In honour of Rohinton Mistry and the little people in his books...
In a seedy hospital, with patients resting under bunk beds, where cobwebs and cockroaches were minimised according to the payment made on each room, there lodged a couple in this hole who found love for the second time.
This was in Calicut, famous for its halwas and banana chips. Shivaraj and Lakshmi hovered everyday around the string of stalls which mushroomed during the temple ulsavam. They always chose the one that had the strongest aroma emanating. They drooled and wept that they could not afford these nationally famous pastries, that rich fat NRI women fed their pot-bellied husbands back in the Gulf.
One day, Aadu Geetha, nicknamed so because she used to tend goats, now residing in Thoobai after marrying into money, bumped into Shivaraj who had wandered into the posher stalls. Geetha laughed courteously remembering the times she took care of their grandson, who always had to shit near a flowerpot. All of Lakshmi's employers were neighbours who competetively sowed exotic plant seeds sent to them by their children in the US. They did not take kindly to Sidhu who thought he was doing them a favour by providing them with fresh manure.
Geetha felt moved by experiencing this Indian vibrancy that she had missed. Gas Nathoor walked by, wishing the two of them. Said he had lost his job at the construction company, because his flatulence made one of the labourers drop a brick on the boss's head. They said he was lucky he wasnt charged with the medical bill.
Gas asked about Lakshmi, and Shivaraj said she was watering the plants at Dr. Gangadharan's house. Sensing resentment in his tone, Gas looked at Geetha, who nervously joked that Shivaraj had been bitten by the green bug. Does he think it is the Venus Fly Trap that will gobble up Lakshmi and he will lose her forever? Sensing she had delivered a joke beyond their comprehension, Geetha began to laugh genuinely. Shivaraj's eyes filled up suddenly, making Gas hold his stomach. Shivaraj did not want the aromatic air to get polluted, so he checked himself. To no avail.
Damodaran, on his cycle, stopped to jibe Gas, and said he should lend a hand at Baygon's factory in Alapuzha. But not in the department manufacturing the odourless pesticides, ha ha ha! And then because no one asked, he volunteered to tell them that he was going to Kolamakelle hospital because a lady from
around here had been hospitalised with a rare disease.
Shivaraj, who couldnt hold his breath anymore said he would hitch a ride with Damu. Geetha, now hungry for more of Calicut's street stories, said she would follow them in an auto. Gas Nathoor shrugged. He might be illiterate, but he wasnt stupid. He understood the reason behind the sudden dispersal, and parted his bum crack to unleash a silent fart. It turned out to be odourless, and Gas was so delighted, he started walking back to the construction site, hoping the mason would give him a second chance after a whiff of this scentless sensation.
They reached the hospital to see a gathering. Someone at the back of the crowd told them that a woman was spotted rushing from Indira Gandhi Road, with green tipped fingers, and then fainted at the gates to the hospital. Suddenly feeling bile rising in his throat, Shivaraj pushed his way through to find Lakshmi
unconscious on the ground.Why hadnt these sons of dogs called the paramedics ? In a fit of trembling rage, he shouted, "May your insensitivity crumble when your own mothers are licking the feet of Kama!"
Suddenly a wiseacre jeered, "Yes, he might shoot arrows into our hearts and send throbbing pain to our dingle dangles!"
Everyone laughed and hooted.
Shivaraj clenched his fist at the error : Yama was the God of Death, not Kama, the God of Love.
An attendant was laughing at the scene, when Geetha's auto had swerved around the crowd and stopped at Lakshmi's feet. She shouted to the attendant to shut his silly mouth and do his job. He walked silently to Lakshmi whilst making a note of the auto's number plate. Union leader Rajesh would be able to worm out the address of this fascist bitch from the driver.Somebody had thrown up in the reception area, and the
cleaners came out with brooms that still had dry yellow bits trapped in its bristles from a previous clean-up.
When they had finished, the room emanated a strong smell of disinfectant and vomit. Lakshmi woke up feeling nauseous, and puked on the attendant's feet, who was seeing red and Rajesh. He ordered the stretcher to be put down, and said he would not take another step until Geetha admitted she was conspiring against him.
