Posted: 28 May 2014 at 11:52am
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The Toyota Etios sped on the Delhi-Lucknow highway.
Driven by Ratan, a 20 something driver, just out of driving school, the car was doing a neat 120 Kmph when the lone passenger, a middle aged neurosurgeon, leaned forward and tapped on the shoulder of his young driver.
"Hey...take care, Ratan. I need to reach Lucknow fast, but not like this..."
"Ok Saab..." the foot pressing the accelerator pedal eased a little and the needle dropped down to below 100, as the car negotiated a blind curve practically on two wheels.
Unseen by Ashutosh, Ratan smirked as he recollected a veiled woman who had walked in his flat a few days ago.
"This is the man, Ratan...You will be driving him from Delhi to Lucknow?"
Ratan was startled to the core. How did she know? And who the hell was she? And why was she veiled? He tried to discern more of her features and could just make out bright red lipstick and heavily mascara lined eyes. The rest of the attire was certainly high class, Ratan thought as he took in a heavily embroidered chiffon saree, a diamond crusted watch in a hand and an array of bangles in another. The mobile held in the hand was certainly the latest in the market.
"Yes, Ma'm...But how do you know all this?" he managed a few words. The veiled woman smiled an oily smile.
"Don't worry about that. Now this is what I want you to do..." Her bejewelled hand held a bundle of notes.
Ratan's eyes gleamed at the sight of notes. There was more than enough to abide by the woman's directions.
She spoke for about 10 minutes and Ratan was quite clear about her intention.
Ratan jerked to real time as the approaching truck blasted its alarm.
He was too close to the truck to swerve to safety.
The passenger at the back broke in cold sweat as the truck bore on to them, the horn blaring out its Doppler acoustics. Ratan froze, his foot on the pedal.
The truck rammed full speed in the Toyota, whose bonnet and front end telescoped inwards. The impact was such that the passenger at the back was partly thrown out of the car through a partly open door. The lone thought in his mind, as he blanked out, was that of someone waiting for him eagerly in Lucknow.
Dr Nidhi Verma...
The veiled woman strode forward to the accident site. A crowd of eager onlookers had gathered and a couple of policemen were surveying the site.
"Poor driver...a young lad..."
"And the man in the back? Who is he?"
"Don't know. Never seen him before here. But then this is the highway...must be going somewhere..."
"But he is unconscious..."
"The truck just sped away..."
A few voices buzzed around. The woman covered her head with the end of her saree and approached the policeman.
"Excuse me, Officer..."
"Yes?" The officer stifled a boring yawn.
"I know this man. He is my fianc..." The woman wiped a small tear that had gathered at the corner of the eye with her palloo. The officer was genuinely moved.
"Ok, beti...dont cry. He is only unconscious. He will come about in a couple of hours time, I have already called for an ambulance..."
"Thanks for the kind words, Baba...But there is no need for an ambulance. I can take him in my car and get him the best medical care possible. That is, if you permit?"
"Sure beti...What is your name?" The officer unhooked his pen and opened his notebook.
"Dr Nidhi Verma.."
"Your address and phone no?"
The woman carefully dictated the necessary details and the man's eyes widened.
"But Ma'm, this is the famous hospital of Lucknow...Kotnis General Hospital?"
"Yes, Officer. I am taking him there, you see. And I am a Doctor. So it makes sense, right?"
The officer stifled another yawn. The woman's small red car stood nearby. Apparently she had been driving behind the Toyota and just braked in time. Anyways, as long as the wounded unconscious man was being taken to the hospital, the finer details made little difference. Anyways, his duty hours were going to be over in 10 minutes and he wanted to wrap this case as fast as possible.
The small red car soon sped away in the direction of Lucknow and did something interesting before entering the city's jurisdiction. Turning away in a deserted bylane, the woman disembarked and swiftly peeled off the number plate that had been pasted on the original. Next, she removed her palloo from her head and tucked it in at her waist. Then she climbed in the driver's seat again and glanced at the unconscious man in the back.
"Ok, Dr Ashutosh...Welcome to my world!"
The intern's room at KGH was abuzz with activity. The day shift was just changing and the process of handing over the charge was its full peak.
"Nidhi...listen Yaar. This patient, on bed number 10, vomited a couple of times and I have only given him intravenous drips. If need be, you can start antibiotics after a re-assessment. Nidhi, NIDHI...!" Priyanka shook the hand of her friend who was staring in space.
"Where are you, Yaar?"
"Nothing, Priyanka. Just wondering about Dr Ashutosh. What's taking him so long? He started from Delhi yesterday evening and hasn't reached yet..."
Priyanka was deep in thought.
"Maybe he is just relaxing? The medical conference must have been quite hectic. Did you ask his friend, Armaan?"
"Yeah, asked. He has no clue!"
"Hope he is fine..." Nidhi was fingering her engagement ring, "I just couldn't sleep yesterday night after Baba announced my engagement with Rohan. What would he think? That I am two-timing him? Luckily Rohan agreed for the whole arrangement otherwise Baba would have surely shot himself!"
"Did you ask Dr Mallika? She would know something, right?"
