“Mommy, I’m not feeling too well,” my daughter Antara told me in a weak voice.
But I knew her and her wily ways all too well, and chances were that she was just trying to get out of going to school. So, I looked at her sternly and said in my most no-nonsense manner, “It’s OK, you’ll be fine once you reach school. This must be the residual effect of those medicines, it will wear off in a few hours.”
“OK Mommy,” she said, surprising me by not pushing back in any way. I should have suspected that something was actually wrong, but I was too distracted by my morning chores to notice much. I got her ready, sent her off to school, and started with my daily routine.
However, by now, I too had started feeling a bit listless. My ears had started ringing, and I was sweating….a lot. “Let me have some more fluids,” I told myself, and opened the tap to fill my glass. But I was shocked to see that the colour of the liquid coming out of the water too seemed to be a bit different. I tried it out anyways, I was so thirsty, but as soon as I drank it, I knew we were in trouble.
I immediately called up my husband at work, and filled him in. He understood the seriousness of the threat, and decided to come back home asap. I was tasked with contacting the other members of the colony and apprising them of these dire developments.
I started making calls at a breakneck speed, and realized that my fears had indeed come true. Everyone I spoke to was experiencing similar symptoms of excessive sweating, ringing ears, and breathlessness. And we were growing so weak that we were finding it difficult to even hold the phone, forget walking outside to get help.
We tried to do what we could, of course. Took our usual precautions of taking only bottled fluids, quarantining those most affected, and taking complete bed rest to preserve and eventually restore our energy, but this time, nothing seemed to be working, the contamination of our environment was just too strong. We could not stop breathing, and with every breath, even more of the toxins entered our system.
We knew that the children would be the most susceptible to the illness, so school was cancelled, and all kids were sent back to their homes. I was waiting by the door when Antara came plodding back, which turned out to be a wise decision in hindsight, as she barely had strength left to raise her arm to ring the bell or knock.
My heart broke when I saw my little one, a piece of my own body, in such a poor condition. But she was not alone, the entire colony was in a similar situation, and there was little that we could do about it.
We said our goodbyes then, to our families, our relatives, our friends, and our enemies, for nothing mattered now, there was no need to remember the past, for we had no future left to live!
But then, just as I said my last goodbyes, something snapped within me, and I told myself, “Yeh jeena bhi koi jeena hai lalloo?(Popular Bollywood dialogue from a song from the film Mr. Natwarlal, loosely translated as: Such a life cannot be called a life, you Dodo!)
So I quickly went back out, collected everyone in the colony, and announced, “Let’s have one last party before we go!” And just like that, the party was on.
We turned on all the taps, and drank our fill, who cares if it was infected, we were dying anyways. We danced, we sang, we hugged, we cried, we had the time of our life, till the floor rocked, the sky thundered, till the lights finally went out!
And the next morning, 5-year-old Ruhi’s mother told Dr. Asthana, “The new antibiotics that you started yesterday morning really worked. The infection was really strong this time around, almost as if a colony of germs was living inside her. She had been improving gradually through the day, but I got worried for a bit when her temperature spiked sharply last night, and she started shivering violently. Thankfully, the resurgence was short-lived, and she is feeling just fine right now!”