Fifteen years back, when Sanjay was taking a bow in his last flight in a Jaguar, he landed elegantly at the base. He jumped out of the fighter plane, and nobody could believe that he was retiring on that day, such was his zest for life. Sanjay’s personality was towering, booming but with great empathy for everybody. In the first meeting itself, he would win your heart and soul. He had seen life & of course death from very close quarter. How his dear friend Abhishek Sing, from NDA days, died in the air crash near Udhampur at the age of 30!! But Sanjay had overcome ups and downs bravely and with grace, dignity. He was a lifetime friend of Abhi’s family. Abhi’s son Nishant was also a fighter pilot in the Air Force and was Sanjay proud of him!! He was always there for everybody and more so for his own family. Sanjay’s beloved wife Sangita had always accepted the torrent of love & affection, from others towards Sanjay. Even at the age of 70 Sanjay never looked more than 55!!
Their daughter Deepa lived in Australia with the children, Deepa and her husband Deepak were both in IT and were always busy. Sanjay loved to be in Australia, his favourite spot being Gold Coast. Their son Anshu was a neurosurgeon staying in Delhi with his wife Asha, a well-known anchor on a TV news channel, and their children. Sanjay and Sangita had spent many a summer with them in Delhi, after Sanjay’s retirement. Sanjay really loved Punjabi food.
One day they were on their way from home to Bangalore airport. They were travelling to Pune where Nishant had invited them to join in celebrating his promotion. During the conversation, Sanjay asked Sangita “Have you taken Asha’s favourite mithai?” Sangita said, “Sanjay, we are travelling to Pune & not Delhi.” “Oh!” Said Sanjay. Later when the family had decided to celebrate Sanjay’s 70th Birthday in Delhi; Deepa and Deepak had also travelled along with the kids. On the way to the Bangalore airport, Sanjay told the driver, “Please stop the car! Turn it around.” Sangita was surprised and said, “Sanjay, what happened?” “We forgot our passports!!” said Sanjay. Sangita was again surprised and said, “Sanjay we don’t need passports, we are going to Delhi.” “Are we not going to Brisbane? Oh, ok we are going to Delhi” Sanjay said.
Though Sanjay forgot this incident, Sangita was a bit surprised and made a note to discuss this with Anshu in Delhi. Birthday celebrations were boisterous and were a hallmark Sanjay get together, with a large group of Sanjay’s friends and family. The party continued till wee hours, and Sanjay kept everybody captured with his anecdotes. How was everyone attracted to Sanjay & his personality? What is personality? It is a combination of ones’ body, heart and soul. All humans have a physical body and heart. But “the heart” is like the soul and not the physical one. What happens if a part of ones’ personality withers? Does one remain the same person? Do relationships stay the same?
Sangita discussed these two episodes with Anshu; Anshu was thoughtful and asked a few more questions to his mother. The main issue was since when was this happening? It was almost a year when such small episodes had started. MMSE (Mini-mental state examination) was ordered, and the results were worse than expected, the value was around 20! Sanjay asked Sangita, “Why all the tests?” he seemed to have forgotten the incidents.
The much-awaited diagnosis was finally confirmed that Sanjay had Alzheimer disease. The day diagnosis was confirmed Sanjay was doing pretty good. In his typical flamboyant way Sanjay, “I would prefer body tremor or some such thing anytime instead of Alzheimer”. When he said this Anshu asked him, “Dad why are you saying this?” Sanjay said, “Son, with tremor I may spill my drink, but with Alzheimer, I will forget that I have to take a drink”. With this, he laughed in his usual booming way!! Anshu, the professional, was overcome by his emotions and left the room with moist eyes. Later on, for many days, there were discussions in the family, initially in the absence of Sanjay. The family took a decision in the end, to inform Sanjay about the seriousness of the situation. Sanjay had googled about Alzheimer a couple of times, but then he just forgot what he was searching and why he was searching.
Slowly the effects of Alzheimer were visible, and it took about two years for the dreaded disease to take control of Sanjay’s body and mind. Suddenly Sanjay’s moods would oscillate, his fluent Kannada and Hindi became a little difficult for him to comprehend. Sanjay would have trouble sometimes, swallowing. He would suddenly become agitated and lose his balance.
Those who knew Sanjay as the prince were shocked when they met him. Once in while joviality would be back but life had become a big roller coaster. Sangita was of course with him as a solid rock and gave him full support. Anshu would visit Bangalore every month and stay with them as much as practical. Deepa would make visits every six months and try to be with her dad for a couple of weeks.
Slowly monthly visits became bi-monthly, and half-yearly visits became yearly. These were life’s practicalities. Children’s visits to MTR Tiffin with Dad had gradually stopped. Visits were replaced by Skype calls initially, then phone calls and finally to Whatsapp. Children convinced Sangita to use smartphone.
What happens to an individual when a part of him gets transformed? Sanjay the Prince had become Sanjay the pauper as far as his relations with people were concerned. His friends slowly started avoiding to visit Sanjay’s home. Life’s realities began coming into play, and Sangita hired help, for support at home. In all this dilemma, Nishant was rock solid. What was it that kept him so close to Sanjay uncle? Nishant got himself transferred to Bangalore a desk job, a significant shift from a fighter pilot.
What are the relationships? Is it a bond between two humans, only during fair weather? What changes people? In Sanjay’s case, he changed because of his disease but what about others? Or others also had some kind of disease? Does one relationship change when a smart human being changes to one needing physical and mental support? When a baby is born the mother, father and others very close to the baby give the baby all the support required to grow, both physically and mentally. During this phase, they teach the baby to handle various aspects of life. Is it because most knew that Sanjay will never become “normal” hence they felt that they need not support him? Does it mean that if a good-looking person damages the face in an accident, we just stop meeting them?
Sangita, the wife, had taken over the role of Sangita, the mother. But how do we define Nishant’s role? Had he taken over the role as Sanjay’s father, to support the “baby”? Was he repaying the loan he had incurred due to Sanjay’s support to their family throughout the life? Or was, it just love?
What changes people? It is a difficult question to answer. Is the fear of not being able to handle change in the person? Are the relationship threads solid?
At the age of 77, Sanjay died peacefully. When his “Will” was opened, it was a simple, small Will. “Everything worldly to Sangita after me. No Poojas, no prayer meetings, nothing. I know Marathi pretty well, and I remember the appropriate poem by Tambeji, sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Mavalatya Dinkara!!”
जो जो वंदन करी उगवात्या जो जो पाठ फिरवी मावळत्या
रीत जगाची ही रे सवित्या स्वार्थ परा.यन परा
Everyone greets the rising Sun while turning back to the setting one
That is the way this world is, where selfishness is the primary objective!