It all started with a hand-written note 13-year-old Shilna sent to Sudhakaran after reading his poem in a popular literary magazine. Sudhakaran, then a college student, was touched. He sent her a reply. But he had to wait for four years to lay hands on another letter from Shilna. Their epistolary interaction then became more frequent, and continued for five more years till they tied the knot in 2006. Sudhakaran was a journalist by then.
The couple had big plans, and worked towards it. Sudhakaran switched his profession and became a Malayalam lecturer at Brennen college, Thalassery, Kannur. Shilna also secured a job as a banker. They dreamed of having twin girls, and they had this wonderful pastime of coming up with names for the girls. But fate had evil designs. Sudhakaran died in a road accident on August 15, 2017, his life abruptly and cruelly snuffed out. But as Shilna demonstrated, true love trumps even death. She gave birth to Sudhakaran's twin girls in September 2018, a year after her partner left this world.
In a moving chat with Onmanorama, Shilna narrates her tale of love and loss, and how she fought all social odds to make her husband's dream come true.
Q: How did you meet and fall in love?
I was born to a middle-class family in Peravoor, a rural hamlet in Kannur district. My father Pavithran is a retired state government employee and my mother Pushpavally, a homemaker. I have two younger siblings, Shijina and Shijil. We had been drawn to literature right from our childhood and had contemporary literature magazines at home. I was an eighth grader when Mash's (Sudhakaran) prize-winning poem appeared in a popular Malayalam literary magazine. I was so moved by his lines that they echoed in my mind for several days. I wrote a brief hand-written note appreciating his poem and sent it to the address which was there in the magazine. He was a college student back then. That poem had won the first prize in that year's inter-zone competitions.
Four years later, the name Sudhakaran appeared in the byline of a news-column in a popular newspaper. I was doing my pre-degree at that time. Somehow, I got an intuition that it is the same old poet who had impressed me with his lines. I sent him a second letter to which he responded immediately. We conversed through letters and shared our thoughts on all that we were interested in. We fell in love without seeing each other. Eventually in the year 2006, we tied knot in a traditional ceremony involving both families.
Q: What made you choose a life together?
Mash (Sudhakaran) hailed from a poor family in Thimiri, a very small township near Chepparapavada, Kannur. He was the only son to his parents Kunjiraman and Omana who were farmers. Mash was first to become a gazetted officer from that village. He was deeply attached to his mother and his native place. He was a simple, straight-forward person. He was very caring and considerate towards his dear ones. I was pleased by his sincerity and the way he carried out his personal and professional life.
Q: How did you balance life and dreams?
We started infertility treatment in the year 2008. For Mash, it wasn't a mere wish to raise twin daughters. He knew he would be the father of twin daughters for sure. He always imagined loudly about how he would raise his twin girls and how both of us would enjoy our blissful parenthood. He decided to name his daughters Nima Mithra and Niya Manvi. Nima and Niya were always with us.
Though both of us were reluctant to leave Thimiri and settle elsewhere, we had to migrate to a residential complex in Kannur town for treatment. We tried almost all types of hormonal therapies and fertility treatments provided in various fertility clinics across Kerala. Finally, one day Mash sat his mother down and told her that the possibility of her having a grandchild was highly remote. Mother accepted the reality with tears rolling down her cheeks.
I think sorrow pulls two souls closer much more than happiness. This shared pain forged a unique bond between us, and together we attempted to live with our secret sorrow.
Q: As a couple, what is the best thing you have ever done?
It was a journalist friend of my husband who introduced us to ARMC IVF center, Kozhikode. Having tried all other means to bring our dream children to this world, we switched our treatment to ARMC in the year 2015. After a couple of failed trials, the IVF specialists Dr Kunjumoideen, Dr Sreeja and Dr Shyjus decided to collect our reproductive cells and fertilize them in an artificial, induced environment. I think giving consent for artificial insemination is the best decision we had taken. Six fertilized embryos were frozen, and the treatment plan was to inject two each into my womb during each session. After two unsuccessful trials, we had two embryos left. We were on our way for the third attempt when death snatched him from my life on August 15, 2017.
Q: How do you recall the dark day which changed your life forever?
My husband had a teachers' refresher course at Calicut University on the previous day. He said he would come to the hospital straight from the university. I boarded a train to Kozhikode and started my journey alone. Mash called me by 10 AM to say that he would reach early. “I reached Mongam. I would reach Kozhikode in the evening itself. You come straight to the hospital,” he said. Those were the last words I heard from him. Some time later, I got a phone call from my father asking me to return home as fast as I can. He said he had met with an accident and had to be taken to the hospital soon. I felt something odd in his words. He sounded perfectly alright and did not seem like having been in an accident. Meanwhile, my mobile phone had a technical problem that blurred my screen. I could only accept and decline calls using it.
I got down at Vadakara station where my uncle was waiting for me. On our way to the hospital, I opened my WhatsApp to see our photograph posted in one of our office groups. From the faint light of my faulty mobile phone, I read the caption “Brennen college lecturer Sudhakaran met with a road accident.” It felt as if my life had left me.
My family struggled to keep the truth from me, at least till I gain the physical and mental strength to fathom its intensity. I was shattered to listen to the news of his departure. Long 23 years of togetherness has created a high level of emotional interdependence between us. I sat numb beside his mortal remains, unable to even cry.
Q: How did you take the decision to continue treatment and what are the hurdles you faced to carry it forward?
I conceived the idea of continuing my infertility treatment when I kissed my husband's forehead for the last time. We still had two frozen embryos left. I disclosed my wish to my brother Shijil first. He said it wasn't yet the right time to discuss that. Impatiently, I shared my idea with Mash's mother. The mother and son had always shared a beautiful bond. I knew she would understand my determination than anyone else. She welcomed my idea instantly with a tight hug and a loud sob. I feared whether my parents would compel me for a second marriage but they whole-heartedly supported my idea of continuing the fertility treatment. Both our parents were the strongest pillars of support all through this difficult phase.
Moreover, Mash's parents were shaken by the unexpected loss of their only son. It were our twins who finally pulled them back to normalcy. There were legal hurdles in my journey too. The final phase of artificial insemination required the signed consent letter of both the parents. It was the doctors of ARMC IVF center who helped me overcome all those hurdles.
Q: What is the wider dream you nurture in your life forward?
My husband was a writer and a passionate journalist. It was his greatest wish to publish a book that compiled all his writings. Unfortunately, he left this world before he could realize that. Now, myself along with some of his best friends are gathering his writings from everywhere. We are working together to publish his book soon. We are already done with its proof-reading.
I am happy I could introduce our twin daughters to this world. They look exactly like Mash. They are 41 days old and are cheerful babies. They changed our world altogether.
Q: What is the core of your togetherness?
All our friends and relatives know how deep a bond we shared. He cared for me so well whenever I had a fall in my career or life. It is his support and care that I still experience, which encouraged me to take this crucial decision in my life.