Boy looks at the girl. The two screens in between,appear as more formidable a barrier than the thousands of miles and the hundreds of barbed national borders separating them. They have been talking for hours, oblivious to the changing skies, it’s evening there and night here…

He has tears in his eyes. It kills her inside, but she can’t reach out. And somehow, every time she is in front of his eyes, her tears freeze. And so do her words.

So when, barely audible, he asks, ” So what am I gonna do when you leave me again?“, she finds the crowding chaotic words in her mind noisily burying his question, clamoring to answer… To tell him, that the next time she leaves him, will be when they decorate her in white lilies, gently close her eyes, and kiss her hushed goodbyes. 

That then, they will expect him to be dressed in white. But she doesn’t want him to. She wants him to wear blue. Blue, like the ocean whose waves always made her want to crash against him and cry. Blue, like the autumn sky which always made her want to walk with him through a sudden unexpected October rain. Blue, like the robin’s eggs from the song they just didn’t seem to have enough of. Blue, like the days she missed him. Blue…..

To tell him, that then, they will expect him to break down and cry. But she doesn’t want him to, because nothing could surpass the torment of being locked in a lifeless mortal body and not being able to hold him and say, “Hush my love, don’t you cry, these moments of pain will soon pass by“. 

They would expect a whole lot of words from him that day.Words of praise, words of love, words of glory. But all she wants from him, is one word, one whisper…. “Lenore?…”, and the wind,the trees, the breeze, the leaves, will all borrow her voice and whisper back their echo, “Forevermore…

But instead, her wits and words all fail. And all she does, is look down. And mutter a muted reply, “I am never leaving you again“… Too soft, too frail, to reach his ears. His tear drops. She wipes her own away hastily. And yet, they both know the other is crying. 

Outside, the sky changes. The owl hoots. The raven caws.
Two more teardrops fall. Washes the past, dissolves his purple rage, his green hatred, of the person that she had become. Makes a melange, a collage in the background. The lovely red raises it’s head again.
She becomes 14 again. They fall in love again…

Catch a falling star…

The speaker rings with a name. Twice. Called to Room 120.
The buzz outside diminishes infinitesimally, as a number of ears try to hear the announcement over the din and bustle. And then it starts, rebounding, a notch higher.

He walks in, long confident strides. Uber-cool blue tinged frame, in-vogue glasses. Hair gelled into shape. Neat black shirt. “She’s just coming, Doctor. One second. ”

She walks in. Waddling. Creaky knees. Hair beginning to grow after a ritual tonsure. Sari just about wrapped,pleats almost undone. Collapses clumsily onto the chair.
Imbalanced, not just in gait. A hundred fleeting thoughts. A thousand fleeing emotions. A million flitting words. Outside, just a jumble of words. Inside, they choke her, they control her, they threaten her, they smother her.

He stands behind her chair. The doctor talks about stuff. Progress. Dosage. Admission. Follow up. Investigations. She suddenly gets agitated. Acts absurd. Cannot be reasoned with. Childish.

He chides her with one disapproving mmmmch, and an “Amma!”. And immediately puts his right hand around her, and plants one quick, silent kiss at the back of her head.
In one sudden lucid moment, the haze in her eyes lifts, makes way for a glaze of more distant thought, a real one. Her, in a perfumed mauve silk night gown. Sparkling long hair. Him in red teddy printed coveralls. Fuzzy hair. Jumping on the cot. Throwing a tantrum.One disapproving stern look. And then a kiss on top of his baby powder smelling forehead, as he cradled his head against her cheek. In one sudden lucid moment, she is haunted no more. And wonders with a diamond glint in her eyes, that when exactly did the roles reverse?
Outside, the deafening afternoon silence catches a breath. Sighs. Moves ahead.


