Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Walking Behind The Hospital

Now and again I walk behind the hospital. When I was younger I thought of the hospital as a place one can’t go. Full of people who are ailing and waning, full of stench and the septic smell of stunted healing, that is what it was. I had a picture of dead bodies, corpses and animal carcasses all heaped together. Heaped, continuous bodies without shape. Mixed, inseparable smells. That was years ago.

We shifted to a house nearby and the hospital came closer. Walking around the takes gumption even now. Now, there are hostels for medical students.

Students walk up and down the road every morning. Afternoons and evenings, they walk back. Hostels keel the road and they feel like parts of the hospital. People studying medicine have something peculiar about them. When you cross them on the road, their presence is barely noticed. When you walk by, you don’t see them. They don’t thrust themselves into attention or ogle. They have a preoccupied look. They have something on their minds – their eyes show that. Something about the people who couldn’t get their problems across to the doctors; something about the stitches that wasn’t done well. Endless thoughts about the workplace that crowd in on the walk back home. When I walk past them, when I see them look at me, I see some kind of focus. What can you think about someone who’s seen the human being inside and out? Does he know what it means to have pointy steel-like things poked at you? I can’t walk too slowly around them. It’s as if they know the extent to which I could walk, when the tendons and ligaments stop working normally, when anomie sets in with smoking.

The bend is lined with makeshift shops selling vegetables. Owners park their bicycles and scooters in front. Tarpaulin covers their ramshackle kiosks. No one shouts for the buyers on the road. They keep silent, unlike vendors anywhere else. Patiently they wait for someone to drop by. When I walk past, I feel them looking. They hope that I’m a buyer. I walk quickly by with redoubled pace. You can’t tell when they might ask to buy things.

Breaking their reticence, they can sometimes shout out prices in loud, summer-beaten voices. Their scooters remain standing in front. Past the shops, there is a small hill that goes onward to more hostels for students. Boys come teeming downhill in bikes and cars. Others walk down to the hospital.

When I walk I see them making a beeline for the workplace. The hospital clearly has stopped bothering them. They like being there and what is worse, they go back after working hours. It’s where they go to to meet each other. Despite the sickliness, they make it liveable.

I walk upwards and see more thatched shops. The shops look like they sell nothing, a testament to eternal futility. The road has sand and macadam mixed together. Daily-wagers come to clean up the weeds around the hostel grounds. The ones on the road are left to grow, since no one has paid for their removal. They grow bigger and the overgrown ones grow over the road. Walking over them is a bit like walking through a bog.

This is the city and these are its roads. Yet, the bog is all I feel like I’m walking over. The hostels look simple. The makers didn’t work on the aesthetics. They just let it grow out of rubble. The white walls that look spartan for the people inside. Towels hang over balconies and shoes are left to bake in the sun. Medical students know the rigmarole of wash, rinse and dry to keep away germs! Bushes along the road have snakes in them that come out sometimes. People might have been bitten before but the hospital is close by.

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