Aarna and Swaroop had spent a tough time from past few days; in fact, months. Now that Swaroop’s Atrial Septal Defect (ASD) surgery was over, there was some sort of tranquillity in the head. ASD, in layman’s words is called a hole in the heart, which is one of the most common heart defects in people. Fortis Escorts Heart Institute (FEHI) has a step-down ICU system and after having spent two days in the Recovery Room, Swaroop was now shifted to the room. This was the semi-private room number 310. This meant that Aarna and Swaroop shall be sharing the hospital room with one more patient. The room however, was huge enough to house 3-4 patients or more, as per the standards of the Government hospitals.
Both of them settled down as Swaroop adjusted to the sharp light smashing in from the huge window. Recovery Room was quite closed and from what Aarna had experienced when she went there to meet her husband, it was one of the scariest and the gloomiest places on Earth. Everyone was on life support system with so many tubes and syringes popping out of every part of the body. The dreadful mechanical sounds of ECG machines and a lot more medical appliances, the names of which Aarna did not know, sounded like the time bomb that was about to explode any time. With Swaroop out of that place, Aarna was glad that her husband was one of the first patients in that batch to come out of that gloomiest place on Earth. Doctors said that he was recovering “really fast.” Soon after adjustments and informing the entire family about Swaroop’s well being and condition, Aarna lay down a bit on the couch next to the patient’s bed and closed her eyes. Both of them were waiting, rather praying for no one to occupy the bed next to them so that they enjoyed the benefits of a solo room by paying the price of a semi-private room.
As evening closed in, two old men entered the room with nurses in green uniform around them. One of them was on a stature. It was around 8 p.m. then. The man on stature was quite bulky and even had issues climbing up the bed on his own. So, he was shifted from the stature to the bed, with a lot of discomfort. Aarna, who was looking at that man and one another with him, looked at the scene with a strange expression on her face. Her live updates made Swaroop aware too. The couple talked in hushed voices about the two old men and soon put in the curtains that separated the two sections of the huge room.
They both kept quiet, as they heard the voices from the other half of the room. The other old man, who was the attendant, looked quite active. He was rushing here and there to settle things for his patient. With the accent of the two old men, Aarna and Swaroop understood that they were from Bihar. The archetypical Indian thought made them think that the two were not much educated, just because they talked in their strange language that sounded quite “dehaati.” This young couple stayed quite even now and heard what the two were talking about.
“Singh Saab. Are you alright? Are you feeling fine?” asked the attendant, the active old man.
“Yes. I am fine. Don’t worry about me.”
“Do you need anything Singh Saab?”
“No. Please go and have your dinner. I shall be fine. I don’t need anything right now. I would rather go to sleep,” replied Singh Saab.
“Let me serve you the dinner first and then I’ll go and have it,” argued the active old man, whose name Swaroop and Aarna did not find out even now.
After a few minutes, the hospital dinner arrived. After the room service man left, Aarna got up from the couch and sanitized her hands. She pressed the side button on the bed and the bed started shifting upwards. Swaroop adjusted himself and Aarna made him eat his food.
The active old man too, served Singh Saab and waited for him to wind it up. After having finished the dinner, Aarna sat down and the active old man came to their side and said, “Beta, I am going down for dinner. Will you look after him for me?”
“Sure uncle,” replied Aarna.
“What happened to this young man? Why is he here?” asked the active old man from Aarna and Swaroop.
“Uncle, he had ASD. He has undergone the heart surgery and is recovering now,” said Aarna.
“I see. ASD is quite common these days. Don’t worry, he will be fine soon. Is he your husband?”
“Okay beta, I will leave now. Please check on him if he needs anything.”
“Sure uncle. Don’t worry. I will check on him,” said Aarna and the active old man left the room.
Soon, Aarna went to check Singh Saab, who was already asleep and she came back to sit on the couch again. It would have been a few minutes since Singh Saab’s attendant left that Aarna and Swaroop heard strange sound, like someone was urinating.
The nurse in green uniform came in and saw that Singh Saab was too fragile and bulky to even go to the washroom himself and so he had urinated on the floor, from his bed only. The nurse asked the room service to clean it up and told Singh Saab to press the Nurse Call Button if he has the next call from nature.
Aarna and Swaroop didn’t say anything to each other, but Aarna felt disgusted. She felt awful that they shall be sharing the room with such patient. Nevertheless, she went to Singh Saab after the nurse left and checked on him again. He was partly sleeping.
“Uncle, call me if you need any help,” Aarna told Singh Saab.
Surprisingly, Singh Saab mistook Aarna for nurse and said, “I will call you sister.”
Aarna did not argue because she knew that there was no point. Singh Saab’s condition was really fragile.
Soon, active old man came back from dinner and thanked Aarna for looking over Singh Saab. He arranged his sheet and pillow on the couch to lie down and so did Aarna. The lights were dim by now. It was around 9.30 p.m. The strange urinating sound came once again and this time, the active old man stood up from his ouch to check on him.
This time, Aarna did not feel disgusted. Instead, she felt sorry for Singh Saab. Old age can be awful, she thought in her head.
The active old man himself cleaned the floor and Singh Saab retaliated.
“Leave it yaar. Don’t do it,” Singh Saab said.
“It’s okay. You should have called me Singh Saab. I would have helped you.”
