A Fond Remembrance

Dr. Sehba Ali

I don’t remember the exact year but it was sometime in 1950s. My younger sister was diagnosed of “Diphtheria” and was admitted in King George Medical College in Lucknow. There was a Cholera epidemic in the outskirts of Lucknow and the hospital was full to its capacity and beyond. The doctors were very busy and there was a shortage of nurses. After much running around we were able to get a double room where one bed had just fallen vacant and a young girl occupied the other. I don’t remember what disease she had but she did not have Cholera.

We two older sisters who were on summer holidays decided to stay with our sister, which was much against the wishes of our parents. There was a danger of catching infections in the hospital and there was no space to put an extra bed in the room. I offered to stay at night as I could manage with very little sleep even sitting in a chair and my older sister agreed to stay there during the day. The other girl’s mother stayed day and night, occasionally going out. She slept on the floor near her daughter.

The third or fourth evening, when the girl’s mother was out and I was keeping an eye on her, I suddenly noticed that she was restless, mumbling in very week voice and the colour of her eyes changing. I rushed out to inform a nurse or doctor. When they came, they pronounced her dead. I felt like fainting with shock and grief. The girl breathed her last when she was alone and how her mother was going to feel after returning? These were very disturbing thoughts.

I looked at my sister who was fast asleep and made sure she was breathing. Then I left the room, occasionally peeping in, to look at my sister. The girl’s mother had still not arrived but the dead body was removed and the bed was immediately prepared for the next patient. I returned to the room and started imagining the ghost of the girl in the room and was frightened to near death. Just at that time, a doctor came in to check on my sister and the mere presence of a doctor revived me. He must have noticed something on my face and asked if I did not feel well. I told him about the girl’s death when her mother was away and also my fear of her ghost in the room. He laughed and asked surprisingly ” You believe in ghosts?” and left without waiting for my answer. I thought: What an insensitive doctor! He did not express any sadness on the death of the girl or sympathy with her mother. He did not offer any solace to me, instead he laughed. To distract myself from such negative thoughts, I opened a book I had with me but could not concentrate. Then suddenly the unbelievable happened: There was pitch-darkness all around as there had been a total power failure! The moans and howls from other rooms became louder and chaos could be felt outside. My sister was still asleep but I felt like suffocating in the total darkness. I wanted to scream but my vocal chords appeared to be dead. Just at that time, a man entered the room with a torch in his hands. It was the same doctor who had come to see his patient earlier and about whom I had thought very negatively. He said something like: he was still in the building and remembered the girl frightened of a ghost so he came to ward off the ghost”. I instantly changed my mind about him and wanted to thank him for his kind consideration but my vocal chords were still dysfunctional. Soon the lights were restored and the doctor left saying “Good night but no dreams of the ghost.”

The next morning my sister was released and we all were relieved. I sent a note of thanks to the kind doctor at KGMC’s address. I hope he received it.
P.S. Raking your memories may help keep ” Dementia ” at a distance!!

Writer is an Applied Linguist and a freelance-writer.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 2 Issue 22, Dated 05 January 2016)

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