One fine morning a cycle decides to go for a ride around the city. It is the time of Lockdown, so of course it cannot take its master along. Here is a recount in pictures of the experience the cycle had that day 🙂
I lock the door of my home and step out. My saffron coloured dress goes well with the green and white of my home. It is as if the Tricolour is wishing me goodbye!
It is a bright sunny day. The smooth road stretches out in front of me like a black silk ribbon. I move at my own pace enjoying the ride. I am already looking forward to this experience!
As i cycle past stationary vehicles and moving trees a strange realisation hits me. There are absolutely no humans on the road! I marvel at the peace all around. Spying a vacant bench i park myself for a quick break.
Hello, what’s this lovely sight?! White and pink periwinkles flutter in the soft breeze in joyous abandonment. Might as well stop and pick some. Who knows if I meet someone special in the journey?
The sun is at its zenith now. All this pedalling has exerted me. How wonderful it would be if i could get those pair of wings?! I would fly against the azure sky.
As evening approaches, I suddenly see her. Under a blaze of lights she looks dainty in white. Maybe the rain Gods are happy too, as the heavens open up as we meet.
The light drizzle makes me scurry for cover under the same tree as her.
We stand next to each other in close proximity. There is complete silence in the city. Only our heart beats can be heard, thudding excitedly.
The stretcher is being pushed in a brisk manner. The corridor through which I am being rolled through seems unusually long. I can hear a few familiar voices around me. They are close yet they seem to be coming from a distance. There is a hollow effect about them.
Though the anaesthesia effects linger, I seem to be regaining some of my lost sensations. I am aware that I am being wheeled away from the I.C.U. to the Oncology Post Surgery Ward. 4 pairs of hands lift the sheet I am lying in on the stretcher and place me gently on the bed.
The operation for which I had been admitted is finally over.
“Welcome to the world of needles and pain,
Of white coats and red stain.
Where the air perennially reeks of an antiseptic smell,
Where not just the body but even the mind feels un-well”
02nd Dec 2017
The white lights on the overhead ceiling are a silent witness to the dark sufferings in the bodies of the people lying below.
A portable sphygmomanometer on the wall acts like an active twitter handle. It tweets out my b.p. readings every second. I drift in and out of consciousness, vaguely aware of its intermittent beeps as it adds to the un-natural discomfort around me.
I have been lying on my back in the same position for hours now and it seems to me that my back hurts more than my abdomen where the actual action has taken place. Just so that I don’t forget this fact, a burning sensation clutches the lowest part of my gut making me wince. It is stifled by an unknown force and it is then that I realise there is an abdominal belt wrapped tightly around my waist.
It seems to me I can feel pipes everywhere in my body. One has been inserted through my nostrils, down my throat and I am not sure how far inside they extend to. One set originates just above my right shoulder and I know they have been injected into my spine piercing through at some point on my back.
The doctor calls it epidural analgesic and it is just another way how modern medicine has added so many gadgets to its weaponry. And all of them are aimed at fastening you down to life at a time when you feel you are floating away in despair.
A valve has been fixed on my right hand. They have pipes inserted into them and are simultaneously supplying me with saline and a pain killing fluid. As the bottles hang upside down, I think my life too has gone into a similar position in these past few days.
2 more pipes which I cannot see but only feel hang loosely from my left side and end below the bed. Later I come to know they are carrying out wastes directly from my body.
So yes, I now look like a contraption of plastic tubes lying on an iron bed trying to breathe, trying to stay as calm as possible. To complete the look there is a bandage wrapped around my head. I am not sure why. I know I haven’t come to AIIMS to have my head examined!
I am here because the ‘Tropic of Cancer’ has decided to run through my lower abdomen. A tumour had developed with suspected malignant cells in my colon. The cancer has passed through 5 other patients in this ward too. As it continues to run ahead, I know millions of other lives globally have also been affected by it.
In the past 12 hours I have moved from my bed in the private ward to the O.T. then to I.C.U & now I am here. At different points during the night I have seen vague glimpses of my father, my mamu Hanif, my brother-in-law Safar and my family’s Man Friday Aftab.
The saline drips ever so slowly. Though it seems an hour has passed, but in reality, only 10-15 minutes have elapsed. The thought that I would be in the same position for at least 48 hours more makes my mind go numb.
I need to deal with this! I split the clock into blocks of 8 hours each and tell myself I must survive through each block before proceeding to the next.
In my mind I immediately start reciting a short prayer as suggested by my favourite Shamima aunt. Soon enough I visualise myself lying slumped on the ground. A pair of hands appear behind me, grabbing my shoulders under each armpit and dragging me outside a door.
As the door opens there is dazzling light outside.
01st Dec 2017, Friday
“Hey Wasim, are you ready?” asks Shahed Uncle (papa’s elder brother) with a smile as he enters the room. It is 9.30 am. I am relieved to see him as only 10 minutes ago the nurse has informed; I need to proceed to the O.T. asap. The time has been preponed by 2 hours & everything now is set for surgery.
