That’s the thing about this city. This ‘thing’, often referred to as the ‘propensity towards mutual help’, has raised the city of Mumbai to increasing levels of humaneness as it has demonstrated, time and again, its indomitable spirit of rising to the occasion and of common well-being, as being valuable tenets embedded in its DNA. The confluence of cultures with a community willing to help overrides the occasional stench emanating from the backwaters of the Arabian Sea and the sounds of the local trains, the lifeline of the metropolis, whizzing past the shanties and overcrowded colonies that dot the landscape on either side of the railway lines. The welcoming aromas of tasty and spicy roadside eats floating around the streets of Mumbai, chief among which is that of the ubiquitous and irresistible vada pav, or a bun stuffed with a dumpling of spiced and smashed potato and other ingredients dipped in gram flour and deep-fried and finally topped with a dash of spices, impinge on the nostrils of pedestrians and other passers-by, often causing them to salivate and home-in to these nondescript joints for a quick bite.
Mumbai, as such, takes a winding route over the Arabian Sea and, as night descends on this metropolis, myriad lights come on and light up the coastline, like countless beads on an intricately carved necklace. The resulting picturesque scenario, often termed as the ‘Queen’s Necklace’, is a feast for the eyes. The city, it is said, never sleeps and there is always some activity going on, no further than the turn of the road, even at dead of night, with cars speeding on the wide roads and pedestrians trudging along homeward-bound after winding up for the day. Nightlife, also, is one of the identifying factors of this great city which, incidentally, is the business capital of India. Opulence and penury exist side by side, like it is in most cities of the world. But the culture of existing for mutual help in times of need transcends all barriers of wealth, religion, caste or creed.
In this city of Mumbai, there lived in the eighties, a close-knit family of four. Suresh Kandachia was a mathematics lecturer in a suburban college, Kanta, a housewife, Preeti, their daughter, was twelve years old and Narendra was their nine year-old son. Theirs was a middle-class household with a simplistic lifestyle as Suresh managed to make both ends meet with his modest salary and earnings from a few tuitions. The children were disciplined and understood their roots and there never was any extravagant demand or requirement emanating from either of the two kids. As for Kanta, she was a picture of humility and frugality; and the responsibility of managing the household expenses at a spartan level, lay squarely on her shoulders and she executed this duty with passion and aplomb.
Suresh and family had moved to Mumbai from Surat, in the state of Gujarat, in the early seventies in order to be close to his parents who were aged and living on their own in Dadar, considered to be the hub of trading and business in the city. He had resigned his job as a lecturer in a college in Surat and, being the only son, had no difficulty in settling down in his parents’ three bedroom apartment in a low-rise building. Suresh’s father had been a senior executive in a private pharmaceutical company and had bought the apartment during the peak of his career. The joint family had several memorable moments together, with the elderly couple enjoying their time with their grandchildren.
Their neighbours were Shashank and Swati, local Maharashtrians, who were living a retired life after they had recently ended their long innings in the Middle East. Suresh’s parents had an excellent rapport with them even though the latter were relatively younger. Shashank and Swati were childless, so when Suresh and family had come to stay with his parents, it was a welcome change for them to be able to interact with the new arrivals. Suresh and Kanta also felt at home in their company and as for Preeti and Narendra, a surfeit of affection was constantly being showered on them. So, the days went by till one day, fate took its toll; Suresh’s father passed away in his sleep after suffering a massive cardiac arrest. In an otherwise joyous household, gloom had descended, bringing in its wake untold grief not only for Suresh and family but also for Shashank and Swati. They all huddled together in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, bringing them closer than ever before. After the funeral rituals were over, life gradually limped back to normalcy, although the absence of his father took its toll on Suresh for at least a couple of years.
During the years that followed, Shashank and Swati grew closer to the Suresh household, trying to help in whichever way they could. Whenever Kanta used to run out of some essential cooking ingredients, sugar, tea, etc., which were immediately required, she could always bank upon Swati to give her the required items from the latter’s larder. Of course, without question these items were returned in right measure with thanks from Kanta, whenever she had the occasion to do her shopping. It was not as if only Kanta would borrow grocery items from Swati but it was also the other way round; Swati would also sometimes run out of certain items which she was able to obtain from Kanta. Besides, both Swati and Kanta would cook up some delicacies from their respective regional cuisines and share it with each other. There were many other instances where one family helped the other, e.g. whenever Swati was laid up with fever, it was Kanta who would come to the fore and ensure that three meals were provided on a daily basis, besides tea and snacks, to her neighbours till Swati recovered and vice versa. When Suresh’s car had to undergo repairs, it was Shashank who stepped in to be the driver for him and pick and drop him to Dadar railway station from where the latter would board a local train for reaching his college. These and many more occasions arose where either family stood in for the other in times of difficulties or distress. So the camaraderie and friendship between the two families grew day by day and, in fact, the two families existed, caring for each other like an extended joint family.
