Three Thousand Stitches, p.14Sudha Murty
‘“Wine,” I said, concealing the hard liquor I was still downing every now and then.
‘I tried to but I couldn’t control myself. “Doctors are extra careful about these things,” I thought. “A sip here and there isn’t going to harm the baby.”
‘So I poured myself some vodka and orange juice the very next day, and continued to drink with my husband.
‘Nine months later, a baby boy was born and our families were ecstatic. Everybody celebrated with wine and champagne in our house but it wasn’t enough for me. I needed more. Taking care of a newborn was much more exhausting than I had thought. When the parents had retired for the night to their bedrooms, I went to the mini-bar in the dining room and drank vodka.
‘A year passed and my son grew up quickly. I noticed that his milestones were delayed and ran to the doctor. Within a month, it was confirmed—my son was a slow learner and would remain so. The doctor remarked, “I hope you weren’t drinking during the pregnancy.”
‘That hit home. The drinking hadn’t harmed me but it had labelled my child “special”. He had done nothing to deserve this and yet, he was the one paying for my sins.
‘I could not excuse myself and felt like ending my life, but the thought of my son prevented me from taking a step further. If I wasn’t around, who would look after him? What does his future hold? My husband and I didn’t blame each other, but ourselves. We took strength from each other and decided to quit drinking. It was very hard and we kept failing at our attempts. We ended up drinking in the evenings, just like we used to before.
‘Thankfully, we found AA and now that’s the time I keep for my meetings. The withdrawal was painful and difficult. Once the evening is past, I am more in control and I return home. My son’s face is a stark reminder of why I must never touch a drink again. Why did God make such an addictive thing on earth?’ Her voice shook with the emotions that she kept bottled inside her. ‘I am scared to have another baby. What if I get another child like my son?’
The chairman stepped in, ‘Thank you, Raveena Alcoholic, for sharing your personal story. People come to AA when they reach the lowest point in their lives. That point differs from person to person. We had one teenager who once asked his mother for money to buy alcohol. When she refused to part with it, he pushed her and damaged her leg. In time, she developed a limp. It was an eternal reminder to the son about how he had hurt her and it became his turning point. Once people desperately desire a change in the most honest way possible, they come here because we can help them make it happen.’
Next, a well-dressed middle-aged man in the front row introduced himself. He said, ‘I am Harry Alcoholic and belong to a wealthy family. I have no excuse. I got the habit because I enjoyed drinking with my friends. Since my father had his own business, I decided to join him after my graduation and fell in love with one of the secretaries named Maria. She learnt of my weaknesses and about the drinking too. As time passed, we seriously began thinking of marriage.
‘“I want you to quit drinking,” she told me. “With God’s grace and love, you will leave it, I’m sure.”
‘At first, my parents were hesitant about the match but soon they took to Maria and we had a big fat wedding. Still, I continued to drink. Two years later, my mother and father died in a car crash and I was the only one to inherit all that they had built. I managed the office and Maria managed everything at home, including the finances. We also had a beautiful baby girl and life was wonderful. Yet, my habit continued.
‘When Maria spoke to me about it, I didn’t heed her words. Every day, I would ask her for money to spend at the bar. One day, she put her foot down, “No, you won’t get any more money for this. I decided to marry you in the hope that you would improve and because I loved you. You are the same, despite becoming a father.”
‘I became so upset that I abused her verbally and told her that the money was mine and that she had no right over it. With tears in her eyes, she handed me some money and I rushed to the bar. The next morning, I felt bad and apologized to her, “I’m so sorry, Maria, I was wrong. I will never do it again.”
‘But I did. Again and again.
‘One day, the same incident repeated itself and Maria refused to give me money. I saw my daughter playing on the side and yelled at Maria with hate, “If you don’t give me what I want, I will do something to the baby and then you will regret it.”
‘I was in complete rage. That’s the only reason I said it. I loved my daughter more than my life.
‘But Maria turned pale. She probably thought I meant it. She brought out all the money she had and handed it to me. “Take it,” she said and walked out of the room with my daughter.
‘I took all the money, called a few friends and went to a popular bar that I frequented and whose owner I knew. People would often join me there and praise my gracious nature because I paid for everyone’s drinks. But in my heart, I was still mad at Maria. I wanted to show her that I was not a henpecked husband, so I drank more than usual that day. The owner allowed me to crash in a room above the bar because I wasn’t in any state to walk or drive.
‘When I came home the next morning, there was a note on the fridge. It was a handwritten note from Maria.
I am leaving with my daughter. You will never change. You may have ruined my life, but I don’t want my daughter’s to be ruined too with a drunk man for a father.
‘I looked around the apartment. All their clothes were gone.
‘But I knew she would come back. To forget my domestic problems, I began drinking even more. Maria, however, didn’t turn up at all. Weeks turned into months and months into years. I didn’t know where she was any more.
‘Within a few years, I lost everything—my business and my properties.
‘Now, the owner of that same popular bar instructed the bouncers not to let me in without money. My friends forgot about me too. It got worse and I began begging at traffic lights. All the money I got went into buying and consuming desi liquor.
