There are three out-patient days at the base hospital every week. Depending on the season and the time of the year, there are as many as 200+ people who come in with a wide range of complaints. Some days are so busy that a person would wait as much as six hours before either Gi or Tha can examine him!
It is always interesting to be a mute spectator and see the bustle of the ‘hospital’; to the tribals in the region, it is always just the ‘haaspital’, pronounced with a twang that is rather distinct among people who are closer to the earth. I do that sometimes; play mute spectator. I walk over to the office building and deposit myself on the seats. Every once in a while, I look up from my laptop where I am typing away some report and my eyes wander through the lovely red brick walls to see the patients waiting, well, patiently (!) in front of the OPD. That is another thing that I so love about the whole place; the architecture that is so open, airy and for lack of another word, earthy. Not to say incredibly beautiful and cool in the hot summer months.
I digress here. On one of those instances when I look up and out the window, I see a whole lot of white on the men, starched white shirts and clean lungis. I sometimes suspect they take special care to look nice to make the trip to the hospital; but perhaps that is presumptuous. The women are well turned out too, under the circumstances, hair oiled and held back by bright coloured clips and bands, colourful sarees and large bags. The bags are for overnight stays; for many, a trip to the hospital is a two day affair, for that’s how far away their villages would be.
Then there are times when I walk closer and hover myself nearer the people. Most are frankly curious of my laptop and the city attire. I begin my pidgin Tamil and they are all clearly amused. I start by asking them their names and why they are at the hospital that day. I then ask about their villages and what work they do, how many children they have and so on. In turn, I am asked almost the same questions too, every time. Sometimes I make notes, for an anecdote or story to add in the newsletter or in some report. Sometimes, it’s nice to simply talk to such friendly people.
The conversation takes interesting turns too. Once, there was this old fragile woman who was waiting to see Gi. We got talking and soon established a connection. Except during certain seasons, she told me that she spends a lot of months working in Kodagu district where I come from! For the tribals, all the estates are near ‘Mysore’, a collective name they use for the region. The woman even knew some words from the Kodava dialect. We both finished the conversation with big toothy smiles!
I often get asked where I learnt to speak Tamil if I am from Karnataka. I did so living in the then Madras a long time ago, but I tell them often that I watch Tamil movies. More smiles follow and they ask me who my favourite actor is. “Suriya”, I say, “after of course Rajinikanth!” Many heads nod in approval at my mention of Rajinikanth. Always a good conversation opener, I have discovered.
At times when I shamelessly eavesdrop outside the OPD, I hear snatches of conversation about the crops, the rains that year, of festivals, of that girl in that village who is marrying the boy from that other village, of grandchildren, daughters in law, and the rest of life’s little parts. Some listen to songs on their mobile phones, on a very low volume, some check/send text messages. Some catch up with old friends and distance relatives. There is nothing unusual about the scene that perhaps clones itself in hospitals everywhere.
Except that, I suspect Gi and Tha are going to be busier than ever now, what with the Tamil Nadu Hospital Systems Project (TNHSP) in place. Under the collaboration, tribals who are admitted to the hospital as in-patients will get treated completely free of cost. All they need is a certificate saying that they are tribals, signed by designated officers. That is fantastic news for thousands of Malevasis; the busy-bee factor is only going to increase at Sittilingi.
Psst…psst…Did I hear the patients outside the OPD tell each other about this new development now?