Sample light scalpel romance

Upon joining the MS course, a doctor doesn’t expect to be showered with rose petals. But he shouldn’t be treated like dirt either. Afunny-looking man entered Nirog Hospital. He was swaggering like a WWE wrestler, on the move. But his spotless white coat and the stethoscope hanging around his neck were clear pointers to his type—a subset of humans often lauded as second to God, and often berated as devils in white coats. Dr Nipun’s modesty had gone for a toss because he had vanquished many self-styled Einsteins in the entrance test to bag the Master of Surgery seat under Dr Ujjwal, a superior brand in the medical profession. A career brighter than a floodlight was almost a certainty. He also hoped to get his family out of the financial mess brought about by his dad, who could have written a self-help book titled How to Fail at Business. Nipun was eagerly heading towards his revered shrine, the operation theatre (OT). The day of his joining had coincided with the operation day of Dr Ujjwal’s surgical unit. As he walked, his gaze fell on his right hand. He thought, It looks like a typical surgeon’s hand. But if I get a chance to apply a few stitches today, my seniors are definitely going to feel low. They will complain to God—‘ Why aren’t my hands as dexterous as those of Nipun?’ Nipun imagined rotating his wrist to complete the insertion of a stitch. ‘That was a perfect circular motion!’ he bragged to himself. Then, his body rotated in an elliptical fashion. He had toppled over a patient transfer trolley, which had suddenly appeared out of a side corridor. After observing fuzzy stars for a few seconds, he came to his senses. Nipun felt warm breath on his neck. He was lying upon the chest of a middle-aged male patient on the trolley. Had the patient been a lady, his position would have been embarrassing. He realigned his limbs with his torso and got up quickly—just like Tom the cat, his favourite cartoon character. Turning to the patient, he said, ‘My apologies! I hope you aren’t hurt?’ To his surprise, the patient flashed a smile, although a sardonic one. ‘I am okay,’ he said, ‘but it is quite surprising to find a doctor dead drunk early in the morning!’ ‘Come on! In the morning there isn’t even time to drink poison even if one is in the mood!’ ‘You were walking like a drunkard and looking at your right hand as if it were the well-manicured hand of a pretty lady! This collision was waiting to happen.’ ‘Actually, the saying “Pride hath a fall” has been demonstrated—verbatim,’ Nipun said with a sigh. The patient threw his head back on the pillow. ‘I got injured because of a careless driver. But an accident in a hospital corridor is unthinkable!’ When he noticed that Nipun had been cornered, Jeevak, the orderly who had been pushing the trolley, decided to come to his rescue. Right after the collision, Jeevak had almost shouted out his most potent expletive. It was so insulting that the victim could go into a prolonged period of depression and even develop suicidal tendencies. But his vicious tongue had screeched to a halt after recognizing that Nipun was a doctor, wearing a white coat. ‘Actually, it’s my fault too,’ he said to Nipun. ‘While shifting the patient to get his X-ray, I was speeding. But what do I do? The other orderly is on leave while the ward is full of patients. If I take too long to finish a job, even if it is beyond my control—Savitri, the ward-in-charge, gives me a dressing down without bothering to check if the other staff are enjoying the show! Apparently her mother-in-law had beaten her with a broom in the morning!’ ‘That is just an excuse. Actually the hospital management has launched a covert operation to fill beds in the emergency ward! You’ve been instructed to knock out pedestrians by moving the trolley at a breakneck pace!’ Nipun said with a wink, making both the orderly and the patient smile. The trolley resumed its journey, making un-harmonious sounds with its un-greased wheels and moved out of sight. Nipun felt a mild discomfort in his upper thighs, just below the groin. This was the pivot around which his body had rotated. A shudder passed through him. If I had been just an inch shorter in height, the edge of the trolley might have crushed my nuts. I would have ended up in the OT, amidst bloodthirsty surgeons, ready with their sharp instruments. I could have been castrated and would have been teased lifelong as ‘The Man without Balls’! Nipun had just learnt an important life lesson—sometimes there was just a thin line between good luck and bad luck. He noticed the huge expanse of greenery from the oversized windows of the corridor on the first floor of the hospital. His eyes sparkled with joy. It was the Delhi Ridge, a real jungle, cheek by jowl with its tormentor, the concrete jungle. Nipun was such an avid nature lover that if given a choice between watching a lingerie show on Fashion TV and an African safari on Discovery Channel, he would have preferred the latter. But he wouldn’t entirely ignore the topography of the leggy models either. He’d ogle at them later on YouTube. ‘Hey! Lecherous!’ He heard someone shout his old nickname. Nipun turned around to find Shishir, his batchmate from MBBS. Once seen, Shishir was unlikely to ever be forgotten. His eyebrows looked as if moustaches had come up in the wrong place. ‘Hey, dude—I got to know that you are joining the MD in dermatology at this hospital,’ Nipun said. Shishir chuckled. ‘I am also aware that you are going to be the latest chamcha of Dr Ujjwal! So we won’t be able to meet often because the junior doctors under him are rarely seen outside the wards except when they are turned out by the chief himself!’ ‘True. For the next three years I’ll be slogging like a worker bee. But why did you call me lecherous? Presently, I am such a decent guy that any respectable man wouldn’t think twice before he married off his daughter to me!’ Nipun said. Shishir gave him a derisive smile as he walked away, ‘I doubt it! Catch up with you some other time, Lecherous!’ ‘You will pay for this!’ Nipun said, although he didn’t really mean it. The word lecherous triggered memories of his college days. But in order to avoid another collision, he kept an eye on the incoming wheelchairs and trolleys, as well as the hospital employees who were rushing, either to save critically ill patients or to save their skin from tyrannical bosses. He also avoided getting distracted by women who had been lovingly handcrafted by God in his spare time. Nipun had presumed that after he left medical college, his nickname would die a natural death. Being known as Lecherous was cool during one’s college days. But now that he had become a surgeon, female patients would keep a safe distance from him if his name continued to be prefixed with ‘lecherous’ instead of ‘doctor’. Nipun recalled that he had been naughty right from his preschool days, when he had poured cold water over an elderly relative while he had been asleep at their home. Most naughty kids sober as they age. But for Nipun, prankishness had become second nature. His dad was often seen in the principal’s office at Nipun’s school, tendering apologies on behalf of his son. After joining MBBS, Nipun gave his classmates a glimpse of his sense of humour by assigning whacky nicknames to them. But he got away with something benign, Naughty Nipun. Conceived by him, the competition for ‘Most Creative Verbal Abuse’ was a huge hit. It was held on the top floor of the Boys’ Hostel. The surprise winner was Sujay, a refined guy. Their local slang dictionary had been enriched by the addition of new cuss words, some of which even found usage in conversations. Learning anatomy had become easy for his classmates because Nipun had created catchy mnemonics. The mnemonics were of two varieties, straightforward ones for girls and bawdy ones for boys. Once, the girls had overheard him while he had been narrating the saucy version to the boys. They had forced him to part with his whole collection—uncensored. For Yukti, his girlfriend, Nipun’s sense of humour was his main hook. But he was not too bad in the ‘looks department’ and he managed to score decent marks due to the insane toiling he indulged in during the examinations. He would glue his butt to the study chair. Nipun had made a name for himself among the teachers too. One day, in a state of absent-mindedness, he had requested two of his friends to give his attendance by proxy. When two different voices had simultaneously uttered, ‘Present Sir!’ Dr Hoshiar Singh, the vigilant lecturer, had detected the con. He had been more amused than angry but took all three students involved in the conspiracy to task. Nipun even had a namesake who was a year senior to him. But the other Nipun hadn’t even teased a butterfly, let alone a human being. He was called Padakoo Nipun because the only time he didn’t study was while he was asleep. Even after the other students had left the cadaver dissection hall at the end of the anatomy practical, the hardcore scholar kept company with the dead bodies, unravelling their anatomies by dissecting them again. He had even given the cadavers nicknames, imagining what they would have been like when they were alive. His competitors had given up hope of ever replacing him as the topper of the class. Padakoo Nipun often joked that while other students were plain humans, he had the genes of a pack mule to boot. His decency was also exceptional. He thought of all the women in his class as his sisters, which they did not appreciate. Six months after Nipun had joined the MBBS programme, Sarwan, his dad, visited the Boys Hostel to meet him. At the hostel gate, he found a group of medical students indulging in frivolous chatter. This was a bit disconcerting for Sarwan. He had presumed that with the exception of his son, every other budding doctor was an embodiment of sobriety. ‘I am Nipun’s father,’ he said, ‘Please tell me the way to his room.’ ‘There are two boys named Nipun in this hostel. One is decent and the other one is lecherous. Which category does your son fit into?’ Pranay, the naughtiest in the group said with a quizzical smile. ‘Guide me to the room of the lecherous one!’ Sarwan said. He had sounded as confident as a mastermind at a quiz competition. A wave of uproarious laughter had spread through the group of students. That day, Nipun had a naming ceremony during which his classmates had performed the role of the priest. Naughty Nipun was rechristened as Lecherous Nipun. During the practical exam in anatomy, one of the external examiners had showed him a preserved specimen of the human brain and asked him, ‘What is this organ?’ ‘Sir, this is the one that is quite underdeveloped in me!’ The examiner had laughed with his mouth open so wide that apart from all his teeth, the uvula had also been visible. However, the way Nipun had answered the subsequent questions, he had proven that he had a normal and developed brain. His coup de grâce, however, was his mimicking of his teachers during the annual college festival, which had everyone, including the professors, in splits. While he was studying in his final year of MBBS, Nipun found out that his dad had filed for bankruptcy after suffering from heavy losses in his business of consumer electronics. Actually, the writing had been on the wall for quite some time. Sarwan had borrowed heavily to fund an over-the-top expansion plan, which had been driven by envy instead of judiciousness. He had been trying to catch up to his cousin, Ranjiv, who was also in a similar business. It did not help that Ranjiv’s wife took every opportunity to show off her solitaires to Nipun’s mother, Jagriti. Sarwan ended up doing a clerical job under one of his former suppliers, one whom he used to taunt for stinginess during his heyday. The crisis was initially concealed from Nipun so he wouldn’t be unsettled. However, later on, there was no choice left but to reveal the naked truth because his pocket money had to be curtailed to such an extent that he could only book a table for one at a good restaurant. It was a wake-up call for Nipun. Pranks were cool until life played a prank on you. Nipun took the unexpected setback to heart since he was quite attached to his family. He changed his social media status from ‘Life is wonderful’ to ‘Life sucks’. Nipun had trailed after three daughters in the family. He had been brought up as a modern-day prince by his parents. They saw him as the torchbearer of the family name and their trump card for elevating the family’s status from undistinguished to eminent. When Nipun had been a kid, even a mild sneeze had warranted a visit to the paediatrician. His sisters too didn’t take offence when he pulled their braids just for the heck of it. Nipun did get scolded by his mom, but only when he protested against her force-feeding him milk, and that too in a tall glass. Later, in medical college, his high-stress situation had included deciding which movie was to be seen after bunking classes and making it to the morning class on time. So he hadn’t developed the soft skills needed to deal with a full-blown crisis. Nipun stopped shaving. After a while, he got so attached to his beard and moustache that he couldn’t part with them. His edginess resulted in frequent tiffs with Yukti, who had once proclaimed in filmi style, that she would stick with him, come what may! During the commotion caused by a fight which turned ugly, Yukti escaped from his emotional captivity. He felt like burning all love epics. Presuming that Yukti had ditched him because he had revealed his family’s pauperization to her, Nipun texted her—‘ I wish that you find a Tata, Birla or Ambani and live happily ever after with his wealth!’ Yukti replied promptly. ‘Don’t imagine things. I am being forced to leave you because you are trying to use me as a punching bag. Don’t dare text or call me again.’ Without wasting much time, she took sweet revenge on him by going into the arms of Shreshth. Nipun had outwitted him to win the affections of Yukti two and a half years ago. Yukti also proved that she was not a gold-digger because Shreshth’s family lived in a flat and they drove around in a car with only an 800cc engine. Nipun started losing sleep. He didn’t feel like eating anything and made only special appearances in his classes. After their amateurish pep talks fell flat, two of his close friends realized that he was a ‘gone case’. They took him to a psychiatrist who bugged him further by asking him innumerable questions. But the mind detective was able to hit upon a diagnosis—he had reactive depression. He was put on medication. In addition, Nipun was also referred to a clinical psychologist who hammered into his head that life was a mixed bag and most humans on earth were worse off than him. Nipun recovered quickly. The party animal made an amazing transformation into a bookworm. He had never imagined, even in his wildest dreams, that one day his classmates would come to him to clear their academic doubts. In fact, Lecherous Nipun came quite close to Padakoo Nipun in terms of lifestyle and conduct although only for a brief period. Nipun’s recollections were interrupted as he reached the pre-operative room. The patients, attired in OT gowns were patiently waiting to surrender themselves into the hands of surgeons. Some of them were mumbling prayers to their Gods, probably with the sweetener that they would worship them even more intensely if they emerged in one piece. Nipun was reminded of his mom. While facing even a minor inconvenience, she would take a vow in front of her chosen deity to make eleven thanksgiving visits to the deity’s abode if the issue was resolved. With a bossy mother-in-law, a scheming sister-in-law, a good-for-nothing husband and wayward children, there was no dearth of problems for her. So she was perpetually on the move from one religious place to the other. Nipun swung open the door of the OT. It made a creaking sound like the doors operated by ghosts in haunted bungalows. Just a few feet ahead, the floor was marked with a broad red line. Beyond this was the sanctum sanctorum, the sterile zone of the OT. One could cross the line only if one did the cutting, had to get cut up or assisted in the cutting. Situated at the end of the side passage was the Surgeon’s Lounge. Here, the senior surgeons recuperated after finishing a surgery. Resting their weary backs on the comfy sofas, they chatted about topics ranging from ‘recent advances in surgery’ to ‘recent scandals in Bollywood’. When the seniors were in there, there was an unwritten rule that the junior doctors could come in only if they had to receive instructions or to give explanations (which were rarely accepted anyway). They were supposed to be tireless, like the swifts and the swallows. After the senior surgeons left the OT, the juniors took the liberty to sit in the Surgeon’s Lounge. A doctor walked up to him. ‘Are you Nipun?’ ‘Yes, Sir!’ he replied loudly, much like a soldier talking to his officer. ‘I am your senior, Dr Nakul. Welcome to the department.’ The seniors in Dr Ujjwal’s Surgical Unit seem to be more amicable than they are supposed to be! Nipun thought. ‘Should I change into OT clothes and come inside?’ he asked. ‘No!’ Dr Nakul commanded. ‘Today Dr Ujjwal is celebrating his birthday by fêting the OT staff. He wants you to fetch bread pakoras from Tara Chand’s shop in Munirka as nobody else is free. Take the money and leave right now.’ What the hell! Is this how they welcome a newcomer? Nipun thought. But he masked his feelings, which were anyway not of much consequence in the department. He replied, ‘Sure, boss. I will be back as soon as possible.’ ‘Why didn’t they order a pizza that could have been delivered?’ Nipun grumbled softly as he made his way to the shop which was about five kilometres away. He reached Munirka in a jiffy. The entry to the shop was by way of a narrow street. On the way, he encountered the street goonda, a jet-black mongrel with amber eyes and oversized ears. The dog barked menacingly at Nipun but that was all he seemed to be capable of as he made no move to have a taste of him. But, Nipun noticed with amazement that the canine goonda was letting all the ladies pass without even a growl. As he moved ahead, an uncovered manhole gave Nipun an open invitation for admission to Nirog Hospital. He was able to dodge it just in the nick of time. ‘Today my balls have been so lucky!’ he mumbled, aware that the groin was often injured after a fall into an open manhole. At last he reached the shop, but that was not the end of his travails. He had to stand in a long queue. A fly started planting kisses all over him. Even at 8: 30 a.m., the sun was providing more warmth than was desired by warm-blooded man. ‘One day, I will achieve even more name and fame than the chief. But I will never treat my juniors like shit,’ Nipun whined to himself. Tara Chand, the owner, was dispensing the bread fritters. His son, who was frying them in a huge vat, resembled his father so much so that he seemed to have developed exclusively from his father’s sperm—by asexual reproduction. On the signboard was written, ‘We have no branch’. The customers were waiting patiently, as if this was a temple where one’s wish was to be granted. The duo seemed to get a kick out of the devotion. Opening a branch near Nirog Hospital would be a good way for them to expand, Nipun thought. That would also make life easy for those hospital employees who are addicted to their stuff. Standing in front of him was a guy so broad and tall that Nipun felt claustrophobic. He turned to Nipun. ‘Today the queue is comparatively short. Two weeks back I had to wait for an hour. Normally, they finish their stuff by 3 p.m. and then shut shop,’ the big man said. ‘These guys don’t need likes on Facebook because they have so many diehard fans in person,’ Nipun commented. ‘Santosh Kumar,’ the man introduced himself and then offered a handshake, which felt more like a hand-crush. After recovering from this playful display of aggression, Nipun replied, ‘I am Nipun.’ He purposely omitted the prefix, Dr. ‘I live for food!’ Santosh said with relish. ‘That is quite evident!’ Nipun quickly added. Immediately, Nipun regretted his statement. What if his sarcasm had crossed the giant’s tolerance threshold? Nipun could be trampled upon, strangled or beaten into a pulp. Santosh could also lift him up, rotate his body to build up momentum and then throw him away like a discus, straight into the vat of boiling oil. However, to his relief, the big man smiled. Nipun liked his bindaas attitude. The world needed joyous creatures like him, not the sadu types who had a low threshold for frowning. ‘What do you do?’ Santosh asked. Even though Nipun was sans the white coat, Santosh had speculated that he was in some vocation which required an extensive use of the grey matter. ‘I am a doctor.’ ‘Arrey… Doctor Sahib. Why are you standing in the queue? Your time is very precious,’ Santosh said, surprising Nipun. Then he spoke to those who were ahead in the queue, ‘Please let Doctor Sahib take away the stuff first.’ Everyone complied. Nipun’s fatigue disappeared in a flash. He was reassured about his status. There may be a few hotheads who get the doctors admitted into the trauma wards. But the average Indian respects us, he thought. After getting the pakoras packed, Nipun thanked Santosh and gave him his mobile number. ‘Do contact me if you ever need my help,’ Nipun said. ‘I hope such a situation never arises!’ Santosh said with a sarcastic smile. Nipun smiled too. 2 The Colourful Boss Doctors aren’t from another planet. Like other humans, some of them are off-centre too. Meanwhile, inside the OT, Dr Ujjwal, the chief, was in the thick of things. He was celebrating his birthday as a true surgeon does, by conducting a difficult surgery. The patient had an abnormal swelling of the common bile duct. It was known as the choledochal cyst. ‘There is a saying among surgeons that such cases should be passed on to one’s enemy!’ Dr Ujjwal had told his juniors before starting the surgery. His fingers were moving with the fluidity of a master craftsman. The chief liked to show off his skills. He was enthused when there were admiring spectators around the operating table. The trainee surgeons too imbibed a lot of wisdom because he kept a running commentary about the surgical steps involved. However, if any of the assisting doctors showed signs of being ‘physically present but mentally absent’, they were taken to task by a liberal use of crass adjectives which pricked more than a needle. Removal of the cyst was as tough as retrieving an object lying amidst hissing serpents. Vital structures like the portal vein and the hepatic artery clung to the cyst as if they were madly in love with it. One wrong step was enough to cause torrential bleeding. The chief had called Dr Anuroop, the assistant professor of the unit, for help. A reenactment of the Wolf and the Lamb fable often played out in the OT. Whenever something went wrong, Dr Ujjwal found it handy to offload the blame on to the lambs, which included Dr Anuroop and the other junior