Then, one day, tragedy again struck the Suresh household. This time it was Suresh’s mother who passed away of old age. She was seventy-five and had been ailing for some time. The grieving family had Shashank and Swati to comfort them. Time is the best healer, it is said; and, therefore, with passage of time, the family finally came to terms with the loss.
It was not long before Swati and Shashank assumed the role of mentors to Kanta and Suresh respectively in the absence of the latter’s parents. Both Kanta and Suresh were reassured that they had someone to fall back upon for advice in times of need. The relationship between the two families was now more close-knit than ever before with either family constantly stepping up to support the other.
Kanta was very good at making sweets and sweet dishes and her expertise in this area was endorsed by one and all. Suresh, in particular, had a sweet tooth and would relish the items that Kanta would churn out. From childhood days, Suresh had been fond of sweets and he never had any control on the consumption of any type of dessert. Much as he would try, he never overcame his craving for sweets. He was now fifty and his diet laden with sweets, over the years, had resulted in him having contracted chronic diabetes and high blood sugar. This coupled with high blood pressure had taken a turn for the worse and, in the recent medical check-up that he had undergone, it was revealed that his kidneys had been affected.
Then began the complicated and embarrassing cycle of dialysis twice a week, which was not only inconvenient but also left Suresh, financially drained. As his dialysis progressed, it became more and more difficult for Suresh to maintain the expenses of the family and he had to resort to avail of a personal loan from his bankers to tide over the immediate crisis. Expert medical opinion on Suresh’s physical condition laid claim to the fact that his only long-term solution was to go for a kidney transplant. This was not an easy thing by any stretch of imagination. First of all, when Suresh registered for a kidney transplant at a leading hospital, he realized that there was a long list of people in the queue for a kidney and it did not seem that, if he was to wait for his chance, he would obtain one in his lifetime. The next option for him, therefore, was to advertise for a donor. He put in a number of advertisements in leading newspapers over several months but there was no response to these. He contacted several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), at an all-India level for help. He received some assurances for assistance but nothing really materialized. Next, he got in touch with some national charitable organizations to see if they could help in any way but here, too, he drew a blank. It seemed that he was destined to continue with dialysis throughout his life.
Then, one day, Suresh received a communication from a hospital in U.S.A. The hospital had got his details through some reference that was forwarded to them and now offered to provide one kidney and conduct the operation at a very exorbitant price. This was way beyond Suresh’s financial capacity and he just could not afford it even in his dreams. On the advice of his colleagues in the college, he made an appeal for donations through the columns of leading newspapers, all to no avail. Once again, gloom had descended on Suresh’s household. Shashank, meanwhile, made several attempts to convince Suresh to accept financial assistance from him for the proposed operation in the U.S.A.; but Suresh was averse to this and politely declined the offer each time. Suresh’s condition was gradually deteriorating by the day, in spite of his regular dialysis. Shashank and Swati were very worried and the latter would spend a considerable amount of time with Kanta, trying to console her. The children, on their part, held the fort with fortitude and tried to cheer up their mother every now and then.
One day, after dinner, Shashank sat down and had a very serious discussion with Swati. It appeared that something very dangerous or risky was being discussed, for Swati was wont to cup her mouth in horror on at least two occasions. She had a lot to say in the matter and was quite forthright and vociferous in her arguments, all the while shaking her head in disbelief and disagreement. But Shashank seemed to be persistent to go ahead with the matter that he had set his heart upon and continuously was seen coaxing Swati into final submission. So finally, when the discussion ended after nearly an hour of deliberations, Swati seemed to be pacified. The two then, without further ado, turned in for the night.
The following day, being a Sunday, Suresh and family were at home. Shashank and Swati went over to their place at around 11.00 a.m. and said they had something to discuss with them.
“Please go ahead,” urged Suresh. “We are all ears,” he said, as his family gathered around him to hear what Shashank had to say.
Shashank looked at Swati and the latter seemed to give her consent to her husband, with a slight nod of her head. “I wanted to say,” began Shashank, as he tried to gather strength for what he had to say.
