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Spring

Clatter of the window panes woke me up. A cool easterly was blowing the curtains away. The sky was turning deep red, but the sun was yet to be seen. Koo-ooo, koo-ooo, a koel was singing somewhere. Ki-ki-ki, the female responded only after a few calls. I used to get irritated by this sound. Not now.
I glanced at the wall clock, it was still ten minutes to six. She must be standing there, under the mango tree, books clutched under her arms, waiting impatiently for the rickshaw. If I miss today, I won’t be able to see her for next five days. Damn these board people, why keep such long gaps between two papers.
I got up with a start and leapt out of bed. Ouch, my legs, they hurt.
“What happened” my wife asked turning lazily towards me, “why in such a hurry?”
Then I realized. It has been more than thirty five years, but Spring still reminds me of that dusky niece of Khanna Uncle, who came in our colony, to write her Board exams. She never came again, but her innocent round face with mischievous smile is still fresh in my mind.

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On why Santa did not come to my house.

 

 

Santa did not come to my house this Christmas. Why would he, my daughter didn’t hang her socks this time. For the past so many years she had hung her best socks in the terrace on Christmas Eve.

It all started when my six year old daughter’s teacher told her about Santa and his sledge.  “Papa, does Santa really come to our homes at night and distribute gifts,” she had asked innocently. “Yes beta”, I had told her. “So If I hang my socks on the terrace, will he fill it with chocolates”.  She was still doubtful. “Yes, if you have faith in Santa, he will”. Since then every year on the Christmas Eve, I used to bring home a lot of chocolate and fill her socks when she was asleep.  First thing she did the next morning was run to the terrace to check her sock. How excited she got when she found the toffees. “Papa look Santa gave me “Fruit & Nut” while I had asked for “Crackles”. She got “Crackles” the next Christmas.

That Christmas eve, I returned late from my clinic and forgot to buy chocolates. Nishtha had gone to sleep.  My wife told me, “Nish has hung a big sock on the terrace. Now what will she feel when she will wakeup in the morning.”

“Oh she will feel excited; his Daddy Santa will fill her socks with toffees.” I told her and went back in search of any open shop. It was late and the only shop I found open didn’t had chocolates. So Santa filled her socks with cheap candies.

“Papa what happened to Santa this time? Didn’t he get chocolates at north pole?”  She asked jokingly.  She was fifteen now. “Papa” she continued, “I know, it’s you who fill my socks with toffees. Tushar Bhaiya told me that Santa is a just a story.” I was sad. I knew she had grown up.  “Tushar is telling you a lie, Beta. I don’t fill your socks with chocolates. It’s all because of your faith. If you believe in Santa and hang your socks, he will come every time with gifts.”

This Christmas, she didn’t hang her socks. The toffees I had brought for her are still lying in my briefcase.


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1984 And Me

I had never thought about this, but when I read her blog I realized that events of such magnitude affect the  country as a whole and not any specific community. Missy Baba’s blog reflected  my sentiments regarding 1984 and after.

Whether it is 1984, Babri or Godhra (or even 1947), the politicians have always been successfully able to and manipulate misuse the populace.

No, we can not forget 1984. Have we been able to forget 1947?

And it doesn’t matter whether we were present in 1984. I was born much later than ’47, but I do suffer because of the events then. These events affect the generations to come.

I was not directly or indirectly affected by the 1984 riots, except that I was prevented from joining my Internship, and the 13 days gap proved me costly in getting my PG.(I had to fight the MCI to get my absence condoned).

But I lost one Sardar Ji, a very dear Sardar Ji, to the Mayhem. He had a confectionery shop about 9 houses away from my home. We children loved his shop, and the shopkeeper too. Toffees, fruit Buns, cream rolls, Ludo, balls, shuttle cocks, he had all. He loved us too. He jokingly called me a baniya, as I used to calculate the rates using mental maths. One evening visit to the “Sardaar jee ki dukaan” was almost a daily ritual for us. Phantom cigarettes were my favorite and he knew it. We never saw him after “the tree fell”. His shop remained closed for many months. The neighboring thela wallas told, probably guessed, that they ran away to Punjab, and will come back after some times. But he never came back. The shop assistant, a pundit, came often to the shop and waited for hours. Then one day the municipality broke down his shop. I can still remember his smiling eyes watching from behind those bushy beard and mustaches. Generally all sardars look similar to me, but I am sure I will recognize those lovable eyes.


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Rita

{All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.}

[0]

The loud rattle on the door woke me up. I looked at the watch, it was 6 am. I had been asleep only 2 hours after I came late from the party. I got up cursing whoever was knocking the door. I found Mukul standing there, tense and breathless.

“Mukul, what happened? Why are you panting, what’s the matter? Is everything OK.”

“Vipin Bhaiya!” He broke into a cry, “Papa has committed suicide. He shot himself in the bathroom. Mom is serious, please come quick.”

“What! But when did he come from Banda?” I was shocked.

“He had come only last night. Mom and he had some arguments in the night. He went to didi’s room early morning and after that locked himself in the bathroom and shot himself.”

“What! But why did he do this? How is Rita?”

“Didi is too shocked to speak anything.”

I hastily changed my clothes and went with him on his scooter. People were gathering outside the house. Mukul stopped to talk to some police man. I entered the house on my own.  The lawn was full of people. Mrs. Verma was lying on the couch in the veranda. She was hysterical, crying inconsolably. Few neighborhood ladies were trying to calm her. I examined her quickly. Her BP was shooting up so I gave her one sedative injection. Mukul had come back and I told him I wanted to see Rita. I had not seen her since the day she was discharged a month back.  He showed me her room and went out to meet other people.

She was lying on her bed, propped up by few pillows. Just like I had seen her the last time in room number 7.