The active old man again came to the couch and sat down for a moment. His couch was on the same side as Aarna and Swaroop. Aarna could not hold her curiosity this time and she felt the urge to start a conversation with the active old man regarding Singh Saab.
“Uncle, can I ask you something?” Aarna asked the active old man.
“Yes beta. Tell me,”
Soon the two started talking, in English! It’s not strange to talk in English, but what Aarna and Swaroop thought about this Bihari old man was wrong. He wasn’t illiterate. In fact, his communication skill was better than any educated man present there and this was the first slap on Aarna’s face. She ridiculed herself for being so judgemental, and more than that, for being so thought-offensive about a particular state in our country.
“What happened to the uncle with you?” asked Aarna.
“Beta, Singh Saab had undergone a bypass surgery a few years ago. In very rare cases, a few patients start getting fever after the surgery. Singh Saab is one of those rare cases. He started having fever quite frequently after his bypass surgery and my son looked after him,” explained the active old man.
“Yes. My son, Dr. Vijay Kumar is a senior cardiologist at FEHI.”
“Okay. And how is Singh uncle related to you?” asked curious Aarna.
“He is my friend.”
Something hit Aarna hard. He is his friend? A zillion questions popped in the curious mind of Aarna. Where is Singh Saab’s family? Why is this active old man doing so much for his friend? How long is their friendship? The chain of questions made her look so puzzled that even the old man smiled at her expressions that were spread all over her questioning face.
Without a preamble, the active old man started, “You know beta, Singh Saab is retired from the post of Director of SAIL (Steel Authority of India Limited), New Delhi. He has seen such prestige and reputation in his life that we cannot even comprehend. A man of such stature is lying here, in such condition, in front of you.”
Aarna felt another slap. Director of SAIL, and she thought that these old men were illiterate Biharis? She was illiterate, she thought. Aarna once again felt sorry in her heart for being so judgemental. How wrong she was!
The active old man kept talking, “When in past he had frequent fever, I brought him to my home and took care for him for 45 days. My son looked after him all the time. He was cured that time. Now again he has started showing such signs. We want to check for the underlying cause of this fever. That is why we have brought him to FEHI so that we can take better care of him.”
“But uncle, where is his family?”
“Beta, he has no family.”
Again it felt like Aarna was listening to something that only happened in movies. Hospitals are a strange place. You hear so many sad and interesting stories that every tale sounds like the Bollywood film. But soon you realize that things like these actually happen in real world.
“Why? I mean where is his family?” asked Aarna.
“Beta his wife died of cancer about a decade ago. He has two sons, both of who died at a very young age. He is all alone now. His wife had four younger sisters. Singh Saab took care of all of them like his own daughters. He sponsored their education, helped them establish their careers and married all of them off. All of them are today settled abroad, but none of them has asked about Singh Saab’s whereabouts ever since they got married. They never phoned him again. They don’t know anything about him today and they don’t bother about him at all.”
Aarna bashed the four sisters of Singh Saab’s wife in her head. How cruel is that? In fact, that is so mean. What has the world come to? Is humanity dead? Is there no reward of goodness? How can God justify this? A man with such stature, prestige, good heart and such a lot of money in his good days is left all by himself in his last phase of life? Why?
“So uncle, you are his family now?”
“Yes. You can say that.”
“That is really kind of you uncle. World needs people like you. How long have you both been friends? Aren’t you both childhood friends?”
Aarna’s questions were very obvious. What kind of a friend, no matter how good he is, does so much for other? No one in the world does that. Not even relatives. And here he is. A friend doing so much for other! But why?
“No beta. I am not his childhood friend. I have known him for just 5 years.”
“Then why are you doing so much for him uncle? I am really impressed by your friendship.”
“Beta, I was there with him in SAIL. The story of his life makes me do so much for him. Think about it. Here is a man in front of you. He has retired from one of the most reputed positions in this country. Imagine the kind of life he has lived. Can you think of the luxuries he has lived in? A huge home given by the Government, handsome salary, a whole army of servants to look after every little thing- a kind of life that we all want to live. Isn’t it? But look at him today. This is life beta. You are too young to understand all this. But here is a man of this stature lying on a hospital bed, without anyone to cry on his death and urinating in his own pajamas because he can’t even get out on his own.”
It broke Aarna’s heart. A lump formed in her throat. This was a real story. Not the one that she as seeing in a TV. It was a real tale of friendship, life and what not, perhaps a lot of things that her little heart and head could not understand at just 26 years of age. But she understood one thing- that life can take you to strange roads without a companion. Something changed her forever.
With shattered heart, Aarna held Swaroop’s hand tight, requesting God to not be so harsh on both of them ever in life. She didn’t want a reputation like that of Singh Saab. All she wanted from God was calm and a “normal” life that does not serve a sad story to anyone in the world.
Soon, the active young man went to the Singh Saab’s side as his son Dr. Vijay Kumar came in and checked on him. Doctor asked the nurses to shift him to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) immediately so that he could be attended in a better manner.
Aarna witnessed them all vacate the room and bid adieu to the active old man, praying at heart for Singh Saab’s speedy recovery. She saluted their friendship at heart and soon, all her initial thoughts about these two “illiterate Biharis” changed forever.
Swaroop is discharged now. He is home with Aarna, but this Escorts story and a million more tales that Aarna heard in the hospital will dwell in her heart and mind forever, like a shadow.