It is almost 7.00 pm when I enter the hospital. Appa (father) is in hospital once again (the third time in as many months) and I am hurrying to relieve my eldest brother who has done the “day shift”; I will be doing the “night shift”. The huge lobby is packed with people and the place actually looks and sounds like a railway station sans luggage. There is a group of about 30-40 people waiting to meet a patient and from their looks and body language, I presume that this is a happy occassion—probably the birth of a baby. The harassed security guards are having a tough time turning away the rush of visitors as visiting hours are long over.
One of the security guards, who by now recognises me from my numerous visits to the hospital, mutters to me in an exasperated undertone, “Visitors!” I smile sympathetically at him, while recalling a conversation I had many years ago about hospitals and visitors.
“Madam, I want to leave early today.”
I look up from my work to see my department peon, Purushottam, standing at my desk.
“I have to go to the hospital, madam, ” he continues.
“Is everything all right?” I ask.
“I am fine. My cousin’s father-in-law’s sister’s husband has been admitted to the hospital and I have to go there.”
“Purushottam, the patient is not even related to you. Why do you want to go to the hospital? If it is that important, you could visit him once he has been discharged.”
Purushottam is shocked. “It doesn’t matter that the patient is not a close relative. He is from our biradari (clan), and everybody from our biradari will visit the hospital. If I don’t go, it will not be taken well. And anyway, I will also visit him after he is discharged.”
I change my tactic. “Won’t the patient need rest? He is hospitalised, after all, and with your entire biradari visiting, he’ll end up getting tired.”
“Oh I may not actually see him per se; I don’t even need to. I will meet his son or wife and give my best wishes for a speedy recovery. What is important is to show solidarity and support at this time.”