There are several unnamed persons in the GH whom I see every week but have never exchanged names with

Five months ago, when I was awkwardly hanging around my boss wanting to know if I could call it a day, he put forth a question - “Do you want to do night duty?” I had seen my colleagues perform this duty which seemed like a two-day holiday to me since the following day was a reporter's weekly day off. Before I could articulate my joyous thoughts, he nodded and the matter was settled.

Let me clarify – this is about ‘my weekend' which falls on Tuesday and Wednesday each week and has led to a common refrain among friends that ‘ Wednesday is the new Sunday.' All other days are ordered accordingly. A routine thus began of pencilling in a late night movie on Monday (my Friday), sleeping in late on Tuesday and preparing for a night shift that runs between 8.30 p.m. and 2 a.m.

Preparation meant choosing the most faded, oversized kurtas to wear, primarily so I would comfortable during those interminable hours of idleness. Also part of the plan was attempting to be inconspicuous when I visited the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital (GH) at some point during the course of the night. Being covert is not my strong point, and my plans of being investigative usually fly out of the window.

At 10.25 p.m. every Tuesday, I phone the ‘Time Office' to ask for a car to take me to GH. (For the purposes of this column, I ran down to see what such an office comprises and to my disappointment, I could not find a plethora of clocks displaying the time in every country across the globe.) Barring a couple of times of travelling in the office jeep, I have always been assigned a cab driver who will take me to Chennai Central Railway Station and then on to GH, before bringing me back to The Hindu office. Cabbies are a curious lot, first, without fail they will squabble over who should accompany me, and then, will announce their benevolence in consenting to such an act, performed grudgingly of course. Within 10 minutes, we pull up outside Central Railway Station and I make my way to the duty station manager's office to ask if everything is okay.

There is a man who sits to the right of the person in-charge, I have never found out his name and have never told him mine, but every Tuesday when I walk into that office, it doesn't matter if the manager informs me that all his trains are running well while interrupting himself with a significant burp, but it matters that this unnamed man smiles, nods and reassures me that everything is going well.

There are several other unnamed persons in the GH across from the station, whom I see every week but have never exchanged names with. Once, a couple of nurses told me that there was nothing “special” to report, to which I replied, “Yeah, it seems rather quiet tonight.” The two of them let out a tiny squeal and told the other nurses what I had just told them. Apparently, I had jinxed the casualty corridor.

Back in the office, the reporter is expected to phone a bunch of contacts at the Fire Department, Intelligence Services and the Police control room before watching Sun TV to keep track of the headlines.

Many a time, with the help of our beloved office attendants, I have tried to outnumber the list of headlines enumerated by the previous night's reporter. Sadly for me, I have never been successful in speed-reading Tamil.

Post 2 a.m. on Wednesday, with old Tamil film songs playing on the radio in the office jeep, I head back to my neighbourhood in Besant Nagar, the inhabitants having been recently initiated into my nocturnal ways. After being a night vigilance officer for The Hindu, at that time of the night, I encounter another one of my species: my grandmother who keeps watch till I come home and bolts the doors.

Sowmiya Ashok is a feature writer for The Hindu.

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