Monday, September 18, 2017

Murder in ward 54

For those friends who asked,
fo' a murder tale gruesome and grim,
'ere, have your fill, and while at it,
acquit me for a fancy whim!

It was cool that October night, unusually so, for even Dusshera had not been celebrated yet. It is one of the two things I remember most vividly from that night - the cold like a slow setting of yogurt, a gradual chilling of limbs progressively unable to move; and the scent of lemon. The windows of the ward had been open, and uncurtained for the most part, so through the grime of the unwashed panes and the obscuring tangle of wires outside, we could still glimpse the dusty trees of the nursery across the hospital wall. We were lucky in ward 54 that way, to have something other than walls and roads and other windows to look at, a view.

The last round was over, later than usual, owing to the unexpected bleeding in the last surgery. Well, perhaps that should have been anticipated, that bleeding, for it was a massive tumour, and it was, after all, right next to the IVC, but that is neither here nor there. But that was not in ward 54, and technically, not a murder. The only relation it had to this story was this - it had made the consultant late. And so the evening round had been one long torture for all: the junior consultants, the residents, senior and junior, and those clinging to the lowest rung of the ladder - the interns. Perhaps it was his way of atoning for the death in the OT, or perhaps he was just too tired to make judgements and decisions quickly. Or, if the rumours were true, he could just have been trying to avoid facing his wife who was said to have found out about his girlfriend. Who knows? At any rate, it was well past nine when the procession left the ward, the single assiduous intern leading her group of straggling slothful comrades as a sort of giant full stop at the end of a moving sentence.

Like I said, it was a cool night. As soon as the doctors left, the ward nurses sprang into action, trying to catch up to their evening routine. You know the drill. Their rounds were, if anything, worse than the ones that preceded them, all full of injections and medicines and thermometers and so on. Whether the autumn chill lent an extra vim to their movements, I couldn't say, but it certainly made them deviate from that routine enough to insist on closing the windows. It was not an easy task, mind you. I expect the matron would have, in the ordinary course of events, got someone to oil the hinges within the next fortnight, before the windows needed to be closed nightly, but this level of frigidity was unseasonal, and therefore, dangerous. There was quite a bustle that night. As the wardboy went about laboriously pulling the shutters close, complaining against the rust and dust while raising clouds of each in equal measure, he managed to provoke a couple of patients into coughing fits. Oxygen cylinders and their festooning tubings were brought in by others just as the dinner trolley arrived (late, and much awaited despite the horrendous food it brought) and while these two narrowly avoided collision, someone managed to topple a bedside table on which had stood a pitcher full of water. Naturally this called for more staff, for cleaning up. It wasn't anyone's fault really, that while the spill was being mopped up on one side of the bed, the nursing aide on the other side stepped on a banana which had somehow managed to roll or slide across from under the bed. His glide across the ward width was stereotypical, ending in a forced landing on his bottom, which was good for his health, but unfortunately, not for his dignity. He called the cleaner a moron for not being able to clean, and in turn was accorded other names, and if the relatives and nurses had not intervened, there would have been rather a spectacle for the patients to watch. Both staff members were removed from the scene expeditiously, however, as the night matron arrived on her rounds. No matter what they might have thought of each other, neither cared for a ticking from the strict superintendent, so when the dust settled after her round, the ward was getting ready to sleep, apparently at peace with itself.

But death always delights in hospitals, choosing, as it were, which delicacy to quaff today, and tomorrow. When you are a patient, you live with it, hoping it won't be your turn today, tomorrow, or the day after and being thankful when it isn't. Illness at least has a reason, a kind of logic to explain that quenching of breath. Not so murder.

Plates had been cleared away, medicines dispensed and blankets distributed to those who wished for more. The lights were dimmed, curtains drawn, and only a single nurse now remained visible with a stack of registers while her colleagues withdrew for their own meal. Patients were beginning to doze, albeit with difficulty because the attendant of bed 9 had a tendency to snore. The bright industrious intern popped in with her own register and sat with the nurse for a while before making her private round of the ward. But she did not disturb the night, quietly touching a hand or feeling for a pulse before moving on, and so the ward sank deeper into slumber. Even the midnight recording of pulse and temperature and blood pressure, so annoying a habit otherwise, somehow was easier tolerated this night. The night was still, and cool, and smelled of lemons...

For in the frenzy of activity earlier, one window had either been forgotten, or had swung open again after being closed. Being at the far end of the ward, there was no patient nearby to complain of a draught, and a dark wind blew the scent of lemons from heaven knows where. Certainly the nursery opposite had no blossoming lemon that we had seen. No light was on in that part of the ward. Shadows merged into shadows, and if there was one shadow more active than the others, that moved not with the wan moonlight but free of it, no one saw it. The hours ticked on.

