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Saturday, May 30, 1998

Twilight zone

Pinki Virani  
Dr Sundeep Sardesai stands at the beside of his wife-to-be in ward 33, neurosurgery, looking at her. The attending nurses have moved away discreetly.

He smiles. She is going to hate it when she gets up and sees her reflection in the mirror. It's not that she is vain but Aruna is happy that she's a pretty woman. She is going to be utterly distraught when she sees they have made her bald. Actually she has a very interesting skull shape. Sundeep's eyes travel over the shape of her skull and come to rest on her closed eyes.He leans forward and gently, softly, like he would put his lips to a butterfly's wings, kisses her eyelids. ``Rest,'' he whispers, ``I'll come back later.''

5.00 p.m. Dr Sardesai is back, looking ashen. He realizes he had gone into denial earlier. He realizes there's no point pretending that he can study while Aruna is unconscious. He realizes that this is the very ward where she had been on night duty and he had proposed marriage to her. He realizes that when he kissed her eyelids he waskissing her for the first time since they met. He realizes he is crying right now. Dr Sundeep Sardesai pulls up a stool at Aruna's beside, sits on it, takes her limp left hand in his and draws it across his face. ``Did you feel that,'' he whispers to her in Konkani, ``you have just made me cry. Do good Goud Saraswat Brahmin girls make their husbands cry like this, shame on you Aruna Shanbaug. Now I expect you, I command you as your husband to open your eyes.'' He talks to her for over forty minutes, pausing every now and then as if hearing her answers.

6.30 p.m. Patient unconscious. No response to commands.Plantars up Being fed by Ryle's tube.Chewing movements of jaws and gnashing of teeth. Lower limbs spastic.

7.00 p.m. Crime reporters of Bombay's daily morning newspapers start using the phone quite forcefully around this time. They collect, they collate, they speak to their sources in the police, they call up police control room to find out if there has been anything out of the usual, `Kaay vishesh?'Today is a little different. The BMC beat boys have heard from an opposition corporator that there has been a total strike by the nurses in KEM protesting against a rape of their colleague. The BMC reporters inform the crime reporters and everyone is on the phone checking it out. They speak with doctors, nurses, unions, other BMC managed hospitals, the BMC commissioner, the chief minister's secretary. KEM's dean does not come on the line.The picture which emerges is printed the next morning in the English and language papers. Some use it at the bottom of their front page, some lead with it on their City page. There has been an attempt to murder a nurse, Aruna Shanbaug, twenty-five, at the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital, for reasons as yet unknown. The Bhoiwada police are investigating. Hospital sources do not officially deny a rape of the assaulted nurse.

However, nurses of KEM have embarked on a three-day strike for reasons which include additional security and better working conditions. Nursesfrom other hospitals are scheduled to join them for a token half-day's strike in expression of their solidarity. The municipal commissioner is expected to be summoned by the chief minister for questioning in this connection. The assaulted nurse is reported to be in a coma.

7.30 p.m. The left side of Aruna's swollen mouth twitches. A few seconds later there is a spontaneous jerking of all four limbs, more the arms than the legs.

9.30 p.m. Dr Sundeep Sardesai comes after dinner and sees Aruna's face twitching. He checks her medical charts, pulls up the stool and chats with her for another forty minutes. His voice is hoarse, he laughs as he tells her `Normally you are the one who talks so much to me', and wishes her good night.

10.00 p.m. The Bhoiwada police have completed the recording of all the statements. Aruna's colleagues in the dog lab have been most forthcoming, they have spoken to the police about their suspicion, how she tried to stop the man from stealing the dogs' food. They have heard of herbeing strangulated, they think he used the dog chain from the kennels on the terrace. The chain is missing, so is he, he was there in the morning though.

But his father is here in the hospital, he got his son this job of a temporary sweeper. He is a mukkadam, sweeper in charge, he has been with KEM for long, due for retirement shortly. His name is Bharatha Dhekolia Walmiki, he's a good man. No, we have not told him that we are speaking to the police about his son, but word has gone around and the ward boys, sweepers and everybody are talking about it. Some of them are saying that the security chief himself did it, but there will be a cover-up and the police will catch some poor man.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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