“‘Are you sure, Rhea?’ asks my mother. ‘Of course I’m. Survival of the fittest, mother. I’m not going against Darwin. Also I don’t want unnecessary scars on my body.’ It’s a known fact that we are all born to die. And frankly, I don’t understand why it has to be made into such a big deal. If it were not for my mother I would have said that to the bunch of people outside my house, some of them with young kids, shouting slogans, waving placards, literally wanting me to cut one of my beating hearts out. “Save A Life. Donate!” they shout. For someone who is one in billions, 7.125 billion to be exact, I expect to be treated better. Scientists are still befuddled regarding my condition that gave me two hearts in my mother’s womb. But years of research and sticking needles into me have led them nowhere, and they have labelled me as a freak mutation. It’s so rare – literally one in all humankind – that they didn’t even name the anomaly (as they call it, I will call it awesomeness). I wanted to name the condition myself, something on the lines of Rhea’s Heartsawesome but the doctors aren’t thrilled with the suggestion. Instead they want to cut one of them out and save a life. Huh? An IQ of 180, increased concentration, exceptional athleticism and a phenomenal metabolism rate – are just the few boring benefits of an increased blood circulation. Why would I ever give that up?”
This was the first journal entry of Rhea Singhania. In the past 21 years she never wrote a journal, she never needed to. But in the last few months, life has taken such a drastic turn that she wanted to chronicle it.
Rhea has always been the pride to her parents. An exceptionally brilliant student and also a brilliant hockey player. She holds the record for being the All India topper in both class 10 and class 12 CBSE board exams and also for being the youngest player to get selected to the state women’s hockey team. One of the star students of St. Joseph’s College, Bangalore. Her life was as normal as any 21-year old college girl, until five months back.
Rhea had met with an accident during a tournament. MRI tests revealed that she has two hearts. That’s when she became a guinea pig to the scientists at the St. John’s Research Institute. Several doctors swarmed to her, all wanted to know what caused this anomaly. No logic worked in her case. During the first week, she loathed to show herself at the institute. But from the second week, she had been looking forward to going to the institute. That’s because she had started to like somebody at the institute- Rahul Malhotra, a 1st year PhD student who had then joined the team of analysts who were studying her.
But they didn’t meet, as you would expect, at the institute for the first time. They met at “Loft 38” pub. Rahul was enjoying his graduation while Rhea and her cousins were on a usual Saturday night out. There was something about Rhea’s aura that made her recognizable in a crowd. That had what caught Rahul’s eyes. She wasn’t acting any different. She, like the other 300 or so people in the pub, was dancing to the DJ’s music, oblivious to the staring eyes. Until then, Rahul was in no mood of dancing, despite his friends’ pestering. But the very sight of Rhea made him leave his seat and walk to her. “Excuse me, miss, May I have the privilege of dancing with you?” Rhea’s cousin brothers turned protective. Instead she nodded consent.
Both of them had the dance of their lives, they had just met but they danced as if they’ve known for ages. As they called it a night, they walked out on opposite paths, not expecting to meet again. But destiny had some plan else. They met again the next day.