– Psychiatry OPD


Wrinkled oaks

I walk,busily up and down the ward, syringes, prescriptions, sample tubes and a dozen more things in my hands, a couple more in my bag, a dozen more to-dos hurriedly scribbled across my jotter, and a dozen more preoccupying my mind. Trying hard to keep everything together, trying to prevent them from falling and getting scattered- things and thoughts alike.
He trots behind, quite a number of times.
He is short. 60ish, or maybe a lil bit more. Wears a dim white kurta and dhoti. Faux leather sandals, worn with age. Or neglect?
He trots behind, tries to catch my eye, he always has something to ask. He never intrudes directly, just trots behind, hoping I will look, so he can ask.
On a rare relaxed day, I stand and ask him if he has something to say. On the usual busy day, I try looking beyond him. Try walking faster, acting more harrowed, so I can leave him behind. Most often I do not succeed. Even if physically I do, he still occupies my mind. Eventually, succumbing, I curse myself inside, and go back, pretending I am not weak, pretending I did not just take a sidetrack out of my expected trajectory because I felt bad about consciously avoiding him a while ago, pretending that I caught his eye merely by chance.
He finally finds the moment he was looking for.
” Didi, she has an ulcer in her tongue. You will write something, won’t you ? ”
“Didi, bolchhi, yesterday the injection really hurt. Can you change the site?”
“Didi, she is having backache, can you have a look?”
Small things. Whether in response I actually do something or not, he never retaliates. Whatever I say, he nods deep sideways and goes ” oh, oh, aachha aachha. “, and puts up both his hands, palm facing forwards, and says, “theek aachhe, theek aachhe”, as if he is afraid he has taken up too much of my time.
Something in that face reminds me of Dadu.
Maybe the white stubble, he hasn’t shaved ever since she has ben admitted.
Maybe it’s the clothes. No, can’t be. My dadu never wore a dhoti.
Maybe it’s the way he blinks his eyes repeatedly, because he has forgotten his glasses.

Or maybe, it’s that haunting similarity in the look on their face.
That look, of knowing that she is slipping away.
That look, of trying to find an assurance that he is not just a helpless spectator.
That look, which is too proud to admit that it just wants someone to sit and say, “She’ll be okay”, even when he knows she won’t.

I am sure, their life has had ups and downs. That they have fought. That they have had bitterness. That they were both imperfect.That they have both been scarred.
But he has also been completed. He has also been made into who he is. And so, today, he hides his helplessness at her slipping away with renewed vigor of consulting new specialists. Getting new medicines. Trying anything, anything, that masks his own biggest fear to himself- that what will life be like without her?

His wife has advanced carcinoma. My didu had end stage renal disease. And yet somehow, the diagnosis we clinicians clamour after,doesn’t really matter. Through their lives, they make two men who never knew each other, seem like twins.

Love, was never a victory march.
But some defeats, are bigger than victories.Image


– 21.07.2013

I Ward, CMC Vellore

Mist and mould

21 years old M.Sc Physics student from WB, sitting on a hospital bed with a tablet on her lap, showing a Google search page on Neuroendocrine tumor.
22 years old intern at CMC, standing by her bed, with a duty mobile in hand, remembering in her mind the things she knows about neuroendocrine tumors.

The student has an open notebook in her hand, with a list of people’s names, the intern doesn’t pry.
The intern has a pink prescription in her hand, jotted hastily, the student knows it is for her.

The student says she is sad that she is missing her first classes because she is sick. She probably has cancer.
The intern doesn’t tell her that until about a moment ago, she was sad because she is having to come to work despite being sick. She just has a viral.

The student is still smiling, she always does. She asks a lot of things, she always does.
The intern smiles back. It is impossible not to. Answers the best she can.

The student meekly asks if she can once, just for a moment see what it is like to hear through a stethoscope.
The intern readily takes off the steth and hands it over and shows the correct way to wear it.
The student tries hearing her own heartbeat for a minute, then pouts that she barely hears a thing.
The intern turns the diaphragm open, now? The student listens intently, then giggles.
The intern smiles back. It’s impossible not to.

The student asks what those red drops on the intern’s ID card are. The intern explains that they are all voluntary blood donor badges. The student’s light brown eyes open wide, she is afraid of blood – to her, the intern is one of the bravest people she knows.
The intern masks what she feels behind thick glasses veiling dark brown eyes, that to her, this student is one of the most courageous people she knows. 

The student is happy. Life is beautiful. She has come to South India the first time. It was so windy yesterday. She likes her doctors. She is a bit scared. But still happy. Life is still beautiful. Her friends call her quite often. Her parents are scared. She hopes her smiling makes them feel better. She likes the coffee here. She wants to go back and have phuchka at home. Her sister said on the phone that she misses her. Durga puja is in a few months. She already has 2 new clothes. She likes the intern’s name. Her bestie has the same name. She is going back by air, she is gonna be on an aeroplane for the first time. Life will always be beautiful.

At the end of a few minutes of conversation, 
The student learnt a few useless medical tidbits, and that the steth isn’t really all that miraculous an amplifier.
The intern learnt a lot, a lot about being happy in life.