The flurry of activity tapered off. Exhaustion, the fraught quality of the last few days and general malaise of the last month, fever and the tension of the last couple of hours all came crashing into me. The medicines they pumped through the IV channel must have kicked in, and I slept.
I woke to find a nurse injecting more medicines. I could feel the cool liquid entering the IV channel and flowing up my arm, but the nurse said it was my imagination. But it wasn't my imagination that felt every hair follicle present a scroll of grief and complaint as I turned over and cool air struck my skin. I drifted in and out of sleep.
Floating between sleep and a semi-trance, everything seemed strange. The smell of disinfectant as the room was swabbed stabbed me with a memory of a cognac praline melting in the warmth of my mouth. The sudden cold touch of a stethoscope made me gasp. The pressure cuff tightening on my arm made me queasy. I could hear blood thundering as the mercury dropped, and heaved a sigh as the cuff was removed. Eating a meal seemed to expend all the energy I gained by lying there doing nothing for days and days. I slept again.
Through the next few days, all I did was to lie there tethered to the bed by that drip. My universe shrank to the confines of the four walls. My sole connection with the world was the bell push I had to grope for and find on my left. Nurses administering medicines and eating insipid meals marked time for me. Play of light in my sky framed by the window marked day and night.
Then one midmorning, I found I was all slept out. The few adjustments of the bed, raising it or lowering it to get comfortable weren't enough; I needed to stretch my back. I sat up and stretched, and bent forward to grab my feet to stretch further. There was a windblown seedling clinging to the parapet of the building outside the window. A single banyan leaf. Behrman's masterpiece, I murmured.
Sitting up propped against the raised bed I watched pigeons strut, crows squabble and kites wheel in the little sky I had. Late afternoon sun turned a billow of spidersilk into a strand of diamonds and I watched it waft until the breezes picked up and it swung away from view. The halo effect of shafts of sunlight turning my fingers into stained glass paintings fascinated me for a while. I dozed again.
But sleep got scarce. Two hours and I was done. If I tried to read my eyes drifted shut and the story entered my dreams and made them strange. Authors and tales and interpretations got mixed up in my memories; Homer, Gemmell and Pratchett all retold the Trojan War in my dreams, all jumbled together.
Then sound crashed into my world. It was past three in the morning. Cuckoos and crows would be complaining back at home, on the shores of the Lake. But here there was a long blare of a horn and a pavement dog howling in protest.
That sounded familiar. Not the blare of the horn, but the cadence of the grumbling dog's howl reminded me of a song. I tried pinning it down. It was hard. At home I'd just rummage among my music or Google. I felt contemptuous of myself. Surely I could remember without such crutches?
P Susheela, I was fairly sure. I tried to play back the dog's grumble and the long blare of that horn resolved itself into a memory of a voice. T M Sounderarajan. Plaintively, yearningly calling a name and P Susheela replying in an echo. That was it.
I didn't know if the lights were on or off, if my eyes were open or shut tight. I travelled back in memory and bounced off various tangents. I knew where I was, though- in the Past. Line by line, phrase by musical phrase, image by image, slowly the song unfolded itself. The plaintive call and response and more, as I tried to remember all of it, the orchestral interludes, the humming, the poetry. I was certain I got the lyric right.
Now, what film? I didn't know or care. TMS and Susheela were enough to start with, and somehow I had the feeling it was a MGR film. MGR and Saroja Devi? Ah, that's who the Deepika girl reminds me of, Saroja Devi. Pretty. More important, who wrote it?
thennai vanaththinil unnai mugam thottu eNNaththai sonnavan vaadudgiren
eNNaththai sonnavan vaadugiren
un iru kaN pattu puN patta nenjaththil un pattu kai pada paadugiren
A voice said, are you all right? I didn't realise I was singing aloud and conducting the instrumental interludes with my hands. The nurse looked puzzled and nervous. It was the dog, I said, by way of explanation. She looked worried and repeated her question.
I am fine. I want to go home, I have to look up something, I said.