I was sucking the tasty juice from the gooseberry pickle kept between the gums and the cheek. "Ready?" called I before striking the ball. The pickled gooseberry suddenly slipped when I called and nicely settled in my gullet . I dropped my little bat and rushed to the nearest tap (those days were 24x7 water supply, mind you!) at the nearest house, my neighbour's out house. I hoped water would force it down. I swallowed with force. No, it wouldn't move. Discomfort. Panic. Swallowing water had suddenly become difficult.
That was the scene one Sunday evening in February 1970 during a game of what we called "Ready Rocket", a game played much like cricket but also like 'gulli danda'. The tennis ball was struck with a little hand bat by bouncing once on the ground and fielders had to field the ball. Those were days when most of the street boys were on the streets playing, because we did not know the word 'traffic'! Hardly a cyclist or a scooterist plied interrupting our games, much rarely a car.
I think the game stopped when the other boys saw me in trouble. I ran home and informed elders. I could talk but with that 'lump in the throat'. Somebody took me on a bicycle to Mysore Pharmacy, where Dr.Krishnaswamy Rao examined and the condition was beyond his limits. I was brought back to our street's "Liver House", a family of doctors, right opposite our house. Their help in various needs like these will never be forgotten. The Head Lady, Saraswathamma tried banging my back, but the berry would not budge. She summoned her son Dr. Eswer to rush me to KR Hospital where he worked. My mother took me in an autorickshaw (one of few those days). Shivaram (Eswer's nephew, still studying MBBS), taking our bicycle followed Dr.Eswer who came on his Vespa scooter.
Being a Sunday, the KR Hospital OT was locked. Dr.Eswer and Shivaram went on a man-hunt for the person who had the OT key. The obstruction had to be removed in haste as it was already a delay. By the time they returned with the key-man, it was close to 8 p.m. or so. My fingernails were repeatedly examined by junior doctors on duty as we all waited anxiously. They were turning blue indicating that my system was falling short of oxygen. The wind-pipe was luckily only partialy blocked. I was getting tense and struggling to breathe freely due to the blockage. The long wait was as uncomfortable as it was worrisome to those around me also.
There were no nursing homes and the likes in those days at every street corner as we see now. People went to the humble K.R.Hospital for nearly anything or the locality's free dispensary during daytime.
I was taken in to the OT when the door was opened and lights were switched on. I was made to lie down on OT table. Inside, it was a different 'hospital smell'! A brass tube was inserted into my mouth to keep it open and to enable viewing inside the trachea. Then some hissing gas was let in from a tube - no idea what that odd smelling gas was. There was a Doctor accompanying Dr.Eswer who was doing this using that round concave mirror in front of his right eye to direct light into the tube. The tweezer was inserted through the tube in an attempt to grab the object and pull it out. Probably he saw the pickle there! The obstructing gooseberry, gave a slip to the tweezer. I could not feel it slipping into the belly, but could feel the arrival of a new lease of life with still that odour of that odd gas lingering. I heard them saying that very luckily it followed the alimentary canal and not the windpipe route!
After this simple 'operation' Shivaram took me home on our bicycle (which I still use) after buying me a cavendish banana from a street-side 'box shop' that also sold cigarettes and beedies. I can still remember that journey back home sitting on the carrier behind Shivu and holding the two rings of the saddle for grip.
My grandmother who prepared the pickle was more relieved than anybody when she saw us arriving home. It could be one of her most anxious waits in her spot near the gate, leaning to the pillar in her squatted posture facing the road, praying God. There were no telephones or mobiles to keep track of the goings on. Once out of the house, you stayed disconnected until you returned home! There was hardly one or two in a street that could afford telephones, nor were there any public phone-booths.
There were still a few more of those washed pickles still in my 'chaddi' (shorts) pocket! We were both ignorant of dust in pockets and stains it would cause keeping foodstuffs like that! I remember emptying those remaining pickles on my way back! Many of the kids used to keep some snacks, peanuts, copra pieces, peppermints, and what not in pockets while playing! It was common. At times we shared with other boys, but mostly it was for self and eaten secretly as they were usually stolen from kitchens!
Things were fine till a few days after. High fever and fetid smell from the mouth laid me down and had to absent from school. My 7th Standard Public Examinations were closing in and my appearing for them were in jeopardy. Such was the sickness and the weakness that was to follow. It was Dr.Eswer again who diagnosed an infection mostly from that brass pipe (most likely, unclean!). The many antibiotic injections and pills (what with our hatred to swallow - we 'yucked' the horrible taste when it got stuck and only water went in!) that followed made me to vomit huge amounts of pus. Health was soon restored but I was too weak to study.
During that time, a silly enmity was in progress (as some children of that age sometimes do) towards my classmate Rajgopal (Gopi) who was living close by. Both of us played together and also went together to school every day almost since our Class 2 days (For Class 1, either a servant maid or my mother or aunt accompanied me!). I would go to Gopi's house on Bajjanna Lane through the short-cut at Marigudi and then we would go, playfully, throwing stones, picking up fallen fruits (Rain-tree and Spathodea) and still reaching on time. While returning, I took a diversion at the fork at Bajjanna Lane. This enemity towards him had been there for a number of weeks and I cannot recall a particular incident being the reason. Probably he had equal enmity or more, I do not know!
Word about my poor health had spread among my classmates and teachers. During the convalescing period it appears that I used to mumble in half-consciousness the name of my other good classmate Zakir Hussain. This was informed to him through someone. I can still vividly recall his visit and me looking at him from my horizontal position. My enemy Gopi also was kind enough to take that opportunity to be behind Zakir to also visit me. I would not look at Gopi properly as he was my 'enemy'! Looking into the eyes of enemies or even touching was taboo that prevailed in those days! But I managed to look at him when he was not looking at me!
Their visit had its silent beneficial effects and I stopped convalescing. It was this visit from Gopi that reconstructed our friendship and further strengthened my bond towards Zakir also. After a few days, I was almost back to normal. But there was another tension at home that also coincided my sickness when my younger brother sat on boiled milk kept on the floor (there was no kitchen platforms in those days) and quite badly scalded the buttocks. It is another side-story altogether.
Both Zakir and Gopi are still in touch with me from different places. We make it a point to meet whenever possible.
Gopi visits from Chennai.
Zakir never misses at least a phone call when he comes all the way from Brunei.
I must not forget to remember all those who stood by me during such a crisis. My gratitude ever remains to Dr.Eswer (no more now), Shivaram (now an orthopaedician in the US) and my teachers at CKC (Christ the King Convent), esp. Hindi Miss Leela, who gave me moral strength. I also remember a girl Rama in the neighbourhood who had given me a list of some 'important questions' on different subjects as it was the practice in schools to provide them before exams. She went to a different school. They were all invaluable.
When the exams came, I was able to prepare to some extent and face them reasonably well. I passed with a 'first class' much to the relief of one and all.
Also during those crucial months before the gooseberry went in, a home tutor had been appointed to help me with my lessons. He was an old man by name Krishnappa. Though this poor man tried to teach well, my mind wavered as it was a binding and strenuous to listen to same old lessons! He came from an old house in Rajarama Agrahara.