T. SARAVANAN meanders through the crowded corridors and nondescript wards of the Government Rajaji Hospital and finds the clinical experience transformed to a journey of hope.

As I veer into the Panagal Road and step inside the biggest tertiary care centre in the region, I smell the strong disinfectant in the air. The lofty arches and the rough granite pillars tell the building’s antiquity – this is the Government Rajaji Hospital, the erstwhile Erskine hospital and popularly also known as Periaspathiri (big hospital). Thousands of patients from all over southern Tamil Nadu walk in here daily and today is no exception.

Moorthy, a stout man at the Out Patient (OP) counter is busy noting down names of the patients. There is a permanent frown on his face as he directs the serpentine queue of men and women to the respective wards. “Move ahead. Go to ward number 22...” he drives 76-year-old Mareeswari, in a gruff voice. Mareeswari goes through a maze of compounders and a dozen corridors to reach the medicine OP, where it is a fight for space. Patients, many of them with a plastered hand or leg, jostle with each other to get their dose of medicine. Few have attenders to help them, the rest are forced to manage on their own.

Suddenly, there is a loud cry “kannna enthirippa...”. A profusely bleeding youth on a stretcher is rushed to the casualty ward. His mother runs behind wailing. In between sobs, Muneeswari tells that her son got injured grievously in a brawl at a wine shop. The hospital staff appear unperturbed. They are not new to such gory incidents. It’s a routine which they attend to mechanically. The wounds are cleaned and dressed and the doctor tells Muneeswari her son is out of danger.

As I turn to my right, I see a person waving at me. He has been doing so for some time. It makes me suspicious. Behind him, I spot the board ‘Psychiatric ward’. I move a step forward and see a prison like structure and a group of people peering into it. Near the iron gate, I find 13-year-old Babu coiled like a worm. His father Ramanathan from Melur recalled how a dog bite turned deadly for his son. I find it difficult to even peep inside the rabies ward. “Be careful while crossing this area,” somebody rings out a warning from behind. It is the cleaner boy alerting me against the Tuberculosis ward and cross infections. I look through the creaky wooden door and find nothing so potentially dangerous. That is till I look down – the floor is soiled with stains and spits. I feel like throwing up when a familiar voice distracts me.

It is my anaesthesiologist friend who takes me to the pain clinic where terminally ill patients are taken care of. Most of the patients are sleeping here. I complain about the unhygienic condition, and immediately my friend takes me to the relatively dirt-free ortho ward housed in the new campus.

We walk to the other end of the Panagal road, walking past platforms cramped with vendors selling knick knacks and fruits. Rows of share-autos vie for ‘savaris’. On the opposite side of the road, a number of decorated chariot-like motor vehicles are lined up. Each one bears the letters ‘Amarar Oordhi’ and is equipped with cushioned chair to facilitate a respectful last journey.

Now we are at the swanky new GH campus with sophisticated interiors, improved facilities and a state-of-the-art orthopaedic ward among others.

I bump into a cop enquiring about a missing new-born. The labour ward is in the old campus and I reach there walking past the mortuary. I do but consciously avoid eye contact with the relatives of a suicide victim. Their sad and long faces with tears rolling down makes me uncomfortable. They are waiting for the body after post-mortem.

Does anybody ever smile inside a hospital? Inside the labour ward, perhaps? But I am not allowed to enter. The spate of kidnappings of new born babies has made the staff and security sceptical. Only if you have a valid entry pass, you are allowed in.

I hang around outside the ward watching the joyful faces of family members who have been blessed with a new born. A father is all smiles as he distributes candies to all those around.

It is here that I feel reassured. I realise the hospital is a place where if one life withers, another blooms simultaneously.

Bolstered with the thought and images outside the neo-natal ward, I return with a spring in my step.

(City 3Sixty is a monthly column that captures the different moods of the city. It appears last Thursday of every month).