I noticed that Naina was dressed up to go. I was getting ready to leave for the hospital. “Where to Luv?” I asked. To visit Uncle PJ, was the answer. Uncle PJ? after two decades of matrimony, I thought that I knew all her relatives. “Who is this Uncle PJ?” I demanded. “Your Prof, Silly” was the tart reply. “Old Pete? what is the old codger up to now?” I asked. “He has not been keeping well lately. His cook is atrocious. I am taking some food that he likes” “OK, OK, I will meet you in the afternoon. We’ll return together” Prof lived in a flat all by himself. His only son was in New York. I drove down to his house, not forgetting his favorite cigarettes.
“Welcome, Professori turned Dean” was the Prof’s greeting to me. He had been to Florence and affected Italian figures of speech at times. “Finally you found time to meet your old teacher eh? If not for Naina, I would have died of loneliness. The child brightens up my day, not to mention the delicious food that she brings. She is a treasure. Did you get my cigarettes? Pass me my Charminars, will you?” I reached into my pocket and passed on his favorite cigarettes, ignoring Naina’s disapproving looks.
“Uncle, you know that smoking is bad for you. Especially after your last attack of bronchitis. Your physician has specifically forbidden you to smoke” Naina scolded him. “Rajan? he is stupid as all internists are. He was a book worm during his student days and hasn’t improved since. You know Naina, I am seventy six. Each living day is a bonus for me. You don’t want to begrudge an old man simple pleasures in life do you?” Prof pleaded. Naina sniffed. Prof broke out into a spasm of coughing. Naina and I hurried to his side. He imperiously waved us away.
“You know, you men are incredibly stupid. Why can’t PJ Uncle move to New York where his son and daughter in law can look after him? His grand daughter simply dotes on him. He says that he feels like a bird with its wings clipped in New York. Keeps complaining that his daughter in law bosses over him” Naina was off and running. I diplomatically kept quiet.
The day started off badly and rapidly became worse. There was a steady stream of complaining patient relatives and politicians with grievances. I had developed a splitting headache by mid day. Mrs Joshi, my secretary barged into my office. Her face was ravaged. “Sir, Prof Joshi is admitted to the trauma ward. The nurse told me that his condition is bad” Tears were running down her cheeks. I ran to the trauma ward.
Every month on the first day, Prof would visit the hospital to collect his pension and donate money to the poor patients’ fund. He would invariably drop into my office for a cup of tea. “You make the best tea in the world Mrs Joshi. It is indeed a treat! How’s our Dean Sir doing?” Mrs Joshi would swell with pride and burst into a spasm of giggles. While crossing the busy road that day, a speeding vehicle had knocked him over. He had lost consciousness instantaneously. Some passersby had picked him up and brought him to the trauma ward.
The routine of the trauma ward had taken over. He was designated as ‘Unknown male, Bed 1 Trauma ward’. His clothed had been stripped off, the hospital gown replacing it. The senior nurse had examined his pension book and gave an anguished cry: “Oh God! It is the Prof!”
I saw him lying still. His face was swollen due to the injuries to the facial bone fractures. It was the Prof alright. The scar on his chest bore evidence to the bypass he had undergone two years previously, proclaiming his identity.
“Why have you not intubated him? Have you guys forgotten the standard protocols? Nurse, laryngoscope and tube. Get me the Ambu bag” I gave a hard thump to the Prof’s chest. Intubated him at the first go. Started pumping the bag…All this was instinctive. The Prof had trained me too well… A gentle arm fell on my shoulder. I looked up at Prof Vilas through my tears. For once he looked disheveled. “Guru, it is useless. He has been dead for several minutes. You can do nothing. There are times when a man’s expertise is impotent against a higher will”
Naina sat ashen faced. I sat next to her in mutual grief……