The Heart and the Bottle – Dealing with death (Book Review)

As parents the greatest lesson we can teach our children is conceptualising loss and pain: from as trivial as losing a toy in school to losing someone dear to your life, because the inevitable cannot be fortified.


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I look around I look for you

I see many but no one like you

Smiling and tossing in the blue

Just like you always did just like you


There you are sitting on the chair

Fiddling with the spoon and the hair

I stretch my hand to touch you

And you move away just like always


You were not perfect nor was I

But together we made a perfect life

You completed me exactly right

But now I am broken, alone and trite


There is silence all around me

Miles of emptiness and despair

The smell, the touch, the sight

I try hard each day to put up a brave fight

Stuck in the Mud…

stuck in the mud

“She says she’s fine but she’s going insane. She says she feels good but she’s in a lot of pain. She says it’s nothing but it’s really a lot. She says she’s okay but really she’s not.”


The only sign of life was the constant beeping of the bedside monitor showing the vital signs of life. Beside the monitor sat a tired looking Vikram. Stressful days, sleepless nights and the frequent occurrences of Maya’s periods of elation and hyper-activity had taken a toll on his youthful looking forever smiling face. It was in one of those periods of elation that Maya had just walked into the river when Vikram was busy playing a game of volleyball with his friends. It was the just the view of the finger tips that Vikram noticed when he went to pick up the stray ball that had rolled beside the river bank. Maya’s wedding ring had picked up a ray of the sun and gave a last cry for help before sinking. Vikram at once had jumped into the icy cold waters of the river and had pulled out a pale looking Maya who was almost on the verge of drowning.

Maya had spent dazed days and disturbed nights after the death of her baby. It had been almost a year since then. The once vivacious Maya had become the quiet one; her infectious energy and zeal for life had eroded away; the copious smile had disappeared. She was always engrossed in deep thoughts. She would often talk differently as if she was looking at the world from the haze of a veil. She would spend hours criss-crossing her food idly on her plate on the dinner table; occasionally looking up to listen to Vikram’s stories of the day; try hard to concentrate; try even harder; fail; and resume the criss-crossing. The days would be no different. Often she would not go to work. The headaches kept on coming back. Previously she used to get those headaches only in the afternoons when it was very hot but these days they have been coming back at every odd and even hour. Whenever she was at home Maya would just lie down on the bed or sit on the chair in her study, fold her legs, pull them close to her and gaze out of the window; looking at the birds on the trees chirping merrily.

“What are they so happy about?” she would think. “Why am I not happy? Where is my baby? Why do all the bad things happen to me?”

“Are you okay Maya?”

Maya looked up and saw an anxious looking Vikram.

“Oh yes I am fine.” She said smilingly.

“What were you thinking Maya? And look you have spilled your tea.”

Maya looked down on the floor. She could see her life in the spilled milk. Meaningless lines going towards meaningless destinations.

“Maya what’s the matter? Why are you so lost? Are you okay?”

“I am fine Vikram; just a bit tired and having a headache.”

“These Migrane attacks have increased oflate Maya; are you sure you do not want to see a doctor?”

“I will lie down a while. They will go away. Don’t worry.”

Vikram knew all was not well with Maya. She has been lost since she had lost their child. What a mother goes through when she loses her child is beyond the realm of imagination of a man. A life she had nurtured within her and which had grown slowly inside her little by little every-day is incomprehensible in words. A bond so strong that started even before it came into this world. Vikram had assumed that resuming work would help Maya get over the loss, but things worsened. Often Maya forgot to disembark the bus and miss her stop; she would walk over the edge of the window and stoop out precariously; she would forget to eat her meals for the entire day; sometimes she would just walk out of the office and sit on the middle of the road staring blankly at the honking traffic dangerously swishing past her; and most of the times Maya would just sit in the corner of her cabin, fold her legs, bury her face in the circle of her hands and cry. Vikram would often receive a frantic call from Maya’s boss asking him to take her home. After every urgent call for help from Maya’s office, after every psychotic episode of Maya, Vikram hoped Maya’s condition would change; he hoped that the emptiness and the desperation that Maya felt after the loss would eventually be filled and Maya would come out of it one day; he just hoped and prayed for the day to come soon.

