He was skidding through a narrow black tunnel rapidly. The tunnel was topsy turvy and would swing him around with little streaks of white bluish light that would appear randomly. It was as if he was being sucked into a black hole only he could see no end to it. The skid was of such a great velocity that he could not collect himself. Mustering a lot of courage he tried very hard to stop and stand up. He managed to straighten his torso and opened his eyes. He was lying in a bed in a dark room and was breathing very heavily. He was burning from within. It took him several moments to gather himself and he slowly slid out of the bed. He reached for the jar of water besides his bed. After quenching his thirst with two quick gulps of water he walked slowly to the door and opened it. He looked outside at the narrow corridor that was vacant. He closed the door and walked back to his bed. He was totally blank. He put on his shirt and stepped out of the room. It looked like a lodge. He walked down the wooden steps down to the lobby where he found a few people sitting in front of what seemed like a reception. He walked up to the reception to find a man in his late 50’s busy with the account books. When he approached the reception the old man slowly raised his head and enquired (in hindi) if he slept well. He was confused and did not know what to reply. He nodded to which the old man said you were very tired last night and it seemed like you were not well. Should I call a doctor? He said no and slowly went back to his room. He collected his belongings and put them in a sports bag and left for the lobby. He told the man at the reception that he would like to leave in English. The old man advised him he should be taking rest. He did not reply. The old man quickly wrote down a bill and asked him what name he should write? The old man stared at him and simply pushed the bill towards him mumbling that this was not allowed and that he would need a name and an address. He looked at the bill which read Rs 300. He searched his pocket to find his wallet. He paid the amount and stepped out fidgeting with his wallet. He found a drivers license with a photograph of him and a name Kartik. He went back to the reception and told the old man Kartik is my name. The old man enquired where he was from. He looked at him totally blank. After a long pause he just said “I don’t know”. The old man realized something was wrong. He asked Kartik to be seated in the sofa at the reception. He called for the kitchen to get him lime soda. He sat besides Kartik enquiring if everything was fine. Kartik wouldn’t answer. He ensured Kartik drank the lime soda and told him he would call for help. He quickly called for a cycle rickshaw that was waiting outside the lodge. He called for an assistant from the kitchen to man the reception and slowly took Kartik by his hand and took him to the rickshaw. He asked the rickshaw puller to take them to the nearby hospital. The sun was beating down and Kartik was very silent and emotionless. The old man introduced himself as Sagar Pandey and that he could call him as Pandeyji. He told him that Kartik was like a son and that it would all be fine. It was only a fever and that he would be fine if he took some medicines. They reached the hospital. Kartik looked at the board that read “Government Hospital – Haridwar”. He realized he was in Haridwar city. Pandeyji paid for the rickshaw and slowly took Kartik inside. There were scores of people waiting and there was hardly a place to stand. Pandeyji mentioned he knew the doctor and that they could meet him soon. After about 30 mins Pandeyji went inside to meet the doctor. He came out and took Kartik with him inside. The doctor a man in his late 40’s quickly pulled out the stethoscope to feel Kartik’s heart beat. Kartik meanwhile read the name card on the table that read “Dr. Kaushik”. The doctor enquired with Kartik if he knows someone in Haridwar as he wrapped the blood pressure meter around his arm. Kartik replied “No”. Doctor asked Kartik to wait outside and spoke to Pandeyji. Kartik was taken to a ward room and asked to sleep on one of the beds. He looked around to find many other patients and their family members around. He was constantly asking himself who he was and why was he here and what happened to him? He was given a few pills and an injection with the doctor informed him was for him to sleep and get some rest. Kartik kept staring at the ceiling and before he knew he dozed off. He woke up to find he was alone and was still at the hospital. He was feeling hungry. The ward boy noticed he had woken up and was out to probably inform the doctor. After about twenty minutes the Dr. Kaushik was besides him enquiring how he was feeling. Kartik told him he was hungry. Doctor asked the ward boy to get some Kichdi (rice porridge). Doctor asked Kartik if he was comfortable to answer some questions. Kartik nodded. Dr. Kaushik asked if he remembered anything about his