My intimate friendship with him dates back to mid ‘40s, when we were just Mechano interested kids. We used to live in opposite houses: the one lived in by the well to do and the other, ours, a little lower in the pedestrian class commoners. That never interfered with the growing strong bond between us two.
Both of us are nearing now the dubiously big milestone of attaining a superannuate status. Growing old is natural; may be painful at times, but always a matter of not wholly unholy pride. Life, being what it is and has been, and meaningfully and justly so, has kept us apart for years and this makes a re-union delicious and healthily sweet. It is common knowledge that the longer the period of separation, the more is the joy of union.
Forgive me, among the various other miscellaneous ailments I have acquired over these long and short years, the least irritating to my listeners is my affliction with ‘pronoun-itis’. It is not inflammation in the medical parlance exactly but the confounding multiplication of pronouns in my narration where the antecedents vary quickly like the frames of a shot on a movie screen. I must hasten to disclose that the ‘him’ in my first sense is Doctor Karunakar Rao, who has acquired the reputation of being a ‘good’ man, in a very sincere, complementary sense. He inherited the best qualities of both his parents: the clinical perception of his dad and the compassion of his mother.
As we grew older we fell into the ruts that life drove each of us into. He went to the treatment of routine ailments of a very general practitioner and me to the droves of undergraduates struggling with theories of literary criticism, poetry and such old fashioned things with no money in them. But when we do meet once in years, or sometimes many more, we do so with the gusto and yearning of newly wed first timers. Our women folk on both sides would leave us to our meandering down the memory lane, to entertain each other with droll tales of their kids or grand kids.
There are several times when I wondered why my friend had taken to medicine, of all things, with his fine sense of humour, the fabulous flair to laugh without malice. His understanding of human life, specially when he treads on the accelerator skilfully driving me to a denouement in an excellently remembered and retold incidents have held me captive down these decades. A busy fellow, when I’m around visiting him, he’d ask me to accompany him on his ‘rounds’. These rounds must be explained forthwith for the word has attained a lugubrious tinge of doctors going round in busy hospital wards, amidst starched white uniforms and helpless impecunious patients on dirty beds in government hospitals. My friend is a private practitioner of the old type when people believed in sustaining a doctor for attending to their eventual ailments. Then the bond between the physician and patient is not the one, which obtains now as between the client and the super-specialist which starts with the client obtaining a numbered slip on payment of a hefty fee to the receptionist first.
Now I am meeting him after a gap of five years. When I was free last he had been away to spend some months with his children in the US. That meant another half year of my waiting and as soon as he returned I went to see him. My wife preferred visiting her old parents and I left her at her parents’ place and then joined my friend. The first thing he told me was that he was happy being back at home. The six months appeared too long a stay for him for there was nothing he could do there professionally. While he was in his clinic, I sat reading the news of the sensational presidential elections in the US.
“I have a case of a difficult delivery. The small village is about ten km. Would you like to come with me.?
“I’d love to,” I said.
“It may take long…”
“All the better,” I said and reached for my sweater.
-No sooner had he released the clutch than I shot at him “What struck you as most significant out there in the US?”
“My standing at the clothes wash, dish washer etc. That made me long to get back, not that I do not like washing etc.”
Then I chose a different way to word my question: “Do you seriously think that your children were right in leaving our country for good?”
“No, I don’t think they thought well about the otherworldly aspect of the question but then I found them more nostalgic than many of our compatriots there always feeling fortunate for being sent to a fabulous place, always talking slightingly of our ways of living here.
My son thinks now, more than ever before, of our great heritage and I did see that he has made significant spiritual progress, a knot or two in your register. He talks of sanaatana dharma and aarsha vijnaana.”
He steered clear of a huge truck coming towards us skilfully and said, “Modernization has not made the West any the more human.” I was glad he had coming to my way of thinking.
“There is more to life than making tons of money, getting drunk every alternate day or having your fill of fucking at every opportunity.”
I thought he’d give me an outraged look for my devilish obscenity but he did not. He might not have heard after all. I felt happy.
“You never spoke like this, never. All right, we are all aging fast. Smuttiness and crudity of expression is an unfailing marker of senility.” He was carefully maneuvering the sharp curves looking ahead with a great show of concentration.
We were near the village, which looked surprisingly prosperous. The houses were all lit with electricity. He parked the car and as I lumbered out, he picked up his ‘kit’ and walked towards a house. I remembered the kit: a large rectangular leather case, which his dad used to strap to the carrier of his bicycle when he went on his ‘visits’. From one of the houses, someone came to receive him and we were taken into a large verandah. The gentleman asked me to sit and pointed to the magazines on a small table. My friend was taken inside. I sat for a while and very soon I heard the muffled screams of the woman in labour in one of the inner rooms. In a few minutes I heard my friend whispering: “I am sorry, it is difficult choice. I cannot save both…” The man’s voice was firm: Please doctor, the mother is important.”
I preferred taking a walk round the village instead of sitting biting my nails in helplessness. I wandered around aimlessly and after about half an hour I was again at the entrance to the little lane. I saw my friend patting the man on the shoulder and heard the man saying: “My mother remembers you father helping her bring me into this world, doctor! I don’t know how to thank you.”
