I came to senses next day at about 10 am. My arm was plastered, and the other limbs were tied to the bed, while a liquid was being fed through the left hand.
I could not recognize anyone familiar around. It was a government health care center or a hospital in Obedullaganj, a small town. In a small hall, I was placed in a corner and was the only one on bed. The rest of them, roughly forty odd, were lying on the ground with a few having a relative nearby.
The stench in the hall was horrible, and on another day, I would have vomited or fainted immediately. But for now, my own stench was bad and I think it pleasantly diverted the mind, as one's own stench is far more bearable.
As I woke up, one old lady accompanying the nearby patient, came forward, and told me that my folks are outside, and that she was going to call them.
Away from the squalor inside, my mother, along with two of employees and a cousin brother, and a policeman were sitting outside the small hospital building, in its compound.
When they came in, I told them to free my hand and legs as I was feeling cramps. I was told not to move them suddenly in case of shooting pain, and I nodded.
I asked them about Sooraj, and my father. I was surprised not to find them around. Another thing worrying me was that I needed better treatment soon. In all these hours, they had not shifted me to a private and better hospital in the Bhopal city. It was another puzzle.
My mother said they will be here in a while and then we will shift. To comfort me, she added that Mr.Lal was also helping in arranging things. But her tone was one meant to hide matters which she was not good at.
I wanted her to go out before asking a few things from one of the fellows, and I wanted to speak to the doctor; I persuaded her to rest outside and send tea.
My maternal cousin brother stayed back. He was quite mature, a clerk in a government department. While the doctor was coming, I chatted with him to know what was going on.
He narrated, “Last night, when you were brought here, the doctor first refused to start the treatment till police filed a case”.
He continued, “Sooraj and your father went to the police station in Obedullaganj, but since the place of accident and crime was not in this area, the police here wants the report to be filed in Hoshangabad (the next police district). So Sooraj and your father have gone there to file the police report. Without that, even shifting is not possible to a private hospital. They should have come back by early morning. Mr.Lal is helping them.”
As he finished, the doctor was here. He was an old man nearing his retirement age, and had chosen this posting. The other patients and their relatives became quiet and started looking at him in expectation, something they had been doing regularly every time he entered. He came to me and asked how I was feeling.
I greeted him and asked about my injury, and if an X-ray or a scan can be arranged.
The doctor replied, “Son, don't ask for more - I cannot even treat you officially till I get the nod from police. But don't worry; it doesn't change things much as long as you are here, as I have put a plaster. We don't have a CT-Scan and our X-ray machine is out of service. There is a Goyal's X-ray machine that is across the road that works in the evening when electricity is there.” He glanced at his staff, one old nurse and one mature ward-boy, when he said that.
I understood why the government's free X-ray machine was always out of order.
He continued, “I have checked that your hand has blood circulation, and the swelling and pain is a good sign. The bones can be set when you get operated upon, in the city. Till then, we need to keep a watch that the blood circulation is not affected by any twist or turn. The plaster will take care of it and you inform someone to shift it a bit if your hand goes to sleep for long.”
I asked, “How long will this arrangement last, without causing permanent harm?”
He answered, “For a few days, may be a week; I am sure your matter will be sorted in a day.” I was sure too.
But it would be three more days before I would move to a private hospital in the city.
By evening, I knew what was going on with Sooraj, my father and the police. They had not returned yet but had worked out an arrangement.
The police had initially refused to take the 'first information report' (called FIR) from Sooraj; registering an FIR itself was a hurdle. To add to it, the constables had one prepared already to be filed by a fellow, who supposedly had seen the car go inside and had followed to the spot of accident and death.
In either case, they had Sooraj and me as the main suspect for both murders, and had grounds to arrest us immediately. The second false FIR was just a ploy to extract some money in the process, and to arrest him after declaring him absconding. It was a technicality but legally very harming. The price demanded to avoid it was one lac. Another one lac was demanded to quickly instruct the hospital to move me. Else, it could get lost in files and process.
Mr.Lal was trying his best; he called up the Superintendent of Police, one Mr.Thakur, who had been his senior officer long back, and brought the matter to his knowledge. Mr.Thakur had a reputation of very honest and a principled person. That had forced the Inspectors under him to be very innovative in money collection. Mr.Thakur immediately asked the inspector to expedite. But many more hours passed and nothing happened.
My father realized only money would work. He had retired from administration twenty years back, and things were different then. The senior bureaucrats had more say on the ground and in general their quality had been maintained.
