Death of my father
It was my birthday: 16 January, 1963. But I was alone at Munger where I was teaching in a college. I lived then in a flat and used to go to a club in the evenings to play badminton. On that evening, after playing 2-3 brisk games of badminton, I had returned early to my flat. And just as I entered my room, I noticed that my small shaving mirror on the window ledge was lying flat on its face, broken into shards. Perhaps a blast of breeze had done it. But I was filled with a dark ominous foreboding. Breaking of a mirror or any glass vessel is generally considered a bad omen. Just then I heard a knock on my outer door. It was the postman with a telegram. I missed a heartbeat. With shaking hands I opened the envelope and read the message: “Father critical. Come at once”. I knew the worst had come. It was around 7.30 pm. There was a train at 9.15. I rushed to the railway station at Jamalpur. The train was already standing by the platform. After changing at Kiul, I reached Patna in the small hours. Our house at Bhagwan Road was only five minutes walk from the station. I was told that Babuji had been shifted to the PMCH.
Just as dawn broke I reached the hospital. Babuji had gone into a hypoglycemic coma around midnight. His eyes were closed. I touched his forehead. He had high fever. When I said to him – Babuji, I have come, there was no response. Bhaiya looked petrified, sitting by his bedside with an ashen face. He then narrated the whole story of how Babuji had a spell of fever and his local physician had advised immediate hospitalization on the preceding evening. The hospital doctor after looking into the medical papers had apparently given him a high dose of insulin. And almost within an hour he had developed symptoms of severe hypoglycemia. The doctor on duty, instead of medical management of the critical condition, casually asked my brother to feed him some sweets. At around 10 pm in the night when all shops were closed, my brother ran from pillar to post to no avail, leaving my father alone on the hospital bed to slowly lapse into deep coma, with the hospital staff completely non-caring about the criticality of the situation. By the time I reached there next morning, the situation had gone irreversible.
I went out making phone calls to all the important people known to us in Patna who could help in the situation. And by forenoon the government had swung into action and had constituted a Medical Board consisting of Dr Raghunath Sharan, Dr Lala Suraj Nandan, Dr Madhusudan Das and Dr A.K. Sen. But by then it was too late. His respiratory system had slowly choked with heavy cough. In spite of the best medical supervision nothing could now be done. The condition worsened into high uremia and the choking struggle continued from 17th till 21st midnight. Though my father was in deep coma but his suffering was quite visible to us in his facial grimaces throughout. And those were not the days of the ICU. Only a ‘sucker’ – a cough extraction machine - was provided by the bedside running on power. A tube was inserted deep into the throat and the extractor pulled out bits of cough occasionally into the transparent tube being deposited in a vessel. I remember once when the nurse could not operate the machine, I had to take over and every time I pressed the button I could see the winces on my father’s face – winces of pain. Only five weeks later Dr Rajendra Prasad also died in similar circumstances with a severe cough congestion when the lone hospital ‘sucker’ could not be reached to him even as he lay choking for breath. No special medical arrangements had been made for even Dr Prasad by the government either.
The tragic end for my father came five days later - between 3 and 3.15 am on January 21. The end came very slowly that night. The doctors came. Checked his pulse. His pupils. Then slowly pulled his pupils shut. He spoke something to the nurses in whispers and went away.
His cot was now screened off. The slim old sleepy nurse slowly and methodically removed the tangle of tubes and tapes from his face and body. The sallow-skinned houseman with a handsome face and a largish black mole on his left upper lip asked another lanky nurse with a curiously emotionless face to clean the body and the face with some antiseptic solution. The body was still warm. The chest was almost hot. The hands and feet were icy cold and quite stiffened. I took his cold hands into my own and held them for some time. After the ablutions, they had covered his body with the scarlet-coloured blanket. One of my elder cousins had put a marigold garland round his tranquil face. His left eye appeared somewhat swollen. I tried to open the eyelids gently. The eyes looked stony and dry with a thick opaquish film over the eyeballs. I caressed the week-old stubble on the sunken cheeks, and the silver gray hair on his scalp. It felt soft and pliant. All of us in the family stood around the bed silently. The ladies in the family had been waiting in the outside verandah and were soon sent home. They had all been weeping bitterly.
Dawn was slowly breaking outside. The doctor had taken me to the Duty Room to sign on some papers. He had asked me to write: “Received the dead body of my father Shri Shivapujan Sahay.” I wrote and signed my name at the bottom of the paper.
