I don't write diary. Never did. But after a really action-packed day with my hospitalised brother , as i was alone and waiting for sleep to come, felt like rewinding the day in mind and writing down my thoughts and observations. A laptop was handy and sleep far away, so ended up putting together these four and a half pages of monologue. Felt like sharing it with all the like-minded who make the most of all such meaningful moments that they live most intensely. Life generally has a way of hurling bombs or flowers at you when you least expect either in any given situation. This day yet again reiterated to me , the importance of living in the present, for you never know what’s coming next. Here goes…
ALL IN A DAYS VIGIL
Monday , the 20th of June, 2011
I am at Hinduja Hospital keeping Madhu company. Its been more than 3 weeks now that he is fighting what has been a topsy-turvy battle with a decease that’s as rare as a gem that he himself is.
We spent last evening listening to “Meraj-e-Ghazal” . An album by Ghulam Ali and Asha Bhosle from the 80s that is just as fresh even today as it was then. Both of us agree it is as close to perfection as anything can possibly get. We listen to a ghazal, put the player on pause while we just keep very still and quiet , feeling the vibrations around us, created by both the singing and the heartbreaking poetry. Then we talk about the experience, draw comparisons with a few more such experiences that we have shared before. Then move on to the next ghazal. It’s a collection of 12 ghazals and the combination of his waning strength and the antibiotics get Madhu drowsy by the 11th ghazal and he drifts into a tired slumber. It takes me at least another hour of beckoning as usual before sleep comes to me.
“Ek Onkar Satnam….” My alarm goes off at 5.30. I must have slept like a log because I am wide awake and fresh. I feel like kicking myself when he says he had to get up around 1.30 to visit the loo and for a walk in the corridor all by himself to ease the discomfort that he gets every now and then because of gases. Some companion you are, I say to myself, to have snored the night away when the guy could have feinted in his walk , as weak as he was. I play it smart by admonishing him for not waking me and pulling stunts all by himself.
Another busy day begins at the hospital. To quote Arthur Hailey from his “Hospital, “tide and ebb of suffering humanity begins”. Amidst contrasting scenes in each department depicting sorrow and joy, hope and despair , everything Madhu does is directed at the big battle that lies ahead. Every dose of antibiotics, every meal, every sip of water, every nap, every conversation , even every call of nature assumes an unprecedented importance in his single-minded climb back to fitness. The kind of all-round fitness a boxer needs before he steps into the ring. There is just one small discord in this comparison,. A boxer fights for a win, a prize, but my brother is preparing to get in the ring with fate. But his feisty attitude is charging up everybody around him , including myself. All of us seem to draw strength from him instead of the other way round. I tell him this and draw just a smile from him that is at once kind and confident. If I had a hat on , I would keep taking it off to him all day. I know, not exactly a great idea to follow up on, not in a hospital in any case.
I stuff myself silly on the food from the hospital pantry. Madhu , somehow seems to be convinced that just because he is hospitalized , he need not lose his hospitality . He offers me his sweet dish, asks me if I would like a juice , and in a nutshell , manages to make me feel even more ornery than I have a reason to feel. One thing I am very glad of though, and that is the time we share together talking about our favorite topics. Cricket, Books, Movies, Music, Our childhood …. Not necessarily in that order though. I think this is what people call quality time. But having said that, I cant help but feel that if its going to take Madhu’s illness for me to have this warped quality time , I can do without it, boss, I’ll just pass. Bring on the dull, mundane business/politics/weather talks anytime but just get this guy outta here and into health.
As I am thinking these pessimistic, futile and useless thoughts, Madhu surprises me yet again by steering the conversation to some of his future plans regarding his clinic, his work , the places to visit, the people to meet. Seema joins us and they are completely oblivious of their plight, the surroundings, even the clear and present danger as they start discussing the patients Seema handled yesterday. For now, they are just a couple of dentists swapping ideas, insights and plans . Another place, another time and they might even get downright argumentative with each other deciding the best course of action for their patients.. Not once do I hear a word about their fees, or their time. Its all about patient care, pain relief, and compassion. It makes me wish I had a movie camera with me so that I could get their patients to see how lucky they are to get nothing but pure, skillful, even abstract but committed dentistry , even from a hospital bed.
