Samuel was all excited about their trip to Delhi in two days- diverse places to visit, new culture and people. Although born and brought up in New Zealand, he had spent a sizable portion of his adult life in London. Yes, this would be his second visit to India after marriage four years ago to his Indian wife- Aakriti. The earlier trip had rather been a flying one. This time, they had both spent considerable time framing the India holiday— Delhi, Jodhpur and Goa. It was to be approximately five days in each of these cities. He was also looking forward to having a relaxed and some quality family time in Delhi with Aakriti’s parents. Having met them a few times earlier, he had developed a chirpy bond with them, especially after having spent a couple of casual evenings with them- chatting and discussing generalities over drinks. “They are no doubt a very loving couple”, he mused while taking a coffee break while sorting out the stuff he had to pack for the trip.
The oriental and Asian culture had always fascinated Samuel. Ever since the shift to London, Indian cuisine had become a favorite. Indian society was an intrigue for him. His reading and exposure to people of this part of the world, brought in an appreciation to the strong family bonds that were inherent in Indian culture. Having himself grown in a society which believed in well- defined lines in relationships, where there was a cut-off beyond which nobody treaded, it aroused curiosity to how parents and grown-up children in India were all so much involved in each other’s life. Family support no doubt was a big part of their system. It was this natural warm instinct of sharing in Aakriti that had attracted him to her. When he had first met her, they had been working in the same office though in different departments. He had then just got divorced. It was the mutual attraction to each other and the frequent lunch-break walks that paved the path to bring them together. For Aakriti, their intimate relationship evolved so fast that she had had no time to reflect. It was more the gut-feel than any rationale that had been her guiding force.
They now shared a warm bond, and each gave the other the desired individual space and yet had created that unique zone, where they enjoyed the other’s company with a no-holds-bar attitude. The journey had been good- no complaints in sex life, a playful friendship despite their seven-year age difference, he forty-two and she thirty-five. Samuel was bald, and Aakriti lovingly called him Baldy while he named her Aaky.
“My God- one more day and then our holiday begins-,” Aakriti merrily told herself. But she felt a bit concerned about Samuel’s health. Since the last week, he had off and on complaint of stomach cramps. Consultation with the area General Physician didn’t lead to a pin-pointed reason, with an attribution to they probably being due to a gaseous stomach condition. The GP had suggested a scan to be undertaken for further investigations but scheduling it with the National Health Service would have taken time and interfered with their trip. It was therefore decided to postpone it for their return. The doctor had prescribed some medicines and a few strong pain killers. Samuel was casual about it and he teased her that the mysterious gases were the doing of her cooking. Aakriti still felt a bit apprehensive, especially when they were travelling to a city famous to give visitors the notorious ‘Delhi belly’.
It was a late-night flight arrival in Delhi and Aakriti’s parents- Manu and Meena, engulfed them in excited chit-chat on the way home from the airport. Their gusto lingered on even on the breakfast table the next day. What sobered them a bit was the information about Samuel’s stomach cramps. “In fact, he did not have a very comfortable flight,” Aakriti told them.
Manu reacted thoughtfully, “Oh- sorry to know that. So, the best would be to call home our family doctor Ajmal and have a check-up done. Not to worry, surely a few medicines should do the trick.” Manu was able to fix up a visit for the latter part of the day. Samuel feeling energetic in the new environs, decided to go along with Aakriti for a stroll in the neighborhood park. It being November, the weather in Delhi was perfect for him. The intensity of the sun was just right. They spent their walk-time further planning the itinerary for the next few days in Delhi. There were a couple of dinners at Aakriti’s friends and relatives. And then they also wanted to explore the authentic Delhi street food. Both were spiritedly looking ahead to the coming days.
Dr. Ajmal was his punctual self and after a detailed check-up and reading the London doctor’s inconclusive diagnosis, he spoke with caution, “Could be a gaseous state, but with the medicines prescribed earlier, it should have come to some normalcy. The persistence of the cramps needs to be explored. I’ll fix an ultrasound for the afternoon and we’ll have the results by evening.” He was efficient in organizing it on the phone. Seeing Aakriti’s worried expression, he cheerfully told her, “Relax, he’ll be on track soon. Enjoy the day.”
