Ramakrishnan had just settled down with his son-in-law’s newspaper when he felt it being pulled away from his hands. “Mama, you are going to spend your entire day at home. Why don’t you read it later,” said Murthy. Ramakrishnan meekly nodded his head and went back to sipping his filter coffee. This was a regular morning scene at the Murthy household. Ramakrishnan had one daughter, Anjana, who had been married to Murthy. Anjana and Murthy had three kids, all in various parts of the country studying and pursuing various dreams.
After the death of his wife, Ramakrishnan had moved in with his daughter. At 82 Ramakrishnan was still as fit as a fiddle and had a sharp mind. The only slight complaint he had was with his hearing. For which he wore a hearing aid. Having him around took away the loneliness that Anjana ended up feeling from time to time since her kids now were all grown up and out of the house. Both father and daughter enjoyed the time that they spent with each other and would often be found sharing a laugh or a memory.
Everything was just perfect until the day Ramakrishnan had his first episode. It began as a usual Monday morning; Murthy was busy getting ready for work, Anjana getting the meals for the day in order, and Ramakrishnan waiting for Murthy to leave to get a hold of the paper. Anjana was laying the table for breakfast when she called out, “Appa, breakfast is ready. Come to the table please.” It was Ramakrishnan’s favourite breakfast – idly, chutney, molagapodi (gunpowder), and ghee. Ramakrishnan came up to the table, pulled a chair sat down and looked completely lost. “Do you want me to serve you, appa?” she said. He continued looking blank. “Appa” she raised her voice, “where are you lost?” “Huh, what is it?” he asked looking irritated. “I hate being late, I have to leave in five minutes and you still haven’t served me anything,” he continued. “Where do you have to go? What are you saying Appa.” Anjana replied and continued to walk in and out of the kitchen.
THUD…..there was a loud noise in the dining hall that made Anjana run out of the kitchen. Ramakrishnan was standing at the head of the table and near his feet was the plate she had kept for him.
“Appa, what is wrong with you? Why did you do that? Anjana wailed. Ramakrishnan stood there like a rock and didn’t utter a word. He turned around and walked into his room. Anjana didn’t know what happened. One minute everything was fine and the next her father was behaving so strange. She started cleaning the mess when Murthy walked into the dining room. “What’s all this?” he said. Anjana didn’t want to say anything to him so just said the plate slipped from her hand and fell. “Very well then, will you serve me my breakfast once you’re done, please,” he said to her.
All through breakfast Anjana kept thinking about what had happened to her father. This was nothing like how he behaved normally. She was worried.
Ten minutes later Ramakrishnan walked into the dining room, pulled up a chair and sat down for breakfast. Seeing no plate laid out for him he looked at Anjana and said, “are you intending on starving me this morning, dear daughter.” Caught off-guard, Anjana just managed to scramble to her feet and rushed off to get him a plate. The rest of the morning was uneventful for Ramakrishnan; for Anjana it was filled with worry.
The next few days whizzed past normally. Anjana was on her guard, but she didn’t know what she was looking for. And then suddenly it happened again. It was noon, the summer sun was blazing, the air conditioners were whirring inside the house. Anjana had finished with the kitchen work for the morning and was sitting in the living area reading when she heard her father scream. She lunged forward and ran into his room. She found him sitting on the floor and looking under the bed. “Appa, what are you looking for?” Ramakrishnan turned towards the voice, looked at Anjana and said, “Ruku, I cannot find my glasses. Have you seen them anywhere?” Anjana’s mind was on overdrive now, ‘Ruku, did he just call me by Amma’s name?” she thought to herself. “Appa, I am Anjana. Get up, let me find you your glasses,” she said. “Ruku, I have to find them now, Anjana has class in the evening I have to take her and you know how I cannot drive without my glasses in the evening. These bloody young fellows always drive with full beam. No sense, I tell you.” Anjana just nodded, tears had started to stream down her cheek. Ramakrishnan found his glasses soon after that and went back into his room, all the while humming to himself. He seemed oblivious to what had just transpired. It was Anjana, yet again, who was left bewildered and very scared.
“Something isn’t right. He hasn’t even realised that he called me by Amma’s name,” thought Anjana to herself. She sat there until it was time for tea at around 5:30. Ramakrishnan sauntered out of his room just as Anjana brought out the biscuits and tea. Anjana looked at him cautiously and smiled. “Why are you looking at me like that?” asked Ramakrishnan. “No…nothing appa,” was Anjana’s fumbled reply. She was hoping against hope that he wouldn’t call her Ruku again. She would now have to discuss this with Murthy and perhaps even take her father to a doctor. Murthy, while was a very supportive husband, there were times when Anjana felt that having her father stay with them was causing some friction between them. He never said anything but this is how Anjana had been feeling for a while now. That evening when Murthy came back from office and had settled down post his evening shower, Anjana broached the topic. “Murthy, appa hasn’t been doing very well for the last week or so.” He looked at her and asked, “Why what happened?” She wasn’t sure what had happened and suddenly wasn’t even sure of what she should tell him. “He called me by amma’s name a few days ago and then again today,” she said. Before Murthy could say anything she continued, “Actually, not just that he seemed so sure of calling me by that name. It didn’t feel like he was making a mistake. He looked straight at me and called out amma’s name.”
Murthy was quiet for a long while and then looked at Anjana and said, “Do you think he is missing your mother?” “No, I don’t think the answer to what is happening to him is so simple. I feel there is something more to it, Murthy,” she said. “I think we should take him to a doctor. Infact I am sure it is nothing but I will feel better if we do,” she said. “Let me call Dr. Rajan tomorrow and set up a time. If you would like me to come will ask him to see us in the evening sometime,” said Murthy as he was changing channels. “No, no, I will take him, but just fix an appointment for us please,” she said. With that she left the room to get the dinner heated up and ready. Murthy liked having an early dinner. He was a stickler for certain things and Anjana tried to ensure that she did things the way he liked them. Having her father and husband in the same house sometimes meant having to tip toe around certain things, but she did a good job of it and had managed well the past few years.
Early next morning, Anjana woke up to find her father sitting in the garden looking up at the gulmohar tree. She walked out to pick up the milk packets and wished him a good morning. “Ruku, come sit here for a while. Anjana won’t be up for a while and she doesn’t have any class either today,” he said looking at Anjana. She stood in silence and wasn’t sure of what to say to her father. Hesitantly she said, “Appa, I am Anjana. Not amma.” Her father did not react; he continued looking at the tree and seemed to be in a very good mood, he was humming a raga to himself again. She didn’t have the heart to remind him again that she was not her mother. She sat beside him and they both enjoyed the silence.
The rest of the day went by normally. When Ramakrishnan entered the house, an hour later he was back to being his normal old self. He walked into the kitchen to ask Anjana what she had made for breakfast. They chatted for a while, as Anjana continued making her crisp dosa’s and then the three of the sat down for breakfast. “I have spoken to Rajan and fixed an appointment for 2:30 p.m., Anjana,” Murthy said. “For what? What happened Anjana?” asked Ramakrishnan looking worried. “Nothing appa, I am fine. Everything is fine. I just wanted to take you for a routine test. Been long since you got a check up done,” she said to him. “I am fine, I don’t need to get any check up done,” he said looking hurt that Anjana had decided on this without even asking him. “Just a routine test appa. And we are going to Dr. Rajan only. You remember him, don’t you? He and his wife Sharada had come for dinner last month,” she said.
