted at the passing animals. She surely was delighted. Dorabjee said, he thanked all the gods in the heavens for giving him back his Nadira. But , once at Lonavala , she withdrew into a shell; stared blankly into space without slightest interest in her surroundings and in Dorabjee who by now was at the end of his wits. He returned to Bombay the next day cutting short his stay. Back in the car on the way to Bombay, Nadira looked relaxed and pleased.
I was away from Bombay and India for about six weeks or a little more. By afternoon, Dorabjee came into my cabin and asked, “Sir, can you spare sometime this evening? Want to talk”. That was rather unusual. Later in the evening, we went to a restaurant (not the ever-busy Parsi Dairy Farm). Dorabjee had lost weight, looked distraught. He was a pale shadow of the Dorabjee I knew.
He started abruptly,”I am loosing Nadira. I do not know what is happening. She is not the same any more. She was always well groomed, alert and friendly with everyone in the colony. She was popular and funny too. She was known for sending funny cards to everyone, even to people who barely knew her . She was fond of giving strange gifts to our visitors. She would gift toilet paper, sanitary napkins, stamps, can of coffee, tea, and matchbox, whatever. And once , to a fat old woman , she gifted a tin of snuff. Many thought her slightly eccentric , but always loving.” Dorabjee swallowed a gulp of beer. I could see he was thirsting to talk, talk more. “She used to take care of everything. We all depended on her.”
“Now she looks so untidy; keeps scratching her head; does not change her clothes, and does not take a wash. She just does not care for anything. She is restless; keeps searching for something or the other all the time. If you ask her what she was searching, she gets angry. She forgets things. She does not remember phone numbers or even the names of her friends in the colony. She misplaces keys and her glasses. She asks the same questions again and again. She lets out our dog into the colony. I shout at her not to do that; but, she keeps doing it again. She feeds the dog several times a day. He is getting too fat. I am scared when she is in the kitchen. She does not close the pump stove properly. I am afraid the stove will burst someday. Yesterday , she kept the newspaper on the stove instead of the teapot. I have now appointed a cook. That is not of much help, either. She just does not care to listen to the cook. I cannot watch her every minute. I am worried about her safety. She is getting too dangerous. I am afraid even to sleep at night. We used to be such a close family. Now she does not care for me. I have lost her…”
I realized something was seriously wrong here. I asked, “Did you show her to a doctor…. a psychologist?”.” That was what I wanted to ask you Sir. I have taken an appointment with the doctor this Saturday. I do not know what the doctor might say. I have no courage to be alone. Will you please come with me to the hospital, Sahib?” He was pleading. I thought this was the least I could do; and , agreed to go with him to the hospital.
The next Saturday, I went along with Dorabjee and Nadira, who looked rather thin and weak, to the KEM Hospital. The doctors who examined Nadira said she was suffering from depression; but, her general and elemental neurological parameters seemed normal. They suspected it to be a case of dementia; prescribed some medicines; and, asked us to take the patient to a specialist after about a fortnight. That left us no wiser than before.
After about three weeks, the Specialists who examined Nadira said her brain cells were being destroyed; and, she was an unusual case of Alzheimer Type disease. Usually it attacks people above 65 years of age ; but, unfortunately, Nadira was a victim before she reached 60. We were told that she was entering the middle stage of Alzheimer’s. The cure was not definite. They scolded us , roundly, for not bringing her in time.
Dorabjee was devastated; withered in pain like a dumb animal. We had not even heard of such a killer disease. When I tried to note it down in my note-pad, I could not spell it. We just did not know what hit Nadira. We were clueless.
Dorabjee decided to resign the job to take care of Nadira. I prevailed on him to take about three months of sick leave, initially ;and, to watch for improvement.
What followed thereafter was a saga of care, tenderness, sacrifice and love.