Everyone got busy with their respective chores. Samuel was still feeling a bit jet-lagged and told Aakriti with a wink, “I’m going for a quick nap and am absolutely craving for tonight’s special Mughlai dinner being prepared by your friend Rosa.” Aakriti got busy unpacking and was for the better part on the phone, chatting with a school-time friend. Manu and Meena leisurely sipped their tea in the balcony.
There was laughter and a pleasant atmosphere in the living room. Rosa had lit quite a few candles and with the dim lights, the environs were just right to ease off. To cap it off, her special kebab delicacies were being served. She had invited two other long-time friends along with their spouses. They were also Aakriti’s acquaintances. Samuel was having an enjoyable time. Being essentially a people’s man, it had taken no time to break the ice with the others. A couple of drinks down and the feel of being treated as a special guest, added more zest to his lively interactions.
The evening lingered on with select soft Indian instrumental music in the background. Just after dinner when her father called, Aakriti had to pull herself out of an intense conversation about the pros and cons of staying in England. The call was to let her know that Dr. Ajmal had got the ultrasound results. “According to him, there is ambiguity- the report says that there are some small roundish formations visible- unsure what they are and recommends further investigation. Knowing the paucity of time and to get to the cause, he has taken the liberty of scheduling a CT scan tomorrow for Samuel. It’s at ten in the morning- so good if you could break-up from the party a bit early. And by the way, he said not to worry – he was routinely being cautious.”
On the way back, Samuel was in good spirits after a hearty meal and some inspiring conversations. He spoke matter-of-factly, “It’s good that the doctor has fixed the scan for tomorrow. Although it is going to be cumbersome, at least then we would be over this for the rest of our time here. Frankly, I’ve felt quite okay today.”
Aakriti, though a little at unease, agreed with him. “Yes, the scan should lead to the right medication. Imagine if we were in London, it would have taken may be more than a month to have first the ultrasound and then the CT scan scheduled with the NHS! Thanks to Dr. Ajmal- he has been very helpful.”
It was a lovely Delhi wintry morning. Samuel felt energetic and carefree. Manu and he departed as scheduled for the scan. Aakriti after confirming with the agent about their bookings, etc. for the trip to Jodhpur, proceeded along with her mother, to her uncle’s residence. She shared a very special relationship with him. It was a good family reunion, except that she had wanted Samuel to meet them all. “Some other day- first things first,” she shrugged the thought.
It was only late afternoon that Aakriti and Meena returned. Samuel and Manu had come back over an hour ago. Samuel had taken the scan process in the stride and was resting it off before their evening dinner at a specialist Chinese restaurant. Manu had organized it and also invited a couple of his friends. Aakriti too decided to go in for a power-nap before she went to the beauty parlor for the hair-do. On entering the bedroom and seeing Samuel up, she queried light-heartedly, “And Baldy, how are you feeling today?”
He was still groggy after the sleep, “Ah, no aches and pains today. All good-.”
Aakriti smiled, “Ah, that’s positive news.” Lovingly, she moved her hand on the contours of his bald head and closed her eyes.
The Chinese food at the restaurant was indeed delicious and authentic with a mild and exciting aroma of the select herbs that were a part of the ingredients. Quiet a spread it was on the long table for ten. Manu and his friends were engrossed exchanging views on the forthcoming elections, while Samuel was being educated by the spouses about the intricacies and delicacies of Indian classical music. The discussions on politics were intense and resulted in their being one of the last customers to leave the restaurant.
“Ah, what a lovely evening it was,” commented the lazily spread Samuel on the back seat of the car.
Manu laughed, “We Indians get over-charged when discussing politics. And by the way, Dr Ajmal had rung up during the dinner. He mentioned that the results of the scan would be available tomorrow and that he had fixed up a meeting at the hospital with a specialist doctor for 11.30 in the morning.
Aakriti said cheerfully, “I will also come along. And by the way, all bookings for Jodhpur are confirmed- so we are all set on that front.”
Samuel added, “I am really thrilled about the trip. This would be my first exposure to a desert-scape.”
They were all seated in Dr. Raman’s chamber- awaiting his arrival. He was the most sort out gastroenterologist in the hospital. Samuel was keenly observing the detailed body chart hanging on the wall in front of him, “What a complex and intricate system the human body is- amazing!”
