That was the night when the wind was blowing really hard and there was no electricity in our campus.
My husband, Sanjeev, who is an Anaesthesiologist, was on-call duty that night. He came back home at around 7.00pm and said, “Today there was a fire in a marriage hall near city centre. According to officials, the number of deceased has exceeded 200. But I am sure it is more than 500. Hospital entrance is full of burnt corpse, heart rending cries of relatives of deceased. So many dead bodies could not be identified. I have to hurry back quickly and report to the triage room."
I was shocked to hear that piece of news and hurried back to kitchen to serve him dinner. In the dim candlelight, we had our dinner and I went to living room to help my maid, Arti, feed our 2 year old kid, Krish. He was unusually irritable today since there was no electricity and also Sanjib had no time to play with him as he used to do everyday. So, I decided to take him to roof top for fresh air as he could play his favourite foot ball. And so, we both took a lantern and went up.
When Sanjeev was getting ready to come out of the home, his pager bleeped. He went inside home again to answer the call. It was his colleague, Saajan, who wanted him to report in the Operating room 5 (OR 5) immediately. A 7 year old girl was posted in OT for burn debridement and resuscitation.
Sanjeev rushed out immediately. He decided to take a short cut through the paediatric ward on 3rd floor since none of the elevators were working due to power cut. Except the main corridors, rest all corridors were pitch dark.Sanjeev had taken this route for the first time today and he was almost running thinking about the young patient and mentally getting ready for starting the operation as soon as he steps inside the OT.
Suddenly, he stumbled over some form in a dark corridor and he focussed his torch towards the obstacle. There, she was, a beautiful young girl, sobbing quietly. She was sitting with her back supported on the wall and a tiny lifeless form on her lap. She must be around 7-8 years old. When she looked up, Sanjeev could see that her eyes were swollen and now she started sobbing even harder. Sanjeev bent down and asked her, “What is the matter? What are you doing in this darkness? Where are your parents? Is anything the matter? Can I help you in any way? Please tell me.”
“No, uncle, it is okay. Now, nobody can help us. This is my baby sister and she is dead. Will you believe me if I say that my father burnt her by pouring hot kerosene on her? The reason being he did not want a baby girl and when he came to know that mother has delivered a baby girl again, he burnt her. Uncle, my sister was only 1 day old.”
She started crying loudly now .Sanjeev sat down next to her and took a closer look at the dead baby. The baby was badly burnt and was wrapped in a torn cloth.
Sanjeev’s head started reeling with the sight of a tiny creature burnt so badly. How could a father do such a ghastly act? He did not know what to do or what to say to the sobbing girl. Suddenly, he thought about the emergency case and he jumped from the floor and asked the young girl to accompany him.
She asked, “Where am I supposed to go?”
“Do not worry; I will take you to the Paediatric ward. My friend will take care of you until I come back. Okay? You need to have some food and rest. We will think about what to do next tomorrow morning.”
“Uncle, nobody will listen to you.” She sighed.
“What makes you think so?” Sanjeev asked, anxious now to hurry back to operating room.
“My father is the younger brother of the Director of this hospital.”
“What?” Sanjeev’s eyes popped out.
“Can you please take me to your mother? Where is she?”
“I don’t know uncle.Mama did not talk to me when I went inside after the baby arrived. She sat motionless, staring outside the window.” she again started sobbing harder now.
“Oh, God! C’mon, sweetheart. Don’t worry, we will surely find her. Tonight you take rest in the Paediatric ward. On the way to the ward, you tell me what happened in detail. Okay?”
“Ok!” and she started talking, pausing in between to suppress her tears. “My name is Kaveri and we live in Bangalore. I study in fourth grade. I was my Mom’s darling but Dad never liked me. He would always ask Mom to keep me away from him. I could never figure out why.When Mom had told me that very soon wewould get a baby at home, I was so happy. One week back we came here for the marriage function of my favourite aunty, my Mom’s youngest sister and day before yesterday, in the evening, Mom had severe pain and Dad rushed her to this hospital where Mom delivered a cute baby girl yesterday morning.When I was brought to my Mom, I could hear Dad shouting badlt at Mama. Then, Dad hurried out of the room with my baby sister in his hands. I kept on asking Mom what happened. She did not answer and sat there like a stone. Then the lady in white dress came and took her away somewhere.”
“Uncle, I could not do anything. I could not save my sister. I could not save my Mom.” She started shaking like a leaf.
“I was taken by those ladies in white uniform to a room where they gave me biscuits and milk. I asked them what is happening. Nobody answered me. I slept there on the cot. Today morning, I was woken up by my Dad. He asked me if I want to see my baby sister and Mom.”
