Through the Looking Glass
by Rengarajan T S
Parth drove into the porch of his spacious bungalow. Walking into the drawing room, he noticed Sheela sitting at the dining table, probably waiting for him. Parth changed into loungewear and joined her.
“I just want one roti, Sheela, not hungry. Had some snacks during the late evening meeting.”
Sheela remade the plate with one roti and subzi, warmed it, and kept it on the table. She was unusually silent.
Parth intuitively understood that there is some serious issue troubling her. What could it be? About Dad? About Nidhi? Nidhi, his cousin’s daughter was doing her internship with a startup and staying with them.
He finished dinner and went to his bedroom on the top floor. The light was still on in Dad’s room.
Sheela opened the door to the balcony and went and sat at the tea- table. Parth followed. Kept his phone on silent mode and looked at Sheela
Sheela broke her studied silence and said,” Parth, I don’t know how to tell you”.
“Go ahead, Sheela. Tell me. Don’t hesitate”
“Parth, this evening Nidhi, came to me. She was in tears. Yesterday night, when she got up in the middle of the night, she saw Daddy standing behind the window and peeping through it.”
“What nonsense!!” was Parth’s first reaction. But slowly, he calmed down and started ruminating.
Dad had been diagnosed with dementia a year ago. After an illustrious career as a lawyer taking up cases mostly in the Supreme Court, Ramnath Shastri had stopped practicing in the last five years.
One evening when Sheela came to give him his evening tea, Dad asked her, “When did you marry Parth?”
Sheela was taken aback. How could dad ask a question like that, 30 years after she had stepped into her marital home?
When Sheela narrated this incident to Parth, he was shell shocked. What was happening to dad?
The next few days, Parth tried talking to him about things that had happened during the wedding and about Arjun, his grandson, who was doing his MBA at Harvard.
Ramnath smiled when Parth mentioned Arjun’s name but it appeared there was some problem.
After a week of denial that ‘this is not a serious problem’, Parth took his father to a neuropsychiatrist who came with a strong reference from a colleague. Dr Rahul Joshi talked at length with Parth and Mr. Ramnath.
Finally, he said, “Mr. Parth, it’s unfortunate. Your father is afflicted with dementia. Looks like, it’s the beginning. Although the condition cannot be cured, we can try to manage it. Let’s meet after a month. The next meet-up can be online also. You can call me anytime; in case you see some reaction due to the medicine or any new symptoms.”
The prescription mentioned 2 medicines to be given regularly after dinner.
Parth walked out holding dad’s hands. The clouds on the horizon appeared unusually dark.
“Parth, I know you are upset but let us be practical. We need to find a way to handle this,” said Sheela.
The next evening, Parth visited Dr Rahul’s clinic. The doctor admitted that inappropriate behavior may be found in some dementia cases.
“As a temporary measure, you can shift your dad to an old age home. The ‘Second Inning’ home in Vasant Kunj is known to me. I can assure you that your dad will be taken care of”, said Rahul.
“Okay Doctor, please arrange for Dad’s stay for a month. Let us see how it goes,” replied Parth with a heavy heart.
Nidhi, his cousin’s daughter was tears when Parth narrated all that had happened at the clinic. He consoled her.
“It’s not your fault. It has nothing to do with your coming over. Don’t inform your parents. I will tell them sometime later.”
The next day, Parth drove his dad to the old age home. After completing the formalities and ensuring that dad got the best room, he left the old age home. There was no reaction from Mr. Ramnath. He was staring out of the window, as if trying to understand where he was.
After driving some distance, Parth parked his car on the side of the road. A tumult of emotions engulfed him. He cried like a mother who had lost her child. He wished that everything would end that instant.
After some time, he picked himself up and drove home. Sheela was waiting at the door.
He held her and cried once more.
“Sheela, more than leaving dad at the home, the peeping tom tag is killing me”, said Parth. Sheela comforted him till he finally went to sleep in the wee hours of the morning.
Time went by. Ramnath continued in the old age home.
One evening, at 4 pm, Parth got a call from Dr Rahul.
“Can you come to the clinic this evening. I have something to share,” said Rahul.
Parth wound up his work and reached the clinic much before the appointed time. The receptionist ushered him in saying that one patient has cancelled his appointment and the doctor will see him early.
“Mr. Parth, my friend, Dr. Zakir from Johns Hopkins Hospital is here on a vacation. He treats his patients using advanced techniques. He has a few successful cases to his credit. Though he cannot assure full recovery, he will set up a protocol for treating your father and this can probably prevent aggravation of the condition. He will be here in a minute and we can discuss further, if it is okay with you.”
For the next five days, Parth drove his father from the old age home to Dr. Rahul’s clinic. He waited outside during the sessions, surfing on his mobile and hoping for some miracle happens.
Parth was replying to the last mail for the day when he got a call from Dr. Rahul. “The report from Dr. Zakir has come. You can come and collect it.”
Dr. Rahul gave Parth a copy of the report, explained the protocol of treatment henceforth.
‘Mr. Parth, let us hope to see some recovery soon. On the issue of inappropriate behaviour, we have a surprise revelation. Your cousin’s daughter resembles your mother a lot. It appears that your dad was almost feeling that she has come back. His nocturnal visits to the bedroom window were his longingness to see her face and nothing more.”
Parth drove back to the home to see his father.
“Sheela, I will be late. I am going to the old age home. Will come back and tell you everything”.
Parth saw dad’s expressionless, innocent face. Tears welled up in Parth’s eyes. He just held his father’s hands.
With great difficulty, overwhelmed by emotions, he uttered, “Dad, we are going back home now.”
The stoic look on Mr. Ramnath’s face remained as it was.
The car entered the porch. Sheela was standing there waiting for him. He walked inside holding dad’s hands. That night, after dinner, he explained to Sheela and Nidhi about Dr Zakir’s report.
He repeated again and again, “Dad is ‘not guilty’, he is not guilty…”
Sheela and Nidhi hugged Parth, sharing his joy.
Mr. Ramnath, neither knew what his guilt had been nor why he had been declared ‘not guilty’.
Author’s Note: This story is based on few dementia patients I am aware of. In some of the advanced dementia cases, the patient does not know what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. They do not know what they are doing nor do they understand the societal norms. A lot of care and empathy is required in handling such patients.
This piece was written as part of the Writer’s Gym program for participants who have completed the Short Story Writing Workshop.