The interviewI had barely put my first step forward to ascend the stairs when I heard her voice, “Baba! Eh Baba!”
I had barely put my first step forward to ascend the stairs when I heard her voice, “Baba! Eh Baba!”
I couldn’t tell where the sound came from, but it echoed pain and desperation. The voice screeched for help and it made me deeply uncomfortable. It felt like it came from somebody who was either stranded or deeply hurt.
A journalist by profession, I was there to interview an esteemed political leader—Purna Sekhar. I had been to his bungalow a couple of times before. There were always secretaries to welcome and bodyguards to intimidate me. But this time around, things were different. The bungalow gave off an eerie vibe. I had never seen it so lifeless, so quiet. If there was any sign of life in there, it was the voice that begged for attention, and that alone. I couldn’t shrug off the feeling that something was wrong. Even when the doors were wide open, I didn’t feel welcome. But I assumed Purna Sekhar was waiting for me, so I kept moving. The farther up I reached, the clearer the voice got.
“Baba! I need some water in here. I am as dry as dust. I am dying!”Who was she, and who was she calling for? I couldn’t tell. She had been relentlessly summoning someone, perhaps a loved one, for a while now, but there was only pin drop silence in response.
I wanted to intervene. But I was an outsider and it was not my place to do so. Besides, in that huge bungalow, I still couldn’t tell which room the sound came from. I am just a journalist. I was there on job and I had to remain focused. I was going to ask Purna Sekhar about his party’s agenda, talk about contemporary issues and new policies regarding inclusion of women and marginalised people. That was it.
I had it sorted. But the voice kept distracting me. I couldn’t even rehearse the questions in my head. I was personally fond of the man. I knew his party cadres were fond of him too. I had listened to Purna Sekhar speak a multiple times and I could tell he had theoretical clarity. When he advocated for equality, it felt like he knew what he was talking of. Eloquent and sharp at hitting where it matters, he was a charmer of sorts. Well versed in both science and literature, it was easy to get carried away when the man spoke.
I looked forward to seeing him. Hence, I tried to shrug the voice off my conscience and walked straight up to the lounge in the second floor where he often held private meetings.
The door was open, but there was no one to welcome me. Purna Sekhar was busy on the phone. It seemed like it was an extremely important conversation for the man was so engrossed that he didn’t even realise I was already there at his door. I feared I was intruding even when I had an appointment. So I just waited for him to turn around and acknowledge my presence. I had already taken my shoes off, but it didn’t feel quite right to cross over and enter the room yet.
Even when he spoke on the phone it seemed like the politician was making a public appearance. His hands moved in a poetic way and he spoke like it was a speech delivery. “That has been covered. Don’t worry about it. It will be ready by tomorrow day end.”
I knocked, but Netaji didn’t listen. Meanwhile, the sound from the floor below kept ringing in my ears. It was relentless and I didn’t know what to do. From one ear I could hear Netaji on his phone, from the other I could hear the woman, who by now I had guessed was his wife.
“Hatteri! Where are you? Baba! I need water!” The voice was getting more desperate by the minute and it felt like if I didn’t do something about it, it would be too late. “Purna Sekhar sir! Namaste!” I greeted him loudly, but with his back on me, he seemed to hear or see nothing. He was completely occupied. No wonder, he couldn’t tell somebody was summoning him from down under.
His voice echoed so loudly through the room that no noise from outside made its way inside. On the other hand, the forlorn voice that pleaded for ‘Baba’ had driven me crazy to a point that I didn’t care if I was an outsider anymore. I had to follow the voice and see if there was a way I could help.
I put my shoes on back, descended to the first floor and followed the voice. It came from a corner room with its door half open. I knocked. “Who’s there? Please come in!”
It was Purna Sekhar’s wife. She was bedridden and it seemed like her body refused to move even when she wanted to.
“Namaste Madam. I don’t mean to intrude, but it seems like you need help. I don’t know if you remember me, I am Sunil. I came here to interview Netaji.”
“Of course, I remember you Sunil Bhai! I am sorry I am not in a position to host you today. I can’t move.”
“Oh, I have a hip injury. I fell from the stairs last month. I still can’t move.”
It made me sad to see her stranded in her own body. She was always so full of life. The last few times I had met her, I couldn’t help notice how well she complimented her husband. They made such a beautiful pair. She would make sure that his meetings went smoothly and she even accompanied her husband in important ones, sometimes to observe quietly, other times to give her own input.
“Sunil Bhai, if you don’t mind, could you give me some water. I feel like I am going to die of thirst. I don’t know if it’s the medicine, but my throat is as dry as dust.”
“Of course, Madam! Where do I get the water from?”
The water jar stood on the bedside table right beside her. “It’s right there, I can’t even stretch myself to get hold of it.”
As I scrambled in search of a glass or a spoon or anything that would help me hydrate her without spilling the water all over, she revealed that there was nobody to look after her at this difficult time.
“Both my children are abroad. We had a full-time maid; she recently left for her village. I doubt she’s ever coming back. There is somebody who comes to cook in the mornings and clean in the evenings, but here I am struggling for a drop of water in daytime.”
She continued, “Look at my husband. He is so engrossed in politics; he doesn’t see that his own wife is in pain. All his time is somebody else’s time now. There’s no time for love or family. He doesn’t even have the time to bring a glass of water to his thirsty wife. What kind of life is this?”
Her eyes welled up with tears. It didn’t take much effort to imagine what she was going through.
“I am looking for a spoon, or else the water might spill,” when I tried to steer away from where the conversation was going, she realised I was not equipped to look after a bedridden person.
“Could you call my husband? He knows where things are and he knows what to do.”
I ran upstairs. Purna Sekhar was still on his phone. This time around I didn’t hesitate to enter the room. If I had a set of political questions before, I now had very, very personal questions for this man. I couldn’t believe how indifferent he was to the situation at hand. What was so important that he had forgotten his wife needed him.
“Purna Sekhar sir! We need to talk. I have been here for a while now.”
Taken aback, he looked at the clock and he looked at me. And then he gestured that I should wait for a while. “I need a spoon. Could you give me a spoon?” He looked confused but he continued with the conversation.
“Purna Sekhar Ji!” I raised my voice. “Okay, I have a meeting at the moment. I’ll call back again.” He finally hung up. “I urgently need a spoon. Where can I find it?”
“Why do you need a spoon?” He looked bewildered.
“Your wife has been looking for you for the longest time now. She is thirsty. She needs water. I need spoon to feed her water! Where is the spoon?” He tried to soak it all in. “Eh! Is there nobody else downstairs? Look at this house; I have to shove important things aside to look for a spoon now. ”
I was not sure if he was the same man I was looking forward to interview anymore. It still hadn’t struck him that his wife needed him. “Netaji, I had come here hoping that we’d have a good chat for the paper. The interview is important but not as important as Madam’s needs at the moment. She is your wife. She is your family. She is in pain, and she needs your time.”
I couldn’t care less if my words offended the man. It was what it was. I left.
How does a man who is incapable of caring for his sick wife care for the people of the nation?
How does a man who doesn’t know what is happening at home, see what’s happening in the nation? I don’t know. I don’t know.