That’s exactly how I will always feel about the night of the 15th of July 2008. Vivek and I, we were living out a dream. There we sat in the chillingly warm afternoon, in front of our tent in Sarchu, eating piping hot Maggi out of plastic bowls. There was so much I wanted to say to him, so much that was suddenly clear to me in the lifeless mountains and deathly cold of a place which was content in its state of inertia.
But I did not. I was to conserve energy. Breathe deeply. High altitudes mean lack of oxygen. I needed to use whatever oxygen I could get sparingly. But as the setting sun glinted off his windswept hair, I had this sudden urge to grab him and run out of the place. The tents were eerie in their calmness. It was as if they dared life to defy their existence. I took in a deep breath. Of course, it was just a passing feeling; it would blow away, like all the other senseless paranoia of mine had.
After a dinner, which I could hardly taste, we headed back to the tent. All along I was conscious of vivek bearing the brunt of the movement. Asking me to slow down, trying to keep conversations to a minimum, never leaving me alone even for a moment. In fact at this point I must mention something adorably funny.
Sarchu being a place of no vegetation and very little human habitation, sanitation was taken care of by building a make shift tent around a pot. The entire idea was ridiculously absurd in itself and well somehow very fascinating too. So when I had to use the rest room, I naturally had vivek tag along till the ‘loo-tent’. I didn’t want to be left alone. I was too scared to be alone. When I emerged from the ‘loo-tent’ I saw vivek promptly seated ten feet away, cross-legged on the cold ground, right outside, waiting my arrival. I was never more touched or never before did I feel so loved and cared for.
Back in the tent, we snuggled under four thick blankets to ward off the chill. The cold whipping winds were kept at bay by the secured confines of the nailed walls of the tent. We fell asleep almost instantly. Maybe it was the realization that there was little else we could possibly do or maybe it was the cold and the mounting lethargy which did the trick, but we were soundly asleep.
I have no clue how long I slept. But suddenly I found myself gasping for air. I could not breathe! It felt like something was clogging my wind pipe, blocking passage of air either way. Don’t Panic! I told myself. Breathe. Slow, deep, long breaths. Vivek had been telling me all along the trip to do just that.
A simple command I was trying to issue to myself. A simple command which would keep me alive. A simple command I couldn’t seem to follow.
A little by little the pressure eased. I found I could breathe, albeit with a little difficulty, but I could at least breathe. I thought of turning over and waking vivek up, but as the pressure seemed to ease, I saw no point in bothering him.
I closed my eyes and willed the sweet gods of sleep to embrace me once again. But all I seemed to feel was a deathly chill. It began right in the pit of my stomach and spread through my entire body. Within seconds my feet were cold as death and I was shivering under the weight of four blankets. I snuggled further into the blankets, seeking the warmth which was fast eluding me.
The same command – breathe!
The same instruction – don’t panic!
The same results – no effect!
The meager dinner was finding a way to escape the confines of my body. Every system in my body, seemed to be grinding to a slow halt. The only thing capable of rapid movement, was the quick spreading chill claiming every sense organ. I knew I had to wake vivek up!
And then I threw up.
And then I knew I was going to die.
I had used up all energies I possibly had in throwing up. I was cold. I couldn’t breathe. And then began the ache in the chest. It was a searing ache. Like someone was twisting a rod right inside my heart.
I didn’t want to die. Not right now, when I had just discovered the bliss of togetherness. Not now, when I had finally succeeded in making vivek believe in faith. Not right now, when he had opened new doors to a promising future.
“I don’t want to die!” I whispered to Vivek, not caring what effect my words were having on him. I wanted to tell him all that I was going through, but I did not seem to have enough energy to do so.
“I am panicking!” I managed to tell him in sheer panic.
I held on to him. If I had to die, I wanted to do it in his arms. I know he was trying a different rescue strategy. But all I cared was that I had given up. He hadn’t.
