She was the youngest and the prettiest of the four sisters. One look at the first three and you would immediately know they were sisters. But not her. Straight brown hair, very fair, a slightly upturned nose and perfect white teeth, she was the best mixture of the paternal and maternal genes. She was the pet of her elder sisters and the perfect partner for their only brother, the youngest of the lot.
Right from childhood, she was different from the rest of the brood. Her sisters used to rag her saying she never grew up, was always mama’s pet in spite of a much sought after son who came eleven years after the first girl and then three more. The girls fought tooth and nail with each other while they grew up. The fights inevitably ended with a standard dialogue from one of them “ I am not your sister and you are not my sister any more. Don’t come to me for anything again.” Of course, the pledge was seldom followed strictly for more than a day, maybe two in case of an especially sensitive brawl.
In aspirations, ambitions and outlook towards life, she was closest to the eldest one. But the younger one’s was more matured and mellowed and less rebellious. The eldest one’s earliest memories of her is that of a doll like five year old in a blue pinafore, clinging to her skirt, refusing to go back to her class after lunch. One in the sixth standard and the other in the first of the same school and lunch coming in the same packet from home, they were forced to have it together. She would have to wait till the class teacher came back to hand over the crying one and rush back to her own class. How she used to hate it those days, she herself on the verge of tears most days. And now she realizes those are what fond memories are made of.
The brother was born when she was a little more than five. The two of them were a sight to behold. A little one carrying a tiny one all around the house and the neighboring houses too. As both of them grew, fights were routine. But one could see the deep love and affection between the two. One could not live without the other and couldn’t be separated for more than a few days.
Unlike the lazy elder ones, she joined the ‘Girl Guides’ in high school. One of the most active members and the trusted lieutenant of the teacher in charge she would be right at the front for all the marches, rallies and camps. That is why even the mother didn’t give too much of a thought when she started complaining of pain in her joints. The doctor who stayed close by also said it must be because of the strain of too many activities. She was in her ninth standard when the pains started getting worse and then a well-known physician was consulted. One look at her and the symptoms, and she was immediately referred to a cardiologist. ‘Rheumatic Fever’ it was, something which children between the ages of five and fifteen are prone to, if their tonsillitis infections are not treated properly.
The elder sisters too had severe tonsillitis infections, but staying at a different place, a different doctor had treated them and none of them had any problems after that. By the time the younger one developed the infection, the family had moved to a different locality and to a different doctor. Not a single day has gone by since then when the mother has not regretted not taking her youngest one to the same doctor.
No one in the family knew what to say or do when the cardiologist said one of the valves of her heart was already affected and she had to be on some strong antibiotics immediately. She was also referred to one of the best-known heart institutes in the state capital. Sooner or later, she had to have the affected heart valve replaced. And the earlier she got herself registered, the better, he said.
Tenth standard and her biggest dream till then came true. That year, the President’s Scouts and Guides from the district were to go all the way to New Delhi to collect the award from the President himself. Needless to say, she wanted to go with the rest of her friends. The doctor was not too happy but left the decision to the family. Maybe the mother had a premonition of what was to be, and she wanted her daughter to be happy.
Off she went on a two week trip, that too in the cold winter of the north. That she would enjoy it was a foregone conclusion, the only worry was how it would affect her health. Rashtrapathi and his Bhavan, all the customary tourist locations including the Taj Mahal, she was thrilled. On the way back, they met someone in the train who professed that he could read palms and predict the future. She couldn’t believe her ears when he told her that she was ailing from a heart disease. And her joy was boundless when she was told she would be all right within a few years. The sheer elation on her face while she narrated this to her family was a revelation to them of the anxieties she was going through daily.
College days brought new friends and dreams. For graduation, she selected Commerce and went to a co-ed college. She was the favorite of her class mates, both boys and girls. Her sisters would tease her about one particularly affectionate boy. It was so obvious that he adored her. And he was a sweet heart too. She had a couple of very close friends but none of them knew about her condition. She wanted to be a Chartered Accountant and in her final year degree had already applied to one of the largest firms in Cochin.