family or friends. Kartik had the same answer. Dr. Kaushik asked Kartik not to worry as his vitals were all normal. He informed him to eat something and then he would organize for some help. Kartik felt comfortable with the doctor. Kichdi arrived and Kartik was swift to finish it. He was feeling much better after eating something. He did not remember when he had his last meal. The next day Pandeyji his new found acquaintance came visiting and was all comforting and telling him stories of how weak and tired he was when he first reached his lodge “Apna Lodge” on that evening. Kartik was smiling at the warmth Pandeyji’s company gave him. Pandeyji kept saying everything will be fine. He also mentioned that he likes Madrasi’s very much as they are very religious and disciplined people. Kartik said in is broken hindi that he did not know if he was a Madrasi to which Pandeyji replied he knew. He also reminded him that his driver’s license was also from Chennai. Pandeyji was taking leave but Kartik requested him to stay as he was feeling happy talking to someone and that he did not feel lonely when he was in Pandeyji’s company. Pandeyji told him about his family. He had lost his wife to illness and had two daughters to get married. He worked at Apna lodge for the last 13 yrs. The owner was a considerate man who had many other businesses and was a “Thakur”. Kartik finally started feeling sleepy and dozed off even as Pandeyji was narrating his stories. Next day morning the ward boy “Hari” woke him up with a cup of tea and bread loaf or “pav” as they called it. After some time Dr. Kaushik came on his rounds and enquired with Kartik. He also told him he has sought the help of the police dept. He told him not to be worried and that they will help Kartik find his family. Kartik did not know how to react. After a few hours Dr. Kaushik visited Kartik accompanied by a policeman. The policeman was briefed about Kartik’s condition so he merely assured Kartik that they will help find his family. He will organize for adverts to be placed on both local and national dailies and television, if they can’t find other ways of tracing them. He was confident that his family would contact them. He also told him that they could only find his wallet with his driver’s license which as Pandeyji had mentioned was made at Chennai so he believed that there must be some connection with Chennai. But his credit cards would help them trace his whereabouts very soon. Dr. Kaushik was quick to comfort Kartik that his condition could be due to some temporary memory loss that could be due to trauma. He said first step is to find his family and then get him appropriate medical help. He also mentioned that his vitals are all fine and that he would be ok.
The next week went by with Kartik reading the newspaper (Hari ensured Kartik got the English newspaper The Indian Express every morning). The afternoons would be spent sleeping and the nights would be spent with stories from Pandeyji. Dr. Kaushik would say hello during his rounds and finally after a week one evening Dr. Kaushik informed Kartik that they had traced his family at Bangalore. He immediately placed a call from his mobile and asked Kartik to speak to his father. He could hear the voice of a very worried and concerned man on the other side. He kept telling Kartik that he will be alright and that they would be reaching Haridwar soon. He also told him his colleagues from his office would reach Haridwar the next day. Kartik did not say anything and handed over the phone to Dr. Kaushik who comforted his father that his son was safe and in good hands. That evening and night was spent in anxiety as Kartik was still unable to place any of his so called family members like family or remember anything about his work or colleagues that his father was referring to. Next day morning he woke up to have some strangers around him. They called Kartik their colleague and told him that he had come to Delhi from Bangalore on a project. They had no clue how he got to Haridwar. Kartik had no response he did not know these people but believed them and was also relieved that he will find help. His colleagues waited till his father Mr. Ranganathan arrived. His father had to come to complete the formalities with the police and to take Kartik into his personal guardianship. His father was broken when he realized Kartik could not recognize him too. Dr. Kaushik and the policeman Mr. Tyagi who was the Inspector of the police station in the area had a chat with Mr. Ranganathan and Kartik’s colleagues. It became apparent that the recent loss of his mother to illness was probably the trauma that could have somehow caused his mental condition. Kartik was very attached to his mother and her death disturbed him very badly. Mr. Ranganathan recollected that strangely Kartik did not cry. He was very secluded and hardly spoke to anyone for over a month. He told his father he had to go to Delhi to complete his project. How