I was trying to draw faith from his optimism. In all the haze the pain in the chest kept magnifying. My mind refused to function at a normal pace. I couldn’t comprehend anything. I knew then that the blood had thickened and was not reaching either my heart or my brain. I also somehow, just knew, that if I pulled through the night and saw the light of the day, I would have a second chance.
I took eternity in pulling out the sorbitrate from my pockets and popping them under my tongue. I knew it would be a couple of minutes till the sorbitrate would help.
In those couple of minutes I was transported to the car. Vivek was talking to me and I so wanted to make sense of what he was saying. But I could not. And I really wished he would stop talking because I hated not understanding him.
A calm sense of darkness swept over me and like I knew I would, I slipped out of consciousness….
She woke me up with a whisper. A gentle chilling whisper that felt colder than the night itself. And the worst bit was that I had been unknowingly anticipating it since evening.
She said, “Vivek. I can’t breathe, and I am panicking.”
She is the strongest woman I have known, and I hate her for just one thing. She is the type who hides her pain. She has seen the extremes where even the most tenacious of will powers break down, and she has come back from it alive and kicking in every sense. Whenever in pain, she manages to throw the same smile at you that she otherwise would have smiled had she not been in pain.
And when such a woman breaks down to say words like, “I am panicking!” and “I don’t want to die!” something is really wrong!
I was scared and the sheer loneliness of Sarchu came back to haunt me in a different light now. No people, no help.
I told her to relax. I told her that she’ll be fine. I told her that I won’t let anything happen to her. The moment and the words weren’t very clear but I knew I had to do something. I was scared that she just might not be fine. Especially if her blood began to thicken. I don’t know if she heard any of my words but I heard them.
She asked for the time. It was hardly 10.30pm. Almost 5 to 6 hours to dawn. I knew she would feel better if more of the night had passed. I told her its 12.00am.
I wanted her to breathe and I knew it won’t help. She had to be taken to a lower altitude as soon as possible. She needed oxygen.
After she vomited for the second time, I pulled myself away from her inspite of her clinging on to me and not wanting me to leave her side. I knew she was the last person I should be listening to at this point of time. I tucked her in and stepped out of the tent without my jacket. The chill that hit me then, still runs down my spine when I think of that moment. I slowly began to move the luggage into the car. There was no energy in the air and none what so ever in the body. I couldn’t move fast. I dragged my way to and from the tent and slowly emptied the tent into the car. It was 11.30 by now. The driver was confident of driving back on these dangerous paths at this hour. I put her in the backseat of the car and we started one of the longest road journeys of my life.
On the way back from Sarchu, one needs to climb the Barlacha height before beginning to loose any altitude. I knew that the first 45 minutes of the journey would only make it worse for her. I wasn’t sure if she could hear me but just in case she did, I wanted her to feel positive. Although we were climbing, I told her that we are actually loosing altitude, and that there is more oxygen in the air now. I told her that the time was 1.30 while it wasn’t even 12. I just wanted her to be strong. I didn’t want her to give up. I didn’t want her to loose, right in front of my eyes.
And then I sensed her falling asleep. It was too deep a slumber. I feared that she was loosing consciousness. I didn’t have the heart to wake her, but I so badly wanted her to move. I wanted her to give me a sign that I was not going to loose her. Not this way ever. I could do nothing but wait. Minute by minute. Meter by meter. Loosing altitude and inching closer to not sure what, I felt lonely.
The 3 and a half hours before we touched Keylong were painful. The moment we hit population I started looking for a hospital. Just then I heard another whisper. A feeble but warm and magical whisper.
“Why are you looking for a hospital?”
“Ya rright!” I smiled.
I saw her breathe and I was glad. She was feeling better. Some rest would be enough for her to get back to normal. And some rest was indispensable for my sorry arse, stuck in the same position on the back seat of the car for three and a half hours!
By morning, she was out of danger. Mornings, as always, are beautiful!