When I was to be admitted on 27th Nov 2017, a full 4 days prior to surgery Hanif Mamu had turned around and asked me,” Hey why is the Dr. asking for admission so many days in advance?” I had jokingly replied,” perhaps he wants to marinate me properly before cooking!” Little did I know then how close my marinate joke came to reality.
The prior evening a hospital staff had come with 2 razors in hand and shaved off all the hair from my torso and upper legs. He then proceeded to apply Bitadene on these parts. For the uninitiated this is an antiseptic applied to prevent any bacterial infection. It made my skin turn yellow and I now perfectly resembled tender dressed meat all set to be put in the tandoor!
Back to present day. Soon enough Shahed Uncle and I are walking to the O.T. We are accompanied by an acquaintance who has been kind enough to volunteer to donate blood. His will be in lieu of 1 bottle which we have taken from the AIIMS blood bank, Bhubaneswar. He also carries a big box of pharmaceutical items which contains everything related to the operation and anaesthesia.
Papa had worked tirelessly the previous day to purchase all of them from 3 different shops. The list is long, and he has crossed checked it multiple times to ensure none is missing.
I park my slippers outside the annexe room and say “Bismillah” and enter. From here on a ward boy escorts me in a wheelchair. I am made to sign a register and curiously enough the time is the iconic and symmetrical 10.10 am.
When I enter the O.T. I am greeted by a team of almost 8-10 doctors and nurses. I am made to take off my shirt and sit on the operating table. They ask my name and few other pleasantries are exchanged.
3 strong needles are injected into my back in quick succession in what is a very painful 5 minutes. I am then asked to lie down. I am somehow relieved the process has finally started. Somewhere outside the door I imagine in true Bollywood style, a red light would have flashed on!
Then everything inside the O.T. went black.
03rd Dec 2017 Sun
I get to hear 2 bits of good news today. One – the urine catheter attached to my body will be removed. I am now allowed to walk to the toilet. Second – Tomorrow I will move back to my bed in the private ward. Both these pieces of good news are delivered in person by Prof. Madhab Nanda Kar himself who has come on his morning round.
I notice that a few minutes before his arrival the staff get into a flurry of activity; as if an invisible whip has been cracked. Patient records are being updated, junior doctors and the nurses huddle around taking notes to prepare for any question that the professor may ask.
Such is the aura of the man; he is after all the H.O.D., Oncology at AIIMS, Bhubaneswar. Even as a patient I somehow feel indebted to him; for the surgery he has done so cleanly, so effectively.
If I had not been tied down to my bed I would have sprung up and given him a salute!
I silently thank Hanif Mamu who has been pivotal in meeting the renowned Professor and taking multiple initiatives and follow ups to bring him to my operating table.
4th Dec 2017 Mon
I am back in my room in the private ward. Somehow, I have made through the most difficult part. Here after begins the recovery phase.
At this moment I want to pause and thank the 4 pillars of support which propped up the non-stop efforts of my parents. They are – Hanif Mamu, Shahed Uncle, Aftab’s family (they gave hospital duty on all 10 nights+ closed their shop for 4days) and of course all the people in my family including my sister Hena.
Amongst friends I would like to thank Dipta, Vicky, Sattar, Smriti and Dilip Bhai for their unstinting support.
There have been many others whose un-ending prayers and continuous supply of good wishes for me has helped me through this very difficult phase in life, health wise.
During my stay in the hospital I saw people in a far more vulnerable state than mine. Most of them came from the lower strata of society. I enjoy more privileges than them and I still have age on my side. Most of them were senior citizens and at that age handling the vagaries of an operation was far more difficult and hence even more commendable.
My situation made me realize is how we take for granted the simple things in life. When I was in the general ward and unable to use my bandaged hands, I saw an attendant (accompanying a patient) eat rice and dal with his own hands. I thought to myself,” seriously he can do that?!”
Back in my room I missed the informal bonding that develops amongst the patients and their accompanying family members in the general ward. They would ask about each other’s wellbeing and share details of their sickness.
A few times they helped me get up from my bed and one night a couple of boys even held my arms and took me for a short walking exercise. When I was leaving the ward, an extremely old man clutching his urine bag in his hand even had the courtesy to walk ahead of us and open the doors so that my wheelchair could easily pass through. Unbelievable.
The other thing that struck me was the number of needles they inject in you during a major surgery as this. Though you know each time there will be some pain yet every time you see the nurse walk in you feel apprehensive. There came a time when both my hands were so swollen that they actually found out a vein below my right knee to inject into. Now that was a 1st time for me!
The tumour which was sent for biopsy tested positive for malignancy. We did have a suspicion of presence of colon cancer and hence we had gone for an Oncology specialist surgeon and not a general one.