Time to go to the OT for the surgical procedure that would internalize the drainage and rid Madhu of the contraption he has to carry around with him. The guy does not admit to fear but I can see it in his eyes. Having taken so much pain for such a long time, he had once said he was more afraid of the pain than of death itself. He is wheeled in. Seema dozes in the chair. She is resigned to the fact that except for Madhus physical pain, this whole nightmare is as much her journey as it is his. I, of course, sneak away to Madhus room to feed myself on the visitors lunch.
The OT door opens, and Raju, my bro-in-law who works for the hospital wheels Madhu out himself. Madhu’s face is blank, inscrutable till the time his is left alone with us waiting to be wheeled back to his room. Then the façade cracks, the veneer is washed away by the tears of the excruciating pain that he had to suffer in the OT.. He is too weak and frail for the doctors to risk the general anesthesia, but the LA proved inadequate for the procedure that required stab incisions. Raju tries a few wisecracks but they probably don’t even register, as tears flow freely. Seema is holding his hand and wiping his tears, her own held back with the strength that never seems to wane. Back in his room, he dozes off after a painkiller . All of us are now worried of the pain that might come back with a vengeance, now that his insides have been tampered with and violated with the presence of foreign bodies. He wakes up after an hour and a half of deep slumber and all of us, including himself are pleasantly surprised at the absence of pain. Buoyed by this, he decides to take his chances with lunch, and puts up a good performance at it. We decide to ride on our luck and I take him for a stroll in the corridor. Two rounds turn into six without any major discomfort and we know the procedure has been a success. Back in the room for some more music, and some wisecracks now from Madhu himself.
Its getting to that time of the day that Madhu hates the most. There are no defined visiting hours here at Hinduja but the evenings seem to bring all the well-wishers, do-gooders, and even some fair-weather friends out of the woodwork and thronging to the hospital. Its part of my assigned portfolio here to keep shuttling up and down with the ‘visitor-passes’ to escort or chaperone the visitors to see Madhu. It ,of course, goes without saying that whether or not Madhu wants to see them is completely irrelevant. Now, lets be fair here, because most of the visitors are the people Madhu would be reasonably happy meeting normally. Some are very close friends Madhu would just love meeting. And then there are some…well, there are several categories, right ? But the poor guy has taken so much pain and suffering over last 15/20 days that he is just not up to meeting ANYBODY when he doesn’t feel like it. He doesn’t even want to meet his own reflection in the mirror these days. Seriously, he has said this to me in as many words. . Many of the visitors are not even sure whom the visit is going to help more, Madhu, or themselves. But, in all fairness, the visitors come with good intentions, not knowing Madhu’s state of mind. Its out of this conflicting mindsets, an episode is about to happen this evening that is straight out of a Hrishikesh Mukerjee/Basu Bhattacharya film.
It unfolded thus. The security guard at the gate called Madhu’s room and announced a couple by the name of “Dr. Sharma and Mrs. Sharma” to see Madhu. An elderly couple, according to the guard. Madhu, for the life of his, could neither remember nor recollect any such couple known to him. After cranking the old nut up several tweaks, he recollected one such couple from Ambernath and was immediately convinced he didn’t want to meet them. But I had to go down 14 floors to get the well-wishing couple up and the show had to go on. Madhu decided to test his own acting skills in order to wriggle out of this unwanted rendezvous. He asked me to pull all the curtains, switch off the lights and generally tuck him in for a put-on act of sleep that would discourage his visitors from any conversation and persuade them to leave as soon as they had put in their customary “tsk, tsk” , a sideways motion of heads and a sigh or two. Little did he know that fate was not only conspiring against his plans but was snickering at them too.
Down I went, brandishing two visitors passes , looking for the elderly Dr.Sharma and Mrs.Sharma from Ambernath. As it turned out, I was surprised to see a couple from Bandra I actually knew from around 18 years ago. The Dr.Sharma the guard had announced was just a Mr.Sharma and not a doctor by a long shot. The guard had goofed up with his announcement. Although they were a nice couple, genuinely concerned about Madhu, I knew enough to decide that in his present mood they were not welcome . I had the story down pat about Madhu being particularly tired after a surgical procedure and fast asleep. And of course, the well-mannered and genuinely concerned couple that they were , they decided to leave without meeting him, not wanting to disturb him. Faced with such understanding and true compassion, I felt like a cheap con-artist but I had to match my bro’s acting skills to make sure our performances paid off. I thanked them profusely , assured them of conveying their best wishes to Madhu and waived them goodbye. So far so good, eh ?
