Your phone won’t stop pinging in notifications. The latest viral irritant forces your attention to the caption – ‘Nurse bludgeons five puppies to pulp outside Hospital .’ A local auto-rickshaw driver has taken the video, which is now getting cast in every rival news channel in the fray.
You are repulsed.
Why would a nurse of all people resort to such a perverse act? You try to imagine her compulsions. There have been incidents of dogs entering hospital buildings and attacking and mangling newborn babies that lie on the floor with their mothers.
You wonder how such a thing can be allowed in this day and age. You know that it is not only allowed but normalized. You try to get into that space but cannot do any better than taste bile as you feel your stomach turn.
You have been told that the state of the world is not your responsibility. You are only an observer and reporter. If you get involved emotionally, you will have the burden of guilt. You have always dealt with the guilt quite well. You are good at normalizing such things as most people do. Or so you think.
They train you to ignore certain happenings and certain people that don’t matter much and focus on glossing over more ‘newsworthy’ objects and incidents.
You concentrate on game-changing matters like politics, sports and showbiz. Elections are shortly due in the state, and celebrity campaigners are making frequent small-town visits a short-term hobby. You and your team rush towards the airport to get the early bird privilege of catching the landing dignitaries; you are held up for ten minutes at a railway crossing.
You see a woman in a scuffle with an older woman and a man. The man beats and flings her upon the jagged track ballast, dragging her by the mane. He pounds her face on the sharp stones. The older woman doesn’t stop him. The situation screams domestic abuse. None of your team shows anything but passing interest and even impatience on the matter.
As your car moves off, you see someone pick the woman up and place her on an open motor cart. Her rock-crushed face turns towards your car, and for a fleeting second, you strangely feel her eyes bore into yours.
Why didn’t you do anything? They seem to say.
She can’t possibly have been in her senses. You feel a faint chill of doubt and a tug of guilt anyway.
This sort of news doesn’t pay to be dwelt upon with much resolve-is the general understanding. One must be practical in business matters, after all.
Your brains promptly summon a dozen excuses. Your conscience astutely sweeps the dirt under the carpet. It absolves you from feeling any guilt. But it’s easier said than done.
This is not your responsibility. You know it’s not. Is it not?
You ignore SOS’s screaming for help from mothers who lose their daughters to traffickers or their in-laws’ greed. You make a mention of the matter in the media, of course. But you don’t follow up on the thread. You know about the poor kids’ bad schools and how they drop out of school and are immediately grabbed by exploiters. Poor healthcare or deplorable government policies don’t shock you anymore. The ordeals of plebeians are reported only strategically -you are told.
So your bylined writings don’t seek them out. Humanity is an increasingly rare virtue in humans. It is tough to conceive and imagine that quality in yourself.
You feel like a predator sometimes – when you let your guard down. You have grown increasingly confident and even reasonably powerful, feeding off the system that works for you but not for so many others.
Despite your luck and success in your branch of journalism, you don’t feel satisfaction. You are in trauma. A part of you tells you to calm down. Find your centre. Forgive yourself. You have been too much on edge. You try to relax your mind with breathing exercises. You start confiding and commiserating with your friend, Dekki, and she wants you to read something spiritual.
You begin reading an interesting ancient Buddhist text that she recommends, the title of which
some occidental writer has unimaginatively translated into English from the Tibetan’ Bardo Thodol’ – the great book of natural liberation – as ‘The Tibetan book of the Dead’.
You hope it works on someone as spiritually dead as you.
You have heard quite interesting things about that ancient classic. It is ideally meant to be read out to the person just after death. It’s supposed to help the soul find its way to freedom when it is still in an undecided state after the demise of the physical body. But the revelations from work can apparently be applied esoterically to a living person too. The moment your ignorance or ego dies, you are reborn on a higher plane of consciousness. Pretty cool! You think. Dekki has thoughtfully sent you an audio version of the work as well.
You play the audiobook and sink into the trance, and mystical experience of the mantra ‘Om ma ni pad me hum’. The narrator says the six syllables stand for six worlds, different yet related. The mantra is supposed to help you and those in your thoughts transcend each of these worlds so you can attain true freedom or Nirvana. When you use the mantra, you send out thoughts of compassion to all six worlds. You relate yourself to the universe and send out goodwill. You can conquer dark forces through the power of inclusivity and positive intentions.
