I was a greenhorn doctor, just out of college after internship in Belgaum. I did a couple of years at my college as a Tutor in Anatomy and then began working as a Resident at Mahesh Hospital, Brahmavar, Udupi. The first two months of work as a doctor passed quite peacefully with a minor event or two.
After about two months of treatment you get to know your patient a little better. Mrs D was already feeling better. One evening she phoned to tell me that her medicines for the week were over and she needed more. Many patients report on the phone their condition and send someone to collect the medicines. At times it is their driver, at times secretary, at times children or the husband, etc. In fact many patients are encouraged to report their condition on the phone so as to avoid the crowding of patients in the reception area. Mrs D was on the line asking for her medicines. “Send your husband” I told her. “Doctor, right now he is in jail. He will come straight from there to your clinic?” Suddenly in front of my eyes I saw someone with a gun, long beard, long hair, white clothes with big black checks, walking his way menacingly to my cabin. In Hindi films I’ve seen people running away from jail or criminals shooting their way to the bank to collect lakhs, but to collect his wife’s medicine? This was something unheard of.
By now I was already sweating. “Pardon”, I said. She explained, “Right now he is in Udupi jail. He shall come to see you in the evening.” I thought I should control the situation at that moment itself. “Why don’t you send your daughter?” I asked her. A long silence. “Doctor, my daughter is in the mental hospital. She cannot come.” I thought I noticed a tinge of sadness. “OK. OK. Then can you send your son?” “No”, she almost barked into the phone. “He has gone to Mangalore, to those prostitutes and their children?”
For some people life is too hard. What this woman must be going through? I thought. Husband in jail. A grown-up daughter in the mental hospital. A grown-up son, among prostitutes and their children. Each one of us need some hope in life to go on. What hope does she have? I said, “OK. I will keep the medicines ready.”
For days together, the thought would not go out of my mind. I could not understand in what way I could help the family. I felt very sad for all of them. Helplessly I could only pray for them. May they see better days.
Well, life went on as usual. One evening Mrs D walked in the clinic without an appointment. She just wanted to talk for two minutes. She had a smile on her face. I was curious. “We have bought a flat,” she said. “Come over in the evening.” Usually I make it a point not to miss any social function. It is here that you meet different people from different professions, different cultures, different backgrounds. But for this function I did not go. May be it will upset me more, I thought. I just phoned to congratulate. The very next week I had gone to the same society to pick up a colleague from his relative’s house in Manipal.
The new flat was on the ground floor. Seeing me Mrs D came out hurriedly and insisted that I have a cup of tea. I went in a little hesitatingly. I met the whole family. Her husband was a nice likable fellow. He said he had just retired. “From what?” I asked him. From Udupi jail, he said. He was working there as a assistant warden. Hearing this I felt as free as a prisoner would feel after being freed. So he was not a criminal as I imagined him to be. He went to jail on official duty.
Next I met the daughter. Dr M A __. She was on a two weeks posting in the psychiatric ward. So in the mental hospital alright not as a patient, but a doctor in the making. Third, I met their son, a graduate and jobless for some time. He was going abroad, I was told. Till that time he had picked up a job with an NGO, who were looking after abandoned children. Some of these may be selling handmade cards in the market. Some ragpickers. Some even children of prostitutes.
I shook hands, finished my cup of tea and walked out happily. In the car suddenly I found myself whistling, “zindagi, ek safar hai suhana….”