They say it is toughest to stay awake at 4 am when you are on night duty, and it is true. That is when the night work is done, the morning work prepared for, and with no adrenaline rush to prop it up, the body slumps, craves sleep. And so it was that those who should have been awake were asleep too, uncomfortably perched on chairs and heads hanging at odd angles or cradled on tables, and there was not one witness to the grisly suffocation of that poor innocent.

In the end, it was just the wind, that rising evil black wind, which called attention to what the night had wrought. As the far end window pane shuddered and smashed into the sill, the sounds merged into one another. The roar of the wind, the distant thunder, the banging of the windowpane, the sharp shattering of its glass and the girl's scream.

A little away from the centre of the ward, just beyond the pool of light that had illuminated the central nurse's desk, lay the limp body, and, perhaps that was a small pool of blood near the throat.

The entire ward was awake now, startled, shocked, stunned, hearts racing from the scream that had dragged them away from dreams and slumber. Tousled heads turned towards each other, wondering, asking, questioning. And yet it felt like nobody moved, that the whole ward was frozen. Fingers pointed till one by one, till their lines of sight tautened like spokes around a single point in the ward: the girl who had screamed.

It was only she who stared still at the floor, and when she spoke, she broke the shell of stillness that had appeared to envelop everyone. With outrage and disgust in her voice, she exclaimed, "Who killed that cat in the ward?"

Friday, May 21, 2010

What makes a good book?

A couple of days back, the Pratham books blog had an interesting post by Shweta Ganesh Kumar about how she wrote a couple of stories which included "a four year old who learns to overcome her fear of the unknown" and "a ten year old who dreams of a world flooded by water and learns about conservation", and was tactfully directed to write others with more fun and less preaching. So, she asks, which kind of stories should be written for children. Just for fun, or something deeper, something higher?

I wonder what my answer shall be. 

Stories which teach, which inform, which reinforce concepts and values you are trying to teach, stories with moral - are these superior to those we read for amusement, for enjoyment alone?

I suppose at some point of life, I would have said yes. At this moment, on the morning of the day I have been requested, nay ordered, to only read 40 books and do experiments (and no homework or studying), I hesitate. If you will come with me, we shall examine this together, and who knows where we shall go, what we shall find? 

I love books. I remember the thrill of holding a tiny book in my small hands when I was five or slightly older - it was just the way mum held her book when she was reading. I remember summer holidays marked by the abundance of my grandfather's library, even if the only one I could read was the Encyclopedia Brittanica. I remember the location still, of the shops which sold softies and second hand Enid Blytons, in markets more than 30 years past. I remember the towering dusty old shelves of pre-indepedence era belonging to my great grandfather with nostalgia and regret: I couldn't read them then. I remember.... books, from almost every phase in my life. There is nothing I'd rather be gifted, nor anything I'd rather gift - than books. Naturally, the first book encountered by my tiny baby, just beginning to crawl on the bed, was one of the massive Harry Potter volumes. How I loved to see those tiny hands flipping the pages!

We have been reading together ever since my child was able to sit. Admittedly those first books were only animal pictures, or illustrated nursery rhymes, but they still caught, and held, an infant's attention. Last night, we slept far too late, and I called off the bedtime books. As a result I was made to promise to read 40 books, and do only experiments today - no studies, no homework, and definitely not mama busy in her household tasks (or the computer!). Forty is a large number to a four year old, isn't it?

So whence comes this love of reading, of books? 

When I was introduced to the school my child now goes to, one of the things I liked about it was that they included story books in their classroom. Children were encouraged to read stories in the class. It was only when they started the story telling sessions that I realized the difference between my imagination and the reality. It was not a class with ten children seated around two tables. This was a 35+ kids in a classroom with only one teacher. It used some Montessori equipment from 20 years ago - or however long the school had been in existence, but not the system. It advertised horse riding, but that was restricted to once a fortnight for a couple of months. Understandably, there were differences in our outlook on story telling as well. 

I thought the sessions were meant to encourage a love of reading, of books, of imagination and creation. I thought different kinds of books would be encouraged - fiction as well as non fiction, mini biographies, wildlife commentaries and so on. I imagined the stress would be on telling a story, using the book as a mere prop, encouraging a child to embroider it any which way, to embellish with own stories. I imagined something magical.

The truth was, one single person, had, in addition to keeping all those children controlled and trying to get them to learn something, also spare time to listen to children reading stories. There was no time or scope for imagination. A picture book without words which I sent the very first day, to encourage description and understanding, was allowed, but gently discouraged. Abridging classics, along with hand illustrated booklets, was not expected, and I was reminded to send the original book. I couldn't then, take the liberty of sending in a story originally told by my own child and illustrated by me. Although on paper they strongly discouraged learning by rote, I did not find any encouragement for the child to be retelling the story in own words. The school held a story telling competition - in which parents were advised to use new and different level appropriate stories, which were to be interesting and with a moral. I assume this is what was required at the rest of the times as well.

