Tripti, a gynecologist by profession, walks us through the world of a new medico. She shows us the fine line between a doctor-to- be and a young girl scared of ghosts and skeletons. Here’s an interesting short story based on real life experiences exclusively for Different Truths.
“Sadho ye murdon ka gaon…”
I hummed the Kabir bhajjan disregarding the disgust my mother was trying hard not to show. My parents were proud that we were becoming doctors. Dad would never hesitate in buying anything we asked for. But I wished sometimes he didn’t agree so easily. Seriously, we didn’t need to buy this and keep it at home. I was irritated yet I kept on putting all of them in a bucket. Why did we have two hundred and six bones? I silently cursed the anatomical fact. Suddenly I cringed; I could see a small insect burrowing its way into the dark recesses. I could clean them but insects?
I inwardly fumed at my sister. She was the one who had insisted we bought this. I was happy borrowing them one by one from my seniors rather than keeping the whole ‘set’ in my house. I was not ready to admit that I got scared by them. This was now the second year and in a few more months we had our first professional exams. After that we wouldn’t need them ever.
Otherwise I was passionate about anatomy. I liked reading about those small foramens from where the nerves miraculously escaped, the architecture par excellence that God had made. I absolutely loved being in the dissection hall. We called it our DH. There was always an adrenaline rush before entering the formalin laden hall. It was unadulterated fun watching the second year’s rag the first years here. The best years were spent in this dissection hall. The moments that laid foundation to beautiful friendships later in life were born here. From the seniors forcing the boys of our batch to pass on little chits to the pretty girls of our class, to a lonely ‘Shamit’ staring lustily at a coy ‘Shalini’ even forgetting to say ‘present sir ‘ during the mandatory attendance, to the ridiculous exchange of garlands aka bowel loops in the anatomy hall marriages conducted discreetly right under the nose of the ‘watchful’ teachers , it was all here. All hell would break loose once the demonstrators walked outside leaving the juniors at the mercy of the prank loving seniors.
We loved exchanging ‘hearts’ here! Once I was teased as ‘it’ lay snuggled in the palm of my hand. I was carrying my ‘heart’ to someone special, damn it. I easily got back at those guys when they carried the ‘uterus’ reluctantly in their hands, that too properly in the anatomical position.
We had some fancy mnemonics too. The ‘Girl between the two Sardaars!’ was the slender muscle ‘Gracilis’ jutting provocatively between the ‘Sartorius’ above and the ‘Semitendinosus’ muscle below and the “Oh, Oh, Oh, To Touch And Feel A Girl’s Vagina, Ah Heaven !” were the twelve effervescent cranial nerves in the right sequence! There were many more! The seeds of naughtiness were sowed clinically in the DH itself.
It was almost surreal watching a young ‘Rajeshwar’ dabbing talcum powder on his face secretly before entering the DH until he was caught red handed one day by our ‘don’ Vijender. Some brave hearts even ate their tiffin here while some chicken hearted girls fainted quite easily. There were always willing seniors, ready to carry them out. There was never a dull moment in the DH.
The department boasted of some great teachers but at times one itched to wipe off the lecherous grin from the face of the lecturer, who got a high teaching us about the ‘female genital tract’. Of course, he never bothered about the boys and even while some young girls withered under his stare he always gave good marks to the pretty ones. I could not rely on my looks so it meant I had to work hard. We had plenty of handsome post graduates but somehow the girls never drooled much over the anatomy guys. May be the young doctors had yet to spread their wings but the bias with the subject had started showing so early.
One could dislike anything but not the ‘body’ that was handed over to us. Beauty had abandoned the bodies along with life yet a fountain of knowledge flowed from them. We had given names to these unclaimed bodies, which even in death did the noble act of making future doctors. They lay bare, may be a testimony to a not so noble act of someone they had once loved. I never liked thinking this way. It was easier not to imagine that ‘it’ might have lived, breathed, loved and hated like me. No it was just an experimental body that I had given a name to. It taught me as I used my scalpel to explore it. Once stripped of all it had to show, we gently cleaned the bones with the scalpel, removing traces of all its attachments, till the remnants were ready to be kept in the osteology lab. We could not dare tell anyone, even our parents what we were up to in the college.
I had always suffered this morbid fear of ghosts since childhood and a skeleton was the closest proof I had of their existence. Yet here I was creating a skeleton from my own hands. The skulls was the most interesting bone. With so many structures to trace out it was a delight to linger over its delicate markings. Once it had throbbed and kept the supreme power on this earth in its cage, ‘the human brain’. Now it lay quiescent as we caressed the ridges and holes where once pulsed blood and muscles. We generally studied it without the top; it was called the ‘base of skull’. The most vital attachments were here at the base. It was my favourite bone still I couldn’t help hiding it in the storeroom before I slept. I didn’t want to see it in the dark though I never admitted that in front of anyone. I knew that the smart guys in the hostel used it like an ashtray but then I was just another young girl, not a bold doctor when I slept.
My mother’s shrill cry made me jump and shook me out of my reverie. This one was really rotten. I guess it must have made it to the shop straight. The muscles were actually pointing towards their origin and insertions. Did the founders of anatomy discover them this way? The stories of the great ‘fathers of anatomy’ roamed notoriously in faraway London. Struggling under the paucity of cadavers, they were driven to desperate measures to quench their thirst for knowledge. The motive behind the series of mysterious murders made brilliant chapters in the books of anatomy. Our professor never failed to tell us how lucky we were as these priceless bodies were so easily available in our country. This was India; there was no dearth of bodies here, live or dead. Here people could live uncared and die unclaimed.