It was a frigid winter afternoon when Vikram received yet another distressed call from Maya’s boss.

“Vikram you need to come to the office immediately.”

“What is the matter? Is Maya alright? Is she crying again? Is she having her panic attacks once again?”

“Vikram Maya is in the terrace walking dangerously on the edge. All our pleas have been falling on deaf ears. It is like she is in a different world altogether. We just don’t know what to do. Vikram please you need to rush, please.”

The call ended and Vikram looked stunned at the phone.

“Are you ready for the presentation Vikram?”

Vikram looked up and saw his boss barging inside his room. He stopped as he saw the distraught Vikram staring creepily at his cell-phone.

“Vikram are you alright? Is everything okay? Is Maya alright?” he asked.

Maya’s condition wasn’t a secret anymore given the number of times Vikram had to rush out of busy meetings and important presentations just to reach her on time.

“I have to go Sushil, Maya is in trouble. I can’t lose her. I have lost my child but I can’t lose her. I have to go.”

Vikram rushed out of his cabin even before his boss could say or ask anything.

When Vikram reached the terrace of Maya’s office building he saw Maya sitting on the edge, her feet dangling and she looking up at the clouds, talking; sometimes smiling; sometimes raising her hands and calling someone; sometimes hugging herself or someone she was imagining.

“Maya” Vikram said.

Maya turned around as she heard Vikram’s voice and smiled. The smile that had vanished from Maya’s pretty face since the baby died, the smile that Vikram loved so much, the smile that would make all troubles vanish from Vikram’s life, the smile of Maya, Vikram’s Maya.

“Hi Vikram, what are you doing here? Oh look our baby has started walking. It is almost a year isn’t it. I was worried why she isn’t walking. But look now she has. I always get worried so much.” Maya said.

“Maya you need to hold my hand and get down from there.”

“But Vikram my baby wants me to sit here and wait till she reaches me.” Maya said.

“Why don’t you come to me and we both can wait together for her.” Vikram said.

Maya looked at Vikram and then her baby, she rose up a bit, stopped, looked at her baby again, looked at Vikram, rose up again, reached for Vikram’s hand and came down from the edge. Vikram hugged Maya tightly. Maya closed her eyes and fainted in his arms.

That was the day when Vikram decided that Maya needs medical help. He could not risk her life once again. He even hired a nurse to be with Maya all the time. Maya was too precious for Vikram and he needed to protect her. Vikram knew the loss of the baby had been an irreparable tragedy for Maya and Maya was unable to get out of it even after a year. He knew he had to see a doctor and seek medical help. Maya was depressed, dangerously depressed.

“How are you feeling today Maya?” The doctor asked.

It was the second week since Maya’s therapy sessions began. Vikram literally had to fight with Maya to convince her to take the therapy. Day by day Maya’s condition was deteriorating. One day Maya had left home for work but never turned up. Her boss had called up Vikram to enquire about her health. It was then Vikram learnt that Maya hasn’t shown up for work although she had left home in the morning citing urgent work that needed to be finished in her office. In fact there was a very important corporate presentation that she had to make that day. Her company was about to seal a deal with a large multinational company and her presentation was crucial.

Vikram frantically started making calls on Maya’s cell-phone to check on her. But every-time he ended up in the voicemail service. He called all her friends to check whether she had secretly planned some-day out with one of them. But everyone was busy on a weekday. Vikram rushed to Sushil’s cabin and barged inside bulldozing the meeting Sushil was having.

“Sushil I need to rush home. Maya hasn’t turned up for work although she had left home in the morning for the same. I am unable to reach her on her cell-phone. I just need to check whether she has returned home or not?”

Having said whatever he needed to say to his boss, Vikram rushed out of his office and was soon on his way home. Just before the final turn of the lane that ended right in front of his bungalow, Vikram caught sight of Maya, sitting under a tree playing with a doll. He jumped out of the car and ran towards Maya.

“Maya are you okay? Why aren’t you answering your phone? Why are you not at work? You had an important presentation to make today what happened?

Vikram threw a barrage of questions at Maya. But Maya continued playing with her doll.

“Why are you playing with a doll Maya?” Vikram asked.