Lunch was a subdued affair at the Murthy residence that day. Ramakrishnan still wasn’t convinced about going to meet the doctor and Anjana was sure, especially after the morning incident that she needed to take him to the doctor. Dr. Rajan was a family friend and a well-known neurologist in town. Anjana was certain of feeling better once he had checked up on Ramakrishnan. After allowing her father a short nap post lunch she gently woke him up at 1:30 p.m. and asked him to get ready to go see the doctor. Anjana was ready and sat in the drawing room waiting for her father to come out. He could be extremely stubborn if he didn’t want to do something. He was taking his own sweet time today knowing fully well that they had an appointment at 2:30 p.m. Fifteen minutes later Anjana went up to his room and knocked on the door. Nothing, she heard no noise from within and panicked. She knocked again, and waited to hear some movement. Maybe he was in the bathroom and hence couldn’t hear the knocks. She tried the door and found it unlocked so slowly went in to see what was keeping him in for so long. Ramakrishnan was sitting on the bed with no clothes on. All his clothes were lying strewn about and he seemed to be staring at the wall. “Appa……” Anjana almost shouted as she neared him. “What is all this? What happened? Why are you sitting like this?” she asked almost in tears. She didn’t know what to do, seeing her father like this was breaking her into a million pieces. He was oblivious to what was happening and did not even react to Anjana calling out to him.
Unable to see her father like this, Anjana left the room and called Murthy immediately. “You need to come home. I don’t know what is happening with appa. I cannot handle this on my own,” she cried into the phone. “Anjana, what happened, calm down and tell me clearly,” said Murthy. “Please just come home,” she said and plonked on the floor. Murthy was in a meeting and left in the next half an hour from office. Fifteen minutes after her call with Murthy, Ramakrishnan came out of his room fully clothed and looked at Anjana sitting on the floor. “Aren’t we getting late, Anjana? Come let’s go,” he said. “Appa” wailed Anjana. She was still unable to understand what was happening. She had sent a text to Dr. Rajan and cancelled the appointment, she wanted to wait for Murthy to get back, discuss it with him, and then take a call on what she ought to do. Murthy arrived soon thereafter and found his father-in-law and Anjana seated in the drawing room in silence. The only noise in the room was that of the fan.
He looked at Anjana and could see that she had been crying. Murthy had called Dr. Rajan and requested that he come home to check up on Ramakrishnan. Anjana hadn’t told him anything but he sensed something terribly wrong in her tone when she called him up frantically. He walked up to her and sat down beside her and gently asked her what had happened. Anjana looked at him and tears starting streaming down again. They went into the room and sat down on the bed. Anjana was not even sure of what to tell Murthy. She decided to tell him everything she had been noticing, starting from the incident where Ramakrishnan had thrown the plate and broken it ending with what had happened today afternoon. “What do you mean he was sitting on the bed without anything on?” asked Murthy. “When I walked into the room, appa was sitting on the bed with no clothes on him, Murthy. Nothing. I called out to him and he didn’t even seem to have heard me.” She said. She was a little more composed now that Murthy was home. “I have called Dr. Rajan home, he said he will be here by 4:00 p.m., don’t worry we will sort this out together,” said Murthy, looking at Anjana reassuringly. It made so much of a difference having him beside her. She went back to thinking of Ramakrishnan and thought of how lonely it must be for him after her mother’s passing. Maybe that was what was bothering him so much and he didn’t know how to deal with it. Whatever it was, she was waiting for Dr. Rajan to come and examine her father.
Dr. Rajan was there promptly at 4:30 p.m. and Anjana wasted no time whatsoever. She told him all that happened and went in to get her father out. Ramakrishnan came out of his room looking fine. He smiled at Dr. Rajan and greeted him in his polite manner. “So my daughter managed to drag you here, is it?” he said smiling. “You look absolutely fine to me, uncle. Now I wonder what your daughter is so worried about,” he said easing the situation. Ramakrishnan smiled and looked lovingly at his daughter. “I shouldn’t be cribbing, she has inherited the worry gene from me,” he said. They all settled down and Anjana brought out cups of steaming filter coffee and vada’s she had made. There was complete silence as the three men sat enjoying the coffee and vada. Finally Dr. Rajan looked up and said,
Dr. Rajan: “So uncle, how have you been?”