surgeons. The typical accusation—they hadn’t assisted him properly. The chief had been operating for more than three hours. The joints and muscles of his body were beginning to feel uneasy. ‘Some doctors have converted our surgical unit into a patient dumping ground,’ Dr Ujjwal grumbled after he had gotten stuck in the dissection. This was largely true. Many surgeons posed as if they were lion-hearted. But whenever they came face to face with a tough case, they galloped away like a horse. The referral of the patient to Dr Ujjwal was disguised as a favour. However, his was the highest court of appeal, and no one could be turned back. Then there were his former students, who felt that it was their birthright to send complicated cases to their chief. But Dr Ujjwal later extracted his revenge by calling them ham-handed surgeons who had only exemplified his failed parenting. Sanchi, the theatre-in-charge, also known as Lal Mirchi, had scrubbed up for the surgery. She was personally handing over the instruments to the chief. Her brashness enabled her to act as a referee between surgeons of the different surgical units. They often squabbled like street hawkers in the event of a shortage of OT time slots. Aside from Dr Ujjwal and Dr Anuroop, she called all the doctors of the unit by their first names. Sometimes she even swore playfully at the junior doctors. The chief preferred her as the main scrub nurse. The other technicians and nurses did not complain. On the chief’s operating day, they preferred to do the floor job, which entailed carrying out supportive tasks. This way, they could avoid scrubbing up and thus escape Dr Ujjwal’s tongue lashing to a great extent. But Sanchi had developed immunity to the chief’s diatribes and took them for background music. The saga of Dr Ujjwal’s past had been retold so often that it was known to everyone in the hospital, with only minor variations. It could have been turned into a book even more titillating than the biography of Rasputin. While he was in primary school, the young Ujjwal had realized that his body’s biochemistry was aberrant. Just by gazing at an attractive girl, he could go into a trance. When he was in class five, Ujjwal had his first girlfriend; although all the couple did was to smile at each other. At the time, most boys of his class were into superheroes. They believed the only function of the penis was peeing. They also presumed that babies were conceived by women after marriage through divine blessings, without any contribution from their husbands whatsoever. Dr Ujjwal had completed his MS in an era when the sixth sense of the doctors was more valuable than radiological investigations and lab tests. He was fortunate enough to have received his surgical training under Dr Jagdish, a legendary surgeon with an astronomically high idealism to materialism ratio. Dr Jagdish came to work on a bicycle and invariably wore a white shirt with pleated white trousers. It was rumoured that he had only three sets of clothes. Instead of watching Hindi movies with the ending ‘and they lived happily ever after’, the young Dr Ujjwal used to remain in the OT during his spare time. Dr Jagdish took note of this and gladly parted with his surgical expertise. But some of Dr Ujjwal’s colleagues, who envied him for being so close to the chief, were of the opinion that his dedication to the profession was just a cover-up for his ‘amorous operations’ with the women who were on duty. They would often say in jest that whenever he was on the night shift, a female staff or doctor was quite likely to become heavier by five grams, overnight! However, Dr Ujjwal applied himself with equal sincerity to both cutting and flirting. Once, a consultant complained to Dr Jagdish about Dr Ujjwal’s licentious activities. Dr Jagdish retorted, ‘What else do you expect from a strapping young man? Have you forgotten your own times?’ Such was his endearment for his student. A bizarre incident took place when Dr Ujjwal had been a junior consultant. On the ward rounds, Dr Jagdish had asked for a pen. In his eagerness to impress his boss, Dr Ujjwal had hurriedly put his hand into the front pocket of his trousers. In addition to the pen, he had inadvertently taken out a packet of condoms which had a picture of a busty porn star on the packet. Some of the onlookers had been titillated while most of them were embarrassed. But Dr Jagdish was unruffled as he had expected something like this to have happened sooner or later. The clinching evidence convinced even the sceptics of Dr Ujjwal’s double life. However, even after the exposé, Dr Ujjwal didn’t mend his ways. He reasoned—since