“Are you insane Vikram? This is not a doll, this is my baby. Look how big she has grown. Look at her eyes, they look just like you. She has even started walking.” Maya snapped without even looking at Vikram.

Vikram was speechless. He wasn’t sure what to say. Instead of going for work, Maya had walked into a toy store and bought herself a doll that she saw as her baby, her lost baby.

“I feel trapped.” Maya told her doctor finally after a conspicuous silence of about 10 min.

“Why do you feel trapped Maya?” The doctor asked.

“Because I am unable to go to my baby. My baby has started walking; she keeps on falling down and cries a lot; she gets hurt; I want to hold her; I want to cuddle her; I want to kiss her. But I am unable to do anything. She is there right in front of me but I am unable to touch her. She is crying so much; blood is coming out from her wound; my baby is in lot of pain and I am unable to help her. Why am I here? What a bad mother I am? Oh my baby my poor little baby!”

Before Maya could even finish saying, she got up and walked towards the window. Vikram jumped and caught hold of her; brought her back as she tried jostling her way out of his firm grip on her shoulders. The doctor had to give her a sedative to calm her down. It was the same case each time Maya and Vikram attended the therapy sessions. Maya grew violent after sometime and had to be administered a sedative to calm her nerves. She would then sleep for about an hour. Then she would wake up as normal and energetic as she always was. She never remembered the psychotic periods.

“What is the whole point living when we are going to die eventually?” said Maya in one of the sessions.

It had been 6 months since Maya started her therapies and almost 2 years since the death of her baby.

“Why do you want to die Maya? You have a great career; you have a loving husband, you have money, power, status; everything. You have everything that we seek for in our lives. Then why are you not happy and why do you want to die,” asked the doctor. “You know Maya it is very important to appreciate life because we really do not know what might happen the next moment and everything changes in a blink of an eye.” He continued.

“There is a funeral going on in my brain,” Maya said. “I have no reason to be happy. This life is a trap for me. It is a trap that is separating me from my baby. What is the point living without my baby. I just want to do less, think less and live less. Without my baby living this life is worthless and meaningless.” Maya said as she again got up and tried to wiggle her way from Vikram towards the open window.

The session again had the familiar ending and Maya woke up smiling and vivacious as ever; as if nothing had happened; no visible sign of any emotional struggle and pain.

It was the New Year’s Eve and Maya and Vikram had planned a pre-new year bash at their home. All of their friends and colleagues were invited. There was a smoking barbeque at a corner with Sushil, Vikram’s boss roasting some chicken. The boys were busy playing a game of volleyball and the girls were enjoying Madhav’s jokes. Madhav was Maya’s brother.

Maya suddenly saw her baby walking by the river bank that flowed beside their house surrounded by a patch of woodland. Maya got up and started walking towards her. She wanted to play in the water and wanted her mother to join her. Maya was very happy that day. Her baby was walking all by herself without any help. Her tiny footsteps made little prints on the sand. Maya followed the footprints that vanished into the water. Oh she was having so much fun; her little baby was so happy; splashing the water; cackling and making bubbles with her mouth. “Oh my baby; my Pinky Pie, my darling!!” Maya thought as she waded through the water following her baby.

Born Still but Still Born

As the curtain flew by Maya saw people in pertinent haste. Among all these haste she caught a sneak glimpse of her nervous looking husband, Vikram.

A calm disposition in front hid a sea of contemplations behind. The constant popping of the knuckles was bearing witness to it.

It was the second time in 35 years she had been inside a doctor’s cabin and a first since her 8 years of marriage. Maya remembered how much it had hurt when she had fallen from her bicycle trying to ride it the very first time. Father had told her to wait in front of the gate as he went inside to grab his coat. The bright pink bicycle with its spotless white basket in front was too tempting to resist even for a moment. So Maya had set out on her own. In her excitement she had forgotten to notice the approaching motorcycle of her childhood crush. One forward thrust on the pedal and she was face to face with Nayan. The ‘eyeconic’ moment enthralled her from the reality and her inexperience as she missed a heartbeat she missed the pedal too. The slope of the dune in front of her gate caught her off-guard and she fell. There were approximately four stiches on her chin as it had found a stone nearby to dash itself into during the fall. The only annihilation to the agonising pain was the gentle touch of Nayan. Ah! Time stood still as the eyes met and his fingers touched her face and his lips said, “Are you alright?” “Never been better” she desperately wanted to say; but the excruciating pain on her chin and the silent reprimanding eyes of her father for flouting his orders made her decide against the affirmative.