Dr. Ajmal conversed with Manu about his health and success on curbing his smoking. Manu had been able to reduce it dramatically- at least for the time being. Aakriti coaxed Dr. Ajmal to be strict with her father on this issue.
Dr. Raman’s entry silenced everyone. He was a man in his early fifties and evidently very health conscious. Having exchanged a few pleasant words with Dr. Ajmal, he straight-away focused on the copy of the scan lying on his table and the one also being displayed on the computer desk monitor. For a while there was complete silence in the room. He then turned to Samuel with an observant look, “And how are you feeling today?”
“Well, quite good, thank you. I had a good night’s sleep without any pains,” Samuel replied with a smile.
There was again a stillness in the room as Dr. Raman adjusted his posture in the chair and once again concentrated on the monitor display. He pensively addressed Dr. Ajmal, “Doctor, must compliment you on your swift action to assist Samuel for a diagnosis. I was wanting to be doubly sure about the report of the scan as interpreted by the radiologist. I concur with him.” He shifted his glance to Samuel, and looked him in the eye, “Samuel, you are a young and smart man. And from what I can make out of your personality in our brief meeting today, you have a positive approach.” He paused, and running his hand through his hair, he spoke steadily, “So here we are. You have cancer- and- stage IV.”
Listening to the word cancer, Aakriti was almost half up from her seat. There was a confused expression on her face and her puzzled glance towards Samuel immediately made him get up and come to her side. It was as if he also wanted to hold her to comfort and reassure himself. Breaking the numbness in the atmosphere, Dr. Raman continued encouragingly, “Now, no need to panic. Yes, the cancer is in an advanced stage, but then with treatment, who knows, it could be countered.”
“And Doctor, what would stage IV mean?” Manu asked shakily. Anxiety was writ large on his face.
Dr. Ajmal, who had also been taken aback by the diagnosis, explained slowly, “Well, it would mean that the cancer has spread further to another organ from the originating one.”
Samuel was really stupefied. The doctor’s words were gradually sinking in and he tightly clutched Aakriti’s shoulders. There was smile of bewilderment on his face, “Cancer- me? Can’t believe it!”
Aakriti had tears in her eyes, and getting up, impulsively put her arms around Samuel. She was too stunned by this revelation to say anything.
Dr. Raman was quick to continue and gestured to Samuel, “Come, be seated and relax. Yes, I can understand that it is not easy to digest this. Considering your age and with no real prior symptoms, I too was surprised seeing the report. But the scan says it all- and it is not uncommon now of it being detected only at an advanced stage.”
Aakriti had finally found her voice, “But Doctor, cancer at an advanced stage- and he’s really been fine all along except the last couple of weeks- and the doctor in London didn’t really think it was anything serious! Or else, he wouldn’t have given the travel-nod to Samuel.” There was distress written all over her face.
Dr. Ajmal tried to sooth her nerves, “Aakriti, I would really not blame him. There were very generic symptoms. In this kind of a situation, without a scan, it is really difficult to diagnose the cause.”
Doctor Raman took over the discussion with authority, “Now, there is no need to panic. You are young and I’m sure your body immune system will be able to combat the treatment. Without getting into too many details, Samuel, you have the cancer of the colon which has spread to the liver. And there is a mild trace of it that appears in the lungs. Of course, further detailed scans would bring out a more accurate picture and then the course of the treatment.”
For Aakriti, it was as if her world had come down crashing. She glanced at Samuel who portrayed an equally baffled state of mind. Doctor Raman continued in all seriousness, “Since we are talking here of an advance state of the disease, I would recommend immediate further examinations be done at the earliest- so that the treatment can begin without delay. I gather that you live in London?”
Mustering his wits, Manu, cleared his throat, and spoke while trying to control his anxiety. “I agree, you are right- no further time should be lost. Yes, they are based in London.” Reassuringly, he placed his hand on Aakriti’s arm, “They just arrived a couple of days ago.”
Dr. Raman was quick to add, “You must then be covered by the National Health Service there? I think you will have to make a quick choice if you want to start treatment in Delhi or London? I would recommend that a decision be taken at the earliest.”