Priyanka regretted the moment the words poured out of her mouth. Nidhi just stared at her, her eyes bloodshot and devoid of any expression.
There was pindrop silence for a while. All the interns present in the room waited with baited breath for the explosion to ensue. But there was none.
Fortunately the deadlock was diffused by a breezy entry.
"Hello everyone...charge transfer over?" Dr Ranganath, the admin officer in charge, who looked after the daily nitty-gritty running of the hospital.
"Yeah...and the air is crackling high with the static!"
"Why? Because I am being missed?"
"Not that, Dr Ranganath..." Priyanka rolled her eyes at the evergreen flirt. This man could never be serious! She was startled further when he went on his knees with hands outstretched.
"So then...what can this humble man do to help?"
"Nothing...Just tell us the whereabouts of Dr Ashutosh!"
Something switched off in Dr Ranganath's demeanour.
"Honestly ladies, I don't know. He should have arrived by this time in Lucknow and even come to KGH. I tried calling sometime back, but his mobile is switched off...And even Dr Mallika has not come in today. Maybe they are together?"
They were indeed together, although not by design but more by chance.
As the morning sun rose, the small red car turned in the lane housing a sprawling bungalow in one of the posh localities of the city. The gates, bearing the name of "Dr Mallika Trehan, Sr Surgeon, Kotnis General Hospital" opened on well oiled hinges. Two orderlies, prompted earlier by a phone call, appeared with a stretcher and the unconscious passenger was safely ensconced to a bed with an intravenous drip running, within five minutes of the arrival. The woman muttered a second time, her eyes fixed on the sleeping handsome face.
"Welcome Ashutosh...to my humble abode! And now, please forget everything that is history: the hospital, the surgeries and that blasted Dr Nidhi Verma!"
"Didi..." Another woman, a little younger appeared in the room. "Where were you? Dr Ranganath from the hospital called so many times...and who is this...?" the torrent of flow stopped midways as the woman recognized the man sleeping on the bed.
"Dr Ashutosh? What happened to him?" She almost reached out to feel his brow. Mallika stopped her with a single wave of hand.
"Nothing big, Suhasini...He is just unconscious. Otherwise fine. Give him a couple of hours and he will come to. Now I am tired, could you please manage a cup of ginger tea? And something to eat?"
Suhasini paled at the abrupt rebuke from her sister-in-law. Wordlessly, she turned around and left the room. Mallika sat down next to the sleeping man and gingerly picked up his limp hand into hers.
"So, my sweetheart, you are in my territory at last...And I am not going to let you go anywhere...You are mine and mine forever!"
The sound of the door opening cut off the talk. Suhasini entered with a tray in hand.
"Didi...Your tea and snacks..."
"Thank you, Suhasini..." Mallika had the ghost of a smile on her face, "Thank you very much. And next time, knock before you enter, OK?"
It was the second time that day that Suhasini felt insecure and insulted. The nerve of her sister-in law! Her thoughts were murderous as she busied herself elsewhere.
What does this lady think of herself? So what if she is a doctor...does that mean she can push me around? I slog in the kitchen, take care of the house single handed, do the chores, and this lady doesn't even thank me for it? And Aditya, that oaf, smiles through all this. He has no qualms in being treated as a second class citizen, but I do...and my son, he has no future. But what to do? and the latest entry to the house, Dr Ashutosh...
Suhasini adjusted the long bindi on her forehead and sneaked a glance in the mirror. What she saw certainly made her feel proud of herself.
The smooth complexioned skin, the beautiful arching eyebrows, the straight nose and the full wide mouth displaying a set of perfect teeth...the chiselled features that went quite close to her being selected for any beauty pageant. She carefully tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and smiled at her reflection as a new thought stuck root.
Aditya was going to be busy in the bank. These days, even working for 14 hours a day was not sufficient to earn that sort of moolae required for a decent lifestyle. Hence they were living with his sister, the rent saved was considerable.
And there was a handsome hunk in the house who was unconscious...Who was going to take care of him? Going by what Mallika had told her, he was quite wealthy...even more than herself. He had the looks that could kill...
Suhasini had a small smile on her face. She definitely stood a better chance of winning his attention than her sister-in law. If and only if...he could forget that intern? She hummed a song as she picked up her lipstick and proceeded to highlight a vital oral part.
A bell from somewhere in the house put an end to the makeup session and Suhasini scowled. That old man! How many times he would ask for tea? And that too, the adrak-ki-chai? The old man had already consumed their monthly quota of milk, sugar, ginger and tea in two weeks. God knows who he was: Mallika had found him wandering on the streets of Lucknow and got him home. The old man suffered from memory loss and didn't even remember his own name. Suhasini forced a smile on her face as she rushed to the bedroom upstairs.
"Can I have some tea please? And today's newspaper...it has been delivered?"
Suhasini rolled her eyes. What did the old man think? This was some hotel? And was she a part of the housekeeping staff?
"And open the windows please?"
"Sorry Baba...that is not allowed. The doctor's orders..." Suhasini didn't sound as much convincing herself. Personally, she wondered why the windows to the room were always closed. For that matter, the door to the room was always locked from outside...the old man was more or less a prisoner in the room. Not that he realized it anytime!
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