“Why have you taken leave today?” My wife asked as she gave me breakfast.
“My country cousins are coming to visit.”
“You never tell me in advance about guests,” she remonstrated, “and your relatives seem to have a great fondness for our city.”
“Its not our city,” I said reasonably, “its only the city we live in.”
“Besides ‘country cousin’ is only a manner of speaking. They are actually my old batchmates who practice in the country.” I said between munches of sandwiches (poetry unintentional). “And don’t worry, they will be staying in a hotel.”
“Why? Don’t they think our house is good enough for them? Or is it my cooking they object to?” (Exchanges between my wife and me are like football matches between Brazil and India – only one result is possible).
“Dear spouse,” I said, “They have some work in the government secretariat and our house will be too far off. Hence they are staying in a hotel close to the secretariat. So there is no need to loose your marbles.”
“And that of course gives you the perfect opportunity to loaf around the city, drink alcohol and ogle girls.”
Why does she do this to me? Of course this was exactly what I had planned, but isn’t it kind of her duty to think better of me?
I prepared to leave.
My wife wasn’t finished though.
“You look grown up enough, and yet you eat like a kid.”
She brushed off a few unconsumed crumbs of breakfast off my lips. I acted quickly and bit the hand that had fed me, and ran away.
“Wait till you come back ……” her voice followed me, but the tone told me she was smiling.
Golu was waiting for me in his hotel room. As his name indicates he was always inclined to be portly, but as I hugged him I realized that he had traveled much further on the road to complete rotundity. After many guffaws and saaleys and backslappings we sat down.
“Hey Golu! How the hell do you manage to do it with your wife man? I mean, other than the obvious impediment to closeness your belly affords, your sheer weight will crush her to death!”
“No worry. In our house my wife is always on top of things.” He assured me.
He had already started to pour out the beer which he had ordered in advance.
“And where’s Saandu? Is he excreting in there?” I indicated the closed bathroom door.
“No, no. He’s gone to the secretariat. Cheers!” We sipped the bitter. “He is trying to get his transfer order rescinded.”
“And what about you?”
“Oh, I just came along for the ride. Nobody’s going to transfer me.” He laughed.
“You have a good jack in the health ministry, eh?”
“Not really. Its just that no doctor wants to come to the village where I am posted. I’m the first who has stayed for more than three months.”
The waiter brought some peanuts and chilli-chicken. Golu consumed it with relish.
“It’s a remote village?”
“On the contrary its right on the broad-gauge railway line, and people have prospered significantly on grain and their consummate skills in manufacturing synthetic milk.”
(For the uninitiated, synthetic milk is a miraculous concoction of water, detergent, vegetable oil, sodium hydroxide and urea or fertilizer which is made to look exactly like milk and can pass off as milk in most preliminary lab tests; it’s a wonderful example of rural Indian creativity and a slap on the face of people who believe the villager to be a mere yokel. For more details check this out).
“I would have thought that people would queue up to get a posting there.”
“That would be so, except that, ever since Panchayati Raj came to this village, several political groups have sprung up there. And it is the usual part of the initiation of youth into these parties to once in a while beat up the doctor at the Primary Health Centre (PHC). It is a task easily accomplished for one, and is guaranteed to get their names published in the local newspaper for another. I guess that is what empowerment at the grassroot level means to them.”
“My God!” I was appalled. “How do you manage to hang on to your job then?”
“I’ve trained my staff to keep a lookout for these adventurous souls. When they raise the alarm I slip out by one of the side-doors. Besides doctor bashing is now a little out of fashion. They have plenty of teachers now available to complete their rites of initiation. Also these politicians have realized that being a surgeon, I come in handy when they have their little ideological differences amongst themselves; with the result that I’ve been able to hone my suturing skills to a high level of perfection.”
“Do you get any other surgeries?”
“We have a fully equipped operation theatre with modern lighting, electric cautery and even a laparoscope.”
“Wow!” I whistled in appreciation. “The government is delivering the goods it seems.”
“Sure. Except that there is no power most of the time. They did provide a generator which broke down after a couple of months, and is rusting in its place ever since – you see there is no post for a generator technician at our PHC. And even if the generator was working, the post of the anaesthetist is lying vacant ever since its creation, and these villagers have a silly objection to being operated upon without anaesthesia. I certainly can fall back upon primitive means of anaesthetizing patients but these villagers seem to have a singular aversion to those methods as well– the chief among them being clobbering the patient on the head with a sizable club.”(see fig below)
“What about your wife and children then? How do they manage in such a place?” I asked, feeling more than a little sorry for Golu.
“Well, I did try to keep them with me initially, pointing out the healthy pollution-free country atmosphere as a powerful inducement. A few days in the country however convinced them that the sulfur dioxide coated, carbon monoxide rich city atmosphere was healthy enough for them, and accordingly I have made arrangements to visit them there about once fortnightly.”
We then fell to discussing our college days and our batchmate girls and their favourable points as compared to girls in our senior and junior batches. We had immersed all our alcohol soaked faculties in this intellectual discussion when Saandu staged a comeback. After another round of backslapping, saaleys and guffaws – only this time much louder – we called room service for more beer and chilli-chicken.
“So Saandu,” I asked, “did you manage to stave off your transfer?” Saandu is posted at a district government hospital.
“Well I have handed over the money to my contact at the secretariat, so it should turn out to be ok.”
“The medical department must be the most corrupt of all government departments,” I said sanctimoniously.
“Oh no,” Saandu replied, “the corruption is much less nowadays. Earlier one had to bribe everyone right from the peon to the baabu to the secretary to the minister to get a transfer order cancelled, but now you only have to bribe the minister.”
We drank a toast to the noble minister who bore the burden of the sin of his brethren so dutifully on his own soul, condemning himself to eternal damnation for the sake of their souls. The 70 lakh crores of Indian money in Swiss banks is further testimony to the unstinting and ceaseless self-sacrifice of other such magnanimous souls for their countrymen’s moral welfare.
“Golu here was telling me about his PHC.” I said between mouthfuls of chicken tikka. “How are things at your hospital? I’m sure you have better facilities at a district hospital.”
“Certainly. In fact we even have an ultra-modern nine bedded ICU with five state-of-the-art ventilators.”
“Wonderful!” I said draining my glass completely.
“Yes, its useful to hold parties for staff birthdays, promotions and retirements. Its quite spacious and we keep it sparkling clean.” Saandu said nonchalantly, as he too drained his glass to the dregs.
“B-but, what about the patients, then?” I could hardly believe that even in a government hospital the doctors and staff could hold parties and celebrations in the midst of seriously ill and possibly dying patients.
“What patients my friend?” Saandu said, managing to snatch the last piece of chicken out of Golu’s clutches. “How do you propose to treat patients in an ICU without oxygen lines? Apparently the government ran out of funds to install them. And even if there were oxygen lines, we still could not have run the ICU without properly trained staff.”
“What an appalling waste!” I ejaculated (only a manner of speaking, mind you).
“Well, it is a well constructed ICU. The WHO inspectors were gushing in its praise.”
“And all the money that the government continues to pour into its health programmes!” I continued to ejaculate. “Its all such a sheer waste. The targets are never achieved.”
“That’s not always true,” Saandu rejoined. “The family planning programme for instance. Ever since the government started giving incentives to people for getting sterilized, women have been queuing up to get operated.”
“Then why isn’t the population getting stabilized?” I objected.
“Who talked about population control? These women still have their seven or eight children as usual. Then they come to their health centre, get tubectomized, and collect the incentive. So the targets are being overachieved, actually.”
“Forget this talk guys!” Golu commanded. “Lets loaf around the city. I want to go to a mall and ogle girls.”
So we went to a mall and ogled girls. I love this idea of female emancipation. The degree of their emancipation is inversely proportional to the amount of clothing they put on. And females in my city are in a fairly advanced state of emancipation. I’m eagerly waiting for the day when they become fully emancipated.
Later on at Golu’s insistence we went to Pizza Hut and gobbled pizzas (which he pronounced pijja).