Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Country For Old (and Useless) Men

News of the bombings trickled down to my end of the food chain as I craned out of my 12th pushup in a gym who’s membership I owed to an uncle I rarely met and (thankfully) didn’t have to know too well. This man had, for the two weeks I’d been here, been putting in focused, persistent and nauseating poorly veiled efforts to try and get me to stop flat out refusing to get hitched with a daughter of one of his colleagues. Trio’d with my dad (who even under normal circumstances is the panjandrum-ic Bill O’Reilly of the Psychology of parenting “You know what I love about you Bill? It’s not what you say, it’s how loudly you say it” – Jon Stewart) having been granted the curmudgeonly bonus that comes with having undergone an inguinal hernia repair two days ago, and with the usual incongruous, incapacitating, socially-crippling loneliness Jaipur makes sure I always feel, the goings were less than ideal.

They shut down the gym, and as I mounted the electric scooter my 55kg dad had bought (after selling our motorcycle), I saw how the streets were indeed clogged with people trying to get home. I thought of asking a security guard or fellow commuters which part of the city the explosions had taken place in, but was held back by the distant, unfriendly silence that exists in the ice before you break it. Something about Jaipur has always made me not just shiver at that ice, but actually dread it. I got back home in 15 minutes (the bloody thing – and bloody not just as in it’s bright red – doesn’t do any more than 35kmph).

There were eight blasts in all, all in the walled city, and for some reason NDTV kept referring to Sawai Man Singh (SMS) Hospital as Sawai Madhopur Hospital. Telephone networks had been broke-backed by the sheer volume of people trying to call at once.

To be honest, I am really just a selfish person, sort of like Shylock. I believe in the pristine fairness of barter. Granted there was a feral urge to be more than a mute, impotent spectator sponging in things through a televised sieve and an urge to help, what with the TV constantly declaring “extra doctors and medical support were being arranged for” by our quicksilver bureaucratic machinery. But I also wanted a karmic IOU. Something to flash and bargain with when cornered instead of merely cowering, cringing and repenting; something to fabricate a ball of moral spittle around. So I got onto the embarrassing red and white lawnmower-battery-with-wheels and plowed down to the hospital.

At 8, SMS really wasn’t as choked as you’d expect. There were at least 400 people there, but I had been expecting more. Most stood around with arms folded, frowning, ostentatiously ruining their cellphone keypads in vain, trying to look grim and important – you know, not answering in a single go when you ask for directions, relishing the evanescent importance in shoving someone aside and saying ostensibly polite things gruffly and loudly.

I made my way up to the polytrauma ward on the first floor, following both the trail of drying blood on the floor, and the lemming-like milling of hysterical people. The ward itself was huge, tiled hall the size of a basketball court, with massive glass windows, tube lights and piped oxygen sockets in the wall (contraptions which would, when required later, blow out and become useless). There were 20 beds, all occupied by people in every possible state of shatter. From broken bones, busted jaws and injuries to the head to not even real scratches and abrasions. And all around them, like on the inside of a giant ant colony, gloved worker-humans jittered to and fro, doing the same thing over and over again (this one chap was given four tetanus shots). The coherent and slightly better off people seemed to be getting the most attention and those who’s fat was well and truly in the fire were avoided, for responsibility can be intimidating.

When something like this happens, around 20% of the victims will die regardless. 60% will survive regardless. It’s the remaining 20% who have to be identified and dealt with or they will then die. And you will be the reason it happened. Therein lies the responsibility. As was said to me by a certain Lt Col Yoginder Singh, the swiftest-stitching Gynaecologist you’re ever likely to see. I want to believe I did at least something of the sort.

There was this gent whose name I didn’t ask. He looked like that bloke we see in movies but never know the name of, only better looking and fairer. He was one of a handful who kept the shit from hitting the fan – both gung-ho and grounded. I brought his attention to a lady bleeding from her left ear and a man with a pulseless, mutilated left arm. They are by now respectively either in a coma/out of a coma/dead or have probably had their arm amputated. At least he told me where to take them and how.

This picture came in the paper the next morning; he’s the one with the arrow pointing at him. The bloke in front of him wheeling the cot’s me. I spent the rest of the time doing some bandaging, some stitching and more triaging. But when the governor came and I was told to shove off by a corpulent security guard who refused to believe I was a doctor (no gloves or white coat, you see) at around 1030, I pretty much it was time to go home. Besides, no one new had come in for 20 minutes.

I came back and watched our minister for state vomit out the same impersonal, impossibly stupid statement he’d give about the Malegaon and Ajmer attacks. Cowardice and purposelessness seeped out his skin. And then changed channels, watched House on AXN and went to sleep.

I got a chance to use my IOU the next day. It was authentic.


Tina Angelin said...

it broke my heart to see the no of lives that was lost in the blast..

sometimes we ppl go abt thinkin and cmpaling abt the silly pain we carry cz we fought with our bf/gf or watever....wat these ppl carry is nutin compared to ny of the abv mentioned...

I pray for all the familes who lost their loved ones in the blast and may the souls of the ones who r dead rest in peace..

God bless

moi said...

that was some eye opener for someone who has solely relied on news channels and the dailies. highly evocative.
i happened to read your other entries as well and i think you are great at this.
i myself have a blog, but i seldom use it. i write on paper and find it too much of a bother to key it in. but your blog is an inspiration. keep blogging! :)

TSO said...

when i heard of this the first person i thought of was you. odd. to be perfectly fair, its because i don't know anyone else from that city. my mum - who graduated from there almost 2 deacdes ago still felt for it. its a shame that a city that prides itself on silent strength should have to bear such a violation of 'Atithi Devo Bhava'. i guess its one of those times you're grateful to be a doctor, no matter how accidentally or reluctantly you fell into it!

occam's razor said...

grisly and sobering - its not so much abt the value of human life as the worthlessness of it. when do those odds (60-20-20) become any better in an indian hospital?
bombs are merely explosive truths designed to bring home to each of us the same unalterable fact, that we are as maggots whose life is somehow dispensable in the bumbling forward lurch of the leviathan that is the welfare state.
and not much else.

TSO said...

you've been tagged! go visit for more.