Solitude life of an Indian nurse, Aruna Shanbhag.

Female ward number 4, ground floor,

Medicine Department,
KEM Hospital,
Mumbai.

In the endless corridors of the old King Edward Memorial Hospital at Parel, Mumbai, ward number 4 that was located in the middle of one of the main passages of the hospital, was somewhat hidden. I looked in the room through the door that was left half open and slowly made my way inside. She lay in a supine position, in her adjustable cot, her gaze fixed at the top corner of the room. Dressed up in white pyjamas. Her lovely curly hair was chopped off. Both her hands were placed on her chest while one leg was on top of another. I walked towards her cot, which was neatly covered with red and white striped blanket. She released her gaze and turned in my direction to look at me, trying to recognize my personality, her eyeballs moving, and turned against when she failed. After sometime the nurse fed her hot fish soup, which they said, she loved. As the nurse spoonfed her the soup, she emptied it joyfully and waited for another spoon with her mouth open, like a baby. She also responded, wide awake, when her name was called out aloud by a staff nurse. While I was there in the room, she moaned aloud for quite a number of times. She would do so, breaking her silence and eventually stop in sometime, said the nurses. When not stopped herself, the nurses would console her and make her quite somehow. Maybe memory of the dreadful event that destroyed and left her literally dead, just revisited, I thought to myself. The hospital, unconditionally showed her love and took good care of her after her own family gave up on her and refused to take her responsibility.

In her room at Ward number 4, a set of audio speakers were lodged on the wall opposite to her cot. A flower vase kept on the table, close to her cot. A square sized wadrobe to keep her belongings. An attached bathroom with it’s door kept curtained and a basin placed at the corner of the room. Continous chants of mantras filled the air. Occasionally, songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar, which the nurses said were amongst her favourites, were also played. On the opposite side of the cot was a window from where a hint of daylight entered the room. But most of the window was kept curtained by the nurses, lest inquisitive relatives of patients peep inside and make small talk about the brutal rape that left her paralysed. It was her destiny to spend long years of her life locked up in a corner room of KEM Hospital.

November 23, 1973.

The atmosphere at the hospital was quiet rushy. The day kept the nurses of the KEM hospital busy with one or the other patient. While some nurses cursed for the way they were put under work all the time, Aruna never had complaints in her tenure. She always looked after the patients with love and gave her best when it came to work. Finishing the day’s work, she left to the basement, where the nurses would usually go to relax after their everyday duty. When she reached there, there was nobody in the basement, where otherwise, nurses would fill themselves in the room. Since the day was a bit more busy than usual, they were delayed maybe, she thought to herself. She walked in, stood for a while, looking around and then went to sit on the horizontal thing that supported the basin with the wall. She thought of how she wanted to become a successful nurse as a child. An instant where she told her mother while cutting vegetables that were given to, that she wouldn’t want to be doing it all her life and that she’d want to move to Mumbai and pursue nursing. Aruna being the 7th child out of 10, was very ambitious compared to her other siblings. She wasn’t very close to her elder siblings as much as she was to her younger ones. There was a gap of 25 years between herself and her eldest sibling, who was married even before Aruna was born.

She then slowly started changing her uniform, with dream filled eyes at the thought of her fiance, who was working as a doctor at the same hospital.

They both were in deep love and had gotten engaged as well. A broad smile brightened her face while dreaming of their future marriage, which was to occur in next few days. She joyfully finished changing her clothes. While she turned to move outside the room, a man was standing behind her. She in a while recognized it was the hospital ward boy. The door to the room was shut closed when she overlooked him.

“What are you doing here?”, she asked.

He held her neck and grabbed her to choke her with a dog chain, that he had brought along intentionally. She on the other side went blank and could do nothing to save herself. When she realized that he was going to rape her, she brought all her strength to protest. He started to brutally assault her which resulted in cut off oxygen supply to her brain. And he then sodomized her, which let her  brain stem contusion injury, cervical cord injury, and cortical blindness. Aruna was dying, literally. She went completely sick. She wanted to cry out loud, unable to bear the pain, but couldn’t. She wanted to look around to see what was happening, but couldn’t. She wanted to run out of that place she was getting traumatised, but couldn’t. She was dying within..

The incident left Aruna paralysed. She had been in a state of vegetative since then. Life for Aruna, after she was raped, was completely blank.

Since then she had been lying in a bed in a corner room of ward number 4 at the same hospital she had been working for. Looking at nothing with eyes open all day. She must have been rewinding her life from the start all over again and again, thought of how she told her mother blatantly that she’d no longer be doing household works like her other sisters did, thought of how she loved her younger siblings, thought of the pride she got when she finished her nursing course, thought of how she fell in love with the handsome doctor she was going to get married, thought of how she felt when he first kissed her eyes and the traumatic night which left her dead mentally and there she was, crying out loud in fear. Next minute she wouldn’t know she was even doing and so she would become silent.

Her collegues retired and moved on with their lives. Her was-to-be-married husband waited 4  years for her, hoping she’d recover. He would sit by her bedside and watch her weak body and eyes, which looked still so beautiful as it did when he first saw her. He, however, after 4 years, got married to someone else by parents’ pressure and it has been said that, he’s happily married with two young children.

42 years passed. The world went by. Seasons changed and returned. But life for Aruna, never did. Her heart beat reasons known only to her. It was her destiny to spend long years of her life locked up in a corner room of KEM hospital…

May her soul rest in peace..

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Her story of struggle at persisting ended bravely on May 18, 2015 in the Intensive Care Unit of KEM Hospital, after she suffered from a cardio-pulmonary failure.

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