Oblivious to my train of thoughts ‘it’ simply stared at me from the bucket. I didn’t want to think how it got here. I refused to let my mind dwell much on it. My mother was still standing there, stiff and disapproving. I didn’t have the guts to say anything to her. She was watching around suspiciously. The cost of making her daughter’s doctors was proving just too much. We were tenants in this house. If the landlord found out what we were doing here she would throw us out! She had once seen us studying a bone. That had made her feel wretched and she swore to do a ‘Satya Narayan Puja’ once we were out of her house. I looked away from the silent accusation in my mother’s eyes. ‘Dharam Bhrasht’ (sacrilege), that’s what the landlady had cried. I didn’t know much about revoking ‘dharma’ but I failed to fathom the ‘karmas’ we were supposed to do now.
My father had mysteriously disappeared. I started to wonder if he had an attack of nerves when I saw him rushing back with a small packet in his hand. He had gone to the shopkeeper, who had given him a packet of boric acid. We needed to put all the bones in a bucket and keep it closed for two days. The shopkeeper should have cleaned it himself, I thought crossly. We put them all in a bucket. I wished I could sit back and ask my dad and mom to do it. But even then I was more a doctor than they had ever been.
“Sadho, ye murdon ka gaon …
I completed the task and put a lid to cover my rendezvous with the dead.
Two days later ‘they’ lay amazingly clean and sterile. I stroked ‘them’ cautiously. We now needed to keep them somewhere. Temporarily, we piled them up in a basket and covered it with a cloth neatly. We put them below the bed of our guest bedroom. I just took out the femur that we were studying these days. The head of the femur, which was part of many ‘tantric’ melodramas stared at me innocently. If I smeared myself with some ash and pointed it dangerously I could look straight out of the ‘Temple of Doom’. I grinned. Strangely it felt like a tough plastic. Unaware of the body it had once worn could it ever evoke the spirits? Could it ever be a ‘dead man walking’? Whatever, I was finally a proud owner of two sets of bones. I would be gracious enough to allow others to borrow from me and could almost visualise myself flaunting my new found ‘bones’.
“Mamiji!” a familiar voice shrieked as my mother opened the door. I hastily hid the femur. Well they knew we were medicos but I didn’t want to shock them with the rude realities so soon. My cousin Era, who had just got married, was on her honeymoon. I didn’t know why but she had decided to visit us at Gwalior en route to Delhi from Khajuraho. May be she wanted to show off her highly qualified husband. It was actually not a bad thing to have a jijajee (brother-in- law, elder sister/cousin’s husband), I discovered as he made a lot of funny faces, teased and cracked jokes. They were going to stay overnight and we needed to offer them a bedroom. My parents looked at us. Should we pull out the basket from below the bed? No it was better there. I could not have the bones knocking below my bed at night. Oblivious to our turmoil, the much ‘in love’ couple had their dinner and retired to their room early.
They looked fresh in the morning. I brought them tea and breakfast. Soon they had to leave. Had our silent occupants disturbed them in the night? I watched them uneasily. “Hope there was no noise in the night?” Jijajee laughed and looked suggestively at Era, “I didn’t hear much.” Era’s cheeks burned red and I flushed. Adulthood tempted and teased, hovered over my horizon yet eluded me. I was talking about some ‘under the bed’ friends but my newly married brother-in- law had ideas of his own.
He was proud to know a ‘doctor in making’ but he bragged quite a lot and that had started irking me.
“Tell me, how does it feel like being a doctor?” He asked with the authority of one who knows it all.
“Not yet jijajee, we are still in the first professional.”
“Do you really study over dead bodies and bones?” he sounded disgusted.
I didn’t like that. We held cadavers in esteem. We didn’t even cover our nose in the dissection hall. It was a mark of disrespect.
“Ugh! It must be so weird,” he continued.
Of course, we were not weird!
The soulful “Sadho, ye murdon ka gaon…” broke out. He looked irritated.
“Listen you have a nice voice. But I am happy I never had to do such things.” He said with an air of superiority.
“Scary, crazy stuff!” He shuddered in mock fear.
Nobody demeaned my studies. As it is he was bugging me and I had enough of being called ‘aadhi gharwali’ (half wife).
They were getting ready to leave. They had a train to catch.
I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…”
I silently pulled out a basket from under the bed avoiding the warning glances from my mother.
“It’s really not scary, jijajee. You slept over the whole lot. Did they disturb you at all?”
He turned. The assorted bones looked back at him brilliantly, basking in their new found glory. I watched the horrified face of the ‘Jijajee’ before he stormed out of the room. He looked so comical that I could have laughed. My mother was staring at me furiously and my cousin looked at the taut back of her husband, embarrassed and stumbled out following him. Poor woman!
Marriage had destroyed her sense of humour.
I shrugged apologetically. The honeymoon was over…
Pix from Net.
Tripti is a practising gynaecologist at BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi. Many of her writings are influenced by the pain and suffering she sees as a doctor. Her forthcoming book ‘The Chronicles of a Gynaecologist’ is being published by Bloomsbury India. She also has an anthology of poems,‘The Dewdrops..a journey begins’. She contributes poems and stories to many publications.