Sunday, February 10, 2013


            The board outside the room read “Acute Ward”. Dr. Amit Sharma looked at it with a rueful smile. He liked to refer to it as “A Cute Ward” as a private joke, although there was nothing cute about the patients admitted there. He was a renowned psychiatrist at that famous corporate hospital, and had treated numerous patients with varied mental ailments in that very ward. Sometimes successfully, many a times with less or no success. A new patient had been admitted the previous night. He was a top notch executive in an advertisement firm, and had been brought to the emergency by his wife in a state of confusion and excitement, screaming at no one in particular to leave him alone. The resident doctor on duty had admitted him as a case of acute psychosis and informed Amit over the phone, who advised the patient to be sedated with midazolam and placed in restraints.
That morning he had met the patient’s wife and talked to her for about an hour to get the history and the details of the case. The illness was sudden in onset. There were no similar episodes in the past. He was a supposedly healthy person without any medical conditions. He took liquor socially, but did not involve in any other substance abuse. There was no psychiatric illness running in the family that the wife knew of.
Amit straightened his coat and walked into the room where Bhaskar Dey, the patient, was being held. He was held down to the hospital bed with restraints on his hands and feet, as well as around his midsection. He seemed to be sleeping. Amit lightly rested his hand on the patient’s shoulder and softly said, “Mr. Dey?”
Bhaskar’s eyes fluttered open. They were looking glassy from the sedative that had been injected into him the previous night and again that morning. “I am your psychiatrist, Dr. Amit. How are you doing now?”
“How am I doing? HOW AM I DOING? HOW WOULD YOU BE DOING IF SOMEONE PUMPED YOU FULL OF DOPE AND TIED YOU DOWN TO A BED, HUH?” he screamed at the top of his lungs while struggling against the restraints that held him down.
“Calm down. Calm down now, Mr. Dey.”

“No one is saying you are mad, Mr Dey. You had to be sedated and put in restraints because you were behaving very violently when your wife brought you in last night.”

“Hmph! What do you know? You would be frightened out of your wits too if you see what I had seen. Please take these straps off me doctor, they hurt.”

“Okay, but only if you promise me not to start hitting everyone around you or yelling your head off.”

“I won’t. I told you I am not crazy.”

“Well then, I will ask the ward boy to untie you and escort you to my chamber. Please don’t create a scene or else you will be put in restraints again,” Amit warned, and left for his chamber on the ground floor of the same building. A little later Bhaskar walked in with a glum look on his face, accompanied by his wife. Her name was Poonam and she was looking overtly worried.

“Please take a seat, both of you,” Amit said with a winning smile.

They sat down. Both of them were a little fidgety. Amit offered them water but they declined.

“So, Mr. Dey…

“Please call me Bhaskar, doctor.”

“Okay, Bhaskar. What went wrong last night?”

“You won’t believe me if I tell you.”

“Well, try me. I have heard a lot of weird stories in my clinical practice.”

“That might be true. But my guess is that you heard them from people whose brains are fried. I am not crazy.”

“I never said you were, Bhaskar.”

Bhaskar covered his face in his hands for a moment and shuddered. He then leaned forward and, looking directly into Amit’s eyes, asked earnestly “Do you believe in ghosts, doctor?”


“Yes, ghosts. Or spirits, apparitions, negative energies, or whatever else you may like to call them.”

“I can’t say that I do Bhaskar,” Amit answered with a sidelong glance at Poonam.

“I didn’t use to either,” Bhaskar said mysteriously.

“And that has changed?” Amit queried.

Bhaskar nodded his head furiously. “I saw one last night.” A sniffle could be heard from Poonam. She started clasping and unclasping her hands in her lap, and gave the doctor an imploring look as if to say “Please cure my husband. What has gone wrong with him?”

Amit looked at Bhaskar. He was reasonably young, maybe in his late thirties or early forties. He had not changed into the hospital garb as yet and the suit he was wearing, though crumpled, looked expensive and well-cut. He didn’t look like someone who was out of his mind. But, from experience, Amit knew that people sometimes responded rather inexplicably to stress.

