Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Remembering Bubu..

Bubu died.

I was at Manjeswar, getting ready for the afternoon shift, when the telephone rang.

It was Amma. She sounded shaken.

"Did you know someone by name Babu?"

I could think of more than one person who had that name, in full or in part. I said as much.

"The one working at Thenmala. Was he your classmate?"

"You mean Bubu? Yeah he's my classmate alright. What of him?"

"M_____ called just now. Says he's dead."

Pause at both ends.


"Bike accident. At around 10 this morning."

I glanced at the wall clock. It was just past 11.

His body would still be warm.

*** ***

Bubu was always in a hurry.

During first year in college, when we were all green-behind-the-ear freshers, Bubu was one of the few people who were undaunted by the (literally) Latin terminology that we had to familiarize with, and the sheer volume of information we had to process. He jumped right in, spending long hours and money in voluminous standard textbooks, while many others took the easy way out by going for handed-down Xeroxed notes from seniors. He never scored very highly in any exam, but he was undoubtedly the most respected student of our class at that time. There used to be legends spun around his person. Some said he had started with medical studies before commencement of the course. Others said he had won some 60000 rupees worth of scholarship, all of which he had invested in medical books!

To put it simply, we were awed by Bubu.

Most people start seriously preparing for post-graduate studies after graduation. Bubu had already cleared his first stage exams for continuing education in the US before final year.

He wanted to be a specialist surgeon, and is said to have spent 40 minutes every day practicing his knots.

More legends!

*** ***

Thenmala is a hill-area, a tourist site situated in the Western Ghats, on the highway connecting Punalur in Kerala to Shenkottai in Tamil Nadu. The road uphill is as scenic as it is dangerous, the road cutting across cliffs and boulders at places, the Kallada River at its feet.

Thenmala is 20km from my home. The primary health center there is the closest to my home where I could expect to be posted during rural service period. Dr.M_____, who was the 'permanent' MO (unlike the CRS people who were on contract), was our neighbour at Punalur, from where she commuted to work everyday. Her husband is a magistrate serving at the local court.

OP at Thenmala begins at 9 in the morning. It was 9.30 and Bubu hadn't reached yet. Dr.M______ had started without him and was now beginning to get annoyed. Bubu had only been transferred in a month ago, and it was unlike him to be late. Just then she received a phone call. The caller identified himself as a policeman, and said Bubu had lost his balance at a curve that was well known to be one of the more difficult stretches. He informed her that her colleague had sustained minor injuries but would be ok in a short while. She immediately sent her jeep and driver to fetch him to the hospital, and tried to raise Bubu on his phone.

It went on ringing.

The driver returned shortly. There was no Bubu with him.

"It was more than a fall. Bubu Saar's motorcycle was hit by a bus at around 9. They have taken him to Punalur in a forest dept jeep."

*** ***

I realize that I am the first person in my batch to have known. It falls upon me to inform the others. And yet I had to be absolutely sure before I would pass on news like this. Then there was the question of arranging leave and replacement. You just don’t walk out of a hospital.

I contact my partner. He was a classmate to both Bubu and I. We agree we can’t both attend the funeral service. I offer to travel. He agrees to stay back. That's the way it works in the profession.

I start contacting others - one from each district - our entire batch of 200 having been literally spread along the length and breadth of the state, 'doing our time' as my partner once put it. I try to sound sufficiently vague: Heard that Bubu has been injured...did you hear anything...no?...can you confirm...thank you..yeah am fine...yeah you too...bye..

*** ***

Mr. B________, the magistrate, was in the middle of a hearing. A court official slipped him a note from a Sub-Inspector. There was something that might be of interest to the honourable magistrate, so would he please call him at the given number at the earliest, the note said. Given below was a cell no. This was unusual, and therefore had to be serious. He calls the officer immediately.

"Sir, I am sorry to disturb you, but isn’t your wife the doctor at Thenmala Health Centre?"

"I was at the Taluk hospital today morning. There was a rumour that the doctor at Thenmala has been involved with a motor accident and is now being brought to Punalur. Thought you would like to know."

*** ***

Dr.M______ had just talked to one of the doctors at Punalur. She could feel that the other doctor was keeping something from her. She was afraid to push, afraid of what she might hear if she did.

Her cell rang. It was her husband.

"Heard you were dead!" he exclaimed, in a mixture of relief and delight.

She knew.

*** ***

Bubu was late. He didn't like to be late. He had only recently been transferred to the hill-station, and for some reason that seems inexplicable in retrospect, started using a motorcycle. Usually it is people who use a car in the countryside that start using a motorcycle when they move to the city because of the traffic congestion. Here he was, switching his car of 3 years for a motorcycle that he had seldom used after first year. He did wear his helmet, but - may be because he was late - probably didn't strap it down. As he neared the curve, there was a bus in front of him ever so slowly making it down the ghat roads but - again uncharacteristic of him - he overtook it right at the curve and ran face first into an oncoming interstate express bus. The bus didn't have much room to maneuver, and Bubu who swerved sharply glanced off its fender and fell. His helmet fell away from his head, and he fell face first onto the sharp end of his motorcycle handle. The front portion of his face caved in on impact. We call it a Le Fort fracture, classically seen in road traffic accidents. Bubu would have known.

He died instantly.

*** ***

My good friend, the station master at Manjeswar, has arranged a ticket for me at such short notice. I will get a berth nearly half the way, and then with luck, get a seat for the rest of the journey in another train. I would reach in time.

I reached at daybreak. Went straight to his home. Bubu was laid in an air-conditioned coffin. Someone had done a neat job on him - the caved in segment had been restored - yet his head was still like a half-inflated football. I stand for a moment, uneasy and unsure of myself. I had until now only thought of getting here. I bring my hands together in prayer and stay that way for may be a minute.

I start looking around. A few of my friends are standing to one side. Death might be everyday business to people in the profession, and truly there was the reserve and restraint that one would expect, but I could see that they were rattled. Am sure they saw the same in me.

I hadn't seen any of them after commencement of CRS. We exchange news about one another. We don't talk much about Bubu.

I lingered for a little while longer, and afterwards started looking for an autorickshaw.