The monthly consultations with the local cardiologist and the yearly ones at Trivandrum continued. During one of the routine consultations, the doctor suspected something was not going on as expected. The valve had deteriorated further and the surgery had to be much sooner than expected. Strings were pulled and a date for the surgery was fixed a few months after she graduated. Her CA dreams had to be put on hold for the time being.
Finally, she had to tell her friends. Her best friend would not talk to her for days and then she cried and cried. She just couldn’t believe that in spite of the umpteen sleepovers at each other’s places over the years, she didn’t have a clue about this. The teachers were also shocked, but were confident she would come through in flying colors just as she had in whatever she did all her life.
The year after her graduation was special for the mother. The daughter was at home with her throughout and the two got very close to each other. By this time, one of the elder sisters got married and had a daughter of her own, and the other two were studying in different places. Distance made the hearts grow fonder by leaps and bounds and the sisters were closer than they ever imagined. There was nothing under the sun, which they couldn’t discuss with each other. The mother, herself young, and the father joined in and the brother grew up amidst this girlish chatter and nonsense. They made fun of each other and there was no way one could think too high of one’s self when there were so many to bring you down to ground with a loud crash.
She was admitted to the hospital on 19th of a December and the surgery was scheduled to be a week later. Today, someone tells you about something, you log onto ‘Google Search’ and all the information you need is at your fingertips. The only information one could get in those days were what the doctors deigned to tell you. The success rate of such surgeries was supposed to be very high and the patients were expected to have a normal life for years after that.
The surgery went off without a hitch, she responded to the artificial valve well. For a few months, she was advised to monitor her temperature in the morning and evening. Even a slight variation would mean something was not as expected. The variations started a week after the surgery. The valve was working perfectly and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Her condition stabilized after a few days and she was discharged on the 19th of January.
The hospital did not allow any one to be with the patients and the visits were restricted to two at a time, that too for two hours a day. The mother stayed with her uncle and visited her very day. When her sisters came to see her, they pulled their mother’s legs together saying she was getting very friendly with the young doctors there. The youngest would tease her saying one of the doctors even had a crush on her. The mother would play along with her daughters.
She reached back home after a month and every weekend after that was a celebration with the other sisters returning home religiously. The family had their first instance of worry when she vomited after a particularly riotous dinner session when everyone was in splits for hours. A few days later, when the mother was giving her bath, she noticed that the wound had started festering. The doctor was consulted immediately and she was put on another medication. Her temperature started rising slowly. The look on her face after seeing the thermometer readings in the morning and then again in the evening betrayed how much she knew about the seriousness of her situation.
Asked to go back to the hospital in Trivandrum, she was admitted again on another 19th, in March. The married sister was expecting her second child and the other two were preparing for their exams and none of them could visit her as frequently this time. The eldest one wanted to meet her so much, she coaxed her aunt to go with her.
At least once in their life, almost everyone would have thought of how life would be without their dear ones. But seldom does any one think of what if they knew they had only a few days left to live. The look on the younger sister’s face that day is something, which the eldest one will never forget in her life. In place of the effervescent, ever pleasant, bubbly sister was someone with a blank look on her face. Not listening to any of her attempts at making fun of their mother, she just sat there, neither listening nor talking. Then she coughed and spat out some blood, and the elder sister could understand her silence.
Two days later, another 19th, a phone call in the early hours of the morning, her sisters knew it was over. The loss of a very dear one how much ever expected it may be, is still too painful for words, they came to know. The tears in their parent’s eyes when they brought their little one home broke the sister’s hearts even more. The brother sat in one corner of the room, staring at his closest sister with a stoic look on his face. What thoughts would have been going through his mind, others wondered. He didn’t shed a tear even when she was taken out of the house. Prayers and final kisses were over, she was lowered down into her final resting place, and then he broke down, totally and completely in his eldest sister's arms.
The day passed in tears and condolences by dear and near ones. The real feeling of someone not being there forever, hit later. Her sisters and brother started noticing an empty space everywhere. A sudden and deep void. Anything and everything would trigger off a host of memories, their hearts would swell up with emotions and eyes with tears. The excruciating pain subsided slowly, but the memories would always be fresh. Years have passed by, the sisters are settled with families of their own, and the little brother has grown up to be a young professional. With kids of their own, they now know what their parents would have and still would be going through.
It has been eleven years now, and I still miss my youngest sister, oh, so much.