“Before you tell me what happened, let me just ask you a few questions. Just to know you better. Is that okay with you, Bhaskar?”

“Absolutely,” pat came the reply.

“How long have you two been married?”

“What has that got anything to do with this?”
“Please just play me along.”

“Twenty one years.”

“And how many children do you have?”

“Two sons. The elder one is a first year law student in Delhi, and the younger one is at a boarding school.”

“Do you people have any marital discord? Any domestic problems?”

“No. We are perfectly happy together,” it was Poonam who answered.

“How is your sex life?”

“What do you mean how is our sex life?” Bhaskar sputtered indignantly. “We are fine together. Can you stop asking me these personal questions?”

Amit nodded once. “Okay, okay. What about work? Are you under any stress? Is your performance at work declining?”

“No. I am not under any kind of stress or duress. What has all this got to do with what I have been through?”

“Actually stressed out people sometimes tend to hallucinate and…


Poonam patted his arm and said, “Cool down honey, he is just trying to help.” Bhaskar closed his eyes for some time. He had regained his composure when he opened them again. “I am sorry, doctor. But it was not a hallucination.”

“Anger management issues” Amit wrote in the little notepad he kept on his desk. “That’s alright,” he said with another smile. “How is your sleep?”

“I have no problems with sleep, doctor.”
“Last couple of questions. Are you on any medications? Do you take any psychoactive substances? Say, for example, marijuana?”

“You mean do I do drugs? The answer is no. But I did use to smoke grass when I was studying.”

“When was the last time you smoked marijuana?”

“I don’t remember. I told you it was when I was a student.”

“Cannabis addiction? Denial?” Amit scribbled in his notepad. “Okay. Now let’s hear your story.”

“Hmmm. Me and Poonam had gone to Guwahati to attend a wedding ceremony. The day after, that’s yesterday morning, we started back to here. We stopped only once midway for lunch, because I wanted to reach home as early as possible,” he started. “I had work today, you see.”

“What happened then?”

“There is a place about an hour’s drive from here. There is an old cemetery not 100 yards from the road there. I don’t think it is in use anymore.”

“Yes, I have seen the place.”

“We reached that place a little time after twilight. Poonam was sleeping, and I was driving at a leisurely pace. I saw a lady clad in a black saree waving me down by the wayside. I slowed down a bit, but then I remembered the stories people told. Stories involving ghosts that appeared at that site. So I sped up again and passed her without stopping. After about a minute or so, I spied a slight movement at the passenger side of my car with the corner of my eye. I looked. I was horrified. The lady was running alongside the car, backwards. Her long hair was flying all over her the place, and I heard an eerie laughter. I said a short prayer and floored the accelerator.” His voice was strained, his lips quivered, and his eyes were almost bulging out of their sockets.

“He is getting into the groove,” Amit thought.

“The car reached a hundred kilometers per hour, but she was still with us. The speedometer needle inched up towards 130, but she could not be left behind. All of a sudden she disappeared. I risked a glance at the passenger side window to be sure. She was gone. But when I turned my eyes back to the road, she was standing right there. Right in the middle of the road some distance ahead of us. I didn’t slow down and ran into her. But I didn’t hit her. The car went right through her, and it felt for a moment as if I had been buried in ice. There was a deadly chill inside the car. That must have woken Poonam up right then.” He shivered even though the room was comfortable warm.

His wife lovingly put her hands on his face. “Darling, it was you screaming that woke me up. I had not felt any chill.”

“How could you know? You were sleeping like a log.”

“What did you do, ma’am?” Amit asked Poonam.

“Well, I made him stop the car. I took over the driving. He was still shouting something intelligible and…

“Of course I was shouting. A spirit had passed right through my body and I was afraid it would take me over!”

“… flailing his arms about. So I drove him directly to the hospital.”

