The alarm – damn it – rings at seven.
Emerge from blankets. Pale morning light. Feel for slippers. Fumble for specs. Roommate still sleeping. Curse.
Stagger to girls’ room. Pound on door. Bleary Eyes answers. Tousled Hair groans. Creaking Joints dreams on.
Jackets. Yawns. Freezing breath. Fists in pockets. Morning walk.
A burst of birdsong. The village is awake. Straggling feet on an old road. Butterflies.
Golden hay. Golden sky. Golden skin.
Impetuous turn. A canopy of trees. Well-trodden path. Brambles underfoot.
An abandoned amphitheatre. Fresh cowdung. A signature spider. A narrow stream. Schoolkids in uniform. Women with pails. The rising sun. A slow flush.
A little chatter. A little silence. A lot of time.
Retrace. Rumble! Ravenous.
Misal pao. Double chai. A sprinkle of onion. A squeeze of lemon. Sigh.
Brushing is optional. Bathing need-based. Bowels will not be denied.
Health Worker arrives. Must get ready. Drape stethoscope around neck. Ready.
Ride pillion to aanganwadi. One hour away. Attract stares. Enjoy self.
Children have been coached. One begins, others repeat. Word by word. ‘Welcome to our aanganwadi!’ Pandemonium.
Examine children. Anaemia anaemia anaemia. Snivelling noses. Stunted growth. Auscultate forty chests. Find one murmur. Make a difference. Know it.
Way back. Shared jeep. Skeletal remains. Fifteen adults. Four children. Assorted baggage. Driver.
Bumpy roads. Country lanes. Clinging on.
Lunchtime. Aajji’s house. Slated roof. Mud floor. Mats.
Water in tumblers. Wood-fired food. Spicy, homey, tasty. Plenty of it.
Second helpings. Third helpings. Wipe plate clean. Put on weight.
Afternoon nap. Recover.
Evening OPD. Two kilometres away. Ancient motorcycle. Kick-start. Slowly release clutch. Slowly accelerate. Bike rears like horse! Learn by experience. Bike not mine.
No patient. No patient. No patient. Read novel. Chat with nurse. Browse through musty files. A patient, a patient! Treat.
Want cold drink. Walk to shop. Patient owns it.
Sip drink. Watch sunset from porch. Ride back.
Starry night. A flock of egrets. Blinking lights overhead. Airplane. Trace path.
Climb water tower. Others join. Music. Song requests. Share stories. Shiver.
Barking dogs. Radiant moon. Back to Aajji’s.
Switch on TV. Watch Hindi soap. Protagonist speechless for four episodes. Laugh.
Stomach full. Waddle back. Gather dry sticks. Bonfire.
Puppies yip. Shoulders sag. Eyelids droop.
Burrow under bedclothes. Extinguish light. Dreamless sleep.
The alarm – bless it – rings at seven.
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