The International Writers Magazine: Mishaps in India
Daze in Triplicane
Colin Todhunter in Chennai
could have stepped out of a Botticelli, with her poise and beauty,
but she hadn't. All she had done was step off the madness that is
Triplicane High Road and into the crippling ugliness of a third
rate hospital. Jessica and the hospital in Triplicane where as incongruous
well an early Florentine Renaissance artist and a hellhole
She had been complaining
of dysentery-type symptoms (flowing vomit, raging fever and all that)
so we visited a private hospital in the Triplicane area of Chennai,
where we were staying. I got the impression that this hospital was on
the bottom rung of the private hospital ladder and clinging on to it
for all it was worth. The place was a little shabby and, as I was to
find out, the equipment, what little of it there was, a lot worn. Some
years before I had visited the relatively plush and expensive private
Apollo Hospital, and although both hospitals are in the private sector,
they are worlds apart.
Not long after entering, Jessica was in a bed in a room with attached
bathroom. Well, that was a good start her own room! However,
it soon struck me that the place lacked the almost ubiquitous smell
of disinfectant with which every hospital in the UK positively brims.
The use of disinfectant in hospital is a very good idea seeing that
hospitals positively ooze with all types of germs and disease. So it
was a little disconcerting to find no smell, apart from a kind of dusty
aroma created by the cleaners who patrolled the place, sweeping dust
into the air in the belief that displacing dust from one area to another
Not long after a nurse had connected Jessica to an intravenous drip,
an old, village-type woman entered the room to sweep some dust into
the air. On her way out, she smiled, said something to Jessica in Tamil
and checked the drip. We began to speculate that perhaps this woman
was a nurse or even a doctor who does a bit of dust sweeping in her
spare time, between intravenous drip-checking. Anyhow, she left in a
cloud of dust, leaving the drip to leak onto the bed sheets. What unit
she attached to? Oncology, Pediatrics, or Obstetrics? No, it had to
be Incompetency, which of course researches into taking the formal practice
of gross incompetence to new heights.
As Jessica lay with the drip dripping into her arm (and onto the
bed), a variety of strangers would pass outside the door and stop to
gaze at this pair of strange looking foreigners. At one stage an impromptu
photo session even took place, with Jessica lying half dead, surrounded
by smiling, preening staff and bemused relatives of other patients.
Jessica had to be detached to pay a sudden visit to the bathroom. On
re-entering the room she informed me that there had been a slight mishap
in the bathroom, in terms of vomit and other bodily fluids having been
splattered around the place. I left to inform a staff member.
is a very popular word in India. The media love it: 300 dead
in train mishap or Mishap as bus plunges over cliff
killing 30. Catastrophic events claiming scores of lives are
routinely described with big, screaming headlines as mere mishaps.
I guess it
kind of places Jessicas bathroom mishap into perspective. But
I could almost feel the vomit and diarrhea squelching its way under
the door and into the room. The cleaner-cum-doctor-cum-drip-checker
had been informed of it forty five minutes earlier, but it still lay
there, festering and rotting and seeping. Hygiene was not big on
the agenda of this place. It was the type of institution where you leave
with more infections than you had when you first arrived. Somehow I
managed to prick my finger on one of the many discarded needles that
lay on the table next to Jessicas bed.
The hospital was a mirror image of the hotel where I was staying. The
hotel has definitely seen better days, and although the hospital was
dilapidated, I guess that these were its better days. So
when people look back in a few years time and say that it has seen better
days, they may take some consolation from knowing that its better days
were not much of an improvement on what it had become. Both my hotel
and the hospital exude an air of neglect: dusty and dimly lit, the staff
a little down in the mouth and the equipment tired and rusty.
So the hospital provided little change for me, given my hotel positively
groaned under the burden of its own dereliction: peeling paint that
had been placed on top of numerous other layers of peeling paint, rusting
locks attached to rotting doors; and rickety banisters moaning under
the weight of years of neglect. Certain hotels in India call themselves
palace and genuinely try to treat their customers as royalty.
Mine is based more on the dungeon model of urban living and treats the
paying guest as a bloody nuisance. And the staff a sorry group
of individuals living under the terror of rich, high caste owners who
have scant regard for workers rights or dignity and who had never
heard of the concept of effective building maintenance.
The hotel cleaners, all village-type women spend most of the day sleeping
in the inner courtyard, waking occasionally to take a break to eat rice
meals or drink tea. Yet on being informed that the owners are on their
way they suddenly transform themselves into the most effective dust
displacers, bending over and sweeping to their hearts content.
The fact that the sinks are often covered in grime matters little; sweeping
dust is much more fun. They could easily get a job in the local hospital
given their talent for dust cloud formation and earn a bit of extra
cash on the side with a bit of intravenous dip checking.
Just around the corner, and back in the hospital, the drip had finally
emptied itself into Jessica and on to the bed, and after having taken
her medication some hours before, she was feeling a little dazed but
a lot better. Then it was time to pay. A nurse looked at me and asked
300 rupees? Judging from her intonation I knew it
was an arbitrary-made-up-on-the-spot-fee. After paying the bill, the
head nurse asks Sisters fees? (AKA tip). We left shortly
after; Jessica with a newly developed dust-related cough, and I with
a newly infected fingertip. In our heart of hearts we both knew
that we'd be back.
© Colin Todhunter October 2004
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