Dorabjee took care of Nadira as if she were a little girl. He brushed her teeth; did her toilet; bathed her; tied her hair into a knot; fed her by spoon; administered her medicines religiously; sang songs; and, rocked her to sleep. He was not a singer of any sort. He had a gruff voice. He sang all day. He sang songs he heard in his childhood; the Gujarati theater songs; the songs he heard on the streets; the film songs ; and, he sang aloud the passages from the Gathas. He read the morning Gujarati newspaper aloud like a song. He told her stories, jokes. He sang to her again and again, “you are my child. You are my little girl, my darling, my sweet pie”.
He got a wheel chair; and, wheeled her around in the colony. Sometimes, he drove her in his faithful Ford Prefect. She did not seem to enjoy the drive as she did on the way to Lonavala. Each evening he put her in the wheel chair placed on the balcony. She would stare vacantly , not noticing her friends’ wave to her as they took their constitutional rounds. She seemed to be bored with life.
Nadira loved crotchet, earlier. Dorabjee brought knitting needles and ball of yarn. He tried knitting a few stitches and patiently egged Nadira to knit a few stitches. She messed up the yarn. Dorabjee sang rhymes and cajoled her to put a few stitches. It was not working well. He did not give up.
He played games with her; the games that little girls of about five play. He brought her picture books meant for kindergarten children , showed her the pictures , sang rhymes . She would soon loose interest , tear up the book to pieces and throw the pieces up in air over her head.
As she could not turn thin sheets of paper, Dorabjee got her thick cardboard sheets with pictures pasted on them ; the crayon; wooden toys; and, simple puzzles. Nothing seemed to work. He then got her thick cards, which she could hold, with colorful pictures pasted on them . She would spend hours just sitting there , moving the cards around and playing her own kind of game.
The disease took Nadira by deceit and treachery. She was unaware and unprepared. It was like the wicked witch that tricked Snow White into eating a poisoned apple. She didn’t die; but, went into deep sleep. It took a prince kissing her to wake her up. Alas, Dorabjee was no prince. This was no fairy tale either
Alzheimer robbed Nadira of her life, her ability to share, her thoughts, and her speech.
She who loved the beauty of words and nuances of communication was cruelly silenced. She was no longer a person, not even a child. She was fading now. She was not even a shadow of the woman once she was. Each day she looked different. Dorabjee desperately fought to hold on to the memory of Nadira. “I do not want her to be like this. I want her how she was before. Maybe God will find a cure,” he said to himself aloud; shouted at her to wake her up. He was scared that she was disappearing. He knew in his heart that she was no longer with him. Yet, he did not want to accept that and give up on her.
One Saturday afternoon, I visited Dorabjee just to check how he was managing Nadira ; and, whether he needed any help. He was very happy to see me. I was aghast Dorabjee resembled his sick ward. He had lost weight; the stare in his eyes had a glassy look just as in Nadira’s eyes. He was talking loud almost shouting his words. “Sir, can you see , she is better now? Sahib, Sahib , Look at her eyes. She knows me. She is smiling. She is happy in her little world, I can tell. I know she loves me very much. She looks a little thin; but, is still lovely and wonderful. If she eats a little more, she will surely be better.”
I did not see any of that. My mind was elsewhere. How do I tell this man that her brain is dieing every minute, cell by cell. She no longer is with him. She is not his Nadira anymore. What could be worse than helplessly watching a loved one slip into abyss, inch by inch? This is clearly an ongoing horror. Why has life been so merciless? It is a blessing that Nadira is not aware of Dorabjee’s torment, sitting in that bubble world called Alzheimer.
I wanted to tell him, if there is a lesson in this cruel perversion of fate, it is this: love is something that can’t be destroyed by suffering, the only thing that rescues you from this cauldron of pain and insanity is love; hold on to that love defying this horrible disease.
Dorabjee was in no condition to resume work. We arranged for his early retirement with full benefits. The weeks sank into months; the months stretched to years. It was now three years since Nadira was taken to KEM Hospital. Feeding had become very difficult. She had shrunk to a little girl’s size. All communication with her had vanished. There were no more games, toys or pictures. There were no songs either. He had stopped talking. He made signs to her. Kept looking into her eyes, as that was the only one thing that had not changed these three years; that perpetual stare. He hoped some day her eyes would light up, smile and know he belonged to her. He told himself : she knows I am with her ; but, she can’t say that; poor girl.
