She is a young, vivacious, pretty girl, bubbling over with health and joie de vivre. A small town girl, she’s remarkably independent, holds a job, pursues higher education in her free time and loves clicking selfies and sending them to me. I unfailingly get a WhatsApp message from her before I wake up every morning and just before I go to bed every night, wishing me good morning or good night. That she takes a lot of trouble trying to source nice images on the internet is evident because they are never repeated.

A few years ago…

Emaciated, weak, unwell, gasping for every breath, depressed and hopeless – this was that day’s image of the girl I have described above. I visited and spent about an hour with her, collecting information about her condition, because I was writing a collection of stories on people suffering from TB. She was an MDR-TB patient and was on a treatment regimen which was to last for over 24 months. The medication was toxic and the side-effects were so severe she found them difficult to bear; they also made her suicidal. In the course of our meeting, she took my telephone number from me. I gave it to her almost absently and forgot about it. I went back home and life continued as usual.

In the interim…

After I returned home, the girl continued to call me regularly. She seemed to have drawn some strength from our interaction and on days that she felt very low, she reached out to me. On these occasions, she sobbed, tiring out her frail body even more. She shared her anguish and pain with me. She sometimes shared that she felt like jumping into a pool of water because her body felt it was on fire (side effects of the drugs she was taking). I confess that while I always responded to her, my responses were sometimes tertiary, distracted ones. She would catch me while I was busy or just not in a mood to speak to anyone. But it didn’t matter to her. She knew I couldn’t really do anything for her, except listen. And that’s all she wanted.

Then, finally, one day she called with a lilt in her voice, “Ma’am, I’m cured. My doctor says I don’t need any more medicines! I have gained 10 kgs and weigh 45 kgs now,” she said happily. We both celebrated this moment. She thanked me for standing by her and giving her courage, when I had in reality done nothing. I had only listened, but to her tortured mind and body, it had made a difference.

Now again…

Even now, even after she is well, every morning, regardless of whether the sun shines, or the rains come down, her messages reach me. I read them; I respond sometimes, many times I don’t.She sends me photographs of hers which tell me she has regained her lovely looks. She still seems to feel the need to stay connected and doesn’t demand I respond. She’s happy just connecting.

Sounds familiar doesn’t it? I have often felt the need (I know most people do) to fill gaps in my life by connecting with people outside of my family, despite knowing they would be able to do nothing but listen. And like it was with my friend and me, the responses I got have been tertiary, distracted, or completely absent. But it was enough and I have felt comforted just opening out. That’s the way with people who reach out and those they are reaching out to. It’s almost always one-sided, and the need is always greater for the person who needs to reach out. But it helps to be available. It helps immensely.

So keep those lines open. You never know when someone’s going to need you! Just to listen!

Bharathi Ghanashyam



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