It was a hot summer afternoon in Bangalore and yet it was raining cats and dogs. The scene inside Manipal hospital however was just like any other day. People rushing in and around labs and operating rooms. Anxious faces all around.
In the second floor, Anand's parents sat at the end of a long corridor. They had got the news yesterday that Anand had been injured in a road accident and had rushed from Chennai by bus. Now, with Anand in the operating room undergoing a head surgery, Anand's mother was crying inconsolably. Her husband could not voice any supporting words for her. He too sat there praying for Anand, his hands continuously fumbling the magazine that he held open. He had not read a single word despite staring at an article for a full hour. He hardly noticed the sounds of two school buses stopping in front of the hospital and the loud chatter of a lot of children.
The receptionist on the ground floor could not conceal her amazement at the marching line of young faces entering the building and going up the stairs. "Find out why these children have come immediately. We can't have this kind of commotion in the hospital", she said to a hospital ward boy nearby.
"Definitely madam", the ward boy said as he rushed to the stairs. He ran up the stairs and overtook the first child. He stopped her and asked whom she had come to meet. She innocently replied, "I have come to see Anand bhaiya".
"How do you know where he is in this hospital?", the ward boy asked her.
"Sister, can you come here please.", the girl called out to someone who was walking up the stairs.
A nun who was almost on the second floor landing turned back in amazement and then rushed down the stairs. "Oh, where are you children?", she came rushing down. She came up to them. "Sister, are you the one leading this group of children?".
"Yes, I am", she replied.
"Well Sister, whom are you going to meet?"
"I have brought them to see - Anand Kumar, who is currently in ICU in the second floor."
"Did you have to bring all of them? We cannot allow such a huge crowd."
"Well, they decided to boycott classes today if they were not brought to see him."
"Everyone of them?", the ward boy asked.
"Yes, everyone of them"
"But we cannot allow so many people inside the hospital."
"Isn't it visiting hours now? And do you have a rule saying that a person cannot go and see a patient? I told you that each one of these children wants to see him personally."
The ward boy could not say anything. He went back to report to the receptionist.
Anand's father was surprised to see a long line of children walking up to the ICU room. He was even more surprised to see the first child come up to him. "Don't worry, uncle. Anand bhaiya will get well very soon. He has all our prayers."
Anand's father was dumbfounded. "All these children have come to meet Anand?", he wondered.
"Why do you all like Anand so much?", he asked her.
"Well, he taught me to paint a lot of flowers. He also taught me singing."
"Oh, that's nice", said Anand's mother speaking for the first time.
"Well, that's a small thing compared to what he has done for the other children. Although each child treasures her relationship with him.", the Sister spoke, "Hello, I am Sister Maria."
"Where do these children come from?", Anand's mother asked.
"They belong to St. Mary's Orphanage"
"I seem to know nothing of what Anand has done in his free time at Bangalore. Could you tell me more about it?"
"Yes, definitely. Has he been doing all this even without telling you? oh..."
"What happened? Any problem", Anand's father interrupted.
"No .. no problem.. I think I found the right person to tell you all about it." She got up and went near the stairs to the window where a girl was seated on the window sill. She was weeping and looking out into the road. She turned as the Sister called to her. "Sunita, how long have you been here? Did you meet Anand's parents?"
Sunita glanced at Anand's parents and gestured that she hadn't. "Come on, there's no problem. After all, he is your best friend."
The teacher brought Sunita and made her sit next to Anand's mother. Sunita kept looking down. Anand's mother gently lifted Sunita's face to look into the watery eyes of the girl.
"Sunita looks tired out. I don't want to bother her now to tell me all about this."
"By the by", Sister Maria asked. "How's Anand now?"
"Well, the doctor said that he has to undergo a head surgery. They have asked an expert surgeon to come from Mumbai. He arrived just now. He has gone to see Anand in the ICU. We are waiting for what he has to say."
She was interrupted by the arrival of the surgeon. All of them jumped up to meet him.