Time had been the greatest healer since the bitter breakup with Nayan. Maya had found solace on the shoulders of Vikram. The only person who had pulled her back from the darkest of hours and helped her in regaining a grip on her life. He had been her constant friend, philosopher and guide. And marrying him was the greatest gift she could ever give herself.

Maya was shattered as she finished reading the message on Vikram’s cell phone. She did not want to, it was a mistake; a mistake which cost her peace of mind and invited an endless surge of sleepless nights. The constant bickering of her in laws and her parents for having a child added to the miseries. They had been ranting the same tune ever since their marriage entered the third year and which they both conveniently ignored. But even Vikram succumbed to the incessant pleas for a child. He also started to think that after 5 years into the marriage it was time for them to start a family. Maya had rebutted all these proposals as she was finally having a high flying career she had always dreamt of. The endless corporate presentations, the paparazzi chasing her for an interview, it was too much to let go. But now it seemed the only option left for Maya to hold on to her failing marriage.

Her eyes swelled up as she checked the home pregnancy test calculator. The flow of the seconds as the double pink stripes appeared were the longest in Maya’s life. It had been 3 years since Vikram and Maya have been trying for a child; and three years since Maya had seen the message on Vikram’s cell phone. She had been silent on the matter with Vikram who was growing apart with each passing day. It was then Maya decided on trying for a baby, at last. Her only hope, to give in to the growing child demands, to save her sinking ship.

The baby had suddenly stopped moving as Maya woke up on a cloudy Sunday morning. It was pretty unusual for her baby to be sleeping at this hour. It was usually awake even before Maya started her day. Infact it’s the constant kicking that wakes her up from her sleep. “It must have tired itself from all those constant movements and the incessant kicks”, Maya thought. She finished the early morning chores and sat down with a cup of herbal tea. She never liked tea; she had always been a coffee fan. But her pregnancy was the most desired one and she could not risk it with her quest for caffeine. But the only recourse to her craving for a hot cup of beverage was the herbal tea and she settled for it. The baby hadn’t kicked yet. It has been almost two hours since she had woken up from the bed. As she took the final sip, Vikram walked into the room rubbing his sleepy, droopy eyes. He saw a worried look on Maya’s face and sat down. “What is wrong Maya?” Vikram asked gently putting his hands on Maya’s shoulder. The touch rattled Maya from her deep concerned thoughts about her baby. She looked up at Vikram with eyes slowly swelling up and said, “The baby hasn’t moved since morning Vikram. I am worried. I do not know what to do. I thought it must be sleeping and will wake up as I sit down on the chair with my tea and start kicking up and down. But it hasn’t Vikram, and it’s almost 2 hours now”. “It must be still sleeping Maya. I am sure everything is fine in there. Don’t worry.” Vikram said. The kind re-assuring words were falling on deaf ears as Maya resumed her thoughts. “Let’s go Maya”, Vikram said as he started pulling her. “Let’s go to the doctor and get you checked.” Maya always wondered how Vikram knew exactly what she thought, how he knew her so well and how much dependent she was on him emotionally. “I need to change, Vikram”, Maya said quickly giving in to the haste. “No time to change Maya, let’s go. No one will look at the way you have dressed inside the maternity ward.” It had been quite some time since Vikram had been so concerned about her. The busy daily schedule, the diminishing amount of time they spent together, and the appearance of another woman in Vikram’s life had taken a toll on their happy marriage and an even longer friendship. But at this moment it seemed that everything had annihilated into thin air; the painful nights; the endless loop of squabbles of accusations and victimisations, all gone.

The expression on the nurse’s face changed as Maya stopped talking. She immediately picked up the phone and dialled the gynaecologist’s number. “You have to come immediately Dr Sharma, it is an emergency”. The word ‘emergency’ struck the wrong notes with Maya and Vikram. They looked at each other and then at the nurse and asked, “Is everything alright?” “We need to get you inside the observation room immediately”, she said without even looking up.

