Tarachand Lahoti was just like any other 50 year old. As a sugar merchant who was in the business for the last thirty years, Tarachand had built up a small fortune for himself. Not that his clothes, demeanour or dwelling reflected it manifestly, nonetheless, he was assured that all the modest requirements in his life were well provided for. He took particular care of his health, or so he thought, establishing a routine to visit the local doctor regularly who sanctimoniously checked his pulse and recorded his blood pressure, and proclaimed him to be in the pink of his health, in as few words as possible, after pocketing a hundred rupee note that Tarachand offered him with unqualified reverence.
That evening, Tarachand just didn’t feel right. He couldn’t put his finger on where the ailment lay, but he was convinced that not everything in his body was working as efficiently as it had been for the past many years. It was a vague uneasiness that gave him a mild headache and took away his appetite. Could be a bout of gas, he reflected, as his wife brought him his dinner. Three chappatis, a bowl each of dal and vegetable curry, and a teaspoon of his favourite lime pickle. He ate just one chappati, and a few sips of the dal. The rest, he pushed away, nauseous and wary. Then the pain came. It began just after he had ambled off to the wash basin to wash his hands. The dull ache that seemed to originate in the pit of his stomach gradually worsened into a vague, uncomfortable heaviness that enveloped his entire chest. Tarachand vomited once, and felt better.
“Let’s go to the doctor”, his anxious wife suggested, picking up the phone.
“Aaah!”, Tarachand protested, wiping off beads of perspiration from his forehead with his shirt sleeve, “why bother him so late in the night? I’m fine”
His wife would have none of it. She spoke to Dr. Verma, who urged her to reach a nearby nursing home. He’d examine him there, he told her. An autorickshaw was summoned, and soon Tarachand found himself lying on a funny looking stretcher in the Emergency Room of the nondescript WellCure Nursing Home.
Eloquence was not a virtue that Dr. Verma was bestowed with. During his brief visit, he spoke only twice. Once, when he demanded his modest fees of five hundred rupees the instant he entered the room, and then a couple of minutes later, when he handed Tarachand’s wife a lengthy prescription. “Admitting him…severe acidity”, and throwing a brief glance at the rather stern faced nurse, “sister, tomorrow morning….tests.” Tarachands wife wanted to throw a question or two at him, but decided against, trusting the sagacity of Dr. Verma to relieve her husband’s agony.
Dr. Verma left as purposefully as he had arrived. Tarachand was shifted to an adjacent room which bore the letters ‘D lux Ward’. The ‘e’, it appeared, had jumped off plate and escaped long ago. The nurse, then, happily set about perforating Tarachand’s veins one after the other in an attempt to set up an intravenous line. Half an hour later, she let go, registering her success with a final needle jab on Tarachand’s aggrieved buttocks. “Go to sleep”, she demanded of the patient and exited the ward, flicking off the lights and bidding his wife not to disturb her at any cost during the night.
In the dull red glow of the night light, Tarachand could hardly make out the details of the room. There were three cots, with him occupying the one closest to the door. His wife sat on a wooden bench kept between the first and the second cots. In the melee of the past hour, she had forgotten to eat her dinner, and now she was exhausted, more sleepy than hungry. Next to the bench stood a small wooden cabinet. It was unlocked, and the doors were left a little ajar. A queasy smell of disinfectant hung in the room. The overhead fan screeched monotonously and the dark heavy curtains on the window at the farthest corner quivered every now and then as if gently shaken by an unseen force. Though the dull ache had subsided, the gloomy atmosphere within the room left Tarachand ill at ease. Thinking of his son, an engineer who was posted at a distant city, Tarachand fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, Tarachand woke up with a start. A monstrous, crushing pain engulfed his entire chest, and flowed across to his left arm, numbing his entire upper torso. In a wave of insane panic, Tarachand realised that he was unable to cry out, his voice throttled by the searing agony that appeared to squeeze his lungs into a lump of dough. He instantly knew he was going to die. As his consciousness began to wane, a sinking sensation gripped him that forbade him that the end was near.