“You should have taken me to some tantric,” Bhaskar said.

“Delusional,” Amit scribbled. He asked, “Did you drive the whole way, Bhaskar? It’s a long drive.”

“I drove most of the way.”

“You see Bhaskar, stress combined with long stints of driving without any rest might make someone see something that isn’t actually there.”

“I am not stressed and I was NOT HALLUCINATING.”

“Okay, okay. I will prescribe you something to steady your nerves and get some tests done, including a CT and an EEG. You will need to remain in the hospital for a couple of days more,” Amit said, while writing “Diagnosis: ?Schizophrenia/ ?Cannabis induced psychosis”.

“But…” Bhaskar started to protest.

“He will stay,” Poonam interjected. “Let’s find out what has come over you,” she said to her husband.

“Nothing has come over me. I am fine other than the fact that I saw a ghost. Fine, let them do all the tests they want to do. They won’t find anything wrong,” he mumbled.

That evening Amit came to visit Bhaskar again. He was sitting on his bed talking to his wife animatedly. The conversation stopped when Amit walked in. “How are you doing? I have seen your reports. All of them are normal.”

“I told you so, doctor. By the way, do you think I am stupid?”

“No! Why?” Amit asked surprised.

“Because the medicine you gave me to ‘steady my nerves’ is olanzapine. I Googled it. It is an anti-psychotic. I have told you over and over again that I am not crazy. You might as well give me ECT!”

“Direct ECT has been banned in India. Anyways, I have never been a big supporter of ECT. It is known to cause memory impairment as a side effect.”

“Good for me then. I would forget that I had come across a witch and my life would go on smoothly, like before last night,” Bhaskar retorted.

“Look, Bhaskar, it’s not as simply as that. Your work would suffer, so would your family life. Keep taking the medicine and you will be fine. And you can always consult me if there is any relapse of the symptoms.”

“Symptoms? Let me make one thing very clear to you- I am not crazy and I am not going to take olanzapine. Period.”

“Why are being so difficult?” Poonam asked exasperated.
“Listen to me. I have some more patients to visit. Think about your condition overnight. We will talk about it again tomorrow morning,” Amit said.
“Situation, not condition,” Bhaskar replied.

“Yes, whatever. Good night Mr. Dey.” Amit said and turned to leave the room.

“Doctor?” Bhaskar called out.


“Would you believe me if you saw it too? I can take you there. Maybe be it will be accommodating enough to show itself to you too,” Bhaskar chuckled drily.

Amit wasn’t sure he had heard the man correctly, and didn’t answer right away.

“Come on doctor, where is your scientific curiosity?”

“Sure. Tonight after I finish my rounds,” Amit smiled at him.

“Please don’t listen to him doctor,” Poonam implored.

“It’s alright Mrs. Dey. As your husband puts it, my scientific curiosity makes me want to do this,” Amit said and left the room.

It was after eight in the evening when he came back to Bhaskar’s room. Bhaskar had changed into a fresh pair of clothes. “All set to go, Mr. Dey?”

“I said you could call me by my first name. And yes, I am ready.”

“I will come too,” Poonam said.

“No darling, you stay here. We will be back soon,” Bhaskar said with a reassuring smile and left with his doctor.

Amit drove his SUV with Bhaskar riding shotgun. They had driven for better part of an hour when Bhaskar pointed out the place. Amit pulled up by the side of the road. “I see nothing.”

Bhaskar was looking disappointed. He looked around. Suddenly he clasped Amit’s forearm and pointed towards the right. “There. See that light? I suppose that’s where the cemetery was.”


“There. It has started bobbing and spinning!”

“Oh! I see it now.”

“Are you satisfied now, doctor?”

“Of course not! It could be someone swinging a lantern. Let’s go and check it out,” Amit said opening the door.

“No! Don’t go. Please don’t go!” Bhaskar lunged after him. But amit was already walking towards the source of the strange light. Not knowing what to do, and too scared to stay back in the car alone, Bhaskar followed Amit.