But now things had changed with the leap in telecommunications. Most powerful politicians had direct contacts with lower level administration and police, and ran their collection network. Further, in this case, the police guy had sensed an opportunity to make much more from some persons.
Time was running out fast. My father knew we needed a police report receipt and we needed Sooraj's report to be filed first and be the only one filed. It would matter to us a lot in the coming investigation and litigation.
My father had crossed seventy. I and he were always opposing each other for decades, in every matter of the world. While he favored arranged marriages and hated my ideas, I would never fall in line. He favored either a government service for me, or a tuition class business or to make a compromise, a software job though he didn’t understand it much. He preferred stability to income, telling me that he had seen enough of instability in his life. I avoided his ideas, and his way of life.
It is impossible to win an argument with an old, slightly senile person. So every time, I closed it saying that he no longer should worry about me. The world has changed, they are grown ups and he had done his part.
By late night, without my knowledge, he had promised the inspector to pay three lacs by next morning. An extra lac was being given to be lenient towards me in their initial investigation reports. He consulted my mother about the amount. They roughly had that much amount left as savings, and no health insurance available in this country for their age.
While they could always depend on me but from their perspective, they were going to lose their financial security at this age. But he had no second thoughts- this had to be done for me.
Over next few months, till I recover, he would be driven to bankruptcy and debts. He was fighting a battle he was never equipped to.
But parents don't easily give up their job. And wait for an opportunity to serve again. And I stopped having anymore arguments with them, though they were always ready with a petty issue. I learnt to accept and ignore their idiosyncrasies.
It would take two more days for my father to collect the money. He could not get money released from his Provident Fund at such a short notice so he got it from one of his contacts and promised to repay when he got the Provident Fund. Meanwhile, Sooraj had been arrested on suspicion of murders, and remanded by the magistrate for a few days in custody.
I had a medical case and hence not considered fit for influencing investigation or running away, and a constable was assigned to keep watch on me in the hospital. My questioning could be done in hospital itself once doctors approve. I was also allowed to move to any hospital of choice.
Prima facie, the car had met with an accident and I was injured in that accident. One unidentified person was shot by an unlicensed gun which had three fingerprints- two of whom were dead. Only Sooraj was alive and healthy. And he had stated in his account that he had pushed the dead fellow from behind. Out of all persons, he looked the suspect for the other murder too.
Only the motive for the incident was missing. Competing media had a few hours to think of one.
Most of them were small time reporters who made their monthly income by sensational reporting. They didn’t trouble us much; once first day's story was over, they had to move on to something else.
By next day, I was realizing that I was in a hell. The squalor and the stench were now taking effect. The higher level of the bed made it worse as the entire hall was visible to me.
The government center had two halls, a room for the doctor and a store room. It was the only medical center in the small town and most poor villagers, after trying their own and jhola chap's treatment, came there. Most would get discharged after an injection and some medicines but a few stayed.
Those who stayed had only two most probable exits: affording a stay in the city if they went to city's government hospital, or leaving this world. This place was only a temporary stay. When they left, and if there were no attendants, the staff would take their belongings and auction.
In most cases, a spouse or child or a parent were accompanying, and they came with provisions and some utensils to cook.
I had been in packed train compartments but they were nothing compared to this hall. The official capacity was fifteen beds but it had more than double the patients and twenty to thirty attendants. Most were those not admitted officially, but had forced their way to find a place. The other hall was for women and it was equally packed.
The bed sheets were stained and filthy. On record, they were washed before issuing.
The urinal box was with the nurse, and limited in supply. Some had their own arrangement, while others waited for the nurse to visit. A few without attendants, and who could not handle the pressure of waiting, released it. A few were prone to vomiting.
By noon, I wanted to be out. It didn't matter where. But the policeman there informed me that I can't leave. I had to comply; I didn't want to create one more issue. My mother slipped a note of fifty to the policeman and the nurse. And I was shifted next to the wide door, moving all others to accommodate the shift. It made air a bit fresher, and my bed was turned to make it look outside.
But the inmates, officially or unofficially in, were quite helpful to each other. They had no complaints on another one encroaching on their place or medical care. Despite the cramped space and medical situation each one faced, the atmosphere was quite cheerful. Many knew each other by name, their village and even their family had formed bonds so that they can take turns attending. Most of them had recurring temperatures, some were coughing and a minority had injuries or fractures.
By evening, I knew quite a few around. Many were curious to know what had happened and many wanted to know who this person with a bed was - certainly not one with their economic status. A bed was like a throne in the middle of a population which didn't feel that a bed in a government hospital was their right.
Actually, the five or six fundamental rights of living humans seemed quite complex notions compared to tangible needs here. There I thought of a seventh- a right to dignity for human life. I didn’t have much thought for animal life at that moment; anyways it was futile as they were outside the scope of this right in our society.
Soon, a woman came with her two small children and asked if her children can sit on the bed. There was some space. I answered, “Yes they can as long as they don't play with my plaster.”
That set all of them laughing, “Babuji, you joke a lot.”
I said, “I am myself a joke right now.”
That made others smile too, and started a series of dialogues. Soon there were comments from a distant corner too.
The distance between my throne and everyone disappeared. They realized that I was another patient needing care, just that I was used to more comforts. But I didn't think of them as lesser beings.
Soon more affection followed - a cup of tea, some food from the common pool (though they were still hesitant). I slept early that night but by then, I had no thought of running away. The place was a hell but people had made up for it.
By next noon, the money was paid, and I could move to a private hospital. Sooraj would remain in custody for a few days while Mr.Thakur would himself take my statement later.
Leaving the filthy government medical center hadn't been as pleasant. As the other patients and their relatives looked on, I had to look into their eyes and accept that I had bought something they don't have a right to.
This was not the kind of thing where I had wanted my earnings to make a difference. This was not the world I had bargained for while working in the air conditioned offices in Mumbai or Bangalore or California.
When I was leaving, many of the hospital mates came to help out. They never charged for any help or tea.
I had learnt an important lesson- that in return for a little affection and dignity, these folks will give anything they have, though they have very little. This lesson will go very far in my coming struggle.
I had been moved to a Private Orthopedic Hospital in Bhopal, and was much more at ease. The private hospitals were known by one or two prominent doctors; and they would be also part owners. This one was run by one Surgeon, Dr. Khanna, who also took up my case.
On the fourth day, we had all the medical reports. The arm was in bad shape - the bone completely broken below the shoulder and smashed below the elbow, including the wrist. The doctor said it would be difficult to restore the original motion but most of it can be done.
This doctor was a sharp businessman. Long back he had realized that a good orthopedic hospital in a city will be a great business, assisted with some help from apathy in government hospitals. A lot of government hospitals' nurses and staff were paid a small amount every month to guide the distressed patients to this modern hospital.
But what he himself could not gauge was that the bad roads, faster cars and surging rate of road accidents will itself be a huge growth factor for his business. He also had fully used the short sightedness or greed of Insurance companies, like many other hospitals in the country. Covered patients had a good chance of extended treatments and more tests than uncovered ones. Further the emergence of generic drug companies had improved his earnings even more.
But while many of these were macro events combined with his tactics, he had many shrewd partners in his hospital. He had been generous with the treatment, as the case with all businessmen, to the families of politicians, police, judges and administration, and hence had built good rapport with them, to be called upon when it mattered. And to make sure that no other private hospital got a license easily.
When he started setting up his orthopedic hospital some ten years back, he had struggled to find a place. The city planners had given lands for housing societies and some commercial outlets but had entirely forgotten about marked spaces for hospitals and similar services. So he had to set it up in a residential locality, after buying out a few houses.
As soon as he was set up, some nearby residents objected and approached the local courts to evict him. The court case dragged on with no result for three years. By this time, many others were waking up to the potential of a specialty hospital, and all had the same problem of space.
The doctor then planned a master stroke, to ensure the scarcity and monopoly. He sponsored appeals in the court to stop any hospitals from coming up in residential area and unfit commercial places. For the already existing ones, the case was pending to be decided in lower court.
The court saw the logic and granted a stay order. The order existed till date, so did the case in the lower court, so did his almost monopolistic business. And so it was the only hospital I preferred to go to.
The doctor was a picture of humility and care. Despite his workload, he offered personal care and attention to each patient. While he had grown as a businessman, he had diminished as a human, and so had his skills as a doctor. His team of assistants realized this. They were themselves orthopedics. But they had no option but to work here. The government centers didn't offer good salaries, choice of location, good facilities and obedient staff, while this hospital didn't give them peace or ethics.
I had one operation on the fourth day itself. They had fixed the upper right arm with rods and screws while just plastered the lower arm. They had to wait till some bones strengthened in the lower arm, to operate and add any fixtures. The next review was planned after four weeks while I stayed there.
The pain had gone but movement was restricted. Further, a single posture for more than thirty minutes created unbearable fatigue and swelling.
It meant that I didn't have sound sleep for almost six months. Then for the next three months after that, my mind had forgotten how to sleep for long. It will be next July or so, when one fine day I would sleep and sleep.