Outside the hospital building ( known as the Hathwa Ward), in that bleak night, in those small hours, it was rather chilly, though I didn’t feel the chill. I felt like a cold stone. All around me it was very calm and tranquil. Up in the sky, a sickle-like moon was stuck in the branches of the large old Bunyan tree to the north of the old O.T. I suddenly remembered my six-hour long thigh-bone pinning operation in that O.T. in 1952, just ten years before. A long agonizing shriek echoed in my memory as the surgeon had started twisting my broken leg tied to a wheel on the operating table!...
A very cool gentle breeze suddenly started blowing. There was a strange feeling of divinity in the air. As if a sublime soul had been released, and had enveloped everything. A feverish life-struggle had come to a peaceful end. The curtain had been let down. The auditorium was now all empty.
Slowly as daylight broke, people started arriving. The expected news had already come in the morning papers as the reporters had filed it in the stop press. Mourners assembled slowly and kept sitting or standing silently in the verandah. My cousins were busy getting the ‘arthi’ (bier) ready. By now the clothes he was wearing had been ripped through the middle and pulled off. The nurses had cleansed and washed the body and it had been wrapped in the quilt which had covered him all those cold nights. Maharathiji, Umanath, Chhavinath Pandey and many other people had arrived. Birenji, my brother-in-law, had gone to arrange for a bamboo bier which was sold near the hospital gate. Maharathiji had gone and fetched the cords for tying the body to the bier. The body was then taken off the bed and put on the bier, wrapped in the quilt. Birenji, Maharathiji and others were tying it to the bier with the cords. Finally the bier was slowly raised on our shoulders and taken out of the hospital gate. It was around 8 am.
Slowly a small group of people – relatives, friends, admirers – formed into a funeral procession which wended out of the PMCH gate on to the Rajpath, into Govind Mitra Road, passing in front of the ‘Himalaya’ Press, through Lohanipur, to Hindi Sahitya Sammelan. There the bier was put on a hurriedly placed long table on the outer dias. And then began floral tributes, touching of the stiffened feet under the quilt, tears and embraces of consolation. The flower-ridden bier lay there for about an hour for people to offer their tributes, and then it was put on a small open truck. The truck moved out slowly from the Sammelan gate, went through Ramkrishna Avenue (Nala Road), Saidpur Road to Bihar Rashtrabhasha Parishad where my father had served his last stint of service - out again on the Rajpath, as the followers in the funeral procession went on increasing. Students from the university colleges joined in large numbers as the procession slowly moved towards Bansghat, passing by the Gandhi Maidan.
By now it was already midday. When the procession reached the cremation ground at Bansghat, the funeral pyre was made of sandal logs and other logs of dry wood. After the ritual mantras were recited and the final oblations completed, Bhaiya (Anand Murty) went round the pyre five times, each time touching the burning bunch of straw to the face of our revered father. And soon thereafter the pyre burst into flames….
I remember that ominous day of my father’s last journey on this father’s day. The kind of pious, disciplined life he had led during the past decades, dying at seventy was rather early for him. But he had given every moment of it to the service of Hindi language and literature, and to his dear motherland. Dr Rajendra Prasad, who died only five weeks later, wrote an obituary tribute which was published in the Saptahik Hindustan. It ran as follows:
“Service to Hindi is in itself a great service to the nation. Humble service to Hindi was the noble contribution of Acharya Shivji. He always had great affectionate feelings for me… I have always gained inspiration from the loving kindness of dedicated men of letters like Shivji in treading with courage and conviction on the path of Truth shown by Gandhiji… From the very beginning I found him a very silent, self-sacrificing person who dedicated his whole life to the service of Hindi… I had written my ‘Atmakatha’ while
in prison. But after my release I couldn’t get the time to revise it… He took my manuscript and not only read it with appreciation but edited it well and helped in getting it published. I don’t have enough words to acknowledge my deep debt to him for this labour of love… I only hope and wish that more and more people of his ilk serving the cause of Hindi in our country are born because service to Hindi is an inseparable part of service to the nation.”
— Rajendra Prasad
All these photographs have all the mourners, most of them already no more. My uncle and cousins are there along with others like Nawal Kishore Gaud, Jitendra Singh (PTI), etc. I also can be seen in some of the photos. My brother Shri Anand Murty (d. July 2010) can be seen giving 'mukhagni'.All photos (C) Acharya Shivpoojan Sahay Memorial Trust.