Dorabjee had fallen silent. His heath was failing. He was no longer the person he once was. Yet, he would not let anyone else nurse Nadira. Yasmin and the maid now ran the household. The friends in the colony advised, argued, cajoled, stormed and threatened Dorabjee to send Nadira to a Home . He would not listen; he would not talk nor make a sound. He like a scared animal mutely hugged Nadira, fearing someone might snatch her away. He would not let her go.
It was now nearly four years since the monster disease felled Nadira. One afternoon Yasmin came into my office. She looked desperate. It was impossible for her to take care of her parents, both unresponsive – each in his/her own way. Her parents were not there for her any more. Her own life was in tatters. She wanted me to talk to her father to let her mother into a hospital. She hoped he would listen to me. I told her that might not be the best answer. We should arrange proper care for both. That evening we talked to the Panthaki (priest at the fire temple) and the Parsi council ; and, arranged to admit Dorabjee and Nadira into a Parsi Home for the aged. The Home ,for some reason, refused to put both in the same room. Nadira was sent to the female ward while Dorabjee stayed in the Men’s accommodations.
That didn’t deter Dorabjee. He spent his entire day, from morning until nightfall , by the side of Nadira, holding her hands, caressing her brows, stroking her head, massaging her limbs, searching into her eyes with a hope to catch a glimmer of a smile break through the glassy stare. She did not eat, she did not drink, she did not make a sound; and, she did nothing except breathe heavily. He made no sound, either. He sat by her side faithfully, lovingly and silently day after day for more than two months . The hospital staff came to accept him as a part of the furniture.
One late evening in December, as the city was busy welcoming the Christmas Eve, Yasmin called me to say that her mother was sinking. The doctors at the hospital told me that she had been sinking for the past one week ; and, wondered why she would not let herself go. Dorabjee , as ever , was at her side , keeping his vigil.
At about two in the night, finally, Nadira let herself go. She slept like a baby; her sweetest sleep in long years. Strangely, after her death , Nadira’s face had regained the soft , mellow beauty that once adorned her. She looked relaxed and peaceful. We were sad and relieved ; she found her peace.
We left Dorabjee alone with Nadira. As we stepped into the corridor, a heart wrenching horribly painful shriek pierced the still of the winter night. Dorabjee had broken his years of silence. He was singing. He sang all the forgotten songs. He told her stories and little silly jokes. He sang. He sang his heart out all night like a thorn bird until his heart bled.
In my beloved’s absence
Life hangs upon me, and becomes a burden;
I am ten times undone, while hope, and fear,
And grief, and rage and love rise up at once,
And with variety of pain burn me to embers.
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March 22, 2015 at 3:11 am
very few people in this world can love like dorabjee did…parsis are generally like that…their hearts overflow with love.
very good rendering of a most poignant love-story.
March 22, 2015 at 3:11 am
you said ,”again it is proved love brings pain in our lives.”
no , you got it wrong the message is :
if there is a lesson in this cruel perversion of fate, it is this: love is something that can’t be destroyed by suffering, the only thing that rescues you from this cauldron of pain and insanity is love; hold on to that love defying this horrible disease.**
pain is something that happens , it is not love that brings the pain. love guides you through that insanity , helps you survive.
March 22, 2015 at 3:12 am
what a wonderful insight! i think when i read such painful stories, i should not respond immediately, i have to wait till my pain subsides and then think hard before commenting.
i agree with you. while it was painful for the friends and near & dear of dorabjee to watch him, his love for his wife was what guiding him through those painful days, and may be the love for him was what holding her back , till the last moment when she let it go?
thanks srinivasa rao garu. now i have understood the positive side of love in this love story.
March 22, 2015 at 3:13 am
i can relate to this story so well! it is my father who at 99is an alzheimer patient. my mother at 90, is his devoted care keeper. he held a 9 to 5 job till he was 90. his story will be tld one day. thank so sharing this love story.