Patting myself on the back for a virtuoso performance , I sneaked in a quick tea on my way back up to the 14th flr. I entered Madhu’s room only to find another genuinely concerned looking lady sitting next to Madhu, patiently waiting for him to wake up. She thought I was just another visitor , so , in a hushed voice she told me to keep my voice low, as Madhu was fast asleep. After the hushed intros I stole a glance at Madhu and congratulated him silently on a performance that seemed to match mine. Did I hear him snore ? I am not sure. Now I was faced with an encore with this lady , who incidentally was a doctor herself and a friend of Madhu’s to boot. She had to be a very close friend because she said I was free to go home if I wanted to and she would happily keep Madhu company till Seema came back. This was a real curve-ball if ever there was one thrown at me. I now had to take a call about this situation . I put two and two together and came up with a theory that if Madhu is still carrying on with his role of sleeping beauty, this doctor friend of his cant be all that high on the list of people he wanted to be with. I had to slip back into my role of a caring bro who had to make sure the patient got his much needed rest and was not disturbed. I led the lady out of the room under the pretext of wanting to bring her up to speed on Madhu’s condition. Once out of the room , the lady nearly broke down , overcome with her distress over Madhus miserable condition. I inwardly cursed Madhu on being such a stone-heart and not waking up from his “sleep” to greet this sweet friend . Looked like he was enjoying his own performance , but there is such a thing called “overkill”. I used all my skills to ensure the sweet little lady that although Madhu was very tired after the afternoon procedure and needed every bit of rest he got , he surely was not as bad as he looked. She offered to come back again in an hour with her husband, who also was supposedly a good friend of Madhu’s. But of course, the seasoned actor that I was by now, I convinced her that it would be a better idea for them both to come back the next day. Then even Madhu would be far better and more presentable after a good night’s rest. Either I am a far better actor than I ever suspected I was , or , the poor lady was hopelessly gullible, because she left in far better spirits than she was in 5 minutes ago. So far so good yet again, right ?
Wrong. I came back to Madhu’s room and he furtively looked at me with half-opened eyes. I gave him a thumbs up, rolled back his sheets, levered up his bed, switched on the lights and pulled the curtains back open. The curfew was over.
Then I brought him up to speed on both my performances, gloating over the highlights. The revelation about the Dr. Sharma not being a ‘Dr.’ and just a ‘Mr’ dropped a nickel for him and he immediately recollected the old couple and identified them for the loving and caring people that they were. But still, he said it was a good thing they did not come up to see him in this condition. It would have only made them feel sad and helpless, so, no harm done there. Then he had to slap his forehead when I told him that they left with a promise to come back the next day.
He thought for a minute and said “ Hey, if they left without coming up, who was the lady sitting next to me ? I thought it was Mrs.Sharma whom I was in no mood to converse with !”
When I told him she was a self-proclaimed doctor friend of his , named Dr.xyz, it was time for him to slap his forehead once again. He just could not decide whether to laugh or cry at this comedy of errors . Because the doctor lady was one of his closest friends , one he would have wanted to meet and enjoy the company of . With the lights switched off, the curtains pulled, and being in the middle of an act , neither could he see her face clearly, nor could he recognize her whispering voice .
We kept staring at each other for what seemed like hours but actually for half a minute, and then broke open with a laughter as if at the count of three. It was an effort for him, even to laugh, what with those punctures on his stomach and the tube inside , but this was something we both had to make the most of .
This has convinced me as nothing else would have, that humor has a way of running into you in the most unexpected of places and at the most unexpected of times. All you need to do is keep your windows open for it all the time. I am sure Madhu is going to get out of this predicament with flying colors, but not before one hell of a fight . And when he does, thank God the memories of these testing times are not all going to be sad. We plan to get even the Sharmas and that sweet friend of Madhu’s in on this little comedy of errors at an opportune time and multiply the laughter with a bigger number of people .
Seema came in late from an errand. She too had played an inadvertent hand in this wodehousesque plot, you see, because it was she who had arranged for Dr.xyz to visit just in case I had to leave early. It was late and I had to leave so I left as soon as Seema arrived. I am sure Madhu brought her in the loop in his own inimitable style, but I was in too much of a hurry to stop and check his prowess at storytelling.
The last glimpse I had of them for the day, as the lift doors closed, was a pretty picture. Sitting next to each other , holding hands, waving goodbye to me with a smile , they looked just as beautiful and in control as ever.
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