Ramakrishnan: “Fit as a fiddle,”
Dr. Rajan: “Summers have begun in full swing, have you experienced any hot flushes or dizziness?
Ramakrishnan: “No, I haven’t. I have been feeling fine.”
Dr. Rajan: “Uncle, I was wondering if you remember Seshadri. He was working in HAL around the same time you were.”
Ramakrishnan: “K.S. Seshadri?”
Dr. Rajan: “I am not sure of his first name Uncle, I can check and tell you.”
Anjana sat there looking bewildered. Why was Dr. Rajan quizzing her father about the weather and some colleague who her father had not spoken about in more than a decade, she wondered. Dr Rajan sensed her apprehension and looked at her and smiled knowingly.
Dr. Rajan: “Your daughter is such a lovely cook. I am sure she makes you some amazing treats.”
Ramakrishnan: “That she inherited from Ruku,” he said fondly.
Dr. Rajan: “So uncle tell me what did you have for lunch today?”
Ramakrishnan seemed to have forgotten. He fumbled and looked at Anjana hoping that she would tell Dr. Rajan herself. He just couldn’t remember and it hadn’t even been too long since he finished lunch.
This was what Dr. Rajan wanted to check up on. He had the answers he was looking for. He looked at Anjana and prodded her to answer.
Anjana: “Appa had sambhar and bhindi for lunch today.”
Dr. Rajan: “Great, next time I am here you must cook me the same meal, Anjana.”
They sat talking about the World Cup and other things for a while longer and then Dr. Rajan took leave and said he would see them soon. Murthy walked him out and asked him if there was any prognosis at all he could make after the brief interaction. Dr. Rajan had his suspicions but did not want to say anything until he had conducted his tests and most importantly a scan. “Bring him over to the hospital tomorrow, Murthy. Around 11:30 a.m. should be good. I want to run a few tests to figure out exactly what is happening,” he said. “Is there cause for worry?” asked Murthy. “I wouldn’t exactly say cause for worry, but better to rule everything out,” said the Doctor.
Murthy went back inside the house and told Anjana what he had asked them to do. Anjana was to take her father to the hospital in the morning and after the tests were done Murthy had said he would come in to meet Dr. Rajan and discuss the reports. Dinner was a subdued affair at the Murthy residence that night. Both Murthy and Anjana were thinking of what the tests would reveal, and Ramakrishnan also seemed to be lost in thoughts. Murthy had lost his parents fairly early in life and though he didn’t overtly show his love for Ramakrishnan, he loved having him at home and in their life. He enjoyed the heated discussions they had on cricket, politics, spirituality, and religion. He saw in him a father he lost long ago, but somehow would never openly admit it.
Anjana was up early next morning and was sitting in their puja room with lots of flowers from their garden when Ramakrishnan walked in and stood behind her. He loved the way Anjana would meticulously clean the idols every morning and adorn them with fresh flowers. The puja room was one of their favourite spots in the house. Both father and daughter took great pride in it. Anjana and Ramakrishnan chatted for a while and then Anjana went into the kitchen to get breakfast ready. She knew they would be at the hospital for long and so decided to make an elaborate breakfast that would last them until they got back from the hospital. Ramakrishnan wasn’t a fan of eating out and she didn’t want to subject him to it today.
She had made Pongal, vada, sambhar, idli, and chutney for breakfast. Murthy and Ramakrishnan relished the breakfast but Anjana could hardly get any food into her system. She hated hospitals and was dreading taking her father for the tests today. By 10:45 a.m. they were ready and in the car ready to go meet Dr. Rajan. They spoke about the office traffic in the mornings and the kids. Ramakrishnan missed his grandchildren and often wished they would all come back and stay at home. Once they reached the hospital, everything went by so quickly. Dr. Rajan had left messages to ensure that they were met and taken in for the tests immediately. A host of tests were to be conducted and Ramakrishnan and Anjana went from one room to another.