Kumaran saw his son, and remembered the boy's youth, when he had forbidden him from playing with the coloured chickens in the neighbouring compound. He had slapped him, and in defiance the boy had not only climbed over the gate and played with those diseased birds, but also brought back a chicken with
him. In his weariness, he strode over to his son, whom he had gotten a job in a hospital after much begging to the higher authorities, and here he was, refusing to do his duty because a patient was too ill.Nearby he saw a plastic bag that had caught under a door. He walked upto his son, knelt down and started scooping the vomit with his hand.
Lakshmi with help from Shivaraj got off her stretcher, and signalled that both of them help the old man. Geetha wondered at the Indian vibrancy. It was this kind of affection for grime and dirt that she was glad was absent in the Gulf. Hesitantly she bent down to help, but Lakshmi's old hand stood out firm and
unshakeable, like Krishna's palm, in the Mahabharatha, when it spun out endless yards of sari to clothe Draupadi. There was deadly silence. Everyone was frozen with the message of the
This was their burden. They had seen it happening to their friends and their employers. Geetha felt left out. She couldnt stand with the attendant because first of all, he disgusted her, and she was atleast 15 years his senior. The attendant looked on nonchalantly. Tonight his father would be back to ask for more money for kallu. It was a vicious circle. Did this Maharani from Dubai think this was The Great Indian Circus ? And he laughed. He did like his imagination.
Through the crack in the door, Dr. Gangadharan was watching a horrible scene in the reception. Without wasting a second, he ordered that the patient be given a 5 star room, on the second floor. There would be a lift to that floor, and they were to be assured that 'Dr.Gang and jingbang' , he joked wearily would take care of them, all hospital bills covered. Shivaraj, with tears in his eyes, blessed the doctor, and spat at his feet to keep away ill omen. Dr. Gang stepped back in fright and then smiled in relief.
Damu started talking excitedly as they went up the lift, saying this was how it must be on a plane, only it went higher than 3 floors. Shivaraj patted him, still in awe of their good luck. Geetha smiled. Even the attendant sighed.
The 5 star room had cobwebs, a loose toilet seat, and a dusty floor. Still, it was a suite compared to the rest of the rooms in the hospital. Lakshmi laid down, took a deep breath, and looked up at Geetha. She knew their family. How many goats they had sold to be slaughtered by those butchers. She remembered trying to console a wailing Geetha in her kitchen. It happened every year, on the third day of the festival. Finally as all children do, she got accustomed. But she never kept a pet again.
Lakshmi looked at her green tipped fingers. She smiled expecting Shivaraj had thought that the colour of the leaves had come off. He did have illogical fears at times. The truth was that she was dying. She saw it in Dr. Gangadharan's eyes. She had tended to those plants ever since he was concieved in his mother's womb. Now to think those hands that had lovingly hosed those plants with a gentle spray, making the Ventula win in the 'Most Well-looked After Garden Plant' category at the flower show for three years in running against Mrs. Hussain's orchids, should be amputated. Well, she thought, I might as well be dying, if my hands will not serve me anymore.
When the nurse came in with a syringe, she buzzed for the doctor, and everyone else to step outside. Shivaraj insisted he stayed with her, in case the doctor tried any hanky panky with her. She laughed saying the doctor was old enough to be her grandson. Gas Nathoor walked in relieved to find healthy people who could listen to his meeting with the mason. The nurse wrinkled her nose as soon as he entered. He smelt as if he had an indigestion of hot pakoras. Like he had eaten them straight out of the cooking oil fifteen minutes ago. Not that body odour was harmful, but for her own sake, she decided that on grounds of hygiene, Gas be removed.
The heavens had intended a number to be added to India's population explosion, and it was in this way that Nurse Bincy Baeb Eappen met eyes with Gas Nathoor aka Tariq Faizal Kutty. In that long and lingering stare that ensued, the clock stopped working, and she understood that he had been spared
circumcision, and he saw that her breasts were as round as the pakoras he had eaten on his way to the hospital. They were the biggest he had seen. And what a cheap price they came at.
Damu said slyly that Gas needed a new outlet for his creative juices to get flowing, and to get going before he dried up. The clock started ticking again, and Nurse walked out of the room, fingering the door knob before leaving. Gas left the room hurriedly, not before Damu noticed a rising bump on Gas's lower body and started sniggering.
(to be continued..)