It was the payday for the “ward boys” and ward assistants. There would be long queue in front of the Time Keeper’s office. The salary disbursement would start just after lunch and go on till late in the evening. The money would be counted, there would be exclamations of joy and quite frequently groans of disappointment. Most men would look happy but several would look shiftily around as though waiting for a disaster to fall on them.
The disaster would be waiting outside the hospital gates. There would be a group of flinty eyed persons seemingly loitering without purpose. Most men would avoid this group and the favor was returned by the strong silent group. Suddenly the group would stir into action, collar a ward boy and drag him to their leader. There would be a quick exchange of words, the ward boy would be relieved of his pay packet and allowed to go. I found out later that some ward boys had borrowed money at exorbitant rates and this group were loan sharks recovering their dues. Sadly some of our own ward boys were involved in this racket. The ring leader was Digambar, who worked as an attendant in the Trauma Ward.
The seventies and the eighties were the years of the Mumbai gangsters. There were several “Godfathers” with their own gangs. Every gang had its own beat and woe betide anyone who tried to muscle in. Karim Lala, Haji Mastan, Varadarajan Mudaliar were some of the famous names. Our hospital was the turf of Varadarajan Mudaliar, popularly known as “Varadabhai” He was in some trouble as the new DCP of the area, a tough honest cop was out to get him. Sensing Varadabhai’s weakness others were trying to muscle in.
One payday Digambar lay in wait outside the hospital gate. Deepak and I were siting on a stone bench under the porch of the doctors quarters. We could see Digambar and his gang of merry men outside the gates.
Suddenly there was a stir. There seemed to a scuffle going on between Digambar and some newcomers. Digambar broke free from the group and pelted at full speed into the hospital campus. “The bugger has been stabbed!” exclaimed Deepak. Digambar was still running hard clutching his abdomen. He turned smartly towards the trauma ward. “Let’s go to the trauma ward. We have a patient” Deepak and I walked into the trauma ward.
Digambar was admitted with a stab in the upper abdomen. He was bleeding like a stuck pig. His face was sweaty and he was in shock. We sighed and got to work…
Digambar went through seven kinds of hell. The stab had pierced his liver, colon and the duodenum. We operated on him and sutured the liver, resected a part of the colon and repaired the duodenum. He developed a leak from the colonic sutures. Finally after a month and around half a dozen surgeries, we sent him home.
Twenty years later, I was back in Sion Hospital, this time as the Dean. It was a strange feeling coming back to the old place of your escapades. It was full of memories. Sister G Eapen had retired as had the “Old Pete.” All the other old timers had either retired or died. The residents looked the same, harassed and overworked.
“Sir, the local Municipal Corporator wants to see you. Shall I make an appointment?” This was Mrs Joshi, my secretary. Next week would be fine, I told her. In the afternoon, Mrs Joshi hurried into my office. “Sir, The Corporator who spoke about is waiting outside. He wants to meet you urgently” Let him wait, I told her, I had some important papers to attend to. “Sir, he has a very dangerous reputation around this area. I would strongly suggest that you see him now and get rid of him quickly” Mrs Joshi had been the Dean’s secretary for more than a decade and I was told that her advice was usually sound. “OK, Mrs Joshi, usher the man in”
The door opened with a bang and in walked a well built greying individual with vulture eyes. “Namaskar Saheb” was his offhand greeting. Without being invited he dropped into the chair opposite and stared at the floor.
“Saheb” I have come to you to complain about one of your doctors” What happened? I inquired. One of this man’s relatives had been admitted to the female surgical and the doctor had not seen her even after two hours. He kept on haranguing me about the poor state of affairs in the hospital. Till then, he had not even looked at me.
He suddenly looked up. His eyes met mine. There was a look of absolute disbelief on his face. His harangue suddenly stopped as though someone had turned off a switch. I was nonplussed.
“Shirahatti Saheb!” he exclaimed. “You didn’t recognize me did you? I am Digambar, your patient” Sorry, I don’t seem to recollect, I told him hesitantly. He did something that made Mrs Joshi blush. He pulled up his shirt and displayed an abdomen crisscrossed with scars. “These five were made by you Sir when I was operated for the stab”
I offered him a cup of tea, after all, he was the local political representative. “Hows the business?” I asked him with a wink. “Have given it up long ago Sir. Being a Corporator is more lucrative and less dangerous” he informed me with a straight face….