Where the brightness of the white-washed walls pierces through eyes,
Where the silence hits you like the loudest noise!
Where the crowd renders you all the more lonely,
Where the air around is heavy with sighs!
Likewise, I found myself one afternoon, tarrying long in a hospital waiting room!
The puzzle of life is quite difficult to decipher. It puts up different situations dredging up varied reactions from our being. At times, we find ourselves craving for companionship. Yet, at other times, we long for that solitude evoked by letting out and feeding the peaceful shade of our hazy selves. Ah! The multitudinous shades of human nature!
A baby’s first cry, a fully recovered loved one, an acquaintance brought back to life – these are some rarest of the rare instances when a hospital might be more or less deemed as a place one has good thoughts or memories attached to. But even in cases as these, the toil, the anxiety and many a time the agony is not left behind when the good thoughts are summoned. The unwanted and un-wished-for emotions naturally emerge with the name itself. Once in the hospital, a healthy person begins to feel sick, sensing aches here and sighs there while a sick person, already brimming with anxiety, enters a tachycardia state, simultaneously ready and not ready to get treated. Both – the sick patients and the healthy attendants are characterised by an urge to leave the hospital premises at once.
A fit of dehydration landed me in hospital at a time when the said place is supposed to bring forth the grim and abysmal feelings manifold than what are normally aroused by it. But sometimes, one has to take oneself in one’s hands. Worrisome and reluctant to go, I pulled myself together and started off for the hospital, accompanied by my sister. I remember all the bad times we Kashmiris as a people have gone through, all the unwarranted situations befalling us now and then. Although the pandemic is not the worst test Kashmiris have been put to (this time along with the whole wide world), yet, it is by far the ‘only one’ that has more or less managed to lower the spirits of Kashmiri people. But proudly as I may say, we the people of Kashmir have never succumbed no matter how horrendous the times were! And it is this collective conscience that has kept sustaining each one of us in these testing pandemic times as well. Impertinent as it may seem, it is but this thought that helped me step out of my cocoon into a world characterised by coronavirus.
A tall, well-painted building, a wide parking area lined up with flowers – but how have these features of a hospital ever reduced the unease of a patient or even a visitor? The pansies staring wide-eyed like monkeys in a row, the full-blown marigolds drooping their heads in dismay, the purple salvia tired of blooming and the bloody redness of the rose bereft of vivacity! Traversing across time and space, I felt what Sylvia Plath could have felt while writing her renowned poem ‘Tulips’ –
“The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me…Their redness talks to my wound.”
With all my might, I managed to step into a 12 sq. room, the hospital waiting room, my penultimate destination of the day. A glance across the room gave me an idea about a score of masked men and women including kids, a few unmasked or rather chin-masked. On the right-hand side of where a dithery me stood, was the reception desk with a receptionist – a rattlebrain, characterised by a conceited sense of her dexterous management at the reception. I went on to the desk to get an acknowledgement of my appointment. The receptionist asked my name twice or thrice, giving her busy self an air of importance. Finally, with an adroit flick of the wrist, she handed over the freshly printed prescription to me and asked me to wait till she would call my name to go in. I took a place in an uninhabited corner of the room. On my left-hand side was a series of unoccupied seats, perhaps because of the many patients who preferred to stand. An elderly woman, with out a mask and equally unconcerned invited each one of the standing patients to have a seat and relax, her affection unquestionable! A young woman of Sikh fraternity obeying her concern, sat beside her. The elderly woman started a conversation with the young woman in Kashmiri while the latter kept nodding with an infrequent ‘hmmm’ and an occasional timid smile. While I inferred that the young woman didn’t understand much of what the elderly woman told her in Kashmiri, the elderly woman failed to do so! Even the sporadic smiles of the young woman didn’t make the elderly woman suspect her understanding of the matter as her smiles didn’t synchronize with the plight of the elderly woman who was supposed to be the last patient to be let in! I then saw a woman clad in burqa with a peevish child, cranky because of the obvious situation he had been caught up into. The child would practically walk up to every patient present in the room, look up at his/her face, find nothing interesting and go back to his mother complaining about his boredom. The mother was trying to calm the child by playing with his unmasked face, again and again touching the mouth of the child while the child screeched with laughter. To the mother’s respite, came the father of the child who had perhaps gone to park the car. The child, not much interested in his father’s care, at once snatched his cellphone and logged into a game and there found his peace! There was a wheel chair too, with an old woman seated in, her head dropped as if dead, a handkerchief tied around her mouth, distorted arms and a few strands of ash-white hairs peeping out of her veil. Her anxious husband, a meek figure apparently in his seventies asking the receptionist to let his wife in on account of an emergency case. His son likewise requesting the patients for the same. Not many, but at least two to three times, the wheelchair was dragged up to the door of the doctor’s cabin in an attempt to go in, and then it was brought back near the reception desk, a comparatively airy space, because of the refusal of some non-cooperative patients to let the half-dead (as I could see her) woman in. I was so deeply pained that I prayed that my attention be diverted to something less painful. As an inverted answer to my prayers, my attention was caught up by an unmasked woman coughing in her veil. My sister could read my fretful expression and asserted her presence with a warm smile. A man then came rushing in and landed near the receptionist’s desk. He had missed his appointment by reaching a few minutes late and was now adamant to go in while the other patients raised an objection. After much debate, it was mutually decided upon by the patients and the receptionist that he would be let in after a couple of patients. Not much happy with the verdict, he moved about the room furiously reiterating the importance of time in his life. The time passed slowly. Every patient, once in, seemed to take forever to come out of the doctor’s chamber. Some of the people who had been waiting for hours altogether went to the receptionist’s desk and tried to enquire as to why they had not been let in so far. It turned out that the mismanagement of the receptionist had created this chaos. But she, setting herself free of all the charges put on an expression of victimhood on her face.
As I stood in the corner, I read score of faces scattered in the waiting room. Exchanging furtive glances, checking the time after every minute, sneaking into the prescriptions of others to have a look at the serial number, Argus-eyed at every squeak of the doctor’s chamber door so as to get in. The hospital waiting room was a miniature life and the world – every person trying to outdo the other! While my mind was blanketed by thoughts as these, a patient left the doctor’s chamber and the many curious faces stood up. The receptionist called out my name and said “You are next”.
Asma Majid is Masters in English Literature