Mangalore, My Home City: Down Memory Lane – Part 2
The skyline of Mangalore, at present, is dotted with a number of super speciality hospitals, growing in number day by day. Medical science has evolved to such a level that that human longevity has been on a steady ascent.
I can clearly remember the old Mangalore of my childhood, where Fr Mullers’ Charitable Hospital, Wenlock Government hospital and Lady Goschen hospital were the only big hospitals in town. Epidemics were rampant and the smell of typhoid injections and small pox vaccinations always lurked in the air.
Every year, when the students were subjected to the small-pox vaccination in the school, each one wished to be the last in the line, dreading that ‘chirk’ sound and the instant pain that lasted for days together until it totally healed. In the cases of some, the wound would get aggravated to such an extent as to leave behind an unseemly scar on the upper arms or on the inner side of the lower arms.
I remember the days when my father contacted typhoid fever and our uncle Dr Radhakrishna came home to administer typhoid injections to all of us and we took to bed with pain and fever, for a whole day.
Funeral processions on the roads were a frequent sight those days. In the Hindu funeral processions, with the chanting of bhajans in melancholy tones and playing of the ‘taaLa’, with fumes of incense sticks profusely permeating around, the dead were taken in a funeral cart.
In the case of Christian funeral processions with loud drum-beats and chanting of prayers, they used to take the coffin on a hearse and march along solemnly. Church bells pealed reverberatingly high in the air, when deaths occurred, notifying to everyone of a Christian death. It was after many years that I saw this hearse again the other day in the premises of St Sebestian hall in Bendoor at my son’s wedding reception. It was found deserted in a corner in the outer veranda of the church.
I distinctly remember the funeral procession of my friend’s mother, who died at child-birth, which was caused by the umbilical cord twining around the baby’s neck. The baby was placed on the lap of the mother and the procession passed right in front of our school and I still cannot forget that touching scene.
Tamarind seeds were a great fancy among girls. No day passed by without the girls sitting and munching the roasted seeds stealthily in the class. But still they got caught when the cracking ‘kutuk’ sound was produced, thus breaking the silence in the class!
We used to boast about the number of seeds that we munched in one session. Tragically, a girl consumed the highest number of seeds and developed acute dysentery which led to her death. This, it was said, put a stop to this craze, temporarily for a few days though.
I remember the day when my ‘Doddappa’ – elder paternal uncle – breathed his last in Father Muller hospital at Kankanady. The Mangalore-Talapady highway had not yet been laid then. My parents shifted his body in a taxi to Someshwar Uchil, on a rough-surfaced road.
The rough lane, passing through the hilly terrain of Ekkur hill was uneven with a stony surface, and the taxi got stuck amidst the small boulders. My father had to get down to help the driver lift the vehicle. The condition of my mother, sitting inside, with the body being jolted in the process, is beyond anybody’s imagination.
As it was not the train timing, we kids were taken to the Bunder by our lawyer-uncle from Champak Vilas and ferried in a boat to Ullal. From there, we were taken in a taxi to our Gudde House at Someshwar Uchil.
Spinning cotton by using a metallic hand-spin, known as ‘takali’, was part of our basic education at Besant School. Once a student had left his takali on the ground. While returning, he, hopping carelessly, happened to step on the sharp end of the sharp-hooked takali, which pierced one side of his ankle and emeged from the other!
My mother, being the PT teacher, used to attend to all the students with first-aid, whenever there were cases of falls, accidents, convulsions and the like. But in this case, she could not do anything. Hence she immediately took the boy to the hospital. She thought that the doctors would administer an anaesthetic dose first before doing anything and attend to the boy with care.
To my mother’s utter horror, the doctor on duty, who came after considerable time, just casually and impatiently pulled out the hooked instrument in one go. We can very well imagine how the boy must have screamed because of that unbearable pain! My mother was seething with outrage and was deeply upset about this callous treatment.
Can I ever forget that small-pox quarantine at Urva Marigudi and how we, as children, walking to school, in front of it fell silent on our steps there! A young doctor who had been posted there had contracted the disease and succumbed to it. It was a grave enough news making rounds there.
