One fine morning when I woke up as usual, there suddenly appeared two human figures, resembling my wife, standing at the foot of my bed, something which never happened earlier.

Surprisingly, both figures were identical, my wife did not have any twin sister, or for that matter, any sister at all. At first, I thought it was only my imagination, as my wife is normally omnipresent in the house, always saying ‘don't do that or do this,' being a person always looking for perfection.

Seeing the puzzled look in my face and my popped up eyes, my wife (original one), who was standing at the foot of my bed, asked me what happened. I did the greatest mistake of telling her the truth. My wife, who always thinks that in her previous birth she was a doctor of great repute, said it must be vertigo or giddiness due to high BP or diabetics and that I should immediately consult the doctor.

As the day moved on, I thought she would forget the whole episode, but to my surprise she kept reminding me of the visit to the hospital every time we crossed each other. I invented all possible excuses to explain to her how busy I would be for the next three or four days, hoping that she would forget the matter by then. But, alas, on the fourth day she was there again to remind me of the visit, and my imagination failed to find any more excuses.

So, the next day we went to a leading hospital to check my double vision problem (in my case, it is a wife problem). After standing in a queue for more than 15 minutes, I got myself registered and got a token number 13, an unlucky number going by the old belief. I knew from now on my attractive (!) name, which probably my parents selected after lot of discussions and visiting many religious places, will have no relevance and I will be known more by this number 13. Anyway, after two hours of unpleasant waiting, the doctor called us. Before I could open my mouth, my wife started reeling out how often I see things as double and at times even triple, etc. As I feared, the doctor suggested that I undergo a few tests starting with blood, urine and X-ray and see him again in the evening with the results. I once again pleaded with my wife that we could do all these at a later date, but she was not prepared to concede my request.

Reluctantly, I underwent all the tests spending my hard-earned money which was meant for our old age. By evening, the results came and as I expected, all readings were so perfectly balanced between the minimum and the maximum that even an acrobat with high balancing skill would be surprised to see such stability.

In the evening, after another hour of agonising wait, we again peeped into the doctor's chamber. He examined the results, smiled and said they did not show any abnormality. I knew the outcome, even with my limited knowledge of medicine. I thought my ordeal was over and now we could go home and live happily ever after. At that point, my learned wife shot a question to the doctor, whether there could be something wrong with my brain. I knew she is having a dig at me since once in a while at home I do casually say she does not have any brain.

Having got a hint from her, the doctor immediately said though nothing seemed wrong, it would be better to do an MRI scan if we wanted to be 100 per cent sure. I was very happy even with his 90 per cent surety, knowing very well that an MRI scan was going to make a big hole in my pocket. But my wife wanted me to be 100 per cent fit and so said that we would rather go through the scan. The doctor then said the hospital MRI scanning machine was under annual maintenance and also there was a long backlog of cases. I was happy to hear that and relieved until the doctor added that we could do it at a particular scan centre outside and he would give a recommendation. I knew the doctor had already earned an extra income through his casual suggestion.

I knew that none of these expenditures would be reimbursed by my health insurance company since for some strange reasons it insists on hospitalisation for reimbursement. So I politely excused myself and pulled my wife outside and explained to her that that these tests would not be reimbursed. As always, she had a quick solution — “Ask the doctor to admit you in the hospital for one day.” I said that while the hospital authorities would be only too happy to do that, I would deprive a genuine patient of a bed. She immediately declared that I too was a patient and so it did not matter. During my management consultancy sessions, I always used to tell executives not to pick up quarrels with the bosses since arguing with your boss is like wrestling with a pig in the mud. After a while you realise that while you are getting dirtier and dirtier, the pig enjoys it.

I remembered this and kept quiet. Without waiting for me, she went inside the doctor's chamber and came back with a prescription for an MRI scan, holding it as if it were her doctoral degree. All this time, I wished that I had not seen that figure of my wife and was also cursing myself for having told her about it. Now that I had committed the crime, I had to go through the consequence.

On reaching home, I called the scan centre to fix an appointment. The young girl (I presume) at the other end with a sweet voice said they had a heavy backlog, but still asked me which doctor had referred me. On my mentioning the name, she lowered her voice as if she was telling me a secret and whispered that if he was the one who had referred me to them, then they would try to accommodate me the next morning at 8. I am used to such tactic and I myself used it when I was active in my job as a marketing executive during the early part of my career, promising customers quick delivery of goods as a special case, when the stocks were lying unused. The hospital girl must be telling this story to every patient and I don't blame her — after all she has to be an obedient and loyal employee.

The next morning, sacrificing my favourite walk, we went to the scan centre at 7.45 a.m., thinking that the place must be like a railway station full of people. But, surprisingly, there were only very few people. We were asked to pay a hefty amount and I could visualise a portion of it already flowing into my doctor's pocket. At 8 a.m., I was made to dress like a buffoon and loaded into a ‘tunnel of suspense' with a lot of instructions of ‘dos and don'ts' which, however, made me feel at home. Suddenly the ‘tunnel of suspense' became a ‘tunnel of horror' with roaring sounds and flashing lights moving all around me, reminding me of the film ‘Star Wars.' Finally, after 40 minutes of ordeal, I was out of the machine looking like a drunkard coming out of the bar. We were told that we could collect the report by that evening. But I decided to postpone the collection, hoping to have one more peaceful night.

The next day also I was not eager to collect my ‘death warrant', but, since my wife kept reminding me of it every half an hour, I did not have any other option but to go and collect it. Immediately on receipt of the report and the films, I looked at them expecting to find a big hole in my brain or at least a dark patch somewhere. But everything was Greek to me. They all appeared more like M. F. Husain's paintings. On reaching home, my wife snatched the reports from me and started looking at them against light as if she was a super-specialist in neurology. There was no expression on her face for five minutes. Finally she kept the films and report on the table and walked towards the bedroom and for a minute I thought she was going there to weep without my seeing her. So I asked: “What does it say?” She turned around and said: “How do I know? Tomorrow we will go to the doctor.”

We visited the doctor again, after the usual agonising wait, and showed him the films and the report. When he saw the MRI scan cover itself in my hand, I could see a satisfied smile on his face for obvious reasons. He then studied the report and said: “I told you there is nothing wrong with you.” The moment I heard that I jumped out of my seat, thanked him and got out because I was afraid my wife would utter something else and a few more tests would be on their way. Once out of the room, she asked me what about my getting admitted to the hospital for insurance reimbursement. This time, I put my foot down and said enough was enough and said a big ‘no.'

On returning home, by adding up all the bills, it was found that I had paid a penalty of more than Rs.10, 000 for a strange dream of seeing my wife as double. Anyway, after this experience I took an oath that I would never ever dream of my wife — not even as a single person. And if at all I see, I will never speak it out.

(sethulali@ rediffmail.com)

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