"Well, doctor?", Anand's father asked.
"A bad injury but I've seen people survive through worse. I think he will require all our prayers... ", that was when he saw the children, "have all these children come to meet Anand?.. Well, well.. then I think I don't think we need to believe in luck. I have asked them to immediately arrange for the operation in about 15 minutes."
"Doctor", Sunita interposed.
"You are definitely sure that nothing will happen to Anand?"
"Well, he has the best care and I too am a strong believer that the most crucial battles are fought in the mind.. Have complete faith and everything will turn out all right. Right, I am now going to conduct the operation. I will talk to you after the surgery. Sister, I think you can tell the children that they can see Anand tomorrow. Today, it will be tough I think."
"Don't you worry, Sir. They are all an understanding lot."
The operation took nearly three hours. Every-time the operation theatre doors opened, there was a sudden rise of expectations as to what had happened. The receptionist on the ground floor had to come up and make sure the children were still there. She had never known such a quiet and disciplined lot before.
Finally, the doctor came out.
"The operation was successful. He needs to be in ICU for a few days so that we can be sure that there are no after-effects. After-effects in head injury are extremely dangerous, but I think if he makes it through the first few days without problems he will be all right. Trust in God. Everything will be all right.". The doctor gave a thumbs up to the children. Immediately, he was engulfed in a wave of emotions. "Thank you Doctor." "Thank you"
Sister Maria came up to Anand's parents."God has answered our prayers. I think I will leave with the children now. They are satisfied now I hope. I will come everyday and gather news of Anand's recovery for them. Dont' worry, all our prayers are with him whether we are here or not."
It was midnight. The children had left in the evening. Anand's mother was leaning on the couch. She was tired but yet she could not go to sleep. She looked down at Sunita who was lying on her lap.
Sunita spoke, "Aunty, I am not able to sleep at all."
"Well, I too am not sleepy. It is always the case when someone close to you is ill. I can see that Anand means a lot to you. He means a lot to me too. I don't seem to know about this particular aspect of his life that is unfolding itself rapidly in front of me. I mean - these chidren ... and you.....I think you are the one who knows how to help me assemble this jigsaw. Please tell me."
Sunita wiped her tears with her dupata, "Let me relive my treasured moments with Anand in my mind and recite along as I do so. Probably then I may be able to relax". She then closed her eyes and started, "Well, both of us got to know each as we were from the same college and we both work in Bangalore. I used to live alone in an apartment in the outskirts of Bangalore. Most of my communication with Anand was by mail and phone. I used to feel restless all evenings. Sometimes, I used to break down and cry. One day, we met in a restaurant on M. G. Road and I presented my dilemma to him only to find that he too was in the same state of mind. For both of us, work was fine but both of us felt that something was missing in our lives, something beyond our known interests in books, writing and music. As we were talking, suddenly Anand rushed out of the door and ran. Only then did I realize that a terrible accident had happened right in the road in front. I was sitting with my back to the road, so I did not notice anything in the restaurant. Anand rushed to the spot. A couple and their child on a motorcycle were hit by a speeding car. Unfortunately, the couple died on the spot. I still remember the scene where Anand sat stunned on the road with the child in his arms feeling the reality hit him - the child had become an orphan in an instant. But the worst was yet to come. We found that child had no relatives who were willing to take her. The couple had loved and married against the wishes of their parents. The child was admitted to this very orphanage... Anand surprised me the next weekend by arriving at my apartment and asking me to go out with him. It was his first visit to my place and it was an unforgettable one. He had told me that he had bought a new car the other day. So I thought he was taking me for a ride in his car. But then we got into his car in complete silence. I noticed that we were going towards the centre of the city. He was silent all the time. I finally couldn't bear it so I asked him where we were going. He gave me a look that pleaded silence. I immediately quietened up. This was the first time in my life that I was sitting in a car with a friend in whom I had faith would take me anywhere for my good. He drove into St. Mary's Orphanage. When we got out, he spoke out for the first time 'I found a solution to your dilemma. It lies inside this building.'. I could not understand what exactly he meant by that. 'Come in', he said. The whole place was silent, I was bewildered. 'where were all the children?', I thought. Anand went to the office and peeped in and said something which I didn't hear. In a few moments, a nun came out of the room. She introduced as Sister Maria. She then led the way down a long empty hall towards a room whose door was shut. It was a huge wooden door. She gave a rap on the door and went inside. Anand followed her, I followed pursuit. I gasped when I entered, there were about a hundred children inside the room in age groups from five to fifteen. All their faces were on me as I entered. Sister Maria then announced 'Children, this is Sunita madam. She is going to teach you all drawing today.' She then came and thanked me for coming and gave a sheepish grin at Anand and went out closing the door. I was lost for words. I then looked pleadingly at Anand who was smiling. I whispered upto him with minimal movement of the lips 'Anand, you idiot. Why did you get me into this trouble? Besides, you know that I am horrible at drawing'. Anand looked at me with twinkling eyes and then faced the children. 'Hi all, your miss is very tensed today. So I will take the class and she will help me out.'
