Vipulbhai was used to being Dr Garodia’s right-hand man. This also meant that he sometimes played the role of a mediator and counsellor to families and patients. He asked Nikunj to put some faafdas, jalebis and papaya chutney on a plate and follow him.
“What’s the matter, Rameshbhai? Diksha bhabhi?”
There was a wedding in the family on the coming weekend. It wasn’t some distant relative or even a first cousin. It was Diksha bhabhi’s youngest brother’s wedding, and it was really important for everyone in the family to attend. But if Rameshbhai refused to go, then at least one other family member would have to miss the wedding to take care of him. Rameshbhai did not like hiring nurses, because he wasn’t comfortable with anybody other than a family member taking care of him.
Vipulbhai resolved Rameshbhai and Diksha bhabhi’s deadlock in the most Vipulbhai way possible. “Juo, Rameshbhai, we are toh like family only, no?”
“Yes, of course, Vipulbhai.”
“Then why don’t I send Nikunj to take care of you for that one day?”
Nikunj, suddenly heard his name, sat up. “What?”
Vipulbhai continued talking for himself as well as on Nikunj’s behalf. “See, he is very good at taking care of me. I only need him every few hours. The rest of the day he’s free only. So, Rameshbhai, Diksha bhabhi, what I am saying is that he can stay at your place and help Rameshbhai. Tame- tamaare jaao, enjoy the wedding full aaram se.”
All four of them looked at Nikunj, who was furious that his Papa had volunteered his services without even asking him if he was okay with it, but he did not see any harm in helping Rameshbhai out.
“Yes, I can, I mean if Papa can adjust without me for a day, sure.”
“Oh, I can adjust. I’ll hold my hunger and urine, and we can plan it correctly, where you can take a rick home and help me and then go back to Rameshbhai.”
“We will be back before 10 pm for sure, beta.” Diksha bhabhi smiled kindly.
“And I will make sure he is bathed and ready. You only have to help him with...” Rameshbhai’s brother raised his little finger. “And if he needs anything during the day.”
“Yes, yes, he will do it. Just give him rickshaw money.” Vipulbhai placed his dead hand on Nikunj’s back.
“Oh, no, no. Not just rickshaw money. It’s a full-day service. We’ll give Nikunj 500 rupees.”
“No, no, Rameshbhai, pagal toh nathi thai gaya? We’re like family only. My son is like your younger brother.”
Nikunj too shook his head and muttered, “You also, Rameshbhai, why are you being like this? You’re like my elder brother. How can I take money from my elder brother?” Deep inside, he prayed Rameshbhai wouldn’t budge and pay him.
“Think of it as your elder brother’s aashirvaad, beta.” Diksha bhabhi ran her hands over Nikunj’s hair and patted the back of his head.
That weekend, Nikunj earned the first Rs 500 of his life. He also learnt how to perform a catheterisation. He didn’t have to do it himself, but he wheeled Rameshbhai in and out of the bathroom. He was more like a catheterisation assistant that day. He carried the kit and gave Rameshbhai everything he asked for – disinfectant, catheter, liquid soap.
Nikunj also had to flush the toilet, because Rameshbhai’s hands didn’t reach the flush while still sitting in the wheelchair. In the evening, Rameshbhai had a false alarm. So Nikunj had to help him off the wheelchair, and on to the commode and back. That was the most challenging thing Nikunj had to do all day.
In their free time together, Rameshbhai told Nikunj about all the WhatsApp groups he was a part of. People with disabilities discussed their issues there and were given advice by others in the same boat.They shared life hacks, inspirational videos and songs. Rameshbhai forwarded Nikunj a video about how to help a person with disabilities access places that weren’t built keeping their needs in mind. The video described how to help a quadriplegic person climb stairs, shift to a wheelchair, and so on.
Rameshbhai took it upon himself to educate young Nikunj with everything he had learnt about disability from his WhatsApp groups. “Did you know that 50-60 per cent of the people on my WhatsApp group have problems in passing motions? They have constipation. Some of them have to do DE, digital evacuation, and a lot of them take enemas.”
The WhatsApp group also had disability rights activists who would invite everyone to marches and events. Rameshbhai told Nikunj about one of the events. “I never felt like going back again. Badhaa bau bhanela-ganela loko hoy, they say everything in fast and high English. I don’t understand everything they say.”
Rameshbhai called for Nikunj’s help a few more times over the next couple of months. His family realized that with Nikunj’s help, they could go out once in a while without having to harass Rameshbhai if he didn’t want to come. It eased a lot of tension in their house, and Nikunj made Rs 4000.
Then, one day, it was Rameshbhai’s turn to be constipated. Diksha bhabhi was always nervous about giving enemas, so they used to hire a qualified professional to help. Rameshbhai decided to book Nikunj for that day along with the professional. He considered the enema as a part of Nikunj’s education in caregiving.
Nikunj turned out to be a natural at giving enemas. He got everything right in the first attempt. The qualified professional turned to Nikunj and said, “Wow, tera toh bedside manners bhi mast hai. Training liya kya kidhar?”
Nikunj had learned “caregiving” from taking care of his dad. So that was the only way he knew how to take care of someone. Nikunj had to empathise with Rameshbhai the way he did with Vipulbhai to get himself to help at all. The summoning of that energy started to change something deep inside of him – much like how Peter Parker felt after being bitten by a spider – like he was changing on a molecular level.
Nikita and Ilaben allowed Nikunj to keep the money he made from Rameshbhai. Ilaben stopped giving him pocket money though. In those months, Vipulbhai’s fingers too showed vast signs of improvement. He was able to hold a steel cup between the fingers of both his hands without dropping it. Of course, there was no convincing Vipulbhai that the progress was due to all the physiotherapy exercises he had been doing every morning. Vipulbhai knew, from the bottom of his heart, that all the improvement was thanks to Dr Garodia’s blessings.
Excerpted with permission from Turds of Gold, Jugal Mody, HarperCollins India.