I was quite perturbed to see a notice pinned on the hospital notice board early this morning which staidly announced –
All doctors and staff members are hereby instructed to observe strict austerity in their public conduct and refrain from wasteful expenditure wherever deemed applicable. Indulging in inappropriate acts of profligacy while on duty shall attract penal provisions and adverse comments in the annual report. Expression of public displeasure and/or mockery of the order (like calling the undersigned ‘holy cow’) will be treated with zero tolerance and may result in dismissal from service.
The Hospital Director
I winced. Austerity drives, like sex drives, were decidedly secretive issues and needed to be kept under wraps for best results. This hue and cry was entirely unnecessary and distracted us from the dignified cause of fostering doctor-doctor, doctor-patient and doctor-nurse relationships. Moreover, this sort of decorous prose was certainly not the handiwork of our HD. I suspected an element of foreign hand (Phadnis?).
Susie was the first to accost me as I settled in my chamber, and reflected dourly on the lump.
“Saar…!” she said, as usually adjusting her large and attractive pair of spectacular spectacles. (My older readers are quite familiar with, and largely appreciative of Susie’s assorted habits by now)
“What is it Susie?” I replied, with a tinge of irritation in my voice.
“The notice saar…”
“Yes, I saw it. So?”
“No saar….I mean….it is totally wrong saar!”
“What?” I sat up.
“Saar….wrong….the notice is wrong!”
Amazing! It implied that Susie had not only read the whole notice carefully, the promptness with which she had grasped the agenda and formed an educated opinion on the matter reflected her deep understanding of such abstract stuff as austerity, profligacy, tolerance and displeasure.
I felt terribly ashamed that I had doubted Susie’s aptitude all along. The girl, it seemed, was not so dumb after all. My chest promptly began swelling with pride for her. Soon I was so uncomfortably swollen (with pride of course) that I had to reach out and pat her arm tenderly to relieve myself.
“You are right Susie”, I observed with solemnity as things settled. “This notice is not only wrong, but wicked, prejudiced and sadistic. I know exactly why it is wrong, but I want to hear it from you. Give me your honest opinion Susie, as to why you think it is wrong.”
Susie bit her lower lip and twisted her hands in a sugary way that appeared quite engaging.
“Come on Susie, bite the bullet!” I exhorted her.
After another moment of silence, Susie lowered her eyes and said abruptly, “Saar….cow!”
This was so unexpected that I really thought Susie would thrust her hips forward and start crooning “Saar-cow lo khatiya jaada lage!“ But she did nothing of the sort. She just leaned closer towards me (ooh!), looked around to make sure no one was eavesdropping, and whispered,
“How can we call the Director saab cow? Cow is always female saar! But he is not female cow….Director saab is definitely male cow saar!”
“Holy cow!” I gasped. This was indeed indisputable logic. “Okatto jukti”, as we often say in Bangla. Had this been some other occasion, I’d have assumed that Susie had gone through the elaborate exercise of lifting the bovine’s tail from behind and peering underneath to ascertain it’s gender in a methodical sort of way. But since this was a weird situation, I dismissed her forthwith, thinking hard how to wriggle out of the mess without being branded as a cow-ard. I picked up the intercom and dialed the HD’s number to fix up an appointment with him.
“Yes, Dr. Bonerji?” The old codger rumbled as I took a seat opposite him.
“Good morning sir” I said, lowering my bottoms.
“Good mourning. What is the matter?”
“Sir, I just saw the notice. Do we really need an austerity drive and all that?”
“Yes..yes…Dr. Bonerji! Don’t you see it is very important to give the impression that we are also caring for the poowar (poor)?”
HD was right in a way. He always struggled hard to give the impression that he was exceedingly concerned for the plight of the poor. As soon as a poor looking patient from the villages descended upon the hospital, he would summon the relatives, slap his forehead repeatedly and ask “Tell me quickly….how poowar you are? Have you got a couple of farmlands or not which you can sell to pay for the treatment.” He was so concerned, that he’d even go out of the way and offer a huge 1 percent discount on the bills after adding another 15 percent in the name of (dis)service tax!
“Dr. Bonerji….last month the electric bill only was 3 lakes! Three lakes! We must reduce hospital expenditure. How can we make profit if we do not reduce many missile anus (miscellaneous, that’s how he pronounces it) costs?”
“No…but…..” I tried to interject, but in vain.
“See Dr. Bonerji. I have noticed that your department is not careful about spending money at all. You peepal drink four five cups of coffee everyday. That is why you need the AC at full speed for whole day! That nurse in your department, what is her name…..yes….Sooji…..she pours so much cocknut oil on her head! Her apron becomes oil stained. Why sud the hospital pay for dry clean? And why you are using Lux soap in toilet? You sud use Lifebuoy! I still use Lifebuoy while bathing. We cannot afford this kind of lugjery in these times!”
I was getting hopping mad at these allegations. Had I really been a celebrity on Twitter like Mr Tharoor, I’d have declared “Susie and I would be ashamed if we were spending the hospital’s money to pay for the coffee and the coconut oil. But we are not, we are spending our own savings.” And it’s not my fault if the bill is 3 lakes or thirteen oceans! Who asked him to employ a bevy of simpering mermaids as receptionists who do nothing at all except cavorting around and playing with his fish the whole day.
I have not actually seen the mermaids tinker with his fish, I’m assuming that. What else do mermaids do except playing with fishes? This HD had to be taught a lesson or two in austerity.
“Sir…” I began.
“I think you are right.”
“Eggjactly! That is what I am saying.”
“Sir, I have a suggestion to make…” I said , clearing my throat “…that will reduce expenditure by at least 50 percent.”
“50 percent!” The Hospital Director’s countenance lit up with profuse expectation, just like a toad that had seen a fat fruitfly shaking it’s ass nearby.
“Yes sir….50 percent.”
“Sir, I suggest we form an austerity committee that would look into various ways of cost cutting and enforce austerity in the hospital. Of course I will see to it that my department takes the lead in cost cutting. I shall only use the AC when patients are around. I will instruct Susie not to apply mustard oil on her head…”
“Yes…coconut oil. I will instruct Susie not to apply coconut oil, and I shall limit the number of coffee to two cups per day per person.”
“Very good Dr. Bonerji…very good. And Lifebuoy…”
“Yes sir. That too.”
“Go ahead Dr. Bonerji. I authorije you to form that committee. Your ideas are very promising.” HD chuckled.
“Thank you Sir” I rose from my seat. “There is one more request….”
“Sir, I wish that the committee be headed by Madam…”
“Which madam…?” Thunderclouds of bewilderment were starting to build up on HD’s quaint expressions.
“Your wife …Sir. That way we shall have the opportunity to share her pearls of wisdom…..”
The HD gave me a look of utter disbelief, and let out a short, painful grunt. Exactly the kind of grunt that you get to hear from a large, well fed pig which has just swallowed a rotten bag of potatoes.Then he reached out for a glass of water.
I was out of HD’s chamber before the old coot could recover his senses.
The austerity notice was withdrawn a few hours later. I ordered coffee for everyone and gifted Susie a large bar of Lux soap from the hospital supplies. Readers are requested not to gratify themselves by imagining sizzling visuals of Susie unwrapping the soap in her bathroom.
PS: I recommend viewing the ‘Sarkailo Khatiya Jaada Lage’ video on You Tube [link] with the sound off. It’s an unforgettable experience.