-After he drove for about fifteen minutes in silence he said, “It was a difficult situation and after obtaining the parent’s consent, I had to perform craniotomy.” I knew that emergency life-saving procedure. He took a left turn and we were on a gravel road where the wheels made a crunching noise, which, for some reason, made me gleeful.
“Now, on our way home, I’d take you to another place. You’d pleased with me for that later,’ he said and released the clutch and stepped on the accelerator.
“Now I am taking you to a very interesting lady – she has a big dog and she gets angry if you refer to the creature as a dog. She is a Canophile, a dog lover. You have to be affectionate and call him doggie. She is a very beautiful and takes pride in remaining so. She is academically oriented, very reputed among learned circles.The farmhouse she now lives in is a legacy of a distant auntie who conveyed it to her by a foolproof will. She is very good-natured but does not like to be interrupted when her flow is on. Don’t jump to conclusions – she is nearly fifty-five.”
He drew up before a pair of huge wrought-iron gates, obviously the property of a rich person. He honked twice and a man dressed like a guard opened the heavy gates to let our vehicle in.
The lady of the house was waiting for us on the verandah of the portico. She made the customary greeting and led us in. My friend said: “Meet my friend Miss Geetika. Geetika, here’s is my friend Ramam, my boyhood friend. He was a professor of English Literature at a college and now he is happily retired.”
-Karun looked at me in surprise when I added “Mercifully”, perhaps not knowing who had the mercy, whether it was me or the lovely youngsters. After we walked round a slumbering dog and sat down, he said, “Geetika is a behavioural scientist, as they call Psychologists today.” The dog stood up with a start and began sniffing at me. He was heavy and looked thickheaded. Later he went to my friend and began to lick his trousers.
-“Your friend is a little clumsy in introductions: I must tell you I’m a spinster, for I never had enough gumption to get tied up!” she said and her eyes sparkled like those diamonds in the fabulous studs on her ears.
I remembered my friend’s casual remark and decided to keep quiet and remain a listener and spectator..
“Karunakar, I am happy you came to look me up. I’ve been thinking of coming to see you, but then, there is a load on my mind,” Geetika said. My friend didn’t say anything, which led to the opening of the floodgates, slowly though.
“Doctors could be very impersonal,” she said and went on. “I never knew dogs could be so gifted. I knew they’d help police in investigation, keep watch, etc, etc. As for my doggie goes, he has been my friend, philosopher ever since I bought it off at a dog shop in Hyderabad years ago. I didn’t give much credence to the seller’s recital of his long pedigree. Now I think he hadn’t cheated me after all. Selfish Man uses birds, animals, insects and almost everything in nature and her resources for his selfish ends. Creatures are killed for dissection. There are two ways in which they are used: the recklessly harmful way and the other harmless, knowledge-widening ways. I read about volatile compounds and how some species have a distinct capacity to smell strange things unusual things, say, tumours and things like that. There are some ways to detect from the smell the signature odour of bladder tumour, and even skin cancer…
-Even at this stage, my friend kept mum underscoring his earlier remark. I was about to ask a question but then my friend cleared his throat very meaningfully.
“Did you ever come across a dog helping in the diagnosis of the dreadful cancer, your deadly carcinoma?”
I saw something in the morning paper but chose to remain tongue-tied. The lady brought us coffee and while we were sipping it, she began: “My doggie is very affectionate and most certainly, as a species, they could be more affectionate than human beings could ever be. She would come to nestle into me and as soon as I sit down she would come and sit at me feet.. This has been going for some years. But of late he has been sniffing around my calf muscle After a lot of observation, I found that he was interested in the left not in the right calf. He’d go round me till he gets a chance to (what I thought) nibble at that particular place. There was no doubt a little itching had been there, but I haven’t taken it seriously for quite some time. The doggie has been persistent and I showed it to a doctor friend of mine at Hyderabad who dismissed the doggie’s behaviour as just a whim. The dog’s persistence began to worry me and recently I went to your dermatologist friend at King George’s who suggested a biopsy.”
-“Only today you heard from him that it was malignant melanoma and required some radical treatment.” Said the till then my tongue-tied friend.
“How do you know?” Geetika couldn’t hide her surprise.
“The fellow called me this morning and I came to reassure you that it was a nuisance all right but it wouldn’t be real problem.” Karuna said patting the dog.
“Now that you know it, I feel relieved. I have none even to shed a tear for me but then, death is a prospect not to be dismissed casually. In fact I was toying with the idea of calling you up. When you are a little free, we’d sit together either here at your place to draft a …”
“I don’t think it is that serious…” Like a fool I began to say something and controlled myself midway.
“Anyway it is not a will,” said the lady pleasantly. “I have quite other plans and our Karuna wouldn’t let me down. If you, you both, are around, do make it convenient to have lunch with me here tomorrow, the day after or when you two can. I’d be glad to have Leelu too here. She’s thoughtful and original in thinking up things for the future.”
My friend was already on his feet and as we came out the lady said to me, “Ramamgaru, I cannot ask you both to dinner now, which would surely anger my friend Leelu nor would I like to delay your dinner selfishly. But, one question straight away, don’t you think there is a need to coin a word dogsense?
“Why not! Perhaps, instituting a chair for Medical Research in Doggies is also in your mind,” was all that I could bring myself to say.
“That is the dogsense I have in mind,” she said as she walked with us to the car under the star-lit sky.