Poonam started to get worried when Bhaskar and the good doctor didn’t return till midnight. She tried her husband’s mobile number, but he didn’t pick up the call. She asked the receptionist to try and call Amit, but there was no answer from him either. She became almost hysterical and called the police. She told them the whole story. The officer on duty promised to send a patrol car looking for them. Half an hour later, the patrol found Amit’s SUV. They searched all around with flashlights but couldn’t find the missing persons. They called in and more policemen arrived with sniffer dogs. The dogs traced Amit’s scent till the cemetery, where all trail disappeared. The police were stymied. The search went on more a couple more weeks. Announcements were made on the TV and the radio. Print ads were published. All to no avail. Nothing was heard of the duo ever again. They had inexplicably disappeared without a trace.

Poonam still laments her loss, but still maintains the hope that her husband would come back one day. She often wonders, while sitting alone in their bedroom, whether it would have been better if she had taken Bhaskar to a tantric. She knew that she would never know the answer.

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Salil was in the last leg of his compulsory rotatory internship, and had about three months to go before he became a Registered Medical Practitioner. He had completed his Medicine and Surgery rotations, and was posted to the Casualty department. He had learned quite a bit of clinical medicine and was fast becoming an adept clinician. The senior doctors trusted his judgment and allowed him to handle patients on his own and dispose them off, or admit them, as he deemed fit. And he was, what the medical fraternity calls, “heavy footed”. A “heavy footed” person is a doctor during whose duty a lot of serious patients usually come to the hospital, call it happenstance or call it divine intervention.
            He was on duty that night, with another internee named Arijit. The postgraduate student who was on duty, Dr. Aman, knew Salil from his medicine rotation.
            “Salil, I need some sleep, yaar. I know you can handle the patients. And you got Arijit to help you. Try not to wake me up unless there is some real emergency, okay?”
“No problem, bro. Sleep tight. I will hold the fort for ya!” Salil replied.