He turned to me, 'happy now? that was just a little prank I played with the Sister's help.' 'Come on, just help me out in keeping this organized.'. My tension suddenly vanished. Somehow, I felt a lot better working with him. That Sunday afternoon was the most memorable of my life. Sitting in the middle of bunch of laughter laden beings is a very nice feeling. I was amazed at the way Anand worked his magic with the children. I just tottered behind him. I knew this was his answer to my dilemma and his as well. I never thanked him for that day but both of us knew that this was the right filling for the void in our lives.
From then on, every weekend, we would take classes for the children. We taught a variety of subjects, drawing, physics, biology, mathematics and music - my stronghold. Anand used to love my music classes. He would sit there mesmerized just as every other of the children. He constantly used to emphasize the fact that everyone should make an effort to become what they liked to be, atleast try to - and that is the thing that will satisfy their hearts. Slowly, some of the older children came up to him and told him what they had liked to become - one wanted to become a chef, one a sailor and another a journalist. Infact, we were amazed that none of them wanted to become a software professional - the craze that we saw in our world. Here were children who were listening to their hearts. Anand was very impressed with them. From then on, he used to spend his time collecting information for these kids on how to pursue their careers. The children trusted him a lot and would work hard on the assignments that he set them that would help them proceed towards their goals.
In fact, the boy who wanted to become a chef became one last month. He is now the chef of Taj West End, one of the best five star hotels here. Anand's training in English helped him clear his interview boldly. Lots of others are now keenly focussing on their interests too...". Sunita had drifted to sleep.
Anand's mother smiled at her remembering what Sister Maria had told her before leaving, "Your son has brought a vigor into each of those children. I am so happy that all of them are now working hard towards their dreams. Anand has been a living example to me of how faith in someone can help bring out the best in them. You have been gifted with a wonderful son." She leaned back on the couch and closed her eyes.
About 7'O clock in the morning, the nurse came and announced that Anand was conscious now. "Do you want to see him for a short time?" Sunita leapt from the couch and ran towards the ICU. At the swing doors, she paused realizing that she had been too hasty. She shyly turned back, Anand's mother gave a knowing nod. Sunita turned and went into the ICU to see Anand.
She entered the ICU and the nurse pointed her to Anand's bed. She went and stood next to him. Anand was resting with his eyes closed. She sat next to him on the bed. Anand opened his eyes. There was a mischief in his eyes even at that moment. "Marry me.", he whispered. Sunita placed her head on his chest and gently hugged him mutterring, "We already are! you nit-wit"
The raining had stopped. The sun ray's played magic on the drenched garden city. Birds came out of their nests to savour the warmth. Sitting outside the ICU, Anand's mother was resting on her husband's shoulders, she couldn't stop crying. "Anand has been impeccable in his choices".