‘One day, I sat at a traffic signal and thought that I saw Maria in one of the cabs with a child. When I went closer, I realized that it really was her, along with my daughter. Excited, I knocked at the car window. She, however, dismissed me with a wave of her hand. “Never talk to strangers,” she said to our daughter. “Look at this dirty man begging here instead of working somewhere.”
‘She didn’t recognize me! Before I could find any words, the light turned green and the car sped away.
‘That was the lowest point in my life—I had lost my wife, daughter and what my parents and grandparents had built for me. My family had had a humble beginning. My grandfather had come from Kolar to Bengaluru city as a clerk, worked very hard and saved money to start his own business. It took decades for him to officially reach the “rich” status. His name was Harry and I had been named after him. But look at me! I had squandered away all his wealth and become a beggar. I wanted to commit suicide right there and then.
‘I don’t remember how but someone took me to an open AA session in a church and for the first time in many years, I felt a ray of hope. I heard people talking about their darkest times. They were people like me who had lost everything and then gone on to build a decent life for themselves. Maybe I could try too. It’s been fifteen years since then and I have been sober for a long time. Now I spend my life in service to others like me by bringing them to AA and helping them on their journey.’
The applause in the room was followed by a deafening silence, each of us busy with our own thoughts.
‘His daughter must be working now and maybe married too!’ I thought. ‘His wife is a brave woman. She made the right decision for herself and the child, but what a life they have all led. Everyone has suffered a lifetime because of alcohol addiction.’
I didn’t know if alcoholism was a formally recognized medical disease, but AA was a boon for the people it served.
Coffee was served in paper cups for all of us, and a stri
A few contributed and most of the members took the medal, held it close to their heart and prayed.
At last, the chairman invited Bharat to come and cut the cake. ‘We have also invited Bharat’s family today because he wouldn’t have reached this milestone without them,’ he said.
With pride, Bharat blew out the lone candle on it and cut the cake. Then he thanked his family profusely along with the people in AA who had given him back his life.
His father then handed him a medal. He was speechless, choked with emotion. After he had composed himself, he said, ‘Bharat is my only child and I have celebrated many events with him, including his birthdays and wedding. But today is his real birthday. For a long time, I was ashamed to have a son like him but he has changed and I am a proud father.’
Bharat smiled and patted his father’s shoulder and looked at the small gathering with gratitude. ‘An alcoholic is an alcoholic forever,’ he said. ‘I cannot take any medicines with alcoholic content, not even a spoonful of cough syrup when I am unwell. But I am happy with where I am right now and I promise I will continue to celebrate such birthdays every year.’
I glanced at Bharat’s wife who stood nearby. It had been no cakewalk for her with the kind of pressure society often forces on Indian women. She had had a troublesome marriage without true companionship and was still standing beside her husband.
A few minutes later, the meeting got over and people started leaving. I also stood up and Ramesh accompanied me to the car waiting outside.
‘Does everyone reach sobriety?’ I asked Ramesh.
‘It depends, Aunty. There are chances of relapsing. That’s why we meet regularly to keep our urges in control. Even now, when I see an alcohol ad or a drinking scene in a movie on television, I switch it off. I don’t go to any wedding that serves liquor. It is very easy to fall off the wagon. Surrendering to God, which is one of the steps in AA, is very helpful. God doesn’t mean a specific religious one. Everyone has a God within themselves. It simply means a higher power. In AA, we have the freedom of choosing our God. It is a great organization and Bengaluru alone has eighty centres. AA operates in 186 countries. Aunty, no wonder our ancestors were intelligent. They told us to keep away from bad habits. It may start as social drinking but unfortunately, some get hooked to it. And once they are hooked, their life becomes miserable. If they had not tried it in the first place, they would not have become alcoholics.’
I sat in the car and thought about the famous Marathi play Ekach Pyala, a popular drama of the 1940s, and another one called Devadas, which is a play about a man who, as people like to believe, turned to the bottle because he could not marry Paro, the love of his life. But the truth is that he was simply an alcoholic.
In the Marathi play, the protagonist, Sudhakar, and his wife, Sindhu, are a happy couple. One day, an alcoholic friend insists that Sudhakar should drink one sip of alcohol to celebrate an event. He even offers him a peg. Sindhu objects to her husband’s drinking, who mocks her, ‘O Sindhu, don’t worry. Our life’s ship will not drown with one peg.’
Unfortunately, her husband likes the taste and in time, becomes a slave to alcohol. The play shows how their life is ruined. The first peg is enough to get you on the journey, if you have a tendency towards alcoholism. Unfortunately, nobody can predict until you try that first glass.
Who says money is the ultimate goal of life? It isn’t. You will find out when the time is right.
One of life’s goals is the ability to understand human nature and raise a fellow being from rock bottom to becoming a useful member of society. We all lose a few battles in our lives, but we can win the war.
There’s always hope.
Let the conversation begin…
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This collection published 2017
Copyright © Sudha Murty 2017
The moral right of the author has been asserted
Jacket images © Neelima P Aryan
This digital edition published in 2017.
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Sudha Murty, Three Thousand Stitches
Three Thousand Stitches by Sudha Murty / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes