Asha Rajkumari’s son turned nine on August 18 last year, and she had planned a party for him the next day. But it was a stressful time for her: this was the first time she and her husband would be taking a group of raucous little boys and girls to a mall without their parents. The responsibility of so many little people in their care made her deeply tense and anxious.
And then, at the party, the children got into a fight. If that wasn’t enough, on the way out of the play centre, while Asha was paying for the return presents, she had a sudden out-of-body sensation. “That’s odd,” she thought. She had only ever felt that way a few times during meditation. She felt shaken out of her skin.
It was just past dusk by the time the family dropped all the kids and reached their Faridabad home in the outskirts of Delhi. “Don’t open your presents tonight,” Asha warned Aadi while going to her room. “We’ll do it together tomorrow morning.” She busied herself in her room, chatting with her husband about the day.
A short while later, Aadi came in, his right eye red, his face ashen white. “Mama.”
Asha looked at him, and her world stopped.
BORN TO A MANIPURI FAMILY in Kohima, Nagaland, Asha moved to Delhi as an adolescent. After graduating in English honours, she took up a job in Wipro, and worked in the corporate sector over the next 15 years. Along the way, in 2002, she met Vikas Raina, a Kashmiri Pandit, at her workplace, and the two had an inter-community marriage in 2007. Aadi was born a year later, followed by their second son Aarav.
In 2016, Asha quit her full-time job to devote more time to her growing, demanding sons. Life was happy and purposeful. She had everything she could ever wish for: a full routine, a fulfilling spiritual practice, a loving family. There was so much to look forward to.
But destiny had its own plans.
THERE, IN FRONT OF HER, stood her tremulous, just-turned-nine-year-old son, with a big, menacing burst of blood in his right eye. “I can’t see, mama,” he said.
Unbeknownst to her, the birthday boy had decided to open his gifts himself. Armed with scissors, he set upon a box in the semi-dark room, tugging at its seams. One of the staples holding the box together gave way, and the scissors snapped back into his face, piercing one eye.
The family rushed Aadi to an eye doctor’s private clinic; he advised them to admit Aadi to All India Institute for Medical Sciences (AIIMS), as he would get the best possible care there. “My best friend Amung and her husband Dr Thejaswi Ht helped us get the admission at the Centre for Ophthalmic Sciences at AIIMS,” narrates the 40-year-old, adding thoughtfully, “Thejaswi means ‘divine light of the soul’.”
The doctors said Aadi had a corneal cut and lens damage. He would need a series of surgeries, each after a gap to allow the eye to heal. He would not be able to go to school. He may or may be not be able to see from his right eye again. It was all a matter of God’s will.
And so began Asha’s true journey into God.
So began nights of quiet sobs, and days of feverish prayer. Travelling 30 km every day from Faridabad to Ansari Nagar. Keeping a brave face, a rock-solid will, and making her son laugh, so that he would not lose heart. Home-schooling him so that he didn’t lag behind in his studies. Becoming super-mom, undefeated in her courage, sheltering her son from life’s pain as much as she could.
Her family rallied around her, especially her father-in-law whose love and support kept them all going. Her prayer groups – with other devotees of Paramahansa Yogananda – sent her their blessings all day.
In her moments alone, however, her spirit crumpled and fell at the feet of her Lord. “Let thy will be done. If he gets his eye back, I accept it as your gift and my destiny. If he loses his eye, I accept it as your gift and my destiny, too,” she repeated over and over, as the tears flowed.
And yet, in the darkness, a candle burned.
Confronted with a sea of patients, appeals of desperation, the wretched face of poverty and painful cries that echoed in India’s largest hospital, Asha and her family underwent a massive lesson in humility and gratitude.
“The cases we saw… hopeless ones, terrible ones… We were awed to see how the doctors turned up day after day without losing their spirit and strength,” she shakes her head. Never again would they begrudge their taxes, the couple decided, if it went to causes such as this. They began to pray every day – and still do – for the wellbeing of the brave doctors and healers at AIIMS.
And another candle was lit.
Aadi was the brightest, most curious patient any doctor could have had. He badgered his surgeons, Dr Nasik and Dr Prafulla K Maharaja, with questions. “What is an X-ray?” “What is corneal perforation?” “Why is it called cataractous repair?” “How do you replace the lens in the eye?”
He played pranks on his family and narrated jokes to the other patients, asking them innocently intrusive questions, laughing in his uninhibited way. Every time he entered, it was as if the sun shone in the gloomy ward – where patients lay morose, with far bigger problems than his, with far lesser hope of recovery. And yet, he made them all smile.
“Mama, you always say everything happens for a reason,” the precocious boy questioned Asha. “So why did this happen to me?” Asha looked around at the now-familiar faces at the hospital, all beaming at her son benevolently. “Maybe so that you could bring some joy to their lives,” she replied simply.
Five surgeries later, Aadi’s eye was restored. On July 19 this year, exactly 11 months after his accident, his bandage was removed and he was fitted with prescription glasses. He is now back in school, with his best friend Kabir, all his classmates and loving teachers by his side.
The journey has changed Asha irrevocably. The definition of happiness has shifted, and the parameters of a good life are forever transformed. Her eyes burn dark and dazzling as she narrates the events of the past 11 months. At some parts, she stays silent, gazing intently into your eyes. Some things need not be said.
Through the bandaged, bruised, perforated right eye of her nine-year-old son, one suspects Asha saw God.
First published in the August 2018 issue of eShe magazine