Poet, Author, Editor, Creative Writing Consultant

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Heart on Fire

One cold winter morning, this experience set my heart on fire, and the flame will burn within me as long as I live.

It happened just around this time, the time of Christmas and good cheer, when people are lighting fires and drinking warm things to banish the cold of the world outside and some of the darkness that visits everyone inside their hearts on lonely winter nights.

I was in Berlin in a hospital, and recovering slowly from an illness that had almost taken my life. The room was white and stark, well ordered and clean, gleaming like only hospital rooms can, since everything has to be germ-free. Outside the room the world gleamed under a weak winter sun and there was no snow. It was a surprising winter in Berlin when there was no snow, the first of its kind for many years. For the first time in many years too, there was sadness and loneliness in my heart. I was alone in a strange country, away from my loved ones, and my husband had yet to come, to be with me and hold my hand.

Any given day consisted of thermometers inserted under the arm to take temperature, injections pricked into skin for blood samples, the swallowing of prescribed pills, and the continuous visits of doctors and nurses. It was a non-stop if well-meant invasion of me and my time. I had to lie on my back and accept it all with good grace. I had just enough energy to be thankful for the care and attention being showered on me, the best of Indian hospitals lack this degree of concern. But the view outside was bleak, and though I am pretty spunky, I was feeling rather tearful, wondering when I would be home and enveloped in familiar warmth.

It was Christmas Eve, just like it is today, when early in the morning, my doctor walked in. She was a package deal in herself, but I found out all that much later when I got to know her better. On this day, she was just my doctor, dressed for Christmas with red lipstick on, black eyes snapping and her short hair gleaming. She smiled as she looked at me and said, “’ello, Abba.” That is how all of them pronounced my name and I had given up on the ‘h’ factor soon enough.

I smiled wanly. “Hi,” I said.

“And how are ‘du’ today?” she asked. She said the German ‘du’ instead of ‘you’, still it was close enough for me to understand. She was learning English and it embarrassed her no end to flail in front of me. So I did not correct her. Anyway, I was not up to it.

“Um…uh,” I said, not wanting to make a big deal of how I was feeling in front of her cheerfulness. She walked over to the window and ran a finger along the ledge to check. These doctors are finicky, very finicky. A smile almost crept along my mouth, they needed to come to India and smell the dust. And then my heart wrenched a bit more at the thought of my country.

She had a bright red coat on under her white doctor’s coat. I did tell you she was a package. She put her hands inside one of the pockets of the coat and took out a little white plastic flowerpot, the size of a tea cup. It was ridged. And in its centre there bloomed a single red star-shaped flower. I recognized this flower, but did not know its name. I found out later that it is called a poinsettia. She placed this flower pot on the window ledge.

“Merry Christmas, Abba,” she said, and her eyes crinkled.

Suddenly there was fire and warmth in the room, love and the sharing of it. I have not forgotten that flower, and it burns like a flame in my heart. It set my heart on fire that day and every time I looked at it, I knew I would return home.



  1. Wow, what a beautiful tale.. Yup, I too have some seemingly innocent objects that changed the course of my thinking and hence my life, they're extremely special pieces that others can't really comprehend the importance of but nevertheless remind me of certain unforgettable stages of my life..

    Beautiful tale, beautifully written, Abha :)

    Here's wishing u n urs a fabulous n prosperous New Year in 2012..

    New Year Abha :)

  2. Yes,I agree. Its small things such as this cute gesture that makes our lives special. Great read.

  3. Thanks, Raj. Wishes to you too for 2012.

  4. Hi Anupama,
    Thank you! Best wishes for the New Year.

  5. "every time I looked at it, I knew I would return home". That's such a beautiful statement. Fiery or not, its certainly very warm for sure.

    Nice anecdote madam.