Monday, March 01, 2004

(you can check out any time you like but you can never leave)

Getting someone discharged from Apollo Hospital is a lot like springing a con from prison -- and costs a whole lot more, too. (Although 'twas worth it, to save Bindi's kidneys). It's also a big con..... To start, the corpulent doctor whom we no longer trust was two hours late and only came after I made two not-so-idle threats at the nurse's station, where a swarm of tiny women in royal blue and white stood around doing nothing ("Discharge! Discharge! Awaiting doctor for discharge! Estu gante coming (What time coming?). He is very late! We must go. Discharge! He said this morning! Function this afternoon! Leaving!").

In the meantime there was a separate *function* at the hospital to launch a new cardiac ward and celebrate the 60 years birthday (a big deal here, where 60 has *always* been the new 40) of the Chief Minister of guarantees -- BTW both state and federal governments were recently dissolved -- plus the head of the wonderful Apollo Hospital chain and some other dhoti luminary. There was a fancy mandala and jasmine and balloons in the lobby and white-hatted cops at the parking lot entrance using their whistles and waving. I thought, "Ha ha, I'm ready for you -- I have my D.L. (driver's license) AND insurance papers" but no, they were motioning me to park in a lot far, far away (have you ever been off-road on a scooter while wearing bangles, flip-flops and a long dress? If not you haven't really lived).....

Over the next several hours Bindi and I divided our attention between watching the cops load scooters onto a tow truck (took forever) and roping off areas (with a too-short rope) and awaiting the dignitaries (who never came), and getting engrossed in An Officer and a Gentleman (edited, with commercials). [Does anyone else think I look like Debra Winger??]... There was also a huge, window-level bee swarm that was fun to look at, kind of like going snorkeling only easier to breathe.

Anyway Bindi was finally sans I.V. and up and about in good spirits and eating iddly and we were SO READY to get out of there but then there was the wait for the doctor ("One half hour he is coming" they told me several times) followed by the even more irksome wait for the bill, which I first inquired about around 1100 hours "It will take one half hour after the doctor comes, madam." Hours later (and an hour after the doctor left) I made another unpleasant trip to the nurse's station -- I was *starving* at this point, since we had expected to be out of there around 10:30, 11) -- only to find out that the bill was coming in a half hour. More waiting for the bill come thru the door (You must wait for it in the room, madam), watching the young Richard Gere get cold feet, etc. and progressively more ugly inquires. I had to be at the crackhead tailor's before 1600 hours in order to pick up my hot pink choli (sari top, which he had tried to get right FOUR TIMES -- HELLO, NO ONE's cans are shaped like THAT) -- for the wedding at the shala that night.

Time kept on slippin' into the future and finally around 15:40 Bindi and I grabbed our bags and tried to walk out (cue Thin Lizzy's "Jailbreak," add video from Stir Crazy). The bevy of nurses started to swarm (like blue-and-white antibodies on tall white germs), told us we could not leave, the be-ill must be paid, etc. "We have waited for the bill. We must leave now. We have things to do and we're sick of this f-ing place." (At some point you stop trying to communicate and commence to venting / making Bindi laugh). "She waits, you pay," they told me. "I'm not paying the f-ing bill -- that's her job. And we are going to billing right now." They put a mini Nurse Ratchett on us and she tailed us down to billing.... which would not let Bindi pay til the pharmacy bill was squared away. So we walked to the pharmacy (Ratchett trailing) where we were told we would have to go upstairs to the nursing station and get the pharmacy bill. "What??? We were just there. They told us to go to billing. Billing told us to come here." "It will just take ten minutes, madam." We don't want to go up there. We have been waiting hours for be-ill. Tell them to send it down. "Just ten minutes, it is coming." Much back-and-forth. Finally, I looked at my watch and said, "I am timing you. If it takes more than ten minutes things will get really, really ugly," (said with real venom, which I'm really ashamed of now). It worked. While he was gone, the diminutive, mustachioed male customer to my left looked at me up and down and up and down and up and down with that oh-so-familiar expression of lust/disgust -- which is amusing the first hundred times you get it. "Yes, those are my t*t's," I told him, pointing. "That's them. T*ts." [which, BTW, is a word I really dislike].

Finally Bindi paid the pharmacy bill, which had many charges for things she did not have (first, though, she had to prove that her MasterCard was, indeed, an "international" card). Then back to billing, where it took some time to move up in line and locate our be-ill and start again from scratch. Just then a fat dhoti guy cut right in front of us, mid-transaction, and we were forgotten while he was taken care of immediately (happens all the time here and is tolerable the first 1,000 times it happens; this time Bindi and I moved in on either side of him and gave him the elbow-squeeze play -- a far better sport than off-road two-wheeling if you ask me). Finally they gave us her release papers (Bindi won our Price is Right pool -- the bill was around Rs 7,000. I was low). The minute it was settled, Nurse Ratchett vanished like the Wicked Witch of the Subcontinent. Of course no one looked at the Get out of Jail for $175 Card on the way out or during our long, hot walk to the scooter. Nonetheless we were giddy. "Free at last!" sang Bindi as we turned onto the road, wind whipping through our hair.

Later Guruji performed a marriage for two students at the shala. I never made it to the tailor and wore the wrong choli with my carelessly-tied sari, while Bindi had on her most outrageous Punjabi dress (lime green plus every other color). (Before the ceremony we drove around looking for a pre-made choli which is impossible to find on a Sunday afternoon BUT all the women on the other two-wheelers, including one draped from head to foot in black, smiled at us in approval of our outfits...'tis not often a woman in a sari pilots a two-wheeler with a blonde, El Moderno woman on back, is it? Little did they know I was also wearing a thong....). At the jasmine-festooned shala all the other students had to comment on how beautifully thin Bindi looked -- even the most Auschwitz-looking of the anorexics. Apparently saying "I can see your cheekbones" means, "I'm so glad you're back -- how do you feel?" In any case the marriage was sweet (and short, unlike the typical Hindu ceremony), flowers were given to the women and everyone got kum-kum powder (or whatever it was) on their foreheads (one of the elder Hindu women wore a choli that didn't match her sari, which was heartening). A few times Guruji said to the couple, "You go there!" or "Right foot first" when the groom was putting on the bride's toe-rings. That got some laughs. (Sharath, who assisted, was wearing dhoti and a tank-top with Guruji's beaming mug on it).

Next there was a dessert and kirtan reception across the street, on the roof of Saraswati's house (where Bindi and Miss Y live(d)). It was Miss Y's last night in Mysore, and she wore a beautiful white sari and led a kirtan before the Eastern Block guy got ahold of the harmonium and put everyone to sleep. Then she did some more songs before leaving while Bindi played the cartels (bells); it was lovely. I was really, really sad to see her go.

But this is India, and that same day Miss Z from NYC (and my last trip here) arrived, lifting my spirits. The mix of people here changes daily, and you adapt accordingly. But I will *really* miss Miss Y (but not that *&^%ing hospital!).


* from

"On January 27, 1967, a cabin fire killed the three Apollo 1 astronauts while they performed system checks on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. Killed in the fire were Virgil "Gus" Ivan Grissom, the second American to fly in space; Edward Higgins White, II, the first American to walk in space; and Roger Bruce Chaffee."

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