And this is where my personal thread rejoins the original question. What makes a good book? It was terribly difficult finding a book that would satisfy all the school's criteria - and mine as well. It was then that I realized that I had been buying books based on one criterion alone - it should appeal to my child. We had encyclopedias, we had life-stories, we had books with and without words, we had turn-the-flap books and small chapter books meant for older children, but what we didn't have, most of the time, were 'moral' books. At least, not in the sense I understood the school to be looking for: "Bubbles Is Selfish", "Mithu and the Yellow Mango", and more of this genre. We did have these two titles, and some more, but these hadn't been the books that were asked to be read twice. Many of the books we owned did have some kind of gentle life lessons, but no 'morals' in the sense of a distinction between right and wrong conduct. Some that were overtly so - like "When Sophie gets angry - really, really angry" was not appreciated. I was okay with that. I had read it once, the book was at hand for later use - right now, I just wanted to foster the love of reading, for with reading automatically comes the broadening of horizons. The kind of books, it seemed to me, that the school wanted us to focus on, were not very imaginative, nor was the language particularly enriching. In fact there were instances where the grammar was poor or syntax incomplete, particularly in books in which there was no author listed - books which were mass produced for precisely this kind of school market.

So, what makes a good book for us? A story? Right now, at this age, it is something that entertains and amuses. Stories that make on laugh - "The monster at the end of this book" is a good example are the top of the list. A story that is intelligent, a plot that is believable, language that is lovely - these are what I use to screen the books I buy. A moral, or something educative - these are important for me, but not as much for my child. What has been your conclusion?

PS: Straight from the horse's mouth - "I like funny books, and fun books. And I like new shiny book, not old torn ones"!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Playing by the book

Starting mini posts today, just one of the changes I have been thinking of. Just one sentence, one para, one link, one video, one image - anything to share. Just so that I get back in the habit of writing, of sharing.

Here is a blog I am in awe of - Playing by the book. Not only do they read tons of books, they also craft gorgeous related things, and listen to related music etc etc. The stuff they make up is amazing - check out the toy hospital for instance. Right now, there is a giveaway on, so do hop over and take a look :)

Thursday, December 31, 2009


Next year, this will be a full fledged blog.
Next year, there will be more items in the archives than before.
Next year, I will try to post once a month if not more.

With these resolutions, I wish you a happy new year, and may your resolutions be followed!

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Just so that you don't watch it with children....

Rest of the post on Hello, Net Baby!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Define: Disturbing

Disturbing: Three year old girls catwalking in skimpy grown up clothes, seductively throwing their shawls to the floor, doing a slow strip-tease, to cat calls from the comperes. Fashion show at annual day celebrations of Mother's Pride School. A playschool. Parents. Teachers. Who is responsible here?

Moved beyond words

I just found this blog - Sophie in the Moonlight, and it is one which I would not describe as beautiful, or well written, or any such mundane adjective. There is only one way to respond to it, and that is by reading it, and getting others to read it. That is the only way I can pay homage to what this lady has shared -

"Rape is being caught on the Oakland Bridge, or the Nimitz Freeway during the Loma Prieta earthquake. One second you are on your way home to your family, or your cat, or the gym, and the next second you are being violently shaken by a force whose strength and magnitude you could not begin to fathom until that moment when you are afraid for your very life and you know that the force that has you could care less if you survive or not. The violent thrusting of the earth's mantles are unaware that your soul hangs in the balance, but you are in shock with your awareness.

Rape is a rug burn on your cheek from a blue carpeted bath mat.

Rape is never-ending. Once it starts, time stops. If you survive it and are not murdered, the rape is only a blink away from re-occurring in totality, time-free moment to time-free moment, all over again in your head.

Rape means that there are some physical spaces in which you can never set foot ever ever again, and some places you can enter on a good day, but you know you can't blink, you can't close your eyes for a millionth of a second or you will PTSD yourself into a heart attack.

Rape robs you of feeling safe in your own skin, because your own skin knows that it once was not safe.

Rape can be found in the definition of Major Trust Issues.

Rape is suddenly finding that your insides are now your outsides, yet there are no replacement insides. Only hollowness and a searing pain with a profuse bleeding that cannot be quickly cauterized.

Rape creates a new person inside of you, someone whom you have never met and aren't really sure you want to know all that well, but whom you must acknowledge, because to ignore her is to ensure the peril of your sanity.

Rape instills a constant hyper-vigilance against it happening again. The hyper-vigilance can cause the feeling of being raped even when one is not....

Rape is not good."

Go read the rest of this post (it is an old post), and then the rest of the blog. Please.

Having read this, do you have any words to share? Would you like to talk, or would you prefer, in the face of this raw vulnerable honesty, to be alone with your thoughts? I, for one, want to be silent, just now...