You imagine the six worlds or planes of consciousness on which one’s mind can function.
You ponder upon which state your mind belongs to; definitely not Devlok though you have been good sometimes. Asuralok feels suspiciously familiar – the world of despots, opportunists , narcissists and ego trippers . Naralok pales in comparison though it is populated with greedy folk who believe in nothing but acquiring and amassing wealth and is definitely relatable. Trisanlok could be you all over again- spiritual darkness and inaction. Pretalok , the land of hungry ghosts, is also a place you inhabit time and again. Pretas are described as having huge bellies but mouths the size of a tiny pinhole; they can never satisfy their huge appetites. Comical but apt, you think. None of the lokas is permanent for anyone, and one is supposed to inhabit them only temporarily, according to one’s karma. Still, a chill runs down your spine, and you hope you never have to visit the scariest world- the lowest world of intense suffering and impenetrable darkness- the Bikkhulok.
It is past midnight, and you are browsing through the book, which is replete with illustrations. At the same time, you listen keenly to the audio, rewinding and repeating sections. You cannot put a pause in the book.
Your boss surprises you. She calls at the late hour and assigns you with the ordeal of visiting the Government hospital at the earliest and providing detailed coverage of the horrific incident of the murdering nurse. She had apparently committed suicide shortly after her gruesome act.
You groan and throw yourself on your bed, burying your face in the pillow. You might as well catch a semblance of sleep while it is still dark, you think.
The next morning, you head to the place of the incident armed with your phone and camera. You’ll be meeting the superintendent of the hospital first for some questions and permission to look around.
You’ve never stepped inside a suburban government hospital before. A foul odour hogs your senses, as does the deplorable air of grey doom reflecting off the aged, ill-kept walls and the lost-looking people. Some are shuttling along the corridors purposefully, unmindful of a canopy of grime-laden cobwebs hanging from the ceilings. Others squat here and there, occupying any available vacancy, suffocated by suffering to a stoic stillness.
You certainly haven’t signed up for this kind of journalism. You’ve always been a fan of the pretty and don’t know how you should react to the ugliness of poverty and the great edifice of indifference you have entered.
Now and then, there is gruesome news like a baby’s cheek being bitten off by rats or the arm of a patient chewed off by a dog or even foreign objects left inside body parts post-surgery. Medical negligence is a shameful reality. Nearly five million people die in India every year from negligence or inaptitude in medical care at hospitals. A high percentage of that number is never covered by any kind of news media. They just don’t think the coverage will be worth the trouble. You shudder at the thought of ever having to ask for service at this sort of hospital.
You centre your focus on the job at hand and head to the enquiry counter for directions to the CMO’s office. The office is on the second floor, and you need to wade through a long stretch of the ground floor that houses the general wards. Patients are laid along the walls of the corridor on the floor for dearth of beds. A woman’s outstretched arm almost trips you. You glance at her still body and vacant, staring face. Her facial wounds are bleeding through the dressing. You feel you have seen her before. Still, without waiting to talk to her or any of them, you make a dash up the flight of stairs.
A shaft of light cuts through a high ventilator at one end of the landing on the upper storey and washes a stretch of the silent corridor with a bright warmth. The rest of the floor is cool and grey. There are doors without any markings along the corridor.
You are unsure where to head and have to check on both sides of the landing. Suddenly you hear the rolling grind of a decrepit stretcher approaching. You want to ask the bearer to show you the CMO’s office. You find it strange that a veiled woman in a sari is pushing the stretcher. She isn’t dressed like hospital staff. You call out, and she stops. You glance at the patient, and you cannot breathe with shock.
It is you lying on the stretcher. You even have the same clothes. You can’t comprehend what is happening. The bearer’s veil is slightly askew, and you look at a battered face. You feel you’ve seen that face and those eyes before. Yes, you remember the woman with the outstretched arm downstairs. She looks much like the same woman. Her wounds are open, and festering.
The door behind her mechanically opens, and she pushes the stretcher towards it. She croaks painfully, looking at me: ‘Don’t you recognize your soul? It is in a coma.’
Everything is black before your eyes. Your body is still and stiff. It is as if you have sleep paralysis with a demon standing on your chest. You don’t know where you are or how you came to be there.