March 22, 2015 at 3:13 am
that was a poignant story of enduring love.
dorabjee’s love for his wife was great. it gave him the fortitude to endure even the cruelest stroke of fate. such is the power of love.
March 22, 2015 at 3:14 am
excellent piece sreenivasji
it reminds me of my visit to old age home during work.i saw an old man painiting his wofes toes with pink nail polish. went and asked him how come he is doing that. and he said she never went without a pedicure and painted nails all through her life . now that she has a lower back arthritis she can’t bend and i can’t pay for her pedicure. so i have learnt how to do it…
March 22, 2015 at 3:14 am
dear mr. rao,
this was a great example of love, devotion and struggle between a husband and wife. anyone in nadira’s situation would greatly benefit from having a guardian angel such as dorabjee by the side. he dedicated his life to her with such selflessness.
thanks for narrating it so well and congratulations on this blog getting showcased!
March 22, 2015 at 3:17 am
great post! the narration was so moving. alzheimer’s is a painful disease, more painful for the loved ones than the sufferer. there is not much knowledge about this disease in india, and blogs like yours should help in creating some awareness.
March 22, 2015 at 3:19 am
wrenches the heart and impresses firmly on the mind.
” i wanted to tell him, if there is a lesson in this cruel perversion of fate, it is this: love is something that can’t be destroyed by suffering, the only thing that rescues you from this cauldron of pain and insanity is love; hold on to that love defying this horrible disease.” — this is so touching and full of your wonderful self in the words!!!
dorabjee is blessed by god, nadira by dorabjee!
March 22, 2015 at 3:19 am
but why they shifted to old age home? it is not contagious disease i think. ……
i was not knowing about disease before.what i know is it is mostly hereditary.what to do ,when one is destined to suffer. but i must tell this is the time true love shows its true colour.
felt very depressed after reading this….
March 22, 2015 at 3:20 am
touching, realistic narrative of a real life character. good post, sreenivasarao s.
we all must be having our own dorabjees around us worth telling a story about, but how many of us can put it down as well as you did ?
this desease alzheimers robs the person of his/her identity itself. after all, what is a body without mind & what is a mind without a soul. at least the protagonist soul-mates continued being that till their end.
March 22, 2015 at 3:20 am
dear gita khanna
thank you maa. you are very kind.
what you said of alzheimer’s is true. it reduces a person to a shell. he/she is no longer a person. yet, how or why nadira did not let herself go is as endearing as dorabjee’s love for her.
my years in bombay were stressful, yet when i look back i realize how much it taught me of life and people around me.
please see other post on my years in bombay- helped by known and unknown- friends and how to outsmart telemarketers?-the rodriguez way. .
thanks for comments.
March 22, 2015 at 3:21 am
sreenivas: thank you for introducing me to this life of loving sacrifice. it was a moving story about a man’s sacrifice for his life’s mate and apparently unquenchable love for her. you bring the suffering and the beauty of the relationship to life.there is nothing more beautiful than love in a relationship or love of child or parent. these are the natural order of things.
March 22, 2015 at 3:21 am
dear shri gopal,
thank you for breathing life into an old and a forgotten story.
yes sir , as you said “there is nothing more beautiful than love in a relationship or love of child or parent. these are the natural order of things.”
alzheimer took nadira by deceit and treachery; robbed her of her life .it was like the wicked witch that tricked snow white into eating a poisoned apple. she didn’t die but went into deep sleep. it was a cruel perversion of fate. the one thing that rescued both nadira and dorabjee was love that defied the horrible disease.
nadira held on to dorabjee when it was easier to let go. she held on even when she had gone far away.
love is an attitude. it is about life. it is about living. none of the things you do makes sense if love, actual care for persons, is not present, as you said.
March 22, 2015 at 3:24 am
I dare not allow myself the indulgence of sensitivity as
I would drown in the pathos of the living..
dear sreenivasa rao i would love to meet you
you are a lovely human being so was sorabjee.