Rahul, a cardiology specialist, was one of the first ones to apply for assisting senior doctors at St. John’s Research Institute who were studying the “Girl with two hearts”. That day was his first day at the institute. Rhea, as usual, didn’t want to show up at the “slaughter house” (that’s what she named the institute). But her father (he’s a cardiologist too), literally dragged her. The moment she entered the examination room, she was quite surprised to see Rahul there. “He doesn’t look like a doctor at all”, Rhea told herself in her head. Rahul too was speechless, for a while, on seeing her. As she walked into the room, he said, “So, you are the miracle girl with two hearts, Miss … Singhania, right? Daughter of famous cardiologist Dr. Indravadhan Singhania?” “The name’s Rhea. And thanks to “Dr.” Singhania that I’ve been made a guinea pig.” “But I should be thankful, since it’s because of him, indirectly, that I’m on the journey of achieving my PhD.” She stared at him, expressionless, expressing disapproval. “Sorry. By the way, my name’s Rahul Malhotra, naam toh suna hi hoga.” “Don’t even make the effort of trying to be cheesy, it doesn’t suit”, she replied in a no- nonsense, matter of fact manner. “Ha ha” responded Rahul, trying to calm down the atmosphere, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Rhea” then saying softly, “again”. “I’d prefer only Rhea, no “miss” nonsense. As far as this meeting with you is concerned, whether it’s a pleasure or not, I’ll decide at the end of the day” “As you wish”
Rhea didn’t feel so comfortable before at the institute, with stern looking old doctors around. Rahul, with his mere presence, seemed to have changed the entire atmosphere. The day went by like a breeze. Later in the evening, walking in the campus towards the exit gate, “So what’s your verdict about this meeting of ours?” Rahul said, breaking the silence. “Hmm… well… I should admit it was a pleasure meeting you, Dr. Rahul” “Oh, only Rahul, please”. Rhea, chuckling a little, “Okay, only Rahul, nice to meet you”, she forwarded her hand to him. He took it with a friendly shake.
They met every alternate week at the institute. Every time after all the tests for the day were done, they would sit back for long hours chatting. They became friends and in no time they became more than friends. From fortnightly the meetings became almost a daily cycle. In the evenings they would either be found at Indiranagar or Kormangala or Whitefield. They would loath the day. Rhea would wait for the clock to strike four, when college would be over for the day. She could concentrate neither in class nor during hockey practice. Rahul seemed to play in her mind on a nonstop loop. It’s not one sided, mind you. Even Rahul would be caught every now and then, day dreaming. He too would wait for his work hours to get over so that he could relax for the day over coffee or beer with her. All was going well except that they hadn’t confessed their feelings to one another.
Rhea had lost all hope that Rahul would ever proposition to her. So she decided to take the first step. Rhea and her friends decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Goa. She invited Rahul as well, who somehow managed to get a leave for three days, citing family problems. She planned everything- bonfire, music, barbeque and a secret, quiet place for her THE moment. Thankfully, everything proceeded as planned.
When all her friends got occupied with the bonfire and the games and their PDA’s with their respective partners, she quietly pulled Rahul out to her secret place. Surprisingly, before she could say anything, he told, “It’s been three months that we’ve been hanging out, but I couldn’t say that I love you a lot. I won’t deny that there had been other girls in my life but never before did I feel so earnestly for anyone. With you, I get to be myself, not even a pinch of pretense. And you’ve never thought twice before giving me my space. You’ve been so understanding…” “Rahul,” she interrupted, smiling, “you aren’t presenting your thesis and I am not one of ‘Hitlers’ of the ‘slaughter house’, okay?” He laughed meekly, “The ultimate point is that I love you a lot, baby.” She was about to confess that she loved him too, that’s when she remembered something that she had forgotten due to the past three months of excitement, that for a long time she had loved her best friend, Lolita, which she never confessed thinking how the latter would react to her homosexual instincts. But if she loved Lolita then how could she fall for Rahul? It’s not that she had fallen out of love with the former, she felt the same relief when Lolita hugged her tight whenever she felt low and wanted to cry out loud. Nothing could remain a secret from her; even at that moment, Rhea wanted to go running to her telling her about Rahul’s proposition— but Rahul was a secret that she managed to keep from Lolita till then. Rahul noticed her anxiety. “What’s wrong? You don’t look good. Did I do something?” he asked. “No no, you did nothing. It’s just…” she responded guiltily, “Could you wait here for a while, I’ll be back in a moment.” “Yeah, sure.”
She went out to the beach. She was confused. She had no clue what was happening to her. She closed her eyes and placed her hands on her heart. She could listen to both her hearts beating. She realized that perhaps her anatomical anomaly was responsible for this emotional mix-up. But she had to talk to Lolita before she could say anything to Rahul, Lolita had been her friend since kindergarten, she had been one of the strong pillars of her life, she could no longer keep the secret. She went running, looking for Lolita. She found her at the terrace, after one of their friends claimed to have seen her going that way. But Lolita wasn’t alone, she was with a boy, and they were making out. She couldn’t believe what she saw. She was so shocked that she didn’t even realize when the name “Lolo” (Lolita’s nickname given by her) escaped her mouth, loud enough for the couple to hear. They immediately faced her. The boy was none other than Vikram, one of Rhea’s cousins. Getting over the shock, she said, “What’s all this happening? Are you both drunk?” “Chotu, I can explain…” Vikram began but Lolita interrupted him, saying, “I’ll handle this.” Pulling Rhea aside, she said, “Rims, I wanted to tell you all about this but I feared about how you would react to my dating your brother.” “When did all this begin?” Rhea asked. “Since last year.” “And I know now, that too not from any of you.” “I know you’re angry, I feared this reaction itself. It’s natural. I can understand.” Rhea lost all control at this, “You think your dating my brother is bothering me? No God damn it. What has shattered me is that the person I loved with all my heart loves somebody else”. “What do you mean?” “Nothing. You won’t understand.” And she ran off. She didn’t stop running until she could find Rahul. She hugged him tight and cried her heart out. “Why are you crying?” he said with a worried tone. “Nothing.” “Nothing? Here you’re crying and you’re saying nothing? What’s that supposed to mean?” She looked up at him and all she could say, “I love you” and she kissed him. Gradually she calmed down. The rest of the night felt like a dream. She didn’t want to open her eyes.
But she did open her eyes and life happened…
It has been a month since the night at Goa.
Rhea wakes up with a sharp pain in her chest pain. She calls out to her mother. She says, “Don’t worry, it must be acidity, take a Ranitidine, it will subside in some time.” “No Ma, this cannot be because of mere acidity, it seems something more severe”, she groans with pain, “give me my phone, I’ll call the doctor.” Rahul calls her immediately to the institute. Dr. Singhania is presently at New York for some medical conference. Mrs. Singhania has no other choice but to take Rhea to the institute herself.
After checking Rhea, Rahul says to her mother, “Ma’am, one of Rhea’s heart has stopped working all of a sudden, and her body is slowly rejecting it, that’s why the pain. We need to operate her immediately.” “But weren’t you checking on her? What have you been all this while? How couldn’t you detect it earlier and treated it?” asked Mrs. Singhania, going frantic with anxiety. “I’m really sorry, somehow it got undetected.” “You’re a doctor, how can you afford to be irresponsible?” “I’m very sorry about it ma’am but we’ve got no time for arguments, we’ve got to take an action as soon as possible.” “OK, fine, go ahead”
She opens her eyes to see that the day has passed by. The hospital is eerily silent which means it’s around midnight. The nurse on-duty exits from the washroom, seeing her walk up to her and says, with my guilty, worried face, “I’m so sorry this has happened to you.” “It’s okay sister, what to do if one of my hearts has stopped working”, Rhea weakly replies “No, your heart was perfectly fine”, the nurse exclaims. “What are you saying, sister?” “Yes, the doctor tricked you into surgery to sell one of your hearts and now he ran away.” “What nonsense! Rahul wouldn’t do such a thing, why the hell are you concocting stories?” Rhea retorts angrily. “I am not lying, the entire hospital knows about it. The staff members who helped him are already held in custody. I heard your father is coming here tomorrow morning.”
The next day, St. John’s Hospital sees a series of events, Dr. Singhania sues the culprits who got caught, and pleads for a search team to catch hold of Dr. Rahul Malhotra to the police who immediately starts questioning the hospital staffs and also Rhea. Rhea is emotionally broken. The person she has had whole-heartedly loved, literally tore away one of her hearts and escaped just for some money. Did he come into her life only for this? She asked herself.
A month later, “Why are you doing this? Your father will sort this matter out.” Mrs. Singhania says to Rhea as she heads towards the departure gate at the airport with Vikram. “I have to go, Ma. He has some answering to do. Wherever in San Francisco he is, I will find that Richard D’souza aka Rahul Malhotra.”