By the time everything got done it was 2:00 p.m. Anjana called Murthy and told him that he could come in the next half an hour, by which time the reports would be ready for Dr. Rajan to look at. Anjana found a place for them to sit at and went to settle all the bills. She told her father that she would be back soon and that he should just wait for her there. She walked up to the counter and asked for all their bills, since Dr. Rajan had left a word about them, the process which would have taken upto half an hour was concluded in ten odd minutes. She paid them took the receipts and walked back to where she had left her father. She looked around and couldn’t find her father where she had left him. Assuming he had gone to the washroom she decided to sit there and wait for him. 5 minutes went by and there was no sign of him, she waited a few minutes more before she found a male attendant and requested that he check in the washroom for her father.
“No madam, your father is not there in the toilet,” he said as he came out of the washroom. Fear gripped her. “Are you sure?” she asked worriedly. The attendant nodded and went about doing his work. She didn’t know what to do and where to look. She went back to where he was sitting and asked the people around if they had seen her father. One lady said she saw him in the direction of the entrance. Anjana had no idea what to do and went to look for Dr. Rajan. It was Ramakrishnan’s scan report that was being discussed when she walked into Dr. Rajan’s room. There were three other doctors in the room and they all looked at Anjana when she almost barged in. “I can’t find appa. I had asked him to sit in the waiting area when I went to pay the bills and when I got back he was gone,” she almost wailed. Dr Rajan went up to her and tried to calm her down while calling for the nurse to alarm the security personnel.
Murthy was there soon after this commotion started and was startled to find Anjana in such a state of disarray. In between sobs she explained what had happened and Murthy joined the search party immediately. Every room in the hospital was checked, the entrance and exits were checked, the area just outside the hospital was searched, but unfortunately Ramakrishnan was not found anywhere. It was like he had vanished into thin air. One second he was there and the next he was gone. Guilt was eating into Anjana and she sat there praying for her father to be found soon. Two hours had gone past and there was still no sign of her father. It was then that Dr. Rajan suggested they call the police and lodge a missing persons report. Anjana couldn’t believe this was actually happening to her.
Dr. Rajan took Murthy aside and explained to him what the tests had revealed. “Ramakrishnan is suffering from an acute case of Alzheimer’s, Murthy. His mind is blocking the present and living in the past. He is living atleast two decades in the past. This is what I suspected when I met him at your house but needed to be sure before I told you both,” he said. “Does his disappearance have anything to do with this?” asked Murthy. “I suspect it does, and that is the worrying part. His mind will not be able to process where he is at the moment and that is dangerous,” continued the doctor. Murthy didn’t know how to react to what had just been said to him. He decided it best not to mention any of this to Anjana immediately. It would probably just add to the guilt that Anjana was experiencing.
Anjana and Murthy were in the hospital until 8:00 p.m. and there was still no trace of Ramakrishnan. The police had been informed and they had started their search operations as well. Dr. Rajan urged them to go home and wait there; he assured them that they would be contacted as soon as anything came up. Anjana reluctantly left the hospital, and it was while driving back that Murthy told her what Dr. Rajan had told him. She sobbed uncontrollably in the car; Murthy had never seen her shattered and it deeply pained him. He was experiencing a deep sense of loss himself. That night neither of them slept, Murthy kept tossing and turning and Anjana sat in their puja room praying.
The next morning brought no news, neither did that evening. Soon it was three days and they had not heard anything from anywhere. They had now started circulating Ramakrishnan’s photograph to all hospitals in the hope that he had been admitted or brought in by someone. A week went by and there was still no news. Before they knew it a month had gone by and all they could do was hope; for some news, any news. But nothing came their way. They were losing hope now, Anjana had done all she could, prayed to all the gods she knew. Murthy left no stone unturned either. But nothing they did was good enough. He had gone…..never to be found again.