[1]

The usually full emergency room of the City Hospital wore a deserted look that night. It was around 11 pm. The lone patient was now settled and probably sleeping. The ward boy was standing outside, chatting with the nurse.  I had just settled on my sofa to watch the news on TV. Usually I was not assigned night duties, but since Dr. Rohit was on leave, I had to look after his work.  I was hoping no patient came in the night to disturb me, as I was already tired after a busy OPD.  Just as I was getting engrossed watching the news, the phone rang.

“Hello Doctor, Room Number 7 is having severe pain, please come and look.”

Room Number 7! My heart skipped a few beats. Wasn’t this the same girl Rohit was talking about?

“Sister, isn’t this the gunshot girl?”

“Yes doctor “

“I am coming right away”

I picked up my stethoscope and rushed. The Private wards were situated three blocks away. This was a very old hospital, built by the Britishers. I had joined City Hospital only four months back, but I had heard this girl was there for around one year. It appeared that   every one in the hospital knew about her. She was admitted after some gunshot injury, and was there since then. Rohit told she was very beautiful. Sexy, he had described her. But he found every girl sexy. He had told she was irresistible, sensuous, and full of oomph.  A gunshot victim full of oomph! I wondered how she looked like.  I had wanted but never seen her. Being a child specialist I was not supposed to visit her. I had no excuse of going there. But the way people described her I was wondering if I could see her some day. And what luck! On my first night duty I got this chance. I was so excited and curious. Who could have shot such a beautiful girl, and why?  And why was she admitted in this government hospital for more than a year without being shifted to some bigger center. Why was she here alone? Didn’t she have any relatives? There were so many questions, but I had never asked any one.

Sister Nisha was waiting in the lobby. “Hello Doctor Vipin, how come you are on duty tonight?” She had never seen me on nights.

“Doctor Rohit is on leave,” I smiled and asked impatiently, “where is the patient, sister?”

She gave a naughty smile, “It seems you have never examined Room Number 7 before.”

Room number 7 was situated at the end of the passage. Sister Nisha entered without knocking. I followed her. It was a small dimly lit room. A very pleasant aroma filled the room, must be some good room freshener. A bouquet of gladioli was getting stale on the side rack. The room, as any other private room, had a TV set, which was on and some old Hindi movie was running muted.  Several used vials and syringes were scattered on the table. The food was lying uneaten. I was avoiding looking at the patient as I was very anxious.

“Rita! Baby look the doctor has come to see you” Sister Nisha called her.

I looked at the bed. There she was, lying on the bed, propped up by several pillows. Her face was illuminated by the light from the only lamp hanging from the roof. It was creating a strange aura. I was stunned. What divine face, pure, and innocent. Even in agony, she was looking so beautiful. I kept on staring at her.

She looked at me and moaned. “Ahh Doctor, this pain, it’s unbearable.” Her gaze was inviting, her voice, disturbing. “Do not worry. Tell me where the pain is.” I tried to assure her. “Its here, ohh! Doctor please, do something” she pointed to her abdomen.

She looked very young, though her records stated twenty-one. She appeared average built, very fair, raven haired teenager. She was wearing a loose T-Shirt and a blue denim Jeans. They all had not exaggerated, she was really sexy. Though her face was that of an innocent teen, she had very hungry, inviting eyes. Even in pain she was sensuous.  I went near her bed to examine her. I touched her abdomen. It was soft, and cold. There was no rigidity which I had expected in a patient with severe pain in abdomen. I tried to palpate her abdomen for any tenderness. There was none. Then I found one small lump near her lower abdomen. I tried to feel it more clearly with my both hands, but she held my hands and resisted.

Please Doctor, not tonight. I am really having pain” she groaned, fear in her eyes.   I was just taken aback. Why did she stop me from examining?  I hadn’t hurt her. And what did she meant by “not tonight”. What was she stopping me to do?

I turned around but Sister Nisha was not there. I got nervous and moved my hand away. She tried to sit up, but fell back. I hurriedly put my stethoscope on her abdomen and then stood up.

“I will advice Sister Nisha. Do not worry you will be alright.”

She looked at me, surprised, and relieved. “Yes doctor, Thanks!” She gave a weak smile. I got out of the room, my heart still beating fast. Sister Nisha was sitting at the nursing station. She looked at me unbelievingly.

“You examined very fast, Doctor” She said giving a mischievous  smile.

“I am a child specialist, Sister. I think she needs a Gynaec” I wrote some medicines and rushed back to the emergency room. The ward boy gave me a sly look and went out. I fell on the sofa and closed my eyes. But her innocent face with hungry eyes did not fade away.

[2]

Next morning I reached Hospital late. It was my off but I had some pending cases to work out. I was quite tired after the night so instead of the children’s ward I went straight to the common room.

“How was your night?” Rohit asked the moment he saw me. He was having coffee. He brought one for me too.

“It was cool, no emergency came up” I tried to smile. I didn’t tell him about Rita.

“And what about Room Number 7” he shot back, as if he was waiting to ask, “Sister Nisha told me you went to see her.”

“Oh yes I forgot, she just had some abdominal pain, nothing else. I gave her some antispasmodics. She must be ok by now”

“Just medicines, Hmm, you didn’t do anything else?” he gave a mischievous smile. “Come on, wont you tell your friend?”

“And what else should I have done?” I wanted to know what he meant by this. Her words “No Doctor, not tonight” were still ringing in my ears.

“Isn’t she hot? You didn’t even touch her?”

I understood what he was implying. He must have tried his dirty tricks upon her sometime. That is why she was frightened of my examining her.

“How could I have examined her without touching?” I got slightly irritated. He wanted to ask something but then avoided.

We finished the coffee without further talking about her. I went to my department and started my rounds. But I could not take her face off my thoughts. Her eyes kept haunting me. Her words, not tonight” and her terrorized face remained floating in front of me. Then I remembered the lump I had felt in her abdomen. I have had training in Obs N Gyn. I can’t miss a pregnant womb. And hers was around the size of a four months pregnancy. But how can that be. She didn’t appear to be married.  After finishing the rounds I went to Dr. Dhasmana. She was my batch mate and was posted in the Obs N Gyn department. She was in her chamber.

