There is no word in Hindi that describes “cousin” there is only brother/sister, the families are so well-knit that babies are given similar names. Two such names that were often taken in conjunction with my name were ‘Richa’ (elder cousin) and ‘Shachi’ (younger cousin), reason being the small age-gap and our general togetherness in family gatherings… Though Richa Didi and I were bum-buddies, in spite of all the togetherness Shachi and I were never best friends, we rarely had soul to soul talks and we had a lot of sibling rivalry. Our lives however ran parallel be it education, wedding or location. Recently both of us have been living in Singapore, we did not meet very often, I was busy with my job and she with Aarav (her 19month old son). We called each other only once in a while, it didn’t mean lack of love or affection it was more a general laziness & procrastination.
On Jul 23rd Thursday, around 3:30pm I got a call from chachiji from India, she said Shachi was very ill, I called her, all she said was “Ruchi didi, I’m very ill, I think I’m going” I got the details from Deepanshu “she has high fever and low blood pressure since Saturday, she has breathing trouble” I felt anger towards them if she’s been so ill since Saturday what have they been doing till now! By the time Ashu & I reached she was admitted into the Emergency Ward of Changi General Hospital. Deepanshu said “She is being admitted to the ICU but she is OK”.
In the middle of the night I was woken by a call from my dad, my heart sank, he said “Deepanshu says she won’t survive” I got details from the hospital “she is on ventilator, very high fever, 85% lungs congestion, very low oxygen, suspect H1N1” these were just words for me, I had lost my sense of emotion, I had to be strong. Next day she was confirmed to have H1N1. Then chachiji came to Singapore. Everyday I used to take details and convey to my dad, the fact was she was deteriorating every single day. From Aug 1st, I started getting tiny pieces of good news as she started getting better. By Aug 4th she had tremendous improvements I had hopes to see her again to tell her I love her to be in touch more often.
On 6th Aug Thursday again, precisely at 3:30pm I got a call from chachjii “Ruchi come here ASAP, there is definitely something wrong, nobody is telling me anything, I’m really scared!” I left as soon as I could, once there Deepanshu said “Shachi was back to square one”. We sat together prayed, talked, wept… On Friday she was still the same but by Saturday she started getting better again. It looked like the virus was finally gone, we were euphoric, she would come back. That night I went to Mustafa and I saw ethnic Indian wear there – I wondered who needs them here in Singapore!
Early Sunday morning, Aug 9th Deepanshu called me “Shachi got a heart attack last night at 12:00am and she got another one now” I was blank and said exactly those words to Ashu we started off, I was so anxious I started feeling sick, while in the cab I got another message “she expired at 6:35” all my anxiety was over! Everything was over!
When we reached the hospital, I was determined to be strong, we were taken to a room she lay there packed in a white plastic bag covered by a sheet. Deepanshu unchained the bag and I saw her face, she looked like she was sleeping I lost all control and started shouting “Shachi get up, Shachi get up” She did not get up!
When I gained control we were already talking about the funeral, the pundit said dress her like a bride. I went to Mustafa again that morning to the same Indian ethnic clothes section, I bought her a red sari with golden print, with embroidered blouse, I got her matching bangles and hair band, bindi, lipstick, makeup and all the accessories I could think of. Like a bride she looked when she went in a carriage of glass and gold.
I was in office yesterday and I read it online “9th H1N1 related death in Singapore” then I realised how till the 8th it was statistic and how now it ceased to be so… then it hit me – she was no more! I would never see her again! Just like everything else she did this quickly too – she was only 27! I felt a vacuum in my life, I never realized I was so close to her, I never thought she was such a big part of my life. I left office in the evening, went to riverside and wept my heart out as loud as I could, I hoped she could hear me, I wanted to say – “now I know what you mean to me”. I never imagined before I would miss her so much when she would be gone, I never imagined she would be gone one day!