One of the most pitiable sights was that of the beggars stricken by leprosy and filaria, found on the road. The short-cut lane below the court hill, leading from the PVS Bakery into the K S Rao Road – which many refer to now as the Khyber Pass – was known as the lepers’ lane, as well as the lovers’ lane. As it remained hidden between two hills and not much frequented, it served as a safe haven for lovers’ secret meet. Hence it was lovers’ lane as well.
Malinga was a drunkard, but, sadly, affected with elephantiasis and he used to fall in the gutter often. The well-built ‘Boddi’ Kamala, and Padmavati who had the unfortunate tag of ‘hucchi’, were the two women with serious mental disorders who were seen on our Kodialabail road often.
While Boddi Kamala was aggressive, Padmavati was very mild and was always escorted by her mother. There was a third one, a tall, bearded man, in long, snuff-coloured loose clothing, who came to school on holidays. He had a long cloth bag hanging from his shoulder and an open book in his hands.
He used to walk to and fro on the veranda of our Besant School for an hour, reading aloud, and never lifting his head or moving his eyes from the book. His task finished, he would silently move away, just the way he had come. He never looked at us, though we stood staring at him, his reading not at all clear to us though.
At home, my mother had a beautiful oval-shaped, first aid box made of leather with zip fastener. The box as well as its contents were tiny and tidy. There were a tiny sharp pair of scissors, a plaster roll, a cotton roll, tiny bottles of Dettol, Iodex and tincture of Iodine, antiseptic cream and a small roll of gauze.
The first aid box was kept in a beautiful black wooden medicine chest, which still stands at home now. Extra rolls and bottles and other medicines were arranged tidily in the chest. Over the years, different analgesic Ayurvedic oils, creams and sprays, balms, inhalers, skin creams and the like have filled the space in that beautiful medicine chest of ours, once maintained in such good order by my mother.
I remember two distinct cases in my side-beds in my childhood, when I was hospitalized with a Polio-related foot-drop problem. A small boy was also in the hospital bed. He had burnt his whole arm when a huge cracker that he lit during the procession of his sister’s wedding, exploded in his hand, reducing the limb to shreds. Whenever the doctor entered the ward, he used to scream so loud that the unbearable scream continued till the doctor finished attending to his devastated arm.
Then there was a little child of three years, very pretty but with a shaved head. In full display were stiches running on the whole scalp, from left to right, from one ear to the other. They say coconut trees never harm people. But in this child’s case, a coconut had fallen right on the head when she was playing in the yard. Nevertheless, the cheerful child had survived the crash.
This brings to my mind our dog Rocky. He was a strong and sturdy Bulldog and hence named Rocky by my mother. He was also fondly called Gundu. One fine morning, when I was sweeping the yard, Rocky was on his morning exercise, running from the gate to the other end of the compound, like an arrow shot in full speed. In one of his rounds, he came charging and crashed headlong against my head. I felt as if the whole world had spun around me. My mother, hearing the sound, came out to just check if any coconut had fallen from the tree in the yard!
Head injuries remind me of a young medical student, who while riding his scooter on his way back from college was hit by an unknown vehicle at the junction in front of Woodlands. He fell to the road and lay bleeding there for some time. Then a good samaritan came along and shifted him to a hospital. His skull was split open and the brain-mass had swollen.
He was attended to by the then-famous surgeon, Dr Kodandaram. We were told that the skull had to be left open for a month until the swelling subsided to normal condition. The young medico had totally lost his memory. But he later regained it to some extent and completed his medical studies. Yet he was not his old self anymore.
How can I forget the tragic event in our college, when one of my classmates, while practising on the sports ground, was hit by a javelin right on her foot, when an event was going on! Within no time, her foot started swelling. It was a horrific sight. I still shudder to think what kind of pain she may have endured.
Friends, enough of these not-so-relishable memories, perhaps. Isn’t that so? I wish to come back with something more interesting, next time. Till then, good-bye.
By Shyamala Madhav, Mumbai