It was a dark, moonless night. The skies were overcast, threatening rain. Arijit and Salil sat under an old banyan tree just outside the casualty and shared a smoke. Salil was starting to feel bored. There had not been many patients till then, and he liked to stay busy while at work. They sat there in silence for some more time, long after the cigarette was burned out. It was almost midnight when Salil slapped his friend on the back and said, “Let’s hit the sack. Might as well get some sleep.” They walked back to the doctor’s duty room after Salil informed the nursing orderly on duty to wake him and not Dr. Aman if some patient came to the emergency.
Salil was in that state of wakefulness which precedes sleep by moments, when there was a knock on the door: “Sir, there is a patient.”
He put on his shirt and went to attend to the patient. It was young boy of about 15 years of age. His father had brought him from some obscure village far away, because he had been vomiting blood since that evening. Salil assessed the patient and found him to be in a state of circulatory collapse. His pupils were dilated, his pulse was barely palpable, and his blood pressure could not be recorded. His heart was beating though, and he was taking shallow breaths. Salil went into over-drive. He started two intravenous lines and started to pump fluid into the boy. Meanwhile the patient had vomited blood two more times. Salil started him on the injectable medications known to help arrest bleeding. Arijit was also woken up and joined him in managing the patient. After the patient received about two litres of fluid, his pulse could be felt and his blood pressure became recordable. Salil now felt somewhat confident that this young life could be saved, but he needed blood transfusion. He went up to the father and said: “See, uncle, the condition of your son is serious. We need to give him blood.”
The man just stared back with a blank face. Salil looked him up and down. He looked like a daily wage worker. “Uncle, your son is in a critical condition. His life can be saved, but we need to give him blood. I am giving him all other medicines. But there needs to be blood in the body to carry oxygen, see? And he has vomited so many times.”
“Okay,” the man replied.
“So, go to the blood bank with this form. They will give you what I want. But in return you have to donate your blood. And call someone from your village tomorrow. We will need more donors, okay?”
“How much money do they charge?”
“They don’t charge any money for the blood. But you will have to pay about 500 rupees for some tests. They you donate your blood and they will send to me what I have asked for here,” Salil said pointing to the requisition form.
“I don’t have any money.”
Salil was in a fix. He scratched his head for a while. “Wait here, I will be back.”
He went into the treatment room and called up the blood bank. “Hello, this is Salil, the intern on duty at casualty.”
“Yes sir?”
“I needed about three units of blood for a patient here.”
“No problem. Send over the requisition form along with the donors.”
“Actually there is only one donor available now. I have talked to him to get some more people in the morning.”
“No issues, sir.”
“Another thing. He doesn’t have any money to pay for the screening tests.”
“I can’t help you there, sir. You have to talk to the Medical Superintendent if the charges are to be waived.”
“Okay, let me see what I can do. Thanks.”
Salil stood there with the receiver in hand, wondering what to do next. He was known to the Medical Superintendent, Dr. Saikia, from his days in the Students’ Union, but then it was way past midnight. Would it be prudent to wake him up at this ungodly hour? What would he say? What if started shouting and being abusive, which he had a reputation for? “Fuck it,” Salil muttered to himself, took out his cellphone and dialed Dr. Saikia’s number.
A sleepy, bleary voice answered after some five rings, “Hello? Who is it? What is it?”
“Sir, this is Salil. I am calling about a patient. Actually…
“Is this the time to call young man? Couldn’t you have waited till the morning?” Dr. Saikia yelled into the phone.
“Actually, Sir, I couldn’t have waited. There is this young boy here who is having massive haemoptysis. He needs urgent blood transfusion, but his father has no money for the screening tests. And he looks very poor. If you would waive the fee Sir…” he let the words hang in the air.
“Fine, fine. Do whatever is required. I will sign the bloody forms in the morning.”
“Thank you, Sir, thank you so much,” Salil beamed into the phone.
Dr. Saikia mumbled something and disconnected the call.
Salil called up the blood bank and told them the news. “But I need written permission, sir,” the technician persisted.
“Okay, I will pay the money if you don’t get the paperwork by tomorrow.”
He then went to the young boy’s father and told him that the tests had been made free by the “baade doctor saab”. “Go there now, uncle. Rush.”
Another hour passed by. The patient was stable but there was no blood for transfusion. He called up the blood bank again only to learn that no one had gone there for donation. He went out to the waiting hall to find the old man still sitting there. Exasperated, he said, “Uncle? Blood?”
“Well, you see, Sir, I broke my hand when I was a young man of 20. would that cause a problem?”
“No, it would not. No hurry,” Salil said and guided him towards the blood bank.

The patient’s condition soon started deteriorating. He had another couple of episodes of haemoptysis and was fast going into a state of shock. At that very moment, the father peeped into the emergency room and asked Salil, “Sir, I have high pressure. What if I die while giving blood?”
“You will not die uncle” Salil reassured him. “Just hurry up now, or your son won’t survive.”
“But what if I die? Who will feed my family?”
“Don’t you understand what I am saying old man? Your son will die if he doesn’t receive blood transfusion”, Salil hollered at him.
“Okay”, the old man said, “one less mouth to feed.” And walked out of the room.
Salil was horrified. “Is this your own child? Or is he a fucking bastard?” he shouted at the old man’s back. But there was no reply. Salil shook his head in angst and sorrow, and got back to try save the kid. He and Arijit fought against all hope for close to two hours, but to no avail. The young boy passed away just as the early morning sun was lighting up the dawn sky. Defeated, they sat down on the couch in the duty room. “We did our best. We did all we could”, Arijit consoled a distraught Salil.
 He did not reply. He just sat there with his face in his hands. He sat there thinking how callous people can be. Was poverty the real reason behind it? A young man dies, a family lives on? Or is apathy an inherent part of human nature? He had no answers.