the tag of debauchery is not going to go away anytime soon, why should he waste his talent of seduction. This incident was regarded as an important ‘scene’ in his unofficial biography and was religiously narrated to all those who joined his department. Dr Ujjwal’s birthday celebrations on that day were limited to the hospital. His married life was like a fractured bone which had gone into non-union. He had wooed his ex-wife Meenal in style while studying for MBBS. She had been aware that he had a roving eye but had been optimistic, expecting that he would mend his ways after their marriage. However, Dr Ujjwal kept on intoxicating ladies with a heady cocktail of good looks, charm and his celebrity status as a surgeon. What made matters worse for Meenal was her inability to hire a full-time maid. She was afraid that if the maid was left alone in the house with her hubby, he would try to seduce her. In this regard, he was a socialist, above the considerations of caste, class and creed. Once, Apoorv, his elder son, brought Gehna, his girlfriend, to Dr Ujjwal for consultation regarding abdominal pain. After just two meetings, she found the father much more interesting than the son. From that day onwards, Apoorv vowed not to bring any of his lady companions within hundred yards of his dad’s office. ‘Use your tool on as many women as you want without the fear of getting caught! I free you!’ Meenal had shouted during their last meeting. ‘But it is the fear which provides the thrill!’ He had felt like saying but had refrained. They were in the living room. The few glass vases in the vicinity would have been thrown at him. If she had attacked him with the sharp edge of a broken vase, he could have become history. Then a few events took place in quick succession as if the reel of his life had been put on a fast-forward mode. His parents shifted from Chandigarh with the intention of staying with him. They presumed that he would be an emotional wreck after having separated from his wife. On the contrary, Dr Ujjwal was enjoying his ‘free bird’ status to the hilt. One day, he invited his girlfriend over for dinner at his house, along with two of her friends. Falsely suspecting that their characterless son had gone to the extent of indulging in orgies, his parents left for their hometown. Dr Ujjwal received another jolt when his two sons too broke off all ties with him. Then, there was an attempt on his life by the brother of a disgruntled old flame. Only the poor marksmanship on the part of the shooter saved him, as the bullet which was intended for his heart grazed his left shoulder. After this event, Dr Ujjwal realized his philandering had become an addiction even worse than that for smack. A steamy lovemaking session in the back seat of a car on a deserted road didn’t excite him any more. Rather, he fancied having a cup of tea in the evening with a steady partner while admiring the orange hue of the sunset from the balcony of his home. But there were no takers for him now. However, throughout all this, his career had only moved one way—upwards. It reached its zenith when he was appointed the official surgeon for a number of dignitaries in the central government. This also gave him access to the corridors of power. Those at the helm of affairs in the hospital management chose to close their eyes to his foibles because he was a magnet to draw the public and thus a major factor in maintaining the financial health of the hospital. Dr Ujjwal would tell his close friends, ‘Whenever my obituary is published, it will mention me as a great surgeon and nothing else! No one will write: “Ujjwal was a scum on the face of the earth. His misdeeds are unprintable. May he rot in hell!”’ In fact, Dr Ujjwal’s patients held him in high esteem because he went out of the way for them, sometimes even donating his own blood. They were unaware that he had won over so many stunners that even James Bond would have felt envious if he had found out. 3 Beauty with Brains and Lots of Guts Beautiful ladies are spoilt for choice as far as men are concerned. So, most of them aren’t in a hurry to fall in love at first sight. The other newcomer in the department was ensconced within the OT all morning. As a lady, she couldn’t have been told to fetch the bread pakoras. Since it was her first day, Dr Nishtha had been instructed by the chief to observe all the action from a distance, like the twelfth man in a cricket match. The OT was all about functionality and sterility. Interior designers were a no-no here. Plain tiles had been put on the walls for ease of cleaning. If a high-society lady would have happened to look at them, she would likely have sneered, ‘Doctors have no taste. Even my maid’s room has better tiles!’ The windows were covered with frosted glass; as if looking at the clouds or the rising sun would have induced the surgeons to compose poems on nature, making them lose concentration on the surgery. Although more than two-thirds of her face was concealed by the surgical mask and cap, Nishtha was still attracting furtive glances. Her striking doe eyes were enjoying all the attention. They no longer had to compete against her luscious lips and rosy cheeks. The woman appeared to be beautiful, despite the tent-like OT uniform, which succeeded in only partially concealing her curves. Nishtha had set her sights on becoming an accomplished surgeon. Her idols weren’t the bimbos who gave away their poor general knowledge by crediting Einstein with the invention of the light bulb. Rather, she idolized strong, knowledgeable women who, if the occasion demanded it, could intimidate men so much that their balls hurt. Finally, the surgery had ended much to the relief of the weary team. The famished surgeons made their way to the Surgeon’s Lounge to relish their well-earned reward, the bread pakoras from Tara Chand’s shop. Nakul had just heated them up in the microwave. Nipun bowed his head like a seasoned sycophant, ‘Sir ji, happy birthday.’ ‘Thanks. You too have been born today! As a surgeon! And now I have the tough job of rearing you!’ the chief said. The pecking order of the unit was followed in the serving of the pakoras. For a while, conversation halted as everyone revelled in gustatory titillation. Dr Ujjwal’s face looked as if it was in the throes of an orgasm. By the time Nipun’s turn came, only a single pakora was left. He dipped the fritter in the chutney, took a bite and became Tara Chand’s fan. This was unlike any bread pakora he had tasted before. ‘Eating this can be listed as one of the many paths to achieve nirvana!’ Nipun said. He wanted to devour more. However, everything was not lost. Nipun greedily looked at the leftover chutney. He waited for everyone to leave the lounge, poured the chutney onto a plate, brought it near his mouth and lapped it up, like Tom, the cat. Back in his hostel room, Nipun thought about Nishtha, whom he had seen in the OT. She is so gorgeous that the chances of her falling in love with a chutiya like me are almost nil. At Nishtha’s age, most girls look at the boy’s financial status apart from his appearance and I score poorly on both counts. Plus, the seniors are sure to be biased towards her. When the heroine is shimmering on the big screen, no one looks at the chorus dancers. ‘But there is no harm in being friendly towards a colleague,’ asserted the optimist in him. The next day, he invited Nishtha to the cafeteria. She was wearing a light pink lipstick. But her eyes were boldly lined with kohl; it was as if a shair (poet) had an appointment with her to write a ghazal about them. Nipun took regular breaks from staring at her so that he was not branded a cheapster. Nishtha too evaluated Nipun. He was basically handsome but exhibited a lot that she hated in a man. She found his hair anarchic, his beard unwarranted and his moustache funny. She judged that his clothes were environment friendly—recycled ones bought at a flea market. His only saving grace was his smile, and he smiled as much as panellists in news channels yelled at each other. Although Nipun wasn’t hungry, he ordered food along with the soft drinks, so that they could have a long chat without being given murderous looks by the cafeteria staff for blocking a table. Treading cautiously, he asked Nishtha about her school, college and blah blah. Then, he asked what he considered a pertinent question. ‘Why did you choose a male-dominated field when you had other options?’ He had no idea that any talk suggestive of male chauvinism had the effect of waving a red flag in front of Nishtha. ‘Why do some men practise gynaecology?’ she said, her facial muscles twitching. Realizing that he had strayed into the den of a tigress, Nipun made a quick U-turn. ‘I get your point. One’s interest in the subject should be the main criterion for choosing it.’ Nishtha asked Nipun about the hits and misses of his life. She wanted to come across as a good conversationalist, not a swollen-headed beauty. Nipun spoke about himself, but he deleted many portions of his life history. Having expected some juicy stories, Nishtha was disappointed. ‘It seems as if you’re narrating your biodata! If you keep on talking like this, I might fall asleep!’ she said.

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