“Hello Vipin,” she was surprised to see me in her chamber “what brings you to my chamber. You don’t have a wife, or is it that you have hidden her form us” she joked.

“No Sushma, you will be the first to know when I marry.” I came to the point, “Actually I have come to talk to you about one patient.”

“Talk about a patient? But Vipin, your patients are kids. Why do you need an obstetrician’s help?” she was still in a joking mood.

“Well not that, I am talking about the girl in room number 7”

She became sober. “Why are you interested in her? She is not under you. Do you know who she is and why she is here? ”

“No I don’t, Sushma” I tried to explain myself, “ It’s just that I was on night duty last night and went to see her on a call. I think she is carrying a child.”

“Are you out of your mind Vipin? Do you know what you are saying?” She almost shouted.

“I have examined her last night, and I am sure she is at least four months pregnant.”

“Couldn’t it be that you felt her full bladder instead of uterus?” She doubted my diagnosis.

“I am quite sure, but then that is why I want your help”

“You are my old friend, Vipin,” she said in a hushed voice, “so I am telling you, don’t get involved in this case. You don’t know anything about her.”

I wanted to ask Sushma what she knew about her, but then hesitated. “I just thought she needed help, so I told you. I have no other interest in her, Sushma. If you don’t want then ask any other gynecologist to see her. Bye” and I went back to my ward.

[3]

On my way to hostel in the evening I stopped at the private ward complex. The duty nurse was not there so I went straight to room number seven and knocked.

“Come in” I instantly recognized the voice. How could anyone forget that lovely husky voice? She was still lying in the same pose I saw her the night before. But the pain was not visible on her face. She was looking fresh and charming.

“Hello Doctor,” she gave a very sweet smile, “Thanks for last night, my pain is much less. How are you, I thought you doctors got leave after night duties.”

“Yes we get”, I pulled a stool and sat near her bed, “but I had some patients to workup, so I came back. Also I wanted to find out whether your pain subsided or not.”

“So sweet of you, doctor” she blushed, “but I became alright just by your magical touch.”

“Rita, can I ask a personal question?”

“There is nothing personal about me Doctor, ask whatever you want to.”

“Are you married?” I asked with much hesitation.

“Doctor I hope you are not planning to propose me,” she laughed away my question.

“Not that but I asked because you live here alone.” I did not reveal my suspicion regarding her pregnancy.

“No I am not married and in this condition I don’t hope any one will marry me. My father has been transferred to a different city. My mother lives with my younger brother. They come here often.” She was trying to look sad, but her eyes appeared to be angry.

“You don’t seem to be so ill, why then they don’t take you home.”

“Haven’t you seen my case sheet, doctor? What’s your name? Sorry, I should have asked earlier.”

“Its ok, I am Vipin. I have joined this hospital only few months back. , I never got to see your case sheet as I am posted in children’s department.”

“So you don’t know anything about me.” She looked surprised, “I thought the whole town knew. Well Vipin, I am paralyzed below waist”. She was unusually casual in telling her illness “a stray bullet hit my spine, you see.”

I was shocked. No one had told this. Every body had told about gunshot and about her charm and her sensuality, but no one had mentioned that she was a paraplegic. How could Rohit talk about doing anything else to a paraplegic? Disgusting! And then I remembered she might be pregnant. And she doesn’t seem to know about this. I was disturbed.

“I can’t move my legs. I don’t have any sensation below waist. The nurses take care of my every need” she was sobbing, “I can’t even sit without their support. This bed is all I know as my world for the past one year, or is it two.” She started crying.

I didn’t know what to do, How to console her. I just patted on her shoulder and said, “Believe in God, Rita, you will be well soon.”

“I don’t believe in God” her sobbing stopped, “and don’t give me false hopes, Vipin, thanks for your concern though”

“I have to go now, but I will come again tomorrow. I have to ask you something.”

“There is nothing about me which the hospital staff doesn’t know, Doctor Vipin.” she was much relaxed now, “You don’t know because you are new. You can ask any old timer here. But I wished you did not.”

I couldn’t sleep till late that night. I couldn’t take her image away from my mind. Who could have shot her? Why were her parents not besides her? And what if my diagnosis about her pregnancy comes true? I decided to ask sister Nisha more about her next morning. She was one of the oldest staff, and appeared to me the most sensible too.

[4]

Next morning before going to my ward, I went straight to the private ward. But sister Nisha was not on duty. She was on the evening shift. I thought I would come back in the evening and went to the OPD. The OPD was full of patients and I got busy examining kids. But I could not take my mind off Rita’s face. When the last patient was gone, Gupta Ji, the pharmacist, asked me if I had some problem.  I was looking lost, he said. He was a stocky and very jolly person. He never missed a chance to crack a joke and laugh. And he didn’t liked people to be quite and dull. I had started admiring him in the past four months of working together. I thought I could ask him about Rita. He was also in this hospital for quite a long time.

“Rita!!” he exclaimed, “why are you interested in her, DokSaab. She is not your kind”. He left his counter and came to my table and sat on the examination chair. “Hers is   a police case, and a simple Guy like you should not get involved.”

“Arey Gupta Ji, I was just curious about how she got that shot.” I tried to explain him why I wanted to know about her, “I had gone on a call that night. She is suffering so much because of her paralysis. Weren’t you here when she was admitted?”

“No Doksaab, I was transferred to this hospital only six months back, but I know about her case. She is suffering for her misdeeds only, who else to be blame for her miseries.”

I was surprised and even more curious. What were her misdeeds which she was paying for with a paralytic life? “Gupta Ji, that girl looks so innocent. What misdeeds could she have done to earn a gunshot?”

“You will not believe me Doksaab but she is a call girl. Her father is a big police officer so he got her case suppressed. But from what media people talked about her she had bunked college to meet her customer at the Royal Hotel when she was shot. Must have been some scuffle for money.”

