Mohini was once very stubborn that she would never step out of this island nestled in the group of Car Nicobar Islands. But today she was nudging her husband to go to mainland India. The island Kamorta, which she hailed as a paradise on earth, everything about it was very beautiful. What with tall coconut trees, bushy green woods, swinging winds, roaring waves striking the sandy shores, the receding waves leaving behind small fishes, clouds with the help of sunlight painting the sky with varied hues and designs… all so enchanting and ever delightful. Oh! that moonlight! How captivating it was, when it simply turned the sea and the seashore into a dazzling golden sea with a sea shore with its shining light! In good old times, she had walked around the seashore innumerable times. Her husband Karunakaran used to get amused how this simpleton lady got amused with just petty little things. “Look at her! She is walking barefoot on sandy shore, standing in waters with waves washing her feet every time they strike the shore, pushing back the fish which came with the waves but were left behind, collecting the funny shaped seashells as though they were precious diamonds… all these and many more.” He was happy that she did not make big demands to keep her happy and contented.
Such a lady today was standing in front of him and nagging him every now and then. “Let us go to the mainland. Let us go to Chennai. As soon as we can. Please look for the ship to Port Blair and from there, onward journey, sailing straight to Chennai.”
It had become almost a daily prayer for her to keep telling him or asking him about arrangements for Chennai trip. She was not like this before. It was only after Sonia was born and that they came to know that she was dumb. She strongly believed that in bigger cities like Chennai, Sonia could surely be treated completely. Mohini was dying to hear her baby call out to her as ‘Amma’… the first word any baby would utter. A blissful shower on ears! One of her neighbours had even told her that in a far-off place that too on the other side of mainland, there was a Goddess by name ‘Mookaambika’. This very Goddess was known for Her majestic healing touch and make the deaf and dumb people talk. “Why only talk? She makes them rise their hands and sing her laurels so loudly that people get stunned and refuse to believe that earlier such people were mute and speechless.” Mohini was no doubt God-fearing but not so much as to depend only on faith healing. She first wanted her child to be seen by an Ear-Nose-Throat Specialist doctor. Once that appointment with that doctor was fixed then she would pray to her favourite God Muruga and host of other Gods and Goddesses including Mookaambika to bless that particular Specialist doctor and bestow on him all magical powers so that his treatment on Sonia would be successful. She was eagerly waiting for that day and patiently waiting to listen to Sonia’s non-stop blabbering. “Will it happen? Oh God! Please open your eyes and shower your choicest blessings on my child.”
Now her prayers had changed. She was nowadays praying for a change of heart in her husband. She was destined to move a mountain. Unless he was willing to make arrangements for Sonia’s treatment, how could she get the baby treated?
Karunakaran was not a stone hearted fellow to ignore and brush aside Mohini’s repeated reminders. He had his own mystic feelings. Chennai? An unknown place, unknown people, unknown future… What assurance was there that Sonia’s treatment would take place the way the want? Just a mere saying from the local doctor that sophisticated treatment for the child was not available in this island nor in the island’s capital town which was Port Blair. He was certain that the entire treatment would cost a fortune for them. Could they afford one? How was he to arrange for medical expenses? That alone was not everything. What about their stay arrangements? Their daily needs in the new place? How long they might have to be away from this island? All these unanswered questions were hanging heavily on him. After all he was man of moderate means. A fisherman with uncertain catch of fish. But luckily Mother Nature and Sea-God never ditched him so far. He had a moderate living and Mohini also tried to spend as less as possible and save as much as she could. But was it sufficient to cover the whole lot of their needs?
He strongly believed that one should plan their requirements within their means. He was not ready to believe in cock and bull stories that God helped those who helped themselves. With his meagre savings he could only hope for a travel up-to Port Blair and a short stay there for a few days. He had a few fishermen folks known to him there and so he could stretch his plans only to that level. But Mohini was bent upon taking Sonia to a far-off fairy-tale-place called Chennai. She was neither understanding nor getting convinced about the huge expenses which they might have to put up with.
Unable to put up with her daily irritations, he discussed the issue with his fellow fishermen. They advised him to go and see the doctor at Port Blair Government Hospital and seek his opinion. ‘Based on that decide next course of action’. That sounded better. He took a letter from the local doctor and with his contacts he wanted to approach the specialist at Gobind Ballabh Pant Hospital, Port Blair.
