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The Elixir of Life (S&D)

by Jithun Nair
(Stanford, CA, USA)

It was a regular Saturday morning. Well, not exactly regular, for I had woken up at seven-thirty in the morning to supervise the bai (house-maid) while she cleaned the house. Any other Saturday you would have found me dozing on my bed in a state of sleepy bliss. And to add to my woes, I had caught a nagging cold. My throat was sore, and my nose was running since morning, aggravated by the dust flying around due to the cleaning. Still missing my dose of Saturday slumber, I snuggled back onto my bed, and it wasn't long before I was fast asleep.

I do not know how much time had passed before I woke up again, for it was impossible to tell. What I do know is that I was feeling enormously thirsty. My throat had dried up completely, and somehow my cold seemed to make it even drier. However, I wasn't in an entirely conscious state yet. I was still transitioning from my slumberous phase to one of total wakefulness, the sort of situation where your eyes are still half-open, like the reluctant eyes of a new-born baby, desirous of seeing a new world, yet hesitant to let the light in. It's when your senses of hearing and sight start to sluggishly function, but the body is still unwillingly trapped in a state of languor. I felt like jumping out of bed and heading straight for the water container in the kitchen but ... I couldn't seem to do it! My body seemed to be ignoring all the instructions which my mind wished to pass on to it. I tried moving my arms and legs, but to no avail - it was as if I was being held in place by some invisible glue, or as if these arms and legs themselves weighed a ton. My thirst was increasing manifold now, and it seemed my throat would crumple up like parched paper. I tried to scream for help, but the only voices emanating were the voices from my brain - my lips were tightly sewn together, the absence of moisture making it impossible to tear them apart.

But this was not the first time I was experiencing this. There had been such instances earlier, and I clearly remembered I had been as helpless then as I was now. I recalled that on each of those occasions, I had felt the same rigidness in my body, frozen and heavy as lead. Every time I had wished that someone would just poke me somewhere, anywhere, or maybe shake my arm, my leg, my whole body - anything to get me out of my stupor. It felt so frustrating to be trapped in a body which wasn't ready to comply with what the mind was ordering it to do! But eventually, I always had to resignedly go back to sleep, in the hope that the next time I would wake up without this long-drawn state of helplessness. And I always did, except that now was different - the thirst was killing me!

It was then that I heard some muffled voices somewhere near me, voices very familiar. Oh God! Someone WAS there who could help me! A quiver of relief ran down my spine, and my mind raced to the next possible step: to somehow grab the attention of the person and ask him to get me a glass of water. Out of the corner of my yet-clouded eyes, I saw my junior Joshi sitting on my left. He seemed to be engrossed in a conversation, totally oblivious of my impuissance. My vocal chords rendered temporarily ineffective, I had to figure out a way to indicate what I wanted, and the only way I could do that was by using my fingers. I mustered all the strength I had and tried to move my fingertips. After what felt like an eternity, I managed to wiggle the thumb of my left hand, which was resting right in front of Joshi's lap. Another eternity passed before I could voluntarily produce some movement in all of my left fingers. I managed to brush my fingers gently against his pant leg, and I knew I had his attention when the voices stopped abruptly. With enormous effort, I half-closed my fingers into a fist and outstretched my thumb, trying to emulate the hand signal often used to ask for something to drink. But despite repeated attempts, Joshi seemed to be dumbfounded and just sat there looking at my barely moving hand. After about two minutes, the voices resumed. Here I was, counting on him, and he couldn't care any lesser!

I would have shouted at him that very instant, but my lips were still sealed and my throat devoid of even a single drop of water. Even the saliva in my tongue had dried out, so that I couldn't even swallow. Almost reflexively, my eyes shot to the other corner, and there, on my right, was my apartment mate Moiz. By this time, I had regained control over both the extremities of my arms, and once again I repeated the same action, albeit with my right hand this time. To my surprise and utter horror, he didn't even try to decipher what I was trying to convey; rather, he dismissed it and continued talking to Joshi as if nothing had happened! I could tell this because my hearing had become clearer now and I could make out the words being uttered. I could not help but feel intense anger and hatred at both these "friends" of mine, who had abandoned me at the moment I needed them the most! I was dying of thirst here, for God's sake!!!

As I lay there listening to their chitchat, I decided that I had to take matters into my own hands. I could NOT die here! Not like this!!! I made another herculean attempt at parting my parched lips, and slowly, very slowly, the shriveled skin gave way and my mouth was open. It was like a lease of new life, and my first instinct was to take in a big deep breath .........

Through my mouth, I inhaled a huge amount of air noisily, just like you do when you're submerged in water for a long time and resurface all of a sudden. My eyes opened wide and the breath of fresh air dissolved my stupor into itself. I sat up with a start, my throat still craving for a drop of water. There was no one around. I headed straight for the kitchen, and gulped down a full glass of water. At that moment, the water I was drinking seemed to be the elixir of life, and as dried lips, dried tongue, dried throat soaked in the water, the eyes let some of it go. Tears rolled down my cheeks. It never felt so good to be alive.

The above is a true incident. However, if you haven't figured out by now, most of it was a dream sequence, beginning from the second paragraph to the line "my first instinct was to take in a big deep breath .........". If you have experienced something similar ever, you shall be able to relate to it much better.

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