“Please continue,” said Suresh, as he noticed the pause after Shashank had begun to speak.
“I want to say this,” remarked Shashank with a great deal of fortitude, “that I am comfortable with donating one of my kidneys to you.” He was looking at Suresh, squarely in the face to observe his reaction to his offer.
“What? I just can’t believe this,” blurted Suresh, his mouth wide open in amazement. His mind went into a tizzy and he looked rather foolishly at Kanta and then at Shashank. “You want to donate one of your kidneys to me, is that it? I must be dreaming. Oh, how could you even think of this, sir? Am I even worthy of such a herculean sacrifice from your side?” asked Suresh, looking at Shashank longingly with folded hands.
“It is okay, Suresh. Don’t become so fluttered. Swati and I have discussed this issue threadbare and we have arrived at the consensus that I can afford to donate one of my kidneys to save you from your present predicament,” said Shashank with conviction. “The only thing that needs to be done is to see if my blood and tissue types are compatible with yours for a successful kidney transplant. Besides, I am seventy-two and need to get a medical opinion whether my kidney will be healthy enough for you,” continued Shashank, with a twinkle in his eye.
Suresh was still in a daze. He could not believe his ears as Shashank continued to speak and reassure him.
“We will go to the best hospital in the city tomorrow and do all the required tests to establish whether my kidney is suited for your body. Let the doctors decide,” said Shashank with alacrity.
Suresh was overwhelmed. With tears welling up in his eyes, he said lovingly, “I am deeply touched by your nobility. You are not a human, you are an angel.” Saying this, Suresh broke down with emotion. Seeing him, his family also became very emotional.
Shashank rose from his seat to go over to Suresh and comfort him. With one hand, he held the latter’s head and with the other he gently stroked his back in a genuine gesture of reassurance that all would be well.
The next day, Shashank and Suresh accompanied by their wives went to a premier hospital and discussed their problem with Dr. Mohandas, the head of nephrology. The latter listened to them attentively and later requested them to undergo the necessary tests. The two men gave their samples for testing and were told that the results would be ready the next day. So the following day, the two families again made a trip to the hospital. The reports were handed over to them and they decided to meet Dr. Mohandas and show him the reports.
The latter took out the reports from the brown paper envelope and laid these on his table. He glanced at the reports and his face broke into a wide grin. “You’re extremely lucky, my dear friend,” he said looking up at Suresh. Your friend’s kidney will definitely fit like a glove in your body.”
Suresh was flabbergasted. He got hold of Shashank in a bear hug and broke into loud sobs. Shashank was quite taken aback by this sudden flood of emotion and comforted Suresh till the latter achieved some degree of composure. “It’s okay and everything is going to be fine. The doctor, here, will ensure that a perfect job is done,” he said, with a great deal of confidence.
“Now we need to finalize the date for conducting the operation,” said Dr. Mohandas, as he began to scour his diary for vacant dates. “Will 15th May, 1987, be okay with both of you?” he asked, looking at Shashank and Suresh in turn. Both of them nodded in unison and so the date for the operation was finalized.
On the appointed day, Suresh was in high spirits and excited that he would never be required to do dialysis again. Shashank was calm and composed and looked forward to the operation with fortitude. Dr. Mohandas and his team were waiting for them and, after they arrived and the normal medical check-up was done, they were both wheeled into the operation theatre. The operation lasted for nine hours during which time, Kanta and Swati maintained vigil in the corridor outside the theatre. Finally, Dr. Mohandas emerged from the theatre and went over to the two women. He took off his mask and gloves and showed the thumbs up sign. “The operation was successful. Everything is fine and there is no cause for worry,” he said very confidently. The women thanked the doctor and hugged each other. Kanta was literally in tears and thanked Swati again and again for the immense sacrifice undertaken by her husband.
Suresh and Shashank were discharged from the hospital after fifteen days and then they needed to rest at home for some more time. Preeti and Narendra were euphoric to see their father restored to a normal life and thanked Shashank and Swati profusely. As for the aged couple, it was a terrific feeling of having castaway the gloom which had enveloped a household and brought in joy in abundance.
The two families lived happily ever after. Shashank passed away of old age at the age of eighty-five and thereafter Swati was literally in the care of Kanta and her family. They were together for eight more years before Swati passed away at the age of eighty-six. But the spirit of mutual help and love and affection that the two families exuded and practiced, lived on for years to come and was a talking-point at street corner meetings and elsewhere as being a model example of the lofty ideals that the city of Mumbai stood for.