Long, long ago a gang of pickpockets had adopted this maternity hospital as their ‘business’ territory
Some days back, my junior colleague M. reported to duty (‘stumbled to’ would be more like it!) clothed only in rather grubby two piece underwear! As it transpired it was the ‘grubbiness’ of his underwear that had saved it and consequently saved him from streaking on the roads like a modern version of Archimedes.
He had a harassed air about him and his face wore a rather haunted look… Now, M. has always been rather keen on the dramatic arts and for a moment I thought that he was up to his usual theatrics! He is an accomplished mimic as well, and as he was gesticulating wildly, it seemed for a moment that he might be rehearsing some new item. The matter however appeared to be of a graver nature as he collapsed suddenly, and lying on the ground, with a striking resemblance to a plucked-chicken, gasped out some unintelligible words that sounded rather like maternity hospital …delivery…maasa…and then he just blacked out! For the uninitiated, maasa, basically, means ‘maternal aunt’, hereby euphemistically referring to the elderly and anything but maternal, female orderlies/midwives seen in and around most maternity hospitals.
Meanwhile one of our more practical minded colleagues got a bucketful of cold water and unceremoniously dumped it on M.’s prostrate form. And in a few seconds, he rebounded, that is to say spluttered, back to life. The account that followed from his parched lips would make a Hitchcock Horror movie look like a Tom and Jerry show in comparison! With a shudder, poor M. described his ordeal at the main maternity hospital of our valley, how every minute some ‘sister’, ward-boy, trolley attendant, gatekeeper, sweeper or one of the ubiquitous maasas would pop up and demand baksheesh. This ‘stripping’ started at the very gate of the hospital and continued till his wife was shifted to the Labor Room. Once she delivered, all hell broke loose! Swarms and swarms of these ‘sisters’, maasas, helpers, bearers, safaiwallahs etc. descended upon him until even he did not know how he managed to run away in his near-Archimedes state.
“With all those harpy ‘sisters’, ghoulish orderlies, witch – like maasas, fiendish trolley pushers, raking in all that money, the Labor Room looks like a share-bazaar straight out of a nightmare! I had heard of locusts but I didn’t know they come white-apron clad!” M. said, as he regained his breath and his voice.
He went on to say, “And it is profit all the way! If your wife begets a son then, of course, it is a veritable jackpot for them! If it is a daughter, you are expected to be generous enough because she is ‘a blessing from above’. If it is a dead baby, you supposedly have every reason to be thankful that at least your spouse is alive! If the mother dies ‘at least she left you something to remember her by’! And if it be that both mother and newborn are dead, you should offer thanksgiving (in cash of course!) because whatever evil and inauspicious had been ordained for you by Fate has come to pass and you yourself have survived! Those madams out there can teach the gloomiest of pessimists a lesson or two in optimism!”
“Didn’t you talk to the authorities?” I asked M., who has a reputation of being something of a firebrand activist.
“What did they say?”
“One of the guys I talked to told me that this systematic ‘fleecing’ of people who continue to produce babies in this over-populated country of ours has been extensively studied and found to be quite a deterrent! In fact, he told me that they are approaching the World Health Organization to promote this ‘Labour Room tamasha’, as a family planning measure! And I think he is quite right, any guy who has been through the special treatment at this maternity hospital, will go for castration, not to speak of sterilization!” M. concluded, shaking his head, to shake off the memory.
Another chap from the administration had then added, “These measures have also made the environs of this maternity hospital a crime-free zone. You see all those faded signboards of ‘Beware of pickpockets’? Well they are not even needed now! Long, long ago a gang of pickpockets had adopted this maternity hospital as their ‘business’ territory. But as you must have personally experienced our efficient staff ensures that the pockets of whosoever comes within the boundaries of this hospital are cleaned out fully and there is nothing left to pick. So after a month’s dry and frustrating spell, except for one single episode when the matron’s pocket was inadvertently picked, the gang was reduced to starvation! The heart broken gang-leader committed suicide by jumping into the nearby river Jhelum. A few gang members took to honest trade and you can see them among other hawkers around this hospital selling baby food and clothes. A couple or so have affiliated themselves to the hospital as beggars…!”
M’s revelations were corroborated by other colleagues as well and theirs were such hair raising accounts that a newly married employee of our organization swore then and there that he would rather adopt a ‘ready-made’ baby from somewhere than go through such an ordeal!
(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!).
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