This may resonate more with people who got admitted to the school hospital at least 3-4 times for at least 2-3 days, especially for fake reasons. For others, please bear with me.
Falling sick is not one of the feelings that one would want to experience too often. Definitely, not when you are 10 or 12 year old, in a far away land from parents. The few friends you had made here also are not with you, when you are stuck in a place where all you have for company are 2 Aayajis, 1 nurse/sister on duty and a gardener. If you are sick but can walk upto the duty room, you may get to watch some TV in the evenings after dinner. But if you are seriously ill, you got to stay back in the room all day, evening and night, lying down dead tired, or sleeping or worst case staring into the blank ceiling, colourless walls or worst case cringing in pain of whatever that is troubling you in sickness. The food was no solace either. Most of the folks who would get admitted had 2 options – combo meal pack of milk-bread or khichdi-curd, to chose from. The lucky few who were there for some kind of bone related medical issue of a big sprain, fracture or perhaps an eye infection would be served normal meals. And they would look down upon the others as if they were from a royal family being forced to sit with lepers!
However, the best part of the hospital was the garden. After breakfast, kid-patients were allowed to sit in the garden area for a while before being ushered in around 10 Am when the outdoor patient-kids from Girls School were to visit. While we were in Junior School, we could not fathom as to why would an ill boy from Boys School go in, wash his face, comb his hair, adjust & set his lousy, un-ironed and dirty night suit and finally trying to hide it under his equally hideous dressing gown and walk like an Egyptian God. This would be repeated every day, after breakfast, till he was not discharged forcibly. Kid-patients from Girls School were fairly contained in their demeanour and would not make their split-personality so obvious during their entire stay, including evening time lapse of 1630 – 1700 hrs when it was the outdoor patient time for boys.
More about people later. Back to garden time. Rashid Miyaan, Khalil Bhai’s father was the man responsible for the budding romance in sick minds, bodies and hearts. He would maintain the place so beautifully, you would first fall in love with his flowers, the aura and colours all around, you would then fall in love with him & his stories right from 1950s till date. By the time you start missing Rashidji in the afternoons when he wasn’t around, you are already day dreaming about someone who had visited at 10 AM today, had not noticed you, but you were bloody sure she did and are already waiting for tomorrow when she would magically appear again through the wooden gate, walk upto you looking down at her tunic, but while crossing you would look at you and pass a smile which only you in the entire world saw and then you will claim all day that she did what she did and that we are all too sick to look at things from a distance. Since, all boys were love-sick, we all agreed to the common storyline at some point while staying locked down during our hospital stays.
Sitting at home in this lockdown, when the weather is just about right to be called Spring, reminds me of my stays at the hospital. I perhaps hold the record of getting admitted & discharged 11 times in a single month. Well, those are fables for another time. Sitting by the window, the naked silence outside, broken softly only by chirping of birds you know names of but don’t bother to remember, of a lazy machine ramming itself unwittingly somewhere close by, a rare vehicle’s horn passing by and a human being calling out a human being at a far distance, whose voice is muffled, brings back fresh memories of sitting amidst the blank silence decorated by the purple flower-bud and firozi spring flower so beautifully curated and maintained by Rashid ji. You take consolation in the fact that you are not the only person alive but sitting in one of the most beautiful corners of Jharipani, the hospital’s garden. You look at what you are wearing and pretty much resembles the distasteful stinking night suit of the kid-patient. But then you also get the warm fuzzy feeling on your face, that of the smile of the kid-patient.
– Kanishka Mallick (1996)