Suddenly the darkness is punctuated with a blinding light over your face. Your eyes hurt, and you look away. You can decipher a silhouette on the next bed. Someone is lying there with an operational light fixtured inches from the face. The face has a nose ring like yours. Your skin pricks out in sharp goose bumps and crawls with a fear you have not known before. Your body screams for escape. You open your mouth wide, but no sound emerges. You are swallowed by your terror, and you grow limp. Through the shadows, you see a white-clad shape with a nurse’s cap hovering near. She is checking a huge injection syringe. She lifts the sheet off the feet of your co-patient and pushes the needle tip into an upright sole. You can feel the acute pain from the abrasion clearly prick your flesh and enter your bone though she doesn’t touch you. You squirm but cannot move your limbs. You watch her fiddling with the patient’s eyes. With a twist and a turn, she easily grips and plucks one out from its socket. The patient apparently feels nothing, but you experience every tug and pull of the
gruesome act. The nurse beckons someone in the shadows, and the woman with the battered face steps forward. She is holding out her own gouged-out eye on her open palm. The nurse takes the gory object and screws the new eye onto the patient.
Your heart is about to burst with dread and pain. But you cannot escape. You can now see the room a bit more clearly. There are huge boxes randomly jutting out of and sliding into recesses on the walls. You can hear blood-curdling moans, howls and cries emerging with thick wisps of vapour from the boxes. You realize they are freezing caskets, and you are in a morgue.
Terror has frozen your vocal cords. No sound leaves your open screaming mouth. You want to shut your eyes, but strangely they feel peeled, and you cannot blink. Your heart is sinking. It feels like an abyss in your chest. You see the nurse lift the sheet and shroud the patient’s face. The nurse and the veiled woman lift the body and carry it to a vacant casket. They place the body inside and push the box into the wall. Every movement of theirs is excruciatingly alive to your senses. It is as if you have been placed in the box instead of the patient.
The surgical light is gone. It is darker than any darkness you have ever experienced. You are breathing very cold air. It is freezing, and you feel your cells slowly turning to ice. The agony is beyond anything you have ever imagined. Your mind is racing against time to think of an escape.
You suddenly see, in the distance, a speck of light. It is a single light bulb blooming faintly in the darkest of nights. You naturally yearn to go towards it. By volition you begin to flail your limbs to swim. You feel you are swimming through a heaving sea, and the current is against you. Somehow, with a herculean effort, you manage to propel yourself closer to the light. Your strength is fast failing, and you feel you cannot stay afloat much longer. You know you will inevitably drown. Your tired brain conjures up some shadows from the past. You see yourself reading from a book and listening to something. Your mouth is forming the words Om…ma ni pad me hum. You expend your last ounce of energy trying to envision the sound of the mantra. Then you can do nothing more. You let yourself go.
At once you sense an abrupt, strong force pulling you down. It’s as if you’re on a free fall in an elevator gone rogue. It plummets into the darkest depths with you plastered to the floor. Then you crash into rock bottom.
A massive electric shock lurches you back to life. You feebly open your eyes to bustling medics working an automated external defibrillator on your chest. It seems like a normal hospital room with its usual paraphernalia.
You are told that you lost consciousness outside the CMO’s office. Your friends from work are here as well. Doctors are asking them about your medical history. You hear someone mention’ guilt complex’,’depression’ ,’OCD’. Well, you aren’t at all sure if the answer to your trip to hell and back lies in these problems. But you are darn sure of one thing. You cannot let these problems rule you. You want to be alive in the truest sense as long as you are living. You’ll fight tooth and nail to hold on to life and do the right thing for your soul. After all Karma can be the proverbial bitch!
The book has somehow showed you the way. Perhaps what was your ‘ Ego’ has died and you have attained a different level of consciousness. You bid goodbye to your fancy media house and take up the cudgels of freelance work. You now work twenty -four -seven for none but your honest self. You draw up a list of areas that are crying for immediate attention. You begin with an extensive investigation and coverage of the state of the so-called ‘free schools in the subcontinent. Soon you have a lot of people helping you fulfill your calling. The genuine goodwill you tap into sets you free.
This is the story of your rescue that you share these days in your TED Talks to standing ovations. You seem to have taken the right decision by choosing to be your own knight. It has just won you a Pulitzer this year.
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