Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Stench of the City, part 1

The day had started well enough. The OP was rather light, and it looked like it was going to be that rare day when we might be able to shut shop before noon. It was the week before Onam, and there was a general festive mood that had rubbed off on everyone. The patients were probably bottling up all their troubles until the festive season was past. My colleague was already making plans for taking his friend out to a long-delayed matinee and buffet lunch. I was happy for him, having known one too many failed relationships amongst doctors only because he or she was never around when the other needed them. In a relationship, few things can be more damaging in the long term.

Just as we were about to call it a day, there came a call from the dept the of the rather elaborately named Social and Preventive Medicine or simply SPM. To have the officer in charge of public health calling you is bad enough, but when even she doesn't get to the point, but rather asks you to stay put and hands the phone to the professor, you get a really, really bad feeling in your stomach that this is going to be something really, really bad.

"Hi Dr! How are you? Got any plans for Onam?"

The Old bull-dog being courteous, even deferential! Who ever heard of that? Now I knew I was in trouble, probably with a capital 't'.

"Doctor, we got a situation. Could you please wait a few min until I can dispatch someone to brief you on it?"

"I know you are in some kind of mess you crusty old curmudgeon, and you want to wash your hands clean off it. Its not something you can ask me to in the normal course of things, but at the same time you need someone who you think can do the job. Well, beat it. I can see through your 'nice guy' act and I ain't buying it any more. I've done my tour of duty at more tight spots than anyone else you know, and this time am calling it quits."

How I would have loved to say that to him!

"Yes sir. Of course sir. My pleasure sir. Thank you sir".

That's what I actually said.

I looked at my colleague. He was not making eye-contact. The natural thing would be to ask what it was that the old man had wanted. That would be the decent thing too, for I could actually ask him to stay back instead of me, having already done more than my fair share of 'dirty jobs', as we both were sure this was going to be.

But if you take a good man, put him up against a wall, then put a gun to his head, and say, "Your life or your pal's", what do you expect?

I know what not to expect. I believe six years at this place has made me a good enough cynic to know better than that.

He leaves, not a glance exchanged, our greetings unsaid. Six years of friendship, probably our last posting together, and this is how it ends. I feel pity for both of us. That's the only emotion I am allowed to feel, they tell me. No anger or disgust or envy. They say its not becoming to someone in the white coat to feel any of that. So you internalize your emotions, nursing a feeling of being regularly if not constantly wronged against and not able to even say it out loud, of being alienated from the rest of society, from your near and dear, and even from yourself; of being de-humanized. And worst of all, the knowledge that you are being judged against by people without an ounce of commitment within themselves. So you put up a facade, one of impenetrable emotional stability, that often belies the turbulence just beneath. And the show goes on.

Of course, I did not think all that just right then. I don't think that well on an empty stomach. But I certainly did think of the Onam feast I might almost certainly have to miss that day.

To be continued..


  1. Ohh poor you!! am sorry but I am laughing..quite loud actually and now on typing my state am feeling guilty too..poor poor you!! keeps bringing back to mind the lines you said: "the most distressing or annoying incidents in our lives end up as hilarious posts!"

  2. Hahahaha. (Sorry for that sadistic laughter.) But you should have told the truth to that crusty old man. How distressful to miss the Onam feast.
    Did you send a friendship day card to your pal?

  3. I really thought you said those things to the old man. And then you broke the suspense!
    Well, I am all ears. I want to know if you were lucky enough to get the angels feel sorry for you. I want to know if you ended up missing the feast. I sincerely hope you didn't. :)
    But do let us all know!

  4. Hi Sujatha, Laugh on. I had a good laugh from your episode with the fax machine tech support people too.

    Hi Aparna. I will, one of these days. No hard feelings between my friend and I, its just a matter of conflicting self-interests, perfectly understandable. Anyways relationships, I have come to believe, are like rivers. They run their course, some slow and some rapid, some deep and some others wide, but then, eventually, they all reach their end.

    Hi Destiny, Its a tremendous encouragement to know that you are eagerly waiting for the next part. Hope I wont let you down.

  5. Aww...:(
    waiting for the next part!

  6. Hi Diwakar, Swathi: Thanks and welcome here.

  7. beautifully written, doctor. you go deep, quite deep and truthful and there is craft. what i liked most is the detached look at the whole scene, how you build up the whole mood, how you depend solely on the reality of the whole thing and not the imagined... one important thing we can do when writing such pieces is to pick only the most essential. keep was much information as possible away from the piece. i have read hemingway writing of this about his craft somewhere. information withheld adds to the power of the story. you write very well.


Thanks for giving me this moment of your life.