Baby is chattering away busily, about kaala dhan, the now demonetised currency notes, the queues at the ATMs. But her husband Shyam Sunder Chaudhary, 40, seems inattentive. She pauses, and blushes as he tells her something in a series of eye movements and fluttering eyelids. She tucks a single strand of hair that’s on her face behind her ear. “Abhi theek hai?” Baby asks. Shyam lets out a small approving giggle.
Nobody else understands the special language between the husband and the wife. Baby, 36, wasn’t sure herself in 2008 whether she would be able to communicate with her husband again.
Then 32, Shyam was returning home on foot from the packaging unit of Vile Parle’s biscuit factory when a taxi exploded on the Western Express Highway.
He sustained injuries to his shoulder, head and hand. At home, in the Sambhaji Nagar slum adjoining the highway, the explosion rattled homes and nerves.
“Shyam called me himself and said he was injured in the blast. He said he was being taken to Cooper Hospital,” says Baby. When she rushed to the hospital, she saw his name on the list of the dead. She remembers the horrible prospect of having to identify Shyam from a pile of dead bodies.
She finally found him in a ward, shoulder and arm barely attached to the body. He was wheeled in for surgery. But ten days later, the wound appeared infected.
The Vile Parle taxi explosion was on account of a bomb left behind by two terrorists who hailed a cab from Badhwar Park in Cuffe Parade, but by the time police began to line up witnesses for the trial, Shyam had lost his memory. In March 2009, he was paralysed, needed a tube for feeding. He began to address Baby as ‘mummy’. “When he lost his memory, he started imitating our children,” she says. Shyam lets out another giggle hearing this.
Things began to look up in 2010 when a new treatment regime in a Pune healthcare centre began to show results. “Many of our friends gave up on us, on him, but I never gave up. I was determined that he would recover. And he has, to a great extent,” says Baby.
During the treatment, the family faced tremendous financial hardships, for Shyam had been the sole breadwinner. “We received help from many corners, including philanthropists and politicians, but all of it was spent on the treatment with little left for day-to-day expenses,” says Baby.
A matriculate, she couldn’t find a job until she was hired as a security guard in 2014, her first ever job.
Meanwhile, with Shyam regaining his memory, things changed at home. “We decided not to shed any more tears,” says Baby. “He cannot move and talk but he understands everything and has his memory back. We can’t thank life enough.”
Getting a job also gave her financial freedom and dignity. “Since I took up the job, we haven’t been dependent on anybody for money,” she says. With the children’s education taken care of by a charitable trust and Baby’s salary of Rs 10,000 a month, the family makes do.
Today, when Shyam speaks to Baby, not even their children Varun and Shikha or his septuagenarian mother understand. And Shyam doesn’t hide his delight at the surprise their communication evokes.
He can partly move his left shoulder even though his limbs have wasted. “The pain too has subsided and he doesn’t wail any more,” says Baby, who cleans and feeds Shyam every day before leaving for work. “We have sprung back from absolute misery,” says Baby.
Varun, who recently returned from a school trip to Manali, sits by his father and tells him about the journey. He is in Class X.
Shikha, in Class VII, was only two years old in November 2008. She now lives with her maternal uncle in Virar and visits often. Both are fairly good students, according to Baby who says her only focus now is her children’s education.
Speaking about the ‘no-more-tears’ policy within the two-storey shanty in Sambhaji Nagar, Baby says, “I know that if we shed tears, he will feel helpless and be worried. So we don’t cry over the incident.”