This was shocking. A call girl, this can not be true. She looks so innocent. Her eyes are so pure. Yes, she was sensuous, but not immoral. I couldn’t believe what Gupta was telling. But he was a senior man, and I had never seen him gossiping.

“But Gupta Ji wasn’t this man arrested? Do you know who he is?”

‘No, no arrests were made. He also must have been a big guy, some corrupt politician. The media wasn’t allowed, and was told that it was an accidental gunshot by some friend.”

I was even now not satisfied about her being a call girl. I argued, “But Gupta Ji, why do you say she was a call girl. It could be that she had gone there with her friend and it was just an accidental gunshot.”

“Doksaab, then tell me, why has the family abandoned her to this district hospital for so many months? No one has ever come to meet her since. Her father has got himself transferred to a different district. He only clears the hospital bill every month”

I could not even now believe she was a call girl. She looked so beautiful and pure. People must have got a wrong impression because she was shot in a hotel room. This was disturbing me, but how to find the truth. Only her family members or she herself could tell the truth. I didn’t know where to find her family and had no courage to ask her directly.  But then I thought why should I bother about her?  She was not under my care, and what was her past is not my concern. I did my duty when I was on call, and I have also informed Sushma about her pregnancy.  I thought Sushma and Gupta Ji were right. I should stay away from this case.

[5]

While returning to the hostel, I could not resist going to the private wards. Sister Nisha was sitting at the nursing station. She looked tired, but stood up and greeted me. I smiled and sat besides her. I wanted to ask her about Rita’s story but I could not gather enough courage after what Gupta Ji told.  Instead I enquired if Dr Sushma visited her, and what was her opinion. I was just curious to know whether she agreed with my diagnosis. Sister Nisha told that Dr Sushma had seen Rita this morning. She had ordered some investigations and an ultrasound.  She’ll get the tests done by the evening.

“Can I see her now, Sister?” I just wanted to see her once again.

“Why not Doctor, come with me.” she took her case file and we headed for Room Number 7. Rita was looking tense. She looked at me. “Hello Doctor Vipin!” She said cheering up, “How are you?”

“I am fine Rita, but you look tensed, something bothering you?”

“Nothing doctor” she hesitated, “but that lady doctor came here for my checkup today?

I told sister Nisha to leave us alone for few minutes and I’ll call her when I need her. She obligingly went away.

“Rita, I had asked her to check you up. You know I am a child specialist so when I examined you I that night I had some doubts which I wanted her to clear.” I tried to explain. “What did she tell you?” I asked fearing whether Sushma told her about my doubt. But wisely enough she didn’t tell Rita any thing about pregnancy.

“Doctor thanks again for that night”

“Rita it was my duty and you have already thanked for that once.”

“Not for that, but for not trying to   take advantage of my situation.”

“What are you saying?” I sensed what she was trying to say. “Why should anybody take advantage? Has some one abused you? You can confide in me, Rita, without any fear.”

“I know” she looked directly in my eyes and said, “That is why I am telling you. But whom should I name. These men, they all are the same. Sister Nisha has come to my rescue so many times.  I tried to resist initially, but then I succumbed.  No one listens to me. They think I am of loose character.”

“Haven’t you complained to the superintendent about this?”

“You mean Dr. Deshpandey” She laughed “I told him when he visited once. He laughed at me saying when I can’t feel any thing below waist, how do I know I am being raped. I also told Dr. Sushma but she is biased too. She said I must have provoked them. A call girl, that’s what she thinks I am.”

“But you are not, I am sure of that.” I tried to reassure her.

“Yes I am not, but after what has happened to me no one believes me, not even my mother.” She started crying, “She said I spoiled family honour. For her I am as good as dead.” She remained silent for many minutes, wiping her tears and sobbing.  “Is something bothering you Rita?” I tried to probe her, “Do you want to share something with me?”

“Nothing Doctor, by the way, what was it that you doubted about me? She asked casually.

After much thinking, whether to tell her now or not, I decided to tell her, “I think you are pregnant Rita. But we can be sure only after we do the tests this evening.” She became tense. I didn’t know what to say to her. “Rita, were you expecting this?” I asked.

“I also fear this. But then sister Nisha gave me some pills. She told that she can’t stop them raping me but at least she can prevent me getting pregnant.”

“Oh, but don’t worry, may be my doubt is false. Let us wait for the tests” assuring her I left.

This was the third night I was unable to sleep because of this girl. Why should I be bothered about a patient who is not even under my charge? I tried to forget her and sleep, but her face always came in front of my eyes. I could not just ignore her. I had to help her. But how could I help her when even her mother had abandoned her. I decided I should meet her mother first. I wanted to know why she doubted the character of her daughter.

[6]

I was sitting in my OPD when Sushma came in and told that I was right, Rita was indeed four months pregnant. She joked about my diagnostic ability and that I should be in the obstetrics dept instead of Pediatrics.  For her Rita was just another patient. She was not thinking about the problem a paraplegic would face because of pregnancy. So I asked, “Leave the jokes Sushma, what will happen now?” She appeared not to understand my concern, so I had to remind her, “She is a paraplegic, and unmarried.”

“O my God, I never thought about that, but now what can we do. Abortion at this stage would be risky, but would she want to carry the baby looking at her condition. I wonder who is the father, must be someone working in the hospital because none of her relatives visit her. This damn call girl, even the bullet didn’t change her habits. ”

“Why do you speak like that about her, Sushma? What do you know about her past?”

“Hey don’t get serious Vipin. I was just repeating what people here talk about her. Ok I’ll talk to her and see what can be done.”

“That will be better, Sushma,” I said and asked, “Have you told her the diagnosis”

She told she hadn’t. I was somewhat relieved. After the OPD I went straight to the office to find out Rita’s home address.  Mr. Siddiqui, the clerk, was busy chewing paan. He initially resented, but after some persuasion, gave her address.   Rita Verma, d/o Sri P.K. Verma, IPS, 6B Officers’ Colony, Civil Lines.

“Why do you want the address,” He asked suspiciously.

“We have to get a consent form signed from her father.” I lied.

“But you will not find him there. It’s good that he got transferred. Be careful, Doctor Sahib, this PK Verma is a very dangerous IPS officer. Do you know it was he who shot Rita, her only daughter?”

“What!” I was stunned, “what are you talking Siddiqui Ji! He shot at his own daughter. But   I had heard that she was shot at by some customer after some scuffle over money.”

“Arey Doksaab, that was a cover up. Just think why a customer would shoot at the call girl. It was her father who shot at her. He found that his daughter was a call girl and shot at her in anger.”

I was curious. I thought this man may know more about this case, so I sat next to him. “Siddiqui Ji you know all about this case? Was she really a call girl?” I asked getting closer to him.

“Oh Doksaab, I don’t know much because this case was suppressed. No media person was allowed to go there at that time. Her father, Verma, is very influential police officer. He manipulated the case so that it was made to appear as an accident. But people talked a lot and I know there must be some truth in it.”

“And what did the people say?”

“They say that SP sahib had gone to raid the Royal Hotel, and He found Rita in one room with a stranger. She had bunked classes. In a fit of anger he shot at her. Later it was covered up and press told that it was a case of accidental gunshot. But soon after this incidence, SP sahib got himself transferred to Banda.”

“Oh, so then no case was lodged?” I probed Siddiqui Ji. “I don’t know Doksaab, but the people stopped talking about this case. I hear that her family doesn’t even visit her. They just clear her bills timely, that’s all. I doubt if you will be able to get that consent signed at all.” “I will try my luck, lets see” I thanked him and left.

[7]

Her case was becoming more and more complex. Were they all true, was she really a call girl? Was she actually shot by her father? And why did her father shoot her? I still could not believe this. Her eyes didn’t seem to lie, they were so pure. No, she could not be a call girl. There was some misunderstanding. But how could I find the truth. Only she, or her father, could tell what actually happened.  But why should I bother about her. It was her life and her fate. Why should I waste my time and energy finding why her father shot at her? It was my day off and I decide to go to a movie. Just as I was about to leave my room, a wardboy came from the hospital and told that sister Nisha had requested me to see her in the private wards. I guessed it must be something related to Rita, so I asked the peon to tell sister I was coming.

Nisha was looking anxious. “Doctor, Rita is very depressed today. She hasn’t eaten anything since morning. She said she wanted to talk to you, so I called you.”

Rita was looking tense. She brightened up looking at me, “Oh Doctor Vipin, please help me”

“What happened Rita, why are you so tense,” I asked.

“Doctor, I am very much worried. Sister says my reports are positive, I am pregnant.” I told her that I knew.  “Doctor, can’t this be aborted?” I told her it was now risky and can be tried only after her parents gave consent. “But they will not, Vipin. They will not help me.”

“I can try convincing them. But Even I can not help you unless I know the whole truth about you.”

“But you know all about me, don’t you?”

“No, what I know is only the hearsay, not the truth. You told me you were hit by a stray bullet, but I have heard that it was your father who shot at you. Why Rita, why did he have to fire at you. You say your mother doesn’t believe you, but how can she when even your father didn’t believe you.”

“So you know it was my dad who shot at me” She hid her face in her hands and started sobbing. I sat besides her and held her hands and tried to console her. “Rita, why don’t you tell me the truth, may be I’ll be able to help you then. What had happened in the hotel that day, why did your dad shoot at you? Why your mom believes you are a call girl. I wanted to talk to her but then I myself don’t know about you, how will I convince her that you are not bad.”

She stopped crying and remained silent for some time. “Vipin, I am not like the way people think I am. It’s just because I was in that hotel room people thought I was a call girl. I tried to explain mom, but she didn’t listen. That visit to the Royal Hotel ruined my entire life.” She asked for a glass of water. She was now looking calm. “But Vipin, believe me, I had not gone there on my own. My classmate, Garima insisted me to come with her. I’ll tell you all, may be you understand me.” I knew she was telling the truth. Her eyes were not lying. I settled on a chair near her bed and listened to her story.

[8]

“I was in my first year of graduation. We, I and my friends had lots of fun, and studies too. I was enjoying this open atmosphere of college after the strict discipline of the convent from where I passed my twelfth. We were a gang of five girls, all giggling and frolicking. We were the most mischievous group in the college. We some times bunked classes and gossiped under the tamarind tree behind the college library. Many a times we bunked classes to watch the morning show at the Mayfair.

Of all my friends, Garima was the craziest. She was the richest too. She wore the most expensive dresses and always paid for the coffee in the canteen. Once I asked where she got so much money and such expensive things, she laughed and told she had a very rich uncle who gifted her often. She promised that she will some day introduce me too to her uncle. She was the only girl in our gang who had friends amongst the boys. She often went out with few of them after class. Movies, she told whenever we asked where she went.

That day she asked me to come for a movie as she had two tickets for “Bobby” and her boyfriend was not able to go. When I told her I would get late for home, she assured it was an afternoon show and would be over by 3 pm. No one would come to know, she told. On the way she told me that before the movie we will go to the nearby Royal Hotel as she had to meet her uncle. We reached the Royal Hotel by 11, and she took me to this room. She said here we can have coffee in privacy while waiting for her uncle.

While we were having coffee, she went out to make a phone call to her friend. She told me that if her uncle came in the meanwhile, I should ask him to sit and talk to him till she comes. I waited for her, finishing my coffee, when someone knocked at the door. “It’s open”, I told, thinking it must be Garima. But to my surprise, I saw Dad entering the room, alone.  He too was shocked to find me there. “Rita, what the hell are you doing here?”  “Dad, I had ccome here with GGarima” I stammered and then asked, “but what are you doing here, and where’s Garima?” He was trembling with anger, I don’t know what he understood, but then all of a sudden he took out his service revolver and fired at me. I became unconscious after that and when I woke up I was in this hospital.

I never saw Dad again after that. Mom said he was very upset. He never imagined I could be a call girl. But why did he think so about me? She told me that Dad had raided the hotel and found me there in the hotel room. I tried to explain, to tell them about Garima, but they didn’t listen to me. Mom only scolded me that I ruined her family name.   Mom and Mukul, my younger brother stayed with me for few weeks, but never spoke to me.  They left me alone when I was out of danger. They have never come again. They only send money for my needs and pay the hospital bills.”

Her tale left me speechless. She was a victim of a big misconception and it had done her irreparable damage. She was found at a wrong place at a wrong time. Mr. Verma had himself raided the Hotel and found Rita in the room, apparently waiting for some one. Who would believe she was not waiting there for a customer. Only Garima knew the truth but who would believe her too. But where did she disappear after the incident. Why didn’t she tell Mr. Verma the truth? May be she got terrified seeing the police. But then she could have come later and told Rita’s parents the truth.

“Did Garima come to see you after that?”

“No, none of my classmates came here to see me. Initially I was too shocked to even think about it. But later I tried to contact her. I asked one ayah to find her in the college and ask her to see me. But the ayah couldn’t find her. Then I gave up the idea and resigned to my fate. ”

“Rita, to prove your innocence we must know where is Garima. Only she can prove that you had gone with her. Do you know any friends of her, or her address?”

“Manan Shankar was very close to her, may be he knows. He may remember me too. We were in same class but a different section. ”

I assured her that I’ll try to find Garima. But I decided to meet her mother whether I find Garima or not. I had to talk to her about the pregnancy.

[9]

After leaving Rita, I took a rickshaw and went straight to the Civil lines. It was around 2 pm and the roads were empty. Locating 6B was not difficult in this Government colony. There was a guard at the gate. I told her to tell Mrs. Verma that I had come from the district Hospital and wanted to meet her urgently.  He told me to wait at the gate and went inside. He came back within minutes and told me that Mrs. Verma would see me soon. He asked me to sit in the veranda. There were many cane sofas. Few palm trees were placed in the corners. One wall had many fading black n white photographs of a young police officer. He must me the S.P.  Mr. Verma. He was looking very smart. I had to wait for about fifteen minutes when the door opened and Mrs. Verma appeared. She was looking very graceful and stern. “Is there any problem, Mister…?”

“Vipin, Doctor Vipin.” I introduced myself, “No ma’am not much of a problem, I just wanted to meet you.”

“Look Doctor Vipin, if it’s about Rita, I don’t want to talk about her.” She was trying to appear unconcerned but I felt, looking at her, that she wanted to know about her daughter.

“Well ma’am actually it’s about her only, and though she is not under me, I am a child specialist, I think she needs your help.”

“If she is not under you, then why are you so much bothered? I have told you that I do not want to talk about her. For us she is as good as dead.” But her stern face was melting.  Her voice had softened. There was agony in her speech. I tried to persuade more.

“She is not dead yet, but will die soon if she is left to suffer like that.”

“Well, what do you know about her, Doctor? She is suffering because of her own misdeeds.”

“What deeds are you talking about, Mrs. Verma.”

“As if you don’t know, she was caught red handed as a call girl.”

“Caught red handed, you mean she was found in the hotel room with a man? And you believe this story about your daughter. That daughter who had never given you reasons to suspect her before this. Had she ever come home late?  Tell me, did you ever felt she was cheating you? Just because your husband found her in a hotel room, alone, waiting for her friend, he made his conclusions. And he gave her instant justice too, without giving her a chance to explain. And you too never tried to listen to her story. Your husband made her a cripple for life and you left her at the mercy of the nursing staff, to die.”

“But then what was she doing alone, in that hotel room, when she was supposed to be in her class. Mr. Verma says he had gone there on a tipoff about a call girl racket being run from that hotel.”

“You didn’t listen to your daughter’s explanation but I have. She says, and I believe her that she had gone to see a movie with her friend Garima. On the way Garima stopped at the hotel to meet her uncle. ”

“Then where was Garima. Why wasn’t she caught too?”

“She had gone out to make a phone call. She must have been terrified and ran away when she saw the police and gunshots.”

“But then why didn’t she come afterwards to tell us all this.”

“That is what is worrying me. We have to find her. But before that, you have to talk to your daughter. She is in more trouble.”

By now Mrs. Verma had broken completely. She was sobbing loudly. “It’s entirely my fault. I should have listened to what she was trying to tell. I know my daughter, she was not like that. But I was angry because Mr. Verma was deeply hurt after this incident. He had stopped talking to us. He remained inside his room for long times, drinking a lot. I didn’t want to hurt him more by taking her side. Even then, he was so disturbed that he asked for a transfer from this city.

But now I feel I wronged my daughter. Thanks for coming, Doctor. Tell Rita I’ll be coming in the evening. But what more trouble were you talking about.”

How should I put the news of her pregnancy to Mrs. Verma? “Some unscrupulous doctor, taking advantage of her paralysis, raped her. And now she is four months pregnant.”

She was shocked. She appeared to loose all her strength and fell on the sofa. I tried to console her.  She tried to regain her composure and stood up. I took her leave, but before going I requested her not to tell anything to Mr. Verma as I didn’t wanted to face his ire. She promised she will not tell him anything until she met Rita.

[10]

After leaving Mrs. Verma I didn’t feel like going back to the hostel. I thought of having a coffee, so I went to the Royal Hotel’s restaurant. More than the coffee, I was curious to see the place. It was around six in the evening, and the restaurant was almost empty. Light music was being played. The place was cozy, and warm. I took a corner table and waited for the waiter. I was reading the menu card when the waiter came. “Good evening sir” he said and the seeing me, got excited, “Arey sahib, aren’t you the doctor in the children’s hospital, sorry sahib I could not recognize you before. You treated my son. He is ok now, just a bit cranky, that’s all. What should I bring for you sahib.”

I didn’t recognize him. Lots of patients come to the city hospital. But I smiled back and placed my order. He took just five minutes to bring the coffee and sandwiches.

“What’s your name?” I asked. I thought may be he knew about that gunshot affair, though it was a year old story.

“Dil Bahadur, sahib” he told excitedly. “I am the oldest waiter in Royal Hotel, sahib. I know most of the customer’s choices.” Oldest waiter, so he must know about that case.

“Dil Bahadur, do you remember that Rita Verma case. Were you here at that time?”

“No sahib, I was my day off when that incident happened. But I heard about it from other waiters. No one will talk about it now, they all fear police harassment. Why do you ask about it, sahib?”

“I am curious because Rita is admitted in our hospital and is under my charge. She said there was one more girl with her that day. I was wondering what happened to her.”

“Arey you are talking about Garima memsaab. She is a pimp, Sahib. She tricks innocent college girls into this dirty business. She often came here to provide young girls to rich businessmen. I think that day she tricked this Rita Memsaab into this. It was a coincidence that police raided the hotel that day” he came closer to me, “She never came to this hotel after that. I have heard she has been arrested last month along with three other girls and there customers. But not from our hotel, she was running this racket from a house in Mahanagar.” He went away to attend another customer. I hurriedly finished my coffee, and leaving sufficient money at the table, left for hostel.

Garima was a pimp trapping college girls. Shocking! So she had intentionally left Rita alone in that room. But who was her uncle? He must have been some rich businessman. May be she had gone to inform him and when they returned SP sahib had raided the hotel. They must have fled. My mind stopped thinking. I was tired. This affair was making me mad. I just came to my room and fell on my bed. I didn’t want to think about this. I don’t know when I slept. My head was heavy when I woke the next day. I had to meet Garima to clear this affair. But how could I meet her when she was in police custody. I thought I would ask Mrs. Verma to help. Deciding I would go to her this afternoon, I went to my OPD.

[11]

When I was returning from my duty, I thought of seeing Rita. I went straight to her room without telling the nurse on duty. Her room was open. Surprisingly, she was sitting with someone supporting her back. She was looking very happy. “Hi Vipin!” she got excited as she saw me, “look who is here” she said. Then I noticed it was Mrs. Verma, who was sitting behind her and combing her hairs.

“When did you come, Mrs. Verma?” I never expected she would come here even though she had promised.

“I came here last night only. Thanks Vipin, for opening my eyes. I was blind not to see the truth behind her innocent face. How could I ever doubt my daughter? But now every thing will be all right. Doctor, can I take her home in this condition? I don’t want to leave her alone once again. We can employ private nurses for her care if needed. ”

“Well, previously she was not being discharged because she had nowhere to go. But now since she is pregnant, I’ll have to talk to Dr. Dhasmana. Have you thought about that, Ma’am? She had told me it would be difficult and risky to abort now.”

“For me now her life is more important than any thing else. I will not take the risk. I think I’ll let he carry the baby. She has had her share of defamation anyways. Aborting the baby will not wash that away.”

“But have you told your husband. He must still be angry with her.”

“I have not told him yet. I will explain when he comes home. You don’t worry about him. He has gone only last week so he will not be back before a month. By that time I’ll try to meet Garima and persuade her to tell the truth to Mr. Verma when he comes.”

I told her that she need not worry and that I’ll talk to Garima and convince her. I requested her to just ask the SO of the police station to let me meet her. She assured that it will be done.

From there I went to Sushma and told her Mrs. Verma’s request to get Rita discharged. There was no problem as far as pregnancy was concerned, she informed me. She said it could be managed but they would have to employ a full time nurse to look after. Within next few days she was discharged from the hospital. Rita was very happy and excited. She asked me to come to her home sometimes. “Thanks for everything, Vipin” she said as she was transferred to the ambulance. I just responded with a smile.

[12]

Several times I had thought of meeting Garima. But every time I wanted to go, some hospital work came up. Gradually it slipped off my mind. As there was no news from Rita, I assumed she was well accepted by the family. With the days passing I got busy with the routine and forgot Rita.

Suddenly I realized I was standing in her room. She was lying on her bed, propped up by few pillows. Just like I had seen her the last time in room number 7. But her face was expressionless. The sensuousness was not there. She was staring blankly towards the window. She was clutching a piece of paper in her hands. I tried to greet her. “Hello Rita” I said weakly. She looked at me and spoke “Vipin!” she started crying, “Why did he do this to me”

“What are you saying Rita. How did this happen.”

She kept on crying. I held her hand to console her. She handed me the crumpled piece of paper. “Read this, he gave this to me early morning. I wish I had read it then only.”

‘Dear kid,

I am sorry, it was my fault and I suspected you. I will not be able to live with this guilt. I hope you will forgive me.

Pa’

“Oh no, but why did he take this rash step. Even if he realized his mistake, he could have repented for his error by accepting you home.” She had calmed down by now. I asked her what had happened last night.

“Pa came home from Banda at around 9 PM. Mom had till then not informed him of my return. When she told him about me he got very excited and angry. Mom tried to explain the circumstances in which I reached the Royal Hotel. She told him about Garima and how I had gone with her to watch a movie and had stopped at the hotel on Garima’s request. Somehow, after listening this he calmed down. He didn’t come to my room at that time. It was around midnight when he told Mom that he was going out as he had to meet someone.  I don’t know when I slept but I woke up as I felt someone had entered my room. I saw Pa standing near my bed. Before I could say any thing, he put this paper on my bed and left. I didn’t read it then as I was sleepy and it was dark too. I fell asleep once again and woke only by the sound of his revolver.”

She broke down into a fit of crying once again. I tried to console her, but she would not stop. “It’s because I came home that he did this. I wish I had remained in the hospital only. Now how will Mom live?” some of her friends had come in so I quietly moved out. I told Mukul that I’ll come again later and left.

I came back to my hostel, but I couldn’t go to the ward. I was disturbed by the morning’s events. One thing I was not able to understand, why he committed suicide. Even if he realized that he misunderstood his daughter, he could have explained his error of judgment, and Rita would have understood him. This was not a guilt big enough that he took this extreme step. Then I remembered he had gone to meet someone after he knew about her daughter. Whom did he meet? Suddenly it struck to me that he went to meet Garima, may be to confirm her story.  I thought of meeting Garima, may be she knew why he committed suicide.

Instead of going to the wards I went straight to the Mahanagar police station, where Garima was lodged. I gave my introduction to the in charge and requested him. He allowed me to meet Garima and told a constable to accompany me to the cell where Garima was living.

She was sitting on a bench, drinking tea. She was almost the same age as Rita, but looking much thinner, and older. She was wearing a white khaddar sari, just as I had seen prisoners wearing in some movie. The constable left us alone.

“Hello Garima, I am Vipin, Rita’s doctor.”

“Now what do you want. I have already said sorry to her father. Had I known she was Mr. Verma’s daughter I wouldn’t have even touched her.”

“So Mr. Verma came here last night”

“Yes, so what?”

“Well he committed suicide after he went from here”

“Oh! But I had expected this. He had no choice. He was living with a guilt feeling since the day he saw Garima in that hotel room.”

“But why did he feel guilty, he was just doing his duty by conducting that raid.”

“What raid, he had come there to meet me. I often introduced him to new girls from college. Young virgin girls were his weakness. He gave me a lot of money and expensive gifts in return. That day I had promised to introduce him to a very sexy young college girl. Had I known he was Rita’s father, I would never have made this blunder. I came to know only after he shot at Rita. But then I was terrified and ran away. Last night he came to ask me whether Rita knew why she was waiting in that room.  I told him the truth that Rita was innocent and she was expecting to meet my uncle.”

“Garima, you did a very noble deed by telling Mr. Verma the truth about Rita, but I request you one more thing. Don’t tell this truth about Mr. Verma to any one else. Your previous action has made her life hell, now if Rita knows the truth about her father her life will become even worse. Let her live under the false belief that her father was an honest police officer and a caring father.”

When I came back to see Rita, she was sleeping, clutching a photo of Mr. Verma in her hands. She was looking so innocent and sensuous.


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Mother’s Milk

“Hello Anju, how is your daughter. She looks very thin, aren’t you feeding her properly?” This was her second visit to my clinic.  I could immediately recognize her. The last time I had given her a long lecture on the advantages of breast feeding. She had at that time come with her husband and her newborn baby. She had told she was feeding her cow’s milk.
“Why not your milk?” I had almost shouted.
“I am not able to, DokSaab.” She had said, a strange pain mixed joy expression on her face.
“Why not? You can if you try.” I kept on hammering.
“You work some where?”

“Do you feel it will destroy your figure?”
She just kept looking towards her baby and hadn’t replied.
“Look Anju, You don’t realize you are depriving your daughter of her birth right. I can only advice, it’s up to you to follow”

This time she had come with her mother-in-law.
“I am worried too, DokSaab” she said, “I am doing all I can, but she keeps on crying”
“Are you breast-feeding her?” I came directly to my favorite subject.
She didn’t reply and turned to look at the posters.
“No DokSaab, even I have told her to feed the baby, but she will not listen” her mother-in-law intervened.
“What’s the matter, Anju? Even after my advice, you are still not giving her your milk. What type of mother are you”
“DokSaab, I…” she just started sobbing and went out of the chamber.
“These gen-next mothers, they don’t listen to our advice. They think they know all” her mother-in-law grumbled.
“What can I do, except giving her right advice” I said and gave the vaccine to her baby and they went.

“Doctor I wanted to talk to you about Anju”, he must be her husband, I think I have seen him before. “I know what you want to say. She is not breast feeding her baby. Even I have tried to convince her”
“DokSaab she wants but she can’t”
“If she wants then why doesn’t she feed” I was surprised.
“Sir, we thought we’ll not let any one know. But when this morning you chided her in front of my mother, Anju realized we should have told you.”
I was getting impatient “What should she have told me, and why didn’t she tell me in the morning.”
“Well DokSaab she still wants to hide from my mother and others. DokSaab, we are married for seven years but couldn’t conceive. We tried all the possible treatment. Then we were told about Test-tube baby. It was then Anju decided we adopt a child. This baby she hasn’t delivered, so how could she feed her. She just doesn’t want anyone to know and later reveal that to our daughter.”
I was feeling ashamed to have scolded Anju. “I will say sorry the next time she comes. Tell her no one will know from my mouth.” I said smiling.


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Desire

-I don’t have any desire left, Shukla.

God has been very generous towards you, Mishra.

-Yes, He has fulfilled all my desires.

Nice home, lovely caring wife, both children well settled.

-Yes, and a flourishing clinic.

What else would one want?

-All I want to do now is sit back and relax.

Or go on a long vacation.

-Oh yes, I always longed for a Caribbean Cruise.

And lie on the romantic beaches.

-and eat exotic sea food.

Yes that, and the sensuous bikini babes.

-Oh Shukla, how I have curbed all my desires just because of the kids.

But now they are settled and living their own lives.

-Now I can fulfill all my suppressed desires.


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Hope

“Is there any Hope, Swami ji?”
Rukmini was looking expectedly at Swami Ji.
“Beta, where there is Faith there always is Hope.”

“Hopeless,” Doctor Sweta’s remarks were still ringing in her ears, “You have no chance.”

“But Swamiji, the Doctor said it’s impossible.”
“Nothing is impossible for those who believe. Just apply this bhasm on your husband’s forehead every morning. Soon your house will reverberate with a baby’s cry.”

She returned from the ashram, her heart full of hope.
Rohan was anxiously waiting for her.
“Biwi, I have decided, we are not going in for IVF. It is so uncertain.”
“But Swamiji said….”
“Leave Swamiji alone, we are going to adopt that cute girl we saw last week at EHSAAS.”