It was an October evening of 1988. The day was fairly uneventful. Mrs. Mathur was on duty. Nothing exceptional happened till dinner. Except, the pudding at supper. Somehow, that pudding tasted, well, different. I wasn’t sure, how and why? It was edible. I finished it fully. And even had an urge to have some more. But then, turned down the temptation, since, suddenly, I could hear my stomach up till my ears.
Now, I know, some of you may have already started thinking that this story “stinks”. But hold your horses and its poo. I did hold mine, that night. In fact, there was no pressure. But the sensation kept me awake most of the night. I complained of stomach ache to Ms. Thapa and very normally; she gave me the “golden liquid tonic” from the almirah. I always preferred this one than the “red shiny tonic” for cold and cough. But it didn’t help my sleep much. I would have slept for just about couple of hours before the morning bell shrieked and it hit my stomach instead of my ears. I had barely opened my eyes that I had this splinting pain in the stomach. It had suddenly got worse than the night before. I couldn’t sit, or stand or keep lying down. The only way it gave me some respite was while drinking water. Which after couple of hours, I had started puking out.
This is when I was taken to the hospital and I met Sister Francis for the first time. I had heard some stories about her and Sister Singh from other boys and girls. All good things, of course. But my only interaction with hospital staff till now was a highly charged and injecting Mr. Usmani. And after having him poking us the way only he could, I could not believe good stories about the medical staff at the hospital. Though, the way Sister Francis made me feel those first few hours is still so medically fresh in my, well, stomach. Unfortunately, those few hours turned into few days, which turned into few weeks. I was admitted in the hospital for over 3 months! And I was in Cl V. I was not even 10 years old. Or may be I was. I don’t remember. And I am in no mood to calculate my age. But I clearly remember Sister Francis, her chubby cheeked, always smiling and refreshingly apt sense of humour for a medical attendant. She was a magician or may be a witch! I had germs in my stomach. Which these people figured only after a month. And it took a month and half for them to fully cleanse my stomach. And sometimes I feel Sister Francis was the reason of delay. If not for her, may be I would have been cured earlier. Due to my stomach ache, the only diet I had was milk bread for breakfast, khichdi and curd for lunch, milk bread during tea time and again khichdi and curd for dinner. Initially, I would turn out most of whatever I ate. I didn’t realise I was losing weight till my mother came visiting after a month. Sister Francis used to hide and bring me food from her home. Very sparingly, initially, and a little more frequently, in later days but food included egg sandwiches, bun-maska and once it was chicken. Most of which was not allowed for me. Howsoever rare, she indulged me into things restricted for me. She resisted. I suspect, mostly controlling her own self, than me. I used to howl and beg to everyone in the hospital for some change of taste on my tongue. She was the only one who failed to resist. I just cannot forget her smile and her tears when I was discharged from hospital after 3 months. In fact, I think the entire hospital staff had come to bid me good bye after my 3 months stay with them. Including Khaleel’s father, who was the Gardner in the hospital. I think, he could hardly see a thing beyond 1 feet from his eye. But the hospital garden was probably the most nurtured, colourful and bountiful presentation of the flora and fauna of Jharipani. A very compassionate, soft spoken and loveable gentleman.
With a sudden pang in my stomach tonight I suddenly got reminded of those painful days and nights. And the first and only person I could think of was Sister Francis. I kept going back to hospital many a times just to meet her and we would sit on the hospital garden bench and talk for a while. But she never offered me anything to eat then. I asked her once, jokingly, do I need to fall ill for her to feed me? She had smiled at said, I fed you not because you were ill. I fed you, because you used to cry.
– Kanishka Mallick (1996 Batch)