Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Neighbourly Charity

D. Ranga Rao


The surgeon had asked me to be present in the clinic by 6.30 a.m. sharp.  The operation would start at 7.00 a.m. and be over within twenty minutes.  It was still dark when I left to the clinic.  My wife looked round to make sure that no one saw me leaving the Apartment Complex. She heaved a sigh of relief as there were no one at the gate or in the balconies above. ‘Thank God!’ she must have said to herself as she hurried into the Complex with the pallu end of her saree covering her bent head, accompanied by my daughter.  I would be home after the operation by about 8.30 the same morning.  My daughter would be at the clinic at 8.00 to keep me company for a while in the surgery and drive me home.

As we were coming down the lift my wife whispered to my daughter not to tell any one about the operation.  “Don’t talk aloud” she said. “Talk only in whispers.  Walls have ears and windows, eyes”.  Earlier I heard my wife telling my daughter “talk with me or dad about the operation in English so that the new servant girl would not understand what was being said.”   In the lift she cautioned my daughter to drive slowly while returning from the clinic as the ruts, pits, the trenches and road cuttings, the bumps and speed breakers of our clean, green and beautiful city may cause discomfort to my eye.  My daughter who is more silent than the Sphinx heard her mother and kept quiet.  My wife got angry at her silence.  In the mean while the lift touched the cellar bottom.

Did you guess, dear reader, what all this hush-hush was about? I was going to get my cataract removed that morning.  My wife did not want the neighbours in the Complex apartments learn about my Intra-Ocular Lens (IOL) operation.  I knew she was worried about the time of my arrival from the clinic.  I would have the tell-tale bandage on my right eye. How should she explain it to the ladies of the other flats if they found it out?  Her predicament made me smile.  “Why are you smiling?” she asked me a little annoyed. “No, nothing about” I said and sat in the car.

Before leaving the clinic after the surgery, the surgeon placed in my hand a small container resembling a jewel box. When I opened the lid I found in the velvet lined box a round object, yellow – ocher in colour.  It was soft and spongy to touch.  I asked him what it was.  He told me that it was the nature-given lens which he had removed from my right eye!  I was greatly surprised at this because he did not tell me that it would be placed in my palm after the operation! It was the lens which had enabled me to see objects around me since my birth! It had grown cloudy and opaque owing to wear and tear over the years and was no longer useful.  Perhaps this was the greatest surprise of my life! My wife and daughter were greatly excited and did not believe me when I told them what it was.

When I returned from the surgery my wife rushed to me.  She had waited for nearly half-an-hour at the window to spot my arrival.  She brought a shawl with her and quickly covered my head with it and hustled me into the lift as do the C.B.I officers and sleuths when they usher the criminals into the waiting van for interrogation.  She was happy that none came to use the lift when we were going up.  She mumbled to herself with relief that further damage was averted.  I did know what she was referring to.

My problems commenced once I reached home.  My wife had got ready my daughter’s room for me to stay during the post-operation period. The windows were closed.  The blinds were downed. The curtains were drawn. A blue night-bulb was put in the place of a bright fancy light my daughter had fixed for her use.  The tube light was removed.  That was how she had planned to protect my eye from strong artificial or natural light. The room was semi-dark like the developing room in a photo studio while all around in the house and outside there was brightness. “O! dark dark! dark! amid the blaze of noon! Total darkness…irrecoverably dark…”  I remembered sadly my Milton.

As I was pacing about in the room my wife instructed me to walk gently for a fortnight.  “You still feel you are a Major in the NCC and bang your feet on the ground heel first when you walk.  Do you know that the earth shakes when you move about?  Do not goose-trot in the house as on the parade ground for some time for heaven’s sake.  The operated eye will get effected.  The nerves will get shattered and the new lens or whatever it is may drop off.”  “Walk gently” she continued. “Be wise” she said. Learn to walk like Vajpayee” she added.

For breakfast she offered me rice kanjee in a bowl.  I was shocked.  “Why this kanjee? Couldn’t you give me at least idlies?”  I asked impatiently.  “No solids for a week” was her emphatic answer.

“You masticate hard and loud when you eat and you are heard all over the Complex.  Your eating sounds like a factory at work.  Your eye will be effected if I give you solids. So no solids for a week.”  She was firm.

It was soup and liquids throughout the day.  I was made a patient though I was hale and hearty and was sound as a nut.  I wondered why there was such a sudden change in my wife’s attitude.  My daughter whispered to me that the ladies of the neighbouring flats visited my wife between seven and eight in the morning and had given her a number of hints and tips to be followed as part of the post-operation care.  The news of the operation reached them via the new servant girl who picked up our conversation in English.  The girl was a drop out at +2 level and had enough English.

My daughter told me that music Sarojini of flat 403 and economics Sarojini of flat 407 had added a wealth of knowledge about the care to be taken after eye operations to the already saturated brain of my wife on this subject.  Sarojini of 403 was a music teacher and Sarojini of 407 was an economics lecturer.  ‘Red Head’ Jambavathi of flat 401 and ‘broom stick” Bhimalingeswari of flat 405 had also visited my wife in the morning.  The first had copper hair and the second was thin as a reed and hence the nicknames given to them by the ladies of the Complex.  The last named neighbours had given my wife suggestions regarding my diet and the first two about lighting arrangements for me in the house.

On the third day the bandage was removed.  The doctor told me I could wear goggles when I wanted to watch the TV or look at the sky etc.  I quietly walked into the balcony to take a look at the beauty of nature and the buildings.  The blue of the sky looked bluer, the red of the roses redder, the white of the walls whiter and the green of the leaves greener than before.  It was a glorious and magnificent riot of colour which I had missed for many years! Suddenly I was pulled into the room.  It was my wife.  “No. Not so soon.  You should not take off the goggles and venture forth like this.  Miss Universe had correctly warned me about this possibility,” my wife said and called our daughter and reprimanded her for her carelessness in allowing me to go into the balcony without goggles. Miss Universe was                                 Mrs. Venkataseshumamba who was running a beauty parlour and a boutique only for women in the cellar. “But”, I protested. “The doctor told me…” “Doctors say many things. We should not believe them or listen to them.  We have to be on our guard.  This is a question of eyes, your eyes, not his.  Sarvendriyanam nayanam pradhanam.  You know it…yet…”

From that moment onwards the vigilance on me was tightened, I had to wear the goggles like Karunanidhi all the time while I moved about the house softly like a cat.  The door leading to the balcony was locked.  No T.V. No papers, No books. “Not for another ten days” my wife declared emphatically.  I was made a prisoner sans chains.  I remembered Byron I had read long, long ago… “And mine has been the fate of those/to whom the goodly earth and air/are banned and barred, forbidden fare…”  The lament of the Prisoner of Chillon in the poem was my lament now.

The well meaning ladies of the neighbouring flats would glide in twos and threes more to take a look at the lens removed from my eye than to enquire after my ‘health’.  There would be discussions on the anatomy of the eye. Each of them would talk like an ophthalmologist with authority on the eye drops, the tablets to be consumed, and eye care in general. I could hear Dream Girl-Mrs. Champakavalli of flat 406 who prided herself the most beautiful of all the women of the Complex-narrate how, her close relative in the army, a V.S.M., almost went blind in the eye by his carelessness after a similar operation.

The first ten days, dear reader, after the IOL were the most difficult days through which I passed with philosophical resignation.

The eye surgeon examined my eye and prescribed new glasses after six weeks.  When I narrated my experiences to him, the ophthalmologist guffawed and gesticulated wildly with his hands, shaking his head so vigorously that his spectacles fell of his nose breaking the glasses into pieces. 

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