THIS IS a salute to a friend and colleague. He lives yet, as mere breath goes, but his spirit is beyond the reach of human knowledge. Any minute now, the doctors say, his tenuous hold on life will cease.
Four weeks ago, this column shared with readers the story of Tusha Mittal, 27, and Tarun Sehrawat, 22, two TEHELKA reporters who had contracted ravaging fevers while on a field trip into the Maoist stronghold of Abujmarh, deep in the heart of tribal Chhattisgarh. Tusha, gratefully, has recovered and is well. But Sehrawat seems lost to us. His jubilant young body was hit by a deadly mix of cerebral malaria, typhoid and jaundice, all at the same time. This did not just affect him; it maraudered him. Four Sundays ago, there seemed no logical reason why he should survive, but survive he did, pulling back with youthful will from impossible odds, pulling back from scavenged liver, lungs, kidney, brain and a coma. A few days ago, he was breathing on his own again, taking baby steps, sipping tea. A miracle of science and human will. The first thing he asked for when he regained consciousness was his camera. His return to office seemed just a month away.
And then, the unthinkable happened. On Sunday, 10 June, suddenly, inexplicably, Sehrawat was hit again. His brain began to haemorrhage acutely. A massive lesion shut down the right side of his body. By Monday, moving invincibly like a nuclear cloudburst, 80 percent of his brain was gone. Everything known to modern medicine has been done for Sehrawat, but it appears the boy we knew is no more.
This morning, there was a call from Sehrawat’s father. Ranbir Bhaiya has not stepped out of the super-speciality hospital his son is in from the moment he was admitted. He has held his spot outside the ICU, willing his child back to health. On Monday though, as we stood silently looking at the CT scans, with the surety of a father’s heart, he knew the cold truth. In one last desperate bid, he had said very quietly then in Hindi, “If we have to face danger, we must face it completely. Please tell the doctors they should cut open his skull if necessary. There’s no problem. I’m willing to give any part of my brain if needed.”
The dignity and impenetrable grace of Ranbir Bhaiya’s hope and grief has been both an ache and a lesson these past few weeks. Throughout the rollercoaster ride of positive signs and setbacks — and this last crushing blow — not once has his voice been raised in self-pitying despair or recrimination against fate. He is testimony, if there ever was one, that life and death is always and only to be taken on the chin.
This morning, with his child a shadow waiting to leave, reaching into deep reserves within himself, Ranbir Bhaiya had called to say he had decided to authorise a biopsy. “I know now we can’t get him back,” he said in his quiet way, “but I want other families to benefit from what happened to us. I want the doctors to investigate his brain and increase their understanding.” He also wanted to sign permissions for organ donation, if his son’s were fit enough to donate.
Young Sehrawat has always been a volunteer for life, hungry for adventure and experience. Honouring that even in tragedy, the father wanted every atom of him to be a tribute to human positivity.
Ranbir Bhaiya was once a driver. In the dark years of TEHELKA’s history, while an assassination threat hung over TEHELKA Editor Tarun Tejpal, it was Ranbir who escorted his daughters to school and back, his tall strapping loyalty a greater source of comfort than any police detail could have been. When Ranbir’s own sons came of age, they were absorbed into TEHELKA. Polished young men, they were not just the promise of the father’s life; they embody the promise of human capacity. Arun Sehrawat, tall, good-looking, works in TEHELKA’s IT department; Tarun Sehrawat, fearless and very gifted, was our staff photographer.
To lose Sehrawat to a story is a heartbreak beyond the surface reach of words. I have wished several times these past few weeks that we had never attempted the trip to Abujmarh. But to persist with that thought is a bigger betrayal of who Sehrawat was than the lesions in his brain have been. And while his breath still lingers, against reason, an atom in all of us still hopes for another miracle.
Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka.