Wednesday, March 07, 2012

There Are No Attendants

Every man is an island. That is what I was told when I arrived in this city as a new migrant. But even when I knew nothing about its machinations, I did not believe in the aloofness of the human soul. I plunged myself in friendship, and in love. On certain nights, some of us would sit in a second-hand white Fiat, whose only one door opened, drinking beer in a bar called Sonarupa, on the Janpath road, and then sing loudly “Dil to Pagal hai…” Some of us fell in love with married women, and some with women much older, writing forty-page love letters till motors were switched on in the wee hours of the morning in water-deprived Punjabi colonies.

Then everything began to change gradually. The city overwhelmed us. Only memories remained of friendship, and of love – memories that would make me smile to myself when I sat alone on humid nights, on bare floor, drinking alone. Sometimes I would take out an old polythene bag from the storeroom, going through its contents, relics from those wonderful days: photographs with lipstick marks in the back, bracelets, letters, a well-thumbed copy of “Lust for Life” that I almost knew by heart at one time. All these sentiments had become extinct. Love had turned into some fossil.
This change, this face-off with loneliness felt like another exile. I had faced one long ago, in Kashmir. It was in 1990, right after the Shivratri, which is our most important festival. It is a festival of elaborate rituals, and of feasting that lasts for days as we celebrate the marriage of Shiva with Parvati. In exile, though, this marriage feels almost as if they are getting married secretly in a courtroom. But still, we manage the basics. In this city that essentially means that we go to the INA market, buy walnuts, and lotus stem, and collard greens, and pooja paraphernalia including an almanac that guides our lives.

This year I went myself, carrying an empty rucksack to fill things in. I bought everything father had asked me to, and I climbed down to the metro station to return home in the suburbs. No sooner had I entered the coach that something happened to me. My heartbeat went berserk, there was a strange sensation in my arms, acid rushed upwards from my stomach, and I felt dizzy. I got down at the next station, kept my bag down and sat on a bench. Ten minutes later I felt better. I thought of what had happened to me. It felt like a heart attack. I picked up my bag, slowly climbed to the main road, and called a doctor friend whose clinic is in east Kailash. I got into an auto rickshaw. Hardly had we covered a mile or so when the second attack hit me, this time more severe than the previous one. I was becoming disoriented with each passing moment, and incoherent. Before I thought I would collapse, I told the driver that I possibly didn’t have the time to reach east Kailash. I asked him to take me to the Emergency in Moolchand hospital, which was not far from where we were. I also realised that I needed to inform some one. I have friends; it’s not that I don’t have. But somehow in that moment of panic, I couldn’t think of anyone. There was traffic jam, and I was now almost collapsing. I remember the driver looking at my face through his rear-view mirror, taking the auto on the wrong side, and driving me in to the hospital. As I entered, I called a friend whose office is not far and told her what had happened. And then I got myself admitted.

Minutes later, I was on the bed with all kinds of wires strapped to my chest. My finger was attached to a monitor, and someone inserted a needle in the back of my hand. Someone took a blood sample. A nurse tried to put oxygen mask that I refused to wear. The ECG was taken, and blood pressure, and blood sugar. All of them turned out to be normal. But I was shaken completely. I’m not afraid of death. But it is strange how I thought of my father when I was collapsing, and what he would do if I were to die. This thought made me shiver. I couldn’t feel the base of my spine. I looked over my left. On the bed next to me, a man was puking blood. My friend had still not turned up. I realised I could die, and nobody would be around to even hold my hand. I closed my eyes. And I remembered a small hymn my grandfather had reluctantly taught me when I was a kid. It was from the Durgasaptashati that he would recite every day, before sunrise, in the abode of the Goddess in his ancestral village. It is believed to be too dangerous; apparently it releases too much energy, and some are even believed to have lost their mental balance while reciting it. I remember how I had thrown a fit, refusing to eat for a whole day before grandfather gave up and taught me how to recite a portion of it. And now on the hospital bed with my shirt buttons open, I recited that hymn. I felt calm afterwards. Suddenly, nothing mattered. I was ready to face anything.

After a repeat ECG, the doctor said I could go home. There was nothing wrong with me. “Has his admit card been made?” she asked a nurse. “We are waiting for his attendant,” the nurse replied. It is then that I got up from the bed. “It’s okay, I will go and get it made,” I said. I looked at my bag. The collard greens would be ruined if not kept in the fridge soon. I went to the reception, got myself admitted on paper, and, fifteen minutes later, I was discharged. I took a taxi and went home. I managed to save the collard greens.

Next day, I consulted a Cardiologist. I set the TMT machine afire, exceeding my desired heart beat rate. I could have run on it all day.

I still don’t know what happened to me. And it doesn’t matter. Tonight, I will fix myself a stiff drink. The attendants might not turn up. The man might indeed be an island. But as long as he remembers what his grandfather taught him, he will be fine. As long as he has that old polythene bag in his storeroom, he will be fine.