I underwent 6 months of chemotherapy (Jan -Jun 2018) successfully at a local hospital in Bhubaneswar and by God’s grace I am doing fine now.
During this entire ordeal of 6-8 months I thought it was pointless to turn to God and ask, “why me?” What is destined to happen will happen. It is better to take the knock in your stride and continue moving ahead.
I still go for regular check ups and maintain diet and lifestyle controls so that a relapse does not occur. As my Dr. famously quipped, “Cancer is like an untrustworthy friend. Just when you think it won’t let you down it will. By re-appearing again”.
It is about 9 am on a working day, as I enter the lane next to the Masjid and a familiar territory of Manama begins. It is an area that i have been frequenting a lot during my total stay of about 4 years in Bahrain.
Rows of tables with wooden benches are neatly arranged to my right in the open lane. Hot meals with cold salads/yoghurt are being served by the waiters, most of whom are from Bangladesh.
On my left I walk past the kitchen tandoor, from where the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked qubuz (the staple Bahraini flatbread) emanates. It makes me smack my lips in anticipation of the meal ahead 🙂
There are majorly 2 communities here – the Arab speaking customers and the Bengali speaking staff. The rest of us are as rare as the Arabian Oryx. I belong to that un-common breed of customer as I step into the air conditioned dining room. On my innumerable visits here I could have counted on my fingers the number of times I would have met a fellow Indian.
Almost this entire lane is ruled by the cafe owner. There are 3 enclosed dining halls – of which 2 are exclusively reserved for families only. The walls speak of the times gone by in Bahrain through the various sepia tinged pictures which adorn them – like a still movie being projected onto the walls.
You can take a walk down memory lane as you view them whilst savouring your meal.
Welcome to Haji’s Cafe, here since 1950!
The food is quintessentially Arabic of course. I did try a couple of those traditional dishes in my initial visits, when curiosity would take over my hunger. But then my palate seemed to settle for something closer home – 2 sunny side up eggs + qubuz so typical to gulf cuisine, in the end a mix of both worlds. The meal washed down with piping hot tea served not in plastic/foam cups but in cutting glass – just like in the days of yore back home in India.
My favourite waiter Mahfooz breezes in the door with a big plate delicately balanced in his hand….to the left of his head. The door is not wide enough to fit both him & his accessory, so he balances the entire paraphernalia carefully and pushes open the door with his foot. On the big plate are numerous quarter plates with various edibles each adding their own delectable aroma to the cafe ‘s homely ambience.
This guy has been working here for about 5 years now. Duty hours are long – 7 am to 7 pm. He visits his country only once in 2 years & shares his room with 4 other people. Yet his smile hides all his hardships. He greets me with a cheery ‘ Assalam o laikum ‘ & asks ‘same same’ ?
Well that is his code word for my usual breakfast. I have been having that consistently for 4 years now (though not daily!) I have simply clung onto the wonderful taste of the both qubuz & the eggs sprinkled with pepper. By now he knows he must serve me crispy qubuz only 1 at a time – so that i enjoy it while it is still hot & breaks easily in my hand. It is served in an unique way – On a wicker plate made of cane.
My 2nd favourite guy is Hussein. He too has been here for donkey’s years. He supports his family back home with whatever he can save from his meagre salary. His income is augumented by tips from some of the kind hearted patrons who visit the cafe.
Together they are in charge of this room. They are assissted by a cleaner who quickly wipes off the table & the floor as people leave after enjoying their meals.
My breakfast lasts just about 15 minutes but it is something I look forward to whenever I am in the mood to visit the Cafe. At the end of it I pay in the telephone booth like counter – and over the years I have realized not only is the meal very afffordable but it’s price has not changed at all ! It seems inflation has forgotten to touch Haji’s cafe and simply by-passed this lane.
I walk back contented to my office desk to take on my share of the day’s work ahead.
While pottering around my house in Bahrain, I clicked a few pics with the chair as an object of focus. However what started randomly, soon gave rise to a coherent sequence as I wondered what if an inanimate object would think too?
So presenting Kissa Kursi Ka, albeit of a different kind!
The curtains are drawn, the stage is set. Let the show begin, you will like it I bet!
2. Once in the Kingdom of Dilmunia, a riot of colours emerged from the petunia!
3. The orange marigiolds’ musky fragrant, the white clouds drift like a fluffy vagrant. The green trees blow my loneliness away, these 3 colours rejoice in my nation’s flag too, I say!
4. Finally, I get a table for company.
5. The setting sun slants in, shadows flicker in the breeze. I relax in the drawing room, sitting at ease!
6. The silent rain has soaked the setting day, the colour of love has since long been washed away.
7. Alone I sit and gaze into the night, life is simply neither black nor white.
Note:- a) Dilmunia is inspired by ancient civilization of Dilmun and has links to present day Bahrain b) I was based in this wonderful Gulf country for a few years until 2017.