God in His infinite wisdom fulfils Himself in many ways. Everything, therefore, even illness and pain, is just and good and necessary in the total scheme of things. I have walked alone since I was 17, and it has been a rough ride, but most exhilarating too. My only grouch – one which grew deeper with the passage of years – was that nobody seemed to really care much for me as a human being, beyond the work that I did (and that, too, attracted a disproportionate amount of opprobrium along with the admittedly lavish accolades). My great good fortune was that I never fell ill (nothing beyond what, in my book, can only be called minor irritants) over a span of nearly a quarter century: I just soldiered on, like a mindless bulldozer; ‘nothing’s ever going to happen to me, I can’t afford anything to happen, there’s nobody to look after me’. After a sickly childhood, I had nearly forgotten what going to the hospital was like, except for the sake of others. And although I kept telling myself and everybody around me how deeply grateful I was, how being fit all the time is one of the greatest of treasures, maybe He who knows me far better than I ever could saw that something was lacking, something missing in me, some lesson that I needed to learn yet… and so, very shortly after I wrote my last blogpost, lamenting on the eve of our 60th Independence Day that I can see so few good men, let alone great ones, around me that I could be really proud of India and dream of a great future for her, I went down with acute appendicitis, and was whisked off to hospital and operated upon at very short notice … to make the long story short, here I am, back again, recovering happily, enjoying my first proper ‘medical leave’ from work in 20 years, and despite the niggling pain and discomfort and downtime, my heart is filled with a very warm glow of gratitude, contentment and wonder. How I needed to be ill!
Of course I was looked after by superbly skilled men. But skill is not the highest thing I respect – I have a few skills myself, and I have known some skilled scoundrels too. What I found was what I respect most, yearn most to see around me, try hardest to give to all I deal with, and lament most the lack of in so many of my countrymen: sincerity of purpose, devotion to duty, and above everything else, caring for one who is helpless, suffering, and in need, caring to the extent of going out of one’s way, beyond the call of duty, to lend a kindly helping hand just in time. And I cannot put in words the degree of amazed gladness that I felt to see just how many people did exactly that, how eagerly, instantly, and unstintingly. To name everyone who dropped in with a kind and encouraging word and an offer of help would fill pages, so I can only tell you all a very big ‘Thank You!’ from the bottom of my heart, hoping that each one of you will understand I am saying this personally. But a few especially – a few doctors and their wives and sons – have put me eternally in their debt, and the most heartfelt of thank you-s would be too poor a recompense for them. Name them I would, if I didn’t know it will only embarrass them: true gentlemen dislike open and fulsome praise. I don’t know what little service I might have done them once upon a time, but nothing of that sort could have ‘earned’ what they did for me: nothing but the greatness of their own souls can explain the gift of love I have received. If God reveals Himself mostly through one’s fellow-men, I have seen Him in the last few days. I have learnt, firstly (alas for all my countrymen who will never know) that neither money nor power can buy the human touch; secondly, that India is home (as she has always been) to both the worst and the best sort of men (may the latter tribe increase, may our mothers inspire their children with the right examples!); thirdly that even my foulest detractors serve a purpose in God’s divine plan, for how could I know how good some men can be except by comparing them with the worst – those who abuse me through insane, impotent envy and rage because someday, somewhere, I did some good to them? How can you praise the light unless you have seen the darkness? And above all else, I know that as long as some men and women (and old boys) like the ones I am inwardly praising even as I write are alive and active, committed to their work and resolved to fight on regardless of having to work most of the time for wretched ingrates, trying to make things a wee bit better just by being the best they can, this country cannot go to the dogs yet! For the sake of this joyous realization, I shall gladly go through a trauma like last week’s ten times over again.
As for my wife - I know she'll hate to see me going public with this, so I'll limit myself to one line - that she is indeed my better half, I now have no doubts at all. Nor, indeed, that my daughter is very quickly growing up to become the mother I never had.