March 22, 2015 at 3:24 am
Dear Shri Sampath, I am truly glad you read Dorabjee. I wrote it with much pain and helplessness in my heart. I meant to place it as a tribute to an old friend before it is too late for me. I have now become aware it is disturbing and makes a rather difficult reading.
I am touched by your comment; and am grateful. Warm Regards.
March 22, 2015 at 3:25 am
Dear shailaja s bhat , Wow…it’s amazing. Thank you digging out an old and a forgotten blog. Dorabjee is based on the life and tragedy of a person I knew; and is not entirely a story as you mentioned. I explained the other circumstances of the events of those times in Dorabjee — a response which followed the main post .Please do read that.
It is true that my association with Dorabjee went beyond mere friendship; but , I could not be of great help to him. Apart from work and his family matters we did discuss other subjects.It was through Dorabjee I gained some familiarity with the Gathas (the book of Zarathustra); and I later discovered the close relationship between the Gathas, Varuna and the texts of Atharva Veda. Towards the end of my post Varuna and his decline – Part seven of seven, I paid my tributes to my dear departed friend.
Please keep talking. Regards
March 22, 2015 at 3:26 am
Dear Sreenivas Rao garu.Namashkar.
Perhaps, this is the best article i read on this site.
Apart from being educative, informative, and wisdom spreading article the narration is streight from your heart reflecting your honesty and sincerity of friendship.
I SALUTE YOU WILLINGLY,SMARTLY AND RESPECTFULLY.
Coming to the life story of Dorabjee,I am unable to write more because as i read i became more emotional and feeling irretrieably immersed in an ocean of thinking processes.
Dorabjee is really a role model for facing oldage with s grace and compassion.
I feel this article should be published for the benefit of people who are lingering in old age problems. A gem of an article for good of the society.
I THANK YOU FOR PRESENTING SHCH ILLUSTRIOUS ARTICE TO US.
March 22, 2015 at 3:27 am
Dear Shri Raghava Reddy Garu, I am deeply touched and honored that you took trouble and pains to read this old blog. Dorabjee is based on the life and tragedy of a person I knew. I explained the other circumstances of the events of those times in Dorabjee — a response which followed the main post Kindly do read that also.
My association with Dorabjee went beyond mere friendship; we did discuss other subjects. It was through Dorabjee I gained some familiarity with the Gathas (the book of Zarathustra); and I later discovered the close relationship between the Gathas, Varuna and the texts of Atharva Veda. Towards the end of my post Varuna and his decline – Part seven of seven, I paid my tributes to my dear departed friend.
I wrote the Dorabjee-story with much pain and a sense of helplessness in my heart. I meant to place it as a tribute to an old friend, before it was too late for me. I have now become aware it is disturbing and makes a rather difficult reading. At times, I wish I had not written this; and kept the grief to myself.
I am touched by your comment; and am grateful.
March 22, 2015 at 3:28 am
Dear Sreenivas Rao Garu.
You have done well by telling the real story in honest words.
Keeping grief to your self would have deprived us to know a story of noble soul who treated his wife at such oldage with so much of care, attention and deep love. Very rare.
Iwill certainly read the other blogs as my health improves.Thanks
March 22, 2015 at 3:29 am
Thank you for pointing me to this story. I would not call it depressing, nor would I say you should not have presented it. While it is sad that Dorabjee had to go through so much, I am sure his devotion and love towards Nadira gave him a lot of peace too. He would not have thought of doing anything different. Thank you for sharing this story – and as you can see, four years after posting, it is still alive!
March 22, 2015 at 3:29 am
Dear Smt LRao, I am glad you read; and truly relieved you did not find it disturbing.
Dorabjee — a and The real Rodriguez were about the real people I knew. It was difficult to write about them with complete honesty. Yet, when I look back I realize how much I learnt from the people around me.
As I mentioned; love is an attitude. It is about life. It is about living. None of the things you do makes sense if love, actual care for persons, is not present.There is nothing more beautiful than love in a relationship or love of child or parent. these are the natural order of things.
It is that love which binds these stories together.