Friday, November 14, 2014

The Old Lady with the covers

When I first came to work at Karawanella, I think there was no separate canteen for the doctors. Eventually one was started and it didn't run smoothly with the first few owners. But then the current people who are a middle aged couple took over and it has been a really wonderful place.Well, I can talk days about those two I guess,may be another day.

Although the canteen was initially meant for doctors, the lady who was running the canteen has a generous nature so t she was always offering some free food for the people from the cleaning staff, the attendants or sometimes a patient who came to the OPD. She considered it a waste to throw away the food at the end of each day, and she did not have the habit of taking it back home as well. So she always gave away food which was left behind from the lunch and  thus always had one or two of these people eating and chatting with her around two or three pm.This is where I first met the old lady selling covers.

I never saw her coming in to the canteen, but was hanging around the front door, always smiling loyally when I went there. My initial guess was she was a patient from the OPD which was next door, who has been brought by our canteen lady for a free meal. But this assumption seemed to be not accurate as I happened to see her at the OPD on a daily basis. Now it was a well known fact that there were some old people who always had to pay a visit to the OPD as a habit on a frequent basis. But seeking medical attention on a daily basis was a bit absurd.So may be due to the inborn gossip loving feminine nature of mine I made some inquiries about her, when I got to know that she is not a patient, but comes to the OPD daily to earn her living.

She was selling small paper covers for the OPD patients to get their medicine for one rupee each,from which she earns a profit of around 20 cents per cover. Now, not all the patients who come to the  OPD end up needing oral pills and not all of them but the covers from her. I heard that some even trick her by promising to give money but leaving without paying.I heard she had two daughters , and later on got to meet one as well when she was brought as a patient to the hospital.I had really no idea how much she earned per day but I am sure it is not much. Probably in her seventies or eighties it it a time when ideally she should be spending her life leisurely at home, going to the temple in the evening and enjoying time with her grand kids.I do not know what exactly is her story but here she is daily, trying her best to earn something.I felt sorry for her, that every time I met her I used to smile and speak a few words with her, and to personally see her when she needed some medicine.
Things were fine until, one morning she came to the canteen door as usual and wanted me to come out. When I went out she handed me some plantains from her bag.I did not know what to say, and clumsily stammered a thanks and told her not to get in to trouble bringing things for me.Somehow it changed thing between us.Whereas before I loved talking to her, now I was feeling a bit awkward.

A few weeks passed on and there she was again at the canteen door with another parcel. This time it was yams, many different types of them, cooked and with sambol.I am not a person who is really comfortable at eating things cooked by others.Though I accepted it and pretended to be happy so as not to hurt her feelings I was so uncomfortable.I felt liking getting favours from her, which I did not like at all.When she came to seek medicine from me the pleasure that I previously had looking after was now replaced by a mixture of burden and guilt.I gradually started avoiding her, pretending not to see her, and even when i met her face to face to limit my chats with her. I do not know whether she sensed my change or not, but she was just the same. She kept on telling me that she will cook me a tasty meal whenever I met her and I kept lying to her, that I was not on duty each day she asked, postponing the meal.Today as I was hurrying to the canteen I heard her calling for me. I pretended not to hear and briskly walked pass her and got in to the canteen sure that she want follow me in.Of course she did not.

 What she did was come to the back door, with the parcel of food prepared for me. I could not avoid her any longer so I said I would eat it later as I had already opened a packet of rice for the morning.Around two pm I wanted to have lunch and suddenly realized I had forgotten to order it before. There was nothing to eat except her packet of rice,which really made me lose my appetite. Any way I opened the packet to discover the most delicious friend rice, with fried chicken, brinjal and cashew curry.It was home made and must have cost her a fortune to  prepare.I still feel uncomfortable receiving her offerings and wish I knew how to make her stop without hurting her feelings.Theses offering should bring us more closer, but instead there a creating a huge wall between us. I want that old relationship back where i could just take care of her because she is a really courageous old lady, and not because she is doing favours for me.

1 comment:

  1. Differentiating professional curtsey from personal relationships seem to be a difficult one for most South Asians. Our hospitality and cultural practices seem to hinder the capability of understanding that professionals are not family, empathy is not friendship etc