That was when he heard a deep, husky voice floating up to him in the darkness of the room. “Get up, hey, get up!”
With a punishing effort, Tarachand turned to face his interlocutor. His wife was nowhere to be seen, and his gaze fell upon the huddling frame of an old man who was sitting on the adjacent cot. Despite his excruciating torment, Tarachand startled. He hadn’t seen this man when he was brought to this room. Must have been admitted later in the night, he thought.
The old man now looked directly at him, raised his wiry hand and pointed a finger at his direction. “Get up, yes…you…”
Tarachand was wet with perspiration. What sort of a joke was this? There he lay, possibly dying, and the old coot, instead of summoning help, was ordering him around!
With a painful grunt, Tarachand implored in a feeble voice “Help….please. Call my wife…please….I am dying…..”
The fan made a sudden screeching sound as a gush of midnight air rushed into the room, making the curtains flutter wildly. The old man appeared to shift on the bed, and lunging towards the wooden cabinet, he spoke again in a steely sort of voice “See…I am too old to move about. Get up and get that pill on the upper shelf of the cabinet. Get it fast….”
Tarachand could not comprehend what was happening. Possibly this man knew where the sister had kept his medicines, and was only trying to help. He tried to get up. The agonising throes of pain wrung his heart relentlessly, and his head seemed to swim in a vacuum.
“Get up..quick….the bottle on the top shelf…take it now….” The old man’s voice was devoid of every shred of emotion.
Tarachand summoned all his strength and sat up on his bed. He immediately clutched his heart. “Aaaaaahh!”
The man seemed to move closer. A sudden gush of air slapped Tarachand into momentary consciousness. The man’s voice was ringing in his ears “…the bottle on the top shelf…” Tarachand reached for the wooden cabinet, but crashed to the floor in a thud. He was choking. The breath was now coming only in gasps. Then he heard something fall. A small plastic bottle fell close to him. He reached out and grasped it instantaneously.
As Tarachand lay on the floor, he thought he saw the old man’s face hovering above him. “Open the bottle, Tarachand….” he spoke clearly, almost in a whisper.
With a violent last effort, Tarachand uncapped the bottle, emptied the contents on the floor and grasped a few of the tiny white pills. But before he could pop them, his face contorted and his eyeballs gauged out as he suffered a massive heart attack. Tarachand gasped and passed out.
Two days later.
Tarachand opened his eyes. He found himself in an ICU, with countless monitors beeping around him. There were scores of tubes and catheters jutting out from all parts of his body. His chest was tightly bandaged. Oh God! He was alive, he thought.
His wife was allowed in a couple of hours later. She cried hard for sometime. When she left, his son was allowed in. Tarachand’s eyes turned moist. “Cheer up Papa. You won the battle!”
Tarachand’s eyes wandered across the ICU. His son continued “Ma saw you lying on the floor. She was sleeping outside on a bench as she found the room dark and unpleasant. There was a bottle in your hand, and pills were scattered all around you. There were even a few in your mouth…”
Tarachand felt a lump rising in his throat. His son continued, “Ma raised an alarm. The hospital people arranged an ambulance and you were brought here. The doctors did a bypass operation in the night itself.”
“Papa, what you did was a miracle”, The son patted his arm lovingly. “The doctors here are full of praise for you. You did the right thing by popping those sorbitrate pills. How did you know those were there papa?”
Tarachand grappled with his thoughts, trying to remember the events on that fateful day. Then, suddenly, everything flashed in his mind like a lightning. The old man, the dark windy ward, the excruciating agony of a failing heart. He remembered falling on the floor and uncapping the bottle, but he failed to recall if he had put those pills in his mouth.
Tarachand was breathing heavily. A chill ran down his spine. Haltingly, he whispered, “…the old man…”
“Yes…yes….I know” his son nodded. “Dr. Verma told me all. That bottle belonged to an old man who died in the same ward a couple of days ago. When his body was taken away, the relatives perhaps left the bottle in the cabinet.”