The broken bottle and the red oil.



(A true story of real, human values)


  Neerja was packing Raj’s clothes in the kit bag for his visit to one of the units. Stationed at Air Headquarters, these trips were routine for him, so were the things he would carry with him. Neerja had in fact drawn up a list of things to take and would just follow it blindly every time Raj took a trip.

Among the things kept ready there was a shapely, horizontally fluted bottle. It contained Tata’s red, perfumed coconut hair oil used by the general public to keep their unruly mop of hair in place. Those days Raj indeed had lot of hair and it needed to be kept in place too!


As Neerja was concentrating on the list, her son came running and knocked down the oil bottle. The full heavy bottle broke on impact and the red oil started slowly spreading around the smithereens on the floor. Neerja was stunned for a moment. Her first primitive thought was that it was a bad omen. Here Raj was all ready to leave on a journey and now this. As if the breaking of glass was not bad enough, the redness of the oil added to the eeriness of the surrealistic accident. “What is fate trying to warn me about? Will Raj come back safe?” Many were the thoughts that laid siege on to her otherwise rational mind. Regaining her sanity soon with an effort, Neerja cleared up the mess and bade good bye to Raj.


A husband’s leaving for few days is always a blessing as well as a bane. She was now alone to plan her days as she liked and cook as she chose to. She would have more time to spend with their children, a daughter of 5 years and two sons of 3 and 1year. She magnanimously (or was it judiciousness on her part?) asked the living-in servant, a boy of 19 years, to go on two days leave which he was too eager to accept. The boy left immediately.


The Rajs happened to be staying in Sujan Singh Park, a posh address in New Delhi. It was in fact a twin set of apartment blocks on either side of Khan Market road. There was a big enclosed lawn surrounded by blocks of

4 storeyed flats on its three sides. With the gate keepers at each gate, the lawn provided a safe place for the children to play. Most of the residents were owners and hence permanently settled there. Rajs being temporary occupants of one of the flats belonging to another Air Force officer, were not acquainted with any of the residents. They could claim only a slight acquaintance with Raos who were staying one floor above them, in the penthouse.. Raos were Kannadigas hailing from Bihar. Mr Rao had served as private secretary to one of the presidents of India. They were a very simple, cultured, sweet couple.


With the older children at the play ground and the youngest one sleeping, Neerja was relaxing, reading a magazine. Her daughter Munni came into the house, looking all flushed and hot. She came to her mother and declared, “Mommy, I have fever”. One thing always true with her 5 year old daughter was that she was very articulate and correct about the condition of her own health. Neerja felt the forehead of the child. It was burning! Neerja ran for the thermometer. Thank God, it was easily accessible. She rushed back to thrust it under Munni’s tongue. She could see the mercury racing. 100, 101, 102. 103, 104, 105, 106 !  She would not wait to see it to stop. She just took the thermometer out and rushed to Mrs Rao’s to ask for some ice cubes. When the good lady saw her panic, she also followed Neerja with ice cubes and ice bags. When she saw the child, she offered to take the frantic mother, who was a new comer to the place, to their own family doctor in Khan market. With no servant to baby sit, Neerja had to leave the little ones with Mrs Rao’s daughters.


Though Sujan Singh Park was a well known multistoreyed complex, there were no lifts in the blocks. Instead there were only monumental, wide and shallow Titanic-like steps going all the way up to the fourth floor in the foyer.


Neerja carried her daughter down to the doctor’s clinic at Khan Market which was fortunately a few yards away. The doctor, a kind Sardar, running a clinic with his wife, treated the child immediately for sun stroke. He sponged her naked body with cold water under a fan and made her eat ice cream. He also gave her an antibiotic injection and asked Neerja to report the condition of the patient every hour in the night. Neerja did not have a telephone. Mrs Rao stepped in there too to help her.


On the way back, the child vomited violently in the market place. Neerja carried the limp, heavy dead weight of the child and managed to climb up the three flights of stairs, a strip which her daughter would do with ease many times a day.


The child continued to be restless in the night. Once she looked at the glass window and started crying saying the window was very dirty. Neerja surmised that the child was delirious. By the much awaited morning, Munni had gone totally stiff and would not respond to any question or recognize any one.


Mr Rao came down to take them to the doctor. He carried Munni horizontally in his arms not allowing her head to hang down and reached the doctor’s clinic with Neerja. As soon as the doctor saw the condition of the child, he diagnosed the problem as ‘Meningitis’ and advised them to admit the child immediately to Irwin Hospital in Old Delhi. Before sending them out he gave a few more injections to the rigid child and asked them to carry the child horizontally with the head supported and swathed in ice.


Neerja was shocked. Meningitis? Isn’t it a deadly, debilitating disease? Do the survivors manage to come out of it without their brains damaged?  All this HAD to happen when Raj was not in station.


Neerja did not even pause to think how she would manage with one child in the far off Irwin Hospital and two little ones at home, without the husband and the servant boy. But, with the kindly couple Raos to her help, she did not have to worry. Mrs Rao offered to continue looking after her little sons. The youngest even slept with her in her bed. Along with her own household work, she not only looked after their feeding, bathing etc but promised to come to the hospital and relieve Neerja too.


Mr Rao, following the doctor’s instructions hailed a cab. He and Neerja put Munni on their lap supine, taking care to see that her head was properly supported and the bag of ice placed on her forehead.


At the hospital, Mr.Rao managed to get her into the emergency section. The doctors attended to the child immediately and confirmed the diagnosis. To relieve the pressure on the brain, a lumbar puncture was done. It was heart rending to see the normally brave Munni traumatized by the lumbar puncture. She cried, “Mommy, they made me bend down and pricked me in the back.”


The doctors congratulated Mr Rao and Neerja on bringing the child at the right time and in the right way which certainly went a long way in preventing any permanent damage to her neck and other parts. They also commended Dr.Singh for taking proper precautionary measures and administering the right treatment.


Munni was transferred to the ward. She had a few bouts of intense headache. But by and large she recovered steadily. When Mrs Rao came and relieved her, Neerja would go home, bathe and change and have food at Mrs Rao’s place before returning to the hospital.


In the meantime, Mr Rao was frantically trying to contact Raj on phone through Air HQs and also Neerja’s brother at Chandigarh. He did not succeed in tracing Raj. But he managed to contact Neerja’s brother who immediately landed in Delhi with their mother. The mother took charge of the household. By then the servant also had come back.

 When Neerja’s brother visited Munni in the hospital, the patient was up, bright and alert, but the mother_the caretaker was found to be fast asleep on the bench next to the baby cot!!!


When Raj returned from his trip, he was shocked to find the totally unexpected situation at home. He rushed to the hospital to see his brave daughter and was relieved to see that she had survived the ordeal successfully. Neerja told him that all this was possible because of the sincere, unselfish help rendered by the Raos. Neerja could gauge the august status of her benefactor only when a few famous parlimentarians dropped in with him to see Munni.


When Rajs asked Raos about how they could repay the invaluable help rendered by them, the latter smiled and said, “Whenever you see somebody in trouble like this, just help them” .But it is not so easy for everyone to be such good Samaritans. Raos were indeed a heaven sent couple as far as Neerja was concerned.


After about 8 days’ stay, Munni was discharged from the hospital with no aftereffects of the deadly disease she had contracted. In fact, due to Almighty’s grace, she came out of the hell smarter and more intelligent than before as Neerja would quip.





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