Initially, he thought of going there alone and find out details, then come back and take Sonia and Mohini. Immediately he dismissed the idea. His tight monitory conditions would not allow him to take up two trips. So, he decided to plunge and take things in good stride. Ships were not sailing to Port Blair on a daily basis. He waited for the D-day and they set out. His fellow fishermen wished him heartily. It was a long journey on sea. It was a good omen that there was no stormy wind and the sea was neither rough. Finally, they arrived at Port Blair. He went in search of those fishermen folks whom he knew. But as ill luck would have, they had set out on sailing and were not likely to return till the next fortnight.
Those fishermen who set out on trawlers normally would go on a long journey and would return after having got full load. It was much different from catamaran-fishing – that is, go for fishing in a country boat early in the morning and comeback by afternoon or evening. The problem with trawlers was, fishermen would forget to abide by their national boundaries on sea. Once they stepped into international boundaries or other countries’ boundaries, both the trawlers, their nets, diesel and their precious catch of fish everything would be confiscated. Often and again Navy and Coastguards kept warning them to be cautious. Some greedy fishermen and some ignorant people often flouted rules and encountered problems. Unlike his island, here the fishermen had unions and political affiliations also. Life in this part of Andaman was far different from his small peaceful island of Kamorta.
Karunakaran could not gauge when those fishermen would return. So, he had to look for everything on his own. He approached one of the union leaders and told him about his predicament. Being a fellow fisherman from the same community, though from a different village, he agreed to escort them to the hospital. Heart of heart he felt very sorry for the baby Sonia, who was mute and speechless. The hospital was at the far end of the port town. A journey to the hospital itself was tedious one for the simple folk of tiny island.
Mohini was a bit nervous and shaky. She had not seen such a big city bustling with busy people, fast moving vehicles, buses and cars, people talking different languages, so many shops, eateries and cinema halls … loaded with such usual common features of a big city. When she said it openly that Port Blair was so big and enormous ‘like Chennai itself’ … the union leader, by name Stephen laughed aloud. Port Blair was in fact not even a tenth of Chennai. Then one could imagine how big Chennai city would really be. Stephen had been to Chennai a good number of times. So, he knew the city very well.
The letter Karunakaran brought from his local doctor helped them to make a headway. They straight away went to ENT Department, waited a while for doctor to come and see the baby. Stephen’s guidance and his position as union leader helped Karunakaran to move ahead. Stephen’s authoritative tone made others to attend on them. Soon the specialist came. He made preliminary tests on the baby and took note of details. When he asked the patient to see him next week, Karunakaran told him passively about his coming from a far-off island from Nicobar. He wanted to emphasize that his visit to Port Blair and to GB Pant Hospital was exclusively for the treatment of Sonia. The earlier it got over, earlier he would return back to his place. Karunakaran’s bleak requests for speedier examinations, quick assessments, faster treatment all fell on deaf ears. The doctor repeated what he said. “Come next week.” Seeing this callous treatment meted out to a poor man, Stephen lost his temper. He raised his voice and demanded reason for postponement to next week. Stephen’s loud voice and strange atmosphere of hospital and unknown people handling her – all these confused Sonia and increased her level of insecurity. She started crying. The specialist called the nurse and asked her to take the baby to next room. That triggered Sonia’s fears.
When the nurse was taking out a syringe, the fear-stricken child Sonia, started screaming. Mohini who was asked to stand outside and not allowed to go in, could not wait further. She rushed inside the room. Sonia, on seeing Mohini wanted to come to her and she stretched out her hands and jumped from her table. There was still a distance of few meters between the two. Neither Mohini could cross and reach Sonia nor Sonia could leap into her mother’s hands. Both doctor and nurse shouted “Watch out.” But it was too late. It all happened in a fraction of a second. Sonia fell down from the table where she was made to sit. Mohini came running to lift her child and comfort her. The baby suddenly stopped crying. As it is, she was speechless, now her sudden silence and no cry --- this puzzled the doctor. His moves, swift actions and other tests on the child made others think something drastic had happened. Mohini was sobbing, Karunakaran stood stunned and was visibly panicky. ‘Is my baby alive?’ Stephen watching all these tense movements shouted again at the doctor for his indifferent and careless attitude. He warned the doctor of dire consequences. If things went out of control, he would not spare the doctor. The doctor ignoring the shouting angry man and his rough language, rushed to the patient and shook the child vigorously. Nurse too was assisting him. She rubbed rigorously the feet of Sonia. Doctor lifted the eyelids of Sonia and checked. This continued for a while.