“I jumped with joy and hopped behind him like a rabbit. I was going to see my baby sister and Mom. Whatever happened yesterday was a nightmare. When we reached the marriage hall, where my aunty was getting married, I asked Dad where is Mom. He kept quiet and looked at me sharply. I was scared to see his face. I had never seen him so angry, before. I was wondering, what I did do to make him so angry?”
“He took me upstairs near a small room and asked me to change into a nice dress. Once I stepped inside, he closed the door behind me. I was scared. He had locked me inside a small room with no windows.”
“I screamed at the top of my lungs. Nobody heard me. I did not know what to do? I was suffocating there. Suddenly, I noticed that the room was getting filled up with dark smoke from below the door. I crawled under the old cot kept in one corner, out of fear. Suddenly, I felt something under my feet. I dragged the bundle towards me.”
Her voice choked and she could not speak. Horror was clearly written all over her face.
Sanjeev gave him water from his bottle and asked her to keep it with her.
“Then, what happened? Was that bundle your dead baby sister? How did you know that your father killed her?” Sanjeev started having this strange feeling inside his gut.
“Yes, uncle, that bundle was my dead sister.” She sighed and looked pale and white.
“The room was now full of smoke and I could not breathe and then I don’t know what happened. I fainted. The next thing I knew when I woke up was that I felt lighter and I was in front of my father. He was talking to his cousin. He did not notice me. I don’t know why. He was telling him how he burnt my sister, how he killed me and how he has planned to kill Mom as well. He said he had made arrangements to have her killed in the ward itself. Save my Mom, uncle. Save that poor creature from my evil Dad.”
Sanjeev’s face became white and he could not turn back to look at the girl with whom he has been talking since past 10 minutes. She was dead. She was a ghost. She had come back to save her Mom and get justice for her and her sister’s death.
When he turned back, she was gone. He did not know what to do and in shock he dropped the dead baby which he was carrying so long, and ran towards the operating room. When he reached OR 5, he was gasping for breath. Nurse Alice was surprised to see him like that and offered him a glass of water. Sanjeev asked her about the case in OR 5. Alice looked even more surprised and said, “Doc, are you alright? Don’t you remember that OR 5 has been closed since today morning because of the septic case which was brought to the OR for burn debridement? It was a 7 year old girl named Kaveri, the daughter of our Director’s brother. So sad, Sir, she was such a cute girl. Her face still had that innocence even after death. She died on table. We could not resuscitate her. I was posted in that OR today morning and Dr Saajan was the Anaesthesiologist.”
Sanjeev’s face became white and rushed to OR 8 where Saajan was posted for another debridement case. When Saajan looked at Sanjeev’s pale face, he asked, “What happened to you? Are you not supposed to report to the triage room?”
“But you paged me to report to OR 5, 10 min back.”
“No, I did not. OR 5 is closed for fumigation.”
“Yes, Alice just told me everything now.”
“Sanjeev, what is wrong with you? Why are you shaking like a leaf? What is the matter? Will you please tell me what has happened?" Saajan looked concerned.
Sanjeev was in no position to report to the triage room. Saajan asked head nurse Dorothy to page the stand-by call to replace Sanjeev. He then asked the ward boys to take Sanjeev to Doctors’ rest room and instructed Alice to sedate him so that he sleeps off.
Next day morning, when Sanjeev opened his eyes, Saajan was right there beside his bed.
Sanjeev told him everything in detail and they both rushed to the Maternity ward.
On reaching there, they searched for Director’s brother’s wife. She was indeed admitted there day before yesterday. But, alas! She committed suicide that day morning by hanging herself from the tree outside the ward.
Her suicide note read –
“I am responsible for my death. My husband killed my daughters because he wanted a baby boy. Please punish him so hard that never ever any family member will kill their daughters. Why should I live when my sweethearts are no more? They need me. I have to go. Kaveri is calling me. See, she is running towards me with open arms! I am coming, I am coming ...”
Kaveri’s father was arrested immediately on charges of homicide. The dead body of the baby girl was also found near the Paediatric ward. How it reached there from the marriage hall was everybody’s question.
Saajan asked Sanjeev not to reveal anything about previous night to anybody. Nobody will believe him and the Police will harass him. Plus what was the proof that he did meet Kaveri.
Sanjeev came back home with so many questions unanswered in his mind and this is certainly one incident he will never forget in his life, for sure.
Fumigation: Disinfecting an area or an operating room with formaldehyde gas after a septic case has been admitted or posted for surgery there, to control the spread of micro-organisms from the septic case to an uninfected wound.
Triage:The practice of sorting out casualties after a disaster or in battle into categories for priority for treatment.
Burn debridement: The surgical removal of dead tissues and cellular debris from the surface of the wound.