I was bored. We were waiting in the Trauma Ambulance around 2 miles from the Mumbai Airport in small side road. I lazily looked out of the window at the traffic. I cursed myself for not having brought something to read.
The Prof had called for me on a December morning. “Shirahatti, you will be on duty today till late night. You and an anesthesia registrar will accompany the cavalcade in the SA1” Who is coming Sir, I wanted to know. “Don’t you read the news? The PM is visiting Mumbai. She is expected to land by 11 AM. She will drive in a cavalcade to the Raj Bhavan, the Governor’s residence. She will spend the whole day and return late in the evening. We have been tasked to provide any medical help should a medical emergency arise. I have instructed the kitchen to provide you with sandwiches. You will also be carrying a cold box with O negative blood. Keep in touch with me over the radio if you need help,” He dismissed me.
Sara, the anesthesia registrar, two nurses and two attendants made up the team. In the confusion to start on time to the airport, I had forgotten to pick up an interesting read.
At 11 AM sharp, we were given instruction to move slowly to join the PM’s cavalcade. The procession of cars was nearly half a mile long. There were cars with blackened windows, police cars with sirens and flashing beacons and a couple of Black Marias carrying police commandos. We were the very last vehicle. The whole cavalcade moved at a fast clip along sanitized roads. I had never before seen the Mumbai Roads so empty of traffic. We reached the Governor’s bungalow in 30 minutes flat, a distance that would take over an hour and a half in normal traffic conditions.
The ambulance driver was given instructions to park at the fire station inside the compound of the bungalow and wait for further instructions. We got out of the ambulance and lolled on battered sofas that littered the fire station. The fire station had fallen into disuse. There were no fir tenders to be seen. I strolled around the fire station. The Raj Bhavan, an imposing structure was nearby. Twenty years later, Naina were invited for a ‘at home’ by the Governor. I had pointed the fire station to Naina, but she was enthralled by the bonsai garden that the Governor had developed.
It was a beautiful December day. Mumbai weather was simply invigorating. There were huge peepul trees that cast dappled shadows. I spied a large grand piano in front of the station. Here was some entertainment! I went across to it. It was a huge instrument, possibly a relic of the British times. It had certainly seen better days. Several keys were missing, making the piano look like an old man with missing teeth. I pulled a stool and tried to play.
Surprisingly the piano was still tuned properly. I tried to play Fur Elise. Could manage play the intro though there were gaps in the music. “Guru, stop it. You are murdering a lovely piece of music. Beethoven would be turning in his grave ” Sara admonished me. There was no way I could have played anything more complex with the very few keys at my disposal. So I ploughed on.
Sara and I sat on the grass and made a picnic out of the sandwiches and coke that Prof had provided. The sun had just set and the sky was full of stars.
Suddenly the radio in the ambulance crackled to life. “SA1, this is Fire Brigade Control. Proceed to the Raj Bhavan main entrance. Keep your head lights off. Repeat, lights off. Do you copy? Over” Both Sara and I looked at each other with excitement. Something was up! There was a medical emergency that needed Superman Shirahatti to the rescue! We piled into the ambulance and drove to the main entrance.
If this was indeed an emergency, it was the most unexciting and prosaic thing. Where was the hustle and bustle? We could just a lonely uniformed figure on the steps of the Raj Bhavan. He waved us to a stop and gestured to us to get down. I went up to the man. As I neared him, I gave a gasp of recognition. It was Commander Zakaria, a couple of years senior to me from my college. He too recognized me and bounded down the steps. We shook hands warmly and slapped each other on the shoulders.
“I say Zak, what the devil are you doing here?” I inquired. Turned out that he was the ADC to His Excellency, the Governor. “Look at me, Guru, flying a blasted desk. A uniformed lackey if there was ever one. I would love to exchange places with you any day.”
“OK Zak, who is the patient? the Guv or God forbid, the PM? Should I call for help?” I asked with mounting excitement. “No such luck, Guru. I asked for the ambulance as we need some supplies urgently. Can you keep your mouth shut?” Mum’s the word, I assured him.
It was common knowledge that the Governor was seriously ill for sometime. The PM had come visiting him. He had passed away an hour ago.
“I need 200 ice bags, Guru. And I need it like yesterday. Can you help?” Zak asked me. Why the ice bags? I inquired. It would seem that they wanted to announce his demise only the next morning. The funeral was to be held the next day so that his relatives could travel to Mumbai. “Lead me to a telephone, Zak. I will get your ice bags for you”
I sat at the desk of the ADC to the Governor. It felt great. I called up the Dean of the government hospital. The man almost collapsed with shock when I told him on the phone “I am Dr Shirahatti speaking from the Raj Bhavan. I need two hundred ice bags immediately. I will send an ambulance to pick them up” “I am sorry Sir. We have only 50 bags. May I suggest that you contact other hospital?” he stammered.
I tried the Prof next. He didn’t seem surprised at the unusual request. “Give me half an hour Guru. We will send someone to buy these bags. I will send them across” Half an hour later, the bags were on their way.
“I owe you a big one Guru. Ask your hospital to send the bill of sale for the bags to me. I will make sure that the hospital is paid.” Zak was grateful. We drove back to the hospital in silence mulling over the anticlimax.
The bill of sale was duly sent to the Raj Bhavan. Zak got himself transferred out to the INHS Ashwini. The bills remained unpaid.
“Sir, should we remind the Raj Bhavan that they owe us 4000 rupees? It is more than twenty years” Mrs Desai asked me mischievously. I merely smiled at her…..