he got to Haridwar was still a mystery for all of them. Kartik’s dad and his colleagues started contemplating if Delhi or Bangalore was the best place for them to take him. His dad prevailed and they decided to fly him to Bangalore. Tickets were organized and Kartik hugged Pandeyji and Hari who were his only friends now and thanked Dr. Kaushik for his support. On reaching Bangalore Kartik was taken to the best psychiatrists and was diagnosed with dissociative fugue a rare medical condition that led to complete memory loss of his past life. They informed Mr. Ranganathan to be careful to ensure he suffers no further mental stress as patients suffering from this condition would suddenly leave to new places and would create new identities. After a few days Kartik was missing from his house and his father informed his office about the incident after lodging a police complaint. Kartik was nowhere to be found. Years went by but there was no news of Kartik. One fine day Mr. Ranganathan’s friend informed him that one of his relatives in Salem reported that they have seen a young man who resembled Kartik. Coincidentally Mr. Ranganathan’s friend Mr. Nagaraj was visting his family in Salem and during casual chats narrated the sad story of Kartik, when the topic of mental illness came up. He had a picture of Kartik in his wallet which he showed them. His relatives reacted by saying they know someone who looks very similar but this could not be him for the person whom he knew was actually a vegetable vendor in their locality. Mr. Nagaraj was very curious and insisted that he see this person. He was accompanied by his relative to the shop where to his surprise Kartik or someone who resembled Kartik was busy cleaning the vegetables for the day’s sale. They walked upto the shop and casually enquired about the price of vegetables to which this person responded very professionally. Mr. Nagaraj had seen Kartik grow as he had been Mr. Ranganathan’s neighbour for many years. Something inside told him that he was indeed Kartik. He hung around after buying a few vegetables to establish himself as a genuine buyer. After some time a lady joined Kartik and from the way she was interacting it appeared she was his wife. Mr. Nagaraj returned but insisted to his relative that he must arrange for him to speak to the vegetable vendor’s wife. After a couple of days the meeting was arranged. They had reached the vegetable vendors hut in the outskirts of the city. Mr. Nagaraj introduced himself and asked he wanted to know more about her husband. The lady was surprised and concerned. She replied what about him? Mr. Nagaraj then narrated the story of Kartik and the lady was awe struck. She started to cry and narrate the story of how she met him sitting near the vegetable market quietly and seemingly hungry. She had enquired if he would help her with her work to which this stranger readily agreed. She gave him work at her vegetable shop as she was alone after her father’s death and needed a man who could help her with all the tough labor work like carrying vegetables from the whole sale market on their tri-cycle. Years passed by and the lady (Brinda as she was called) decided to marry him. In the years that they were together, she would always ask him about his family and Kartik would simply say he had none. When she asked him about his name he just told her he had no name. She called him Ramesh. They even had a small daughter Devi. Brinda was now worried that they will take Ramesh alias Kartik away from her and her daughter and pleaded to leave him alone. She cried that they were happy and that they should leave things as they are. Mr. Nagaraj requested that she should allow his father to visit them once and meet his son. He pleaded that the old man had no one and his only ambition in life was to meet his son again. On hearing Mr. Nagaraj’s story over the phone, Mr. Ranganathan hurriedly prepared for the journey to Salem. He reached the Majestic bus stand and bought himself a ticket to Salem. On reaching Salem he could wait no longer to meet his son. Mr. Nagaraj insisted that Mr. Ranganathan take some rest, offered him coffee at his relatives house and they left for the vegetable shop. Mr. Ranganathan knew it was Kartik in the first look. He stood there and watched as his son played with his daughter Devi. He did not want to interrupt. He watched them from a distance and then was taken to their home to meet Brinda his daughter in law. She was all respect for him as is the custom in most parts of India. Mr. Ranganthan blessed her and only had this to say. “I only want for my son to be happy and I saw him and I believe he is happy here”. He told her that he will visit them from time to time and feared that his son might have another bout if he tried to remind him of his past. He left with tears in his eyes but also happiness in his heart that there was someone to take care of Kartik.
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