Fourteen years ago I had joined a computer programing course in Mumbai. I am still able to recall that day clearly because that night, my son was born. Not sure how the two events had got synchronized but all of a sudden, life had become very hectic. Shuttling between hospital, office and computer classes I was on the verge of going mad when my in-laws stepped in. They lived quite close to where we
stayed; besides my son was the first grand-child in their family. Now as if that wasn’t enough within a week my parents also landed.
Like most normal families on this planet, my parents and in-laws hold the exact opposite views on all topics under the sun. While the in-law’s loved to read about plane crashes, tsunamis, earthquakes and took precautions that would put most ‘doomsday-preppers’ to shame, my father was an ex-army officer, whose father had been a police officer during the British era. My parents believed in the old Spartan ways of bringing up children. I preferred spending most of my time at the training center for the duration of this occupation of my home by these so-called ‘allied forces’.
The maternity hospital was owned by a gynecologist, who like most gynecologists in India was always busy. At birth my son had what in medical parlance is called neonatal jaundice. This is considered quite common in almost 50-60% of new-born babies, but these statistics did not convince my in-laws, who kept pestering the gynecologist with all sort of questions. Finally in a desperate bid to preserve his own sanity, he referred us to one of his doctor friends, a neonatal specialist called Dr. Shah.
Dr. Shah usually took up cases of new-born babies with serious medical conditions. In his early forties, he was short, had a slight paunch and always looked serious. All that he had to do was to stare over his half-moon glasses and most people would immediately shut up and listen to him. His clinic was a ten minute walk from our home.
Our visits to his clinic would always start with a little bit of persuasion from the in-laws.
Father in law would place his hand on my son’s forehead and say, “He seems to be a bit warm. Does he have a fever?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I would reply.
“Well, there was a friend of mine, whose son has a slight fever, the couple ignored it. That night the fever rose and next morning the child died. Of course, it is entirely your decision; you can choose not to go,” and slowly F.i.L would make his way out of the room.
“Though, I still think the head is warm,” this parting shot aimed at my wife, listening in and trying to make-up her mind, whose side to take.
If on the other hand the boy was sleeping peacefully, the conversation would take a slightly different route.
“Why is he sleeping so quietly? Check if he is breathing?”
If he was crying obviously that was a calamity, if not then it was a mystery that required to be solved immediately. Not sure how other parents handle these kinds of situations, but invariably for us it would lead to Dr. Shah’s clinic.
Since my son was also our first, neither of us had much of an idea what to do. Dr. Shah patiently explained everything from how to hold him, to how diapers were changed, to how and what to feed him.
Our visits had a set pattern; Dr. Shah would do a quick checkup and then give his comments. He rarely prescribed medicines, since we rarely went there with anything serious. He never wasted his time in casual conversation and used to go through his patient’s within ten to twenty minutes. Once he had completed his checkup, my wife would come out with a list of queries compiled by her parents. Initially Dr. Shah used to reply to the questions, but then after a few months he started showing signs of irritation and his replies would be curt and abrupt. I tried to get my wife to avoid these interrogation sessions but dutiful daughter that she was, she had a valid point. Her argument was that if she did not ask these questions, then her parents would most certainly call up the good doctor and ask them later. I know when I have lost a battle and so used to leave the consulting room with my son. We used to wait outside while she went through her list.
After a year, I joined another company which required us to return to my home state of Kerala for a one year term. There we moved in with my parents. Compared to bustling and bursting Mumbai, laid back and rural Kerala was heaven. My son
rarely fell sick during our stay there. After a year in Kerala we again returned to Mumbai and within a week we visited Dr. Shah’s clinic again. This visit though was not due to any illness but to continue my son’s inoculations.
There had been some changes at the clinic. Now we were expected to call up first and set an appointment, while earlier we used to just barge in during visiting hours. Dr. Shah had also added a couple of junior doctors to help him out, but in our case, he made an exception. As we were his old clients he attended to us personally.
Dr. Shah also seemed to have changed. A beard now showed up on his face; he had stopped dying his hair and also seemed to have put on some weight. In his consulting room the portrait of some religious guru covered one side of the wall. Passages from religious books were framed and neatly arranged on his desk. Dr. Shah quickly gave my son his shots and then much to our surprise started chatting. He spoke to me about philosophy, religion, karma and of achieving self-realization. I was surprised and hardly knew what to say, the fact that the subject was also something which went way above my head also added to the confusion. There were patients waiting outside but he hardly seems to be concerned, and kept on talking. After half an hour of this the door slid open and the head of one of the nurses popped in, I could hear the agitated voices of some of the other patients in the background. Politely we excused ourselves and escaped.
This new avatar of Dr. Shah worried me a lot. While previously he used to ignore me totally, now it was as if he looked forward to our visits and especially these conversations. I am not sure if others who entered the consulting room were also being subjected to these ‘torture by religion’ sessions but I certainly was getting it in large doses. Now my wife would take my son and wait outside while Dr. Shah and I discussed subjects like reincarnation, yoga and the science behind levitation.
A couple of months later, one morning while reading the newspapers, a familiar face peered back at me from the pages, it was Dr. Shah. He was on his way back from a medical conference in Pune, a city about two hundred kilometers from Mumbai. Driving his car late at night he had apparently fallen asleep at the wheels and had crashed into a tree. He was alone and no one else was hurt. Passersby rushed him to a nearby hospital but by then it was too late.
To this day I wonder what had triggered the change in Dr. Shah towards the end. Was it just a coincidence or did he have some sort of premonition of what was to come?
At the time of the accident he was only forty-five.