Andhra Medical College: Before the nocturnal lull gives way to the cacophonous frenzy of medicos, a frail man with a crimson Lungi folded to the ankles and tainted raiment marked with coal stains, makes a daily appearance at the paediatrics ward of KGH.
Selling confectionary to ill children and coffee to their attendants, this man is an instant crowd puller like the proverbial piper of an ancient fable.
Breaking the familial conglomerates before the archaic building, children move with awe towards the vermillion balloons and the melody of the plastic trumpets he brings.
On the distant bed of the same ward, under a ceiling fan that produced more discord than ventilation laid an eight-year-old boy, for an infection to the heart.
‘Tension oddu mama, life ki ledu guarantee’, he would sing day long -- whether he really understood the philosophy or merely enjoyed the tune of the chorus, none knew.
Putting his mother’s caveats to deaf ear, he would wander in the corridors like a deer in green pastures with a catheter in his arm like a soldier’s badge.
With sheer athleticism, he would demand chocolates from undergraduates who pounced with stethoscopes over his chest to satisfy their clinical passion and his video game was a horrendous interruption to the senior doctors during the rounds.
In the afternoon, people would witness a hullabaloo with his acrobatics to avoid the glass of milk.
During the days when his chronic illness confined him to the hospital, Anji, as his mother called him, was attracted to the charm of the toys of the balloon man.
The first thing he would do everyday was to run to the vendor to witness the surprises the later held under his sleeve.
The boy’s heart relished simple things -- a packet of Chagodis one day and a handful of blackberries on another.
As two ships sailing to opposite coasts would meet, the lives of these two strangers were entangled in the bond of immaculate friendship as the birthday of Anji arrived.
Balloon man promised a red car as the gift (‘led caal’, according to the stammering tongue of the child) and left.
For the next few days, the child would wait anxiously for his benefactor, only to find that the balloon man due to various preoccupations forgot the gift.
One evening, the child was discharged after his condition became stable. He was referred to a higher centre for surgical intervention.
In the green glinting costumes of a qawwali singer and a charming face that was otherwise marked with nasal discharges and food particles, he went on a whirlwind tour to bid farewell to the staff and doctors.
Forgetting his daily visitor and his unfulfilled promise he sauntered out with a sense of new adventure.
As ever, I was scuttling through truncheons of ward boys by showing identity, when the balloon man, with a conspicuous miniature Hyundai Accent enquired about Anji.
With an overwhelming sense of philanthropy, I informed the Balloon man that the child was discharged.
‘Was he happy?’
Then he asked me a question that blocked my senses -“Was the child happy, when he left?” there were a million questions we as medicos would hurl at the patients but this was not one of them.
I knew that Anji suffered from Rheumatic heart disease with mitral stenosis in strict medical jargon, but whether his heart had any feeling of joy or distress, I did not know.
I knew his blood pressure but I did nothing to assuage the psychological pressure of his mother.
Messenger of love
The balloon man -- my messenger of love, mumbled a prayer looking to the heaven as I explained the good life Anji would live after the surgery he would undergo.
From then on, many would come and entice with astronomical prices to sell ‘the car of promise’, but the Balloon man would keep it, in the hope of meeting his friend and keeping his promise.
Every time I see him an irresistible urge compels me to greet this modest man, as I gather together the pieces of love and compassion towards patients which somehow broke apart from my demeanour in the dreariness of monotony.