As the gynaecologist put her hand on Maya’s right shoulder, she almost jumped out of the steel stretcher where she was sitting while engrossed in her thoughts. The memories of the past had come flowing almost immediately and inundated her from within. Days which had been spent consciously avoiding each other’s presence and nights spent in the pretext of work, life had come full circle with Maya. There were endless times when she had felt she had been transported back to the dark days after her break up with Nayan which had left her devastated. The passage of the days to weeks and months seemed like an illusion. Life had stopped having a meaning. Aimless days and sleepless nights were the only trusted aides. But the announcement of this pregnancy and this baby had brought her life back into track. Maya had slowly realised the importance of Vikram in her life and had started to cherish him. The gentle touches that had been taken for granted previously were moments she yearned for. The little ‘chai time’ moments in the morning, the dining together at the nights and the short strolls afterwards were like little drops of happiness; drops which Maya wanted to catch and keep inside a box lest she might lose them again. And these moments of happiness and this renewed closeness was due to this baby, their baby. It was the little flickering light in their lives which was holding them together and not letting them and their marriage fall apart. It was her only ray of hope which Maya desperately wanted in her life.

“Please lie down on your back and hold your breath. Do not stiff your body; just relax. It might hurt a bit but do not worry not much. We need to check on the baby physically as we are unable to find a heart-beat.” The gynaecologist’s last few words kept on resounding in Maya’s ears, “unable to find a heart-beat…”

The words that are dreaded by a mother; the worst nightmares; that would wreak havoc in Maya’s life were finally said to her. “I am sorry Maya, but your baby is dead”!

Maya was too shocked to react. A pale Vikram lifted her hand gently and cupped it. Maya turned towards Vikram with a bewildered look on her face and started at him blankly. The flurry of emotions within her had left her delirious. She wasn’t sure what to say.

“Maya, we will have to induce labour pain into you. Are you ready for it?” The gynaecologist asked Maya. “We need to get it out of your body. It might take some-time for the labour pain to happen. So if you want you can go home and come back when you are in labour or you can wait in the hospital. It is up to you to decide.”

“I will wait”. The only words that Maya could manage to say; words that drained her completely. She still hoped that the doctor was wrong and her baby was just sleeping, safe inside her womb. The last straw that Maya was holding onto; a bleak chance that might help her baby to survive; her only prospect of happiness in her shattered life.

As Maya opened her eyes it took some time to jostle her way back to reality. As her eyes and her mind familiarised to the surroundings, Maya saw Vikram sitting beside her on a chair with her hand safely clutched. The last thing Maya remembered was the immense pain that had left her drained out completely. She had given the final push hoping for the best.

It was neatly wrapped in a white fluffy towel; eyes closed; a serene expression on the pale pinkish face; the perfect red lips, the rosy cheeks, the flawless skin; it was perfect. Tiny little fingers touched Maya’s face as the doctor placed it on top of her and said, “It’s a girl Maya; hold her as long as you want; but you have to let her go.”

Tears rolled down as Maya pulled the tiny little motionless body closer to her face. Oh how she wished she could just hold her tight forever and keep her safe in her arms; Oh how she wished her little delicate eyes would open after the long sleep. “Oh Baby please wake up, please”, she wanted to say; she so desperately wanted to say!

Maya hoped for a miracle to happen; she hoped the God she always believed in could reinstate her faith. She just hoped and in this hope she gently whispered in her baby’s ears, “Hey pinky pie, how are you? I am your Mama. You have been sleeping way too long, come on get up now. Aren’t you hungry?

As she spoke to the lifeless body of her baby desperately expecting for a miracle, Vikram touched Maya’s shoulders gently, gave her a peck on her forehead and whispered almost silently, “I love you Maya, I always will and I am so sorry.” As the words rolled out from his mouth, Maya looked up at him quietly. As their eyes met Maya knew exactly what her baby meant for her and for them. Vikram slowly embraced her, Maya pressed her face deep inside his chest and they both cried, together, sometimes silently sometimes loudly; but every-time together. In her short stay, the little one had re-united them and brought them closer, for good.

Image Courtsey: Google images
Image Courtsey: Google images