Thank God. Sonia was responding. Things were slowly taking grip. Suddenly, Sonia made a funny burp sounds as though she was chuckling. Doctor smiled, while Mohini was shivering and was looking at Sonia with unknown fears. Nurse told Mohini that Sonia was out of danger. She asked them to go out and wait outside. But Mohini refused. Both Karunakaran and Stephen went and stood out. Now Doctor took an instrument like a tuning fork and tapped on the patient. He continued some more intrinsic tests with some sophisticated tools and rubbed the throat portion with gentle strokes.
Mohini prayed to God Muruga non-stop and was watching Sonia’s reactions. Mohini prayed incessantly to all Gods and Goddesses for some magic to happen. Her non-stop SOS calls to all Gods finally paved a path. Here Sonia turned on the bed and made shrill indistinct sounds. Doctor and nurse were still rubbing and striking on her throat area as though they were infusing life into her blocked vocal cords. They were very confident. Mohini came closer to Sonia and called her by name. Sonia was by now assured and well settled to the new surroundings. She had some mis-comfort on her throat and irritation there. She kept tingling that area with her tiny fingers. When doctor inserted his fingers into her throat and tickled, Sonia resisted and pushed him aside and started crying. Exactly that was what was required also. Hearing Sonia cry aloud, both Stephen and Karunakaran came running into the room. Baby seeing so many around her and her throat getting irritated to a greater extent, increased her pitch. This time it was with some unclear syllables. Doctor and nurse felt happy. For Karunakaran and Mohini, it was all music, not a baby’s unwanted cry.
Doctor called the parents and told them that the treatment was complete. “Actually, the sudden jerk and jump worked wonders on the baby, which otherwise would require a surgery to get that result. Her vocal cords and vocal folds are very tender. Now speech therapy alone is needed. I will teach you how to carry out on her and make her practice that. Better keep practicing it without fail. God is great.” He turned to Stephen and said, “Thank you for threatening and terrifying the child. Those fear jerks helped her to tickle her vocal cords.”
Stephen instantly retorted. “No, never. I will not threaten any child. I warned you and not the baby. These people came to me as my guests. I did not want them to be treated indifferently and disposed off casually. You simply say, come next week. What will they do till then? They are not living here. Even if they are living here, why should they be made to visit hospital again and again? You may be a bog shot. But they too have their limitations. Understand that doctor. Be gentle. You are on a humanitarian task of saving others. By the way, I am sorry for my harsh words. At the same time, I am very thankful to you for the successful treatment. Thank you once again. Do they need to see you again? If so when?”
Doctor replied, “Oh! No need. They may come and see me whenever they come to Port Blair next. Treatment for the baby is over. I don’t need to call them for that purpose. No, not again. If you are escorting them, then No, never again. Baby is fine. That’s all matters.”
All three of them came out of hospital. All of them were very-very happy. The purpose of visit got accomplished. Karunakaran was doubly happy that everything got settled amicably within his limited means. He offered to host a good lunch to Stephen who was so kind and good to them.
Stephen turned to Mohini and asked if she wanted to visit Chennai. She immediately said. “No Never. I will not. I am happy with my Kamorta island. Hello Stephen Anna, we heartily welcome you to our Kamorta island. It is a paradise on earth. Truly.” Mohini asked Sonia to say “Vango Maamaa” meaning thereby inviting him to their place.
Sonia obediently waved her hands and made gestures and tried to say ‘Vaa vaa, maamaa.’ When Stephen stretched his hands out and called her to come to him, Sonia refused.
She shook her head and nodded left and right saying, ‘No. I will not.’ It will take time for her to get acquainted with him. Till such time she will be saying, “No. Never. I will not.”