Sri Balaji Hospital, Chennai

India

Heavy rain in Mamallapuram. My last view of the town, and this calf trying to shelter, just before I caught the bus to Chennai.

I quite forgot that I had already written in July about how my journey from Mamallapuram, via Chennai, to the airport then home to England was severely curtailed by my Indian Adventure ending up in a hospital stay.

My rickshaw driver in Chennai: after that – a train ride … and an ambulance ride.

But you might like to hear a little about it.

What picture have you got of an Indian Hospital? I bet it’s wrong. My ward at Sri Balaji Hospital resembled pretty much any ward in an older-style British hospital that you may have come across – only cleaner. It sparkled with clean paint, fresh blue and white candy-striped sheets and general good order.

View from my bed in Sri Balaji Hospital, Chennai.

There were four beds in my  unit, and it really surprised me that there were both male and female patients.  This is a country where I had quickly learnt that it was not OK for me to sit next to a man on a bus, yet here I was in the much more intimate setting of a hospital ward, right next to one man and opposite another.  We were looked after by two nurses at night and two by day, all in smart white jacket-and-trousers uniform. The nurses, being Tamil, are of quite astonishing physical beauty: I really couldn’t take my eyes of ‘my’ night nurse, Jhoti, whose loveliness extended to her personality.

They appeared equally taken with me, and would pat and stroke me, or chuck me under the chin at the least provocation. As I started to get better, they amused themselves teaching me Tamil. With one exception, they didn’t speak much English, but what they did know, they’d learnt at Nursing School. Phrases like ‘Go to the toilet’/’Use the bathroom’ etc. were not understood, until light dawned. ‘Ah! You want pass urine?’

Besides nurses there were:
– Nice ladies in saris who appeared to fulfil some kind of auxiliary role.
– Doctors – lots.
– Men in blue jackets and trousers who seemed to be gophers, called Ward Boys.
– Men in brown, ditto – porters.

Dili and friends, the Ward Boys at Sri Balaji Hospital

The night nurses did twelve hour shifts, just like many of their counterparts in British hospitals. Before you feel too sorry for them, they told me that when doing night shift, they work just 10 nights a month.

Medication and tests of all kinds flowed freely – they make the pill-popping French look amateurs.

No TV, no radio, no nice ladies from the WRVS dispensing sweets, newspapers and library books. No getting up either. You lie in bed until you’re good and better, and meanwhile you do nothing. I was caught attempting to wash in the bathroom on my last day, and was chivvied back to bed and given a bed bath.

At visiting time, those of us without visitors did not go without attention. Dozens of noses were pressed against the glass wall of the ward as curious onlookers gave us all the once-over. I felt a bit like an inmate of Bedlam in the 18th century.

When I was discharged, I had a bill to pay of course: one which, together with my altered journey arrangements, would eventually be settled in full by my travel insurance (there’s a moral there.  Though they made a big fuss that I hadn’t got in touch with them from the hospital.  I told them that on a busy ward, I’d been able to make just one call – and that wasn’t even to my husband).  I was utterly terrified of what horrendous sum might be taken from our bank account for my three day stay.  I can’t remember exactly what it was.  But it was in the region of £30.

So that was it.  Feeling still pretty ropey, I had secured an internal flight back to Bangalore, and after an interminable wait through the middle of the night in a draughty luggage hall, an onward flight to London, and later, back home.  Where, apparently, I barely spoke for three days.  But I made up for it later.

B****r Chennai!

India

I was off to Chennai because I’d found a CouchSurfing host – an Indian woman and her husband, not much younger than me. That would be interesting. What an opportunity!  To stay in a real Indian household!

I had no idea what a confusing city Chennai is. It makes Bangalore look like a market town. Busybusybusy with chaotic housing and business districts jumbled together with shanty towns and piles of uncollected rubbish. I thought I’d got used to all that, but this was in a different league, especially after Pondicherry. 

When I arrived chez my prospective host, she told me she didn’t plan to put me up, but had booked me into a local hotel, the only one in the area. I hated it.  The traffic screamed and hooted all night. The shower didn’t work. I had to get up at 2 a.m to ask the manager to turn down his Bollywood DVD he was whiling away the night with, and the traffic and hotel clamour began well before 5.00 a.m., mainly men loudly clearing their throats, spitting and coughing. I stomped round the area looking for another hotel, but there wasn’t one, good, bad or indifferent (indifferent would do).

Some of Chennai’s endless traffic.

Later,  I quite enjoyed being whisked round the city by my CouchSurfing host – highlights were the ancient banyan tree in the Theosophical Society Gardens …

… and sundry Catholic churches pretending to be wedding cakes. Lads on the beach playing cricket.  Though I wasn’t allowed to pick my own photo opportunities. ‘ Here! Take photo here!’

But at the back of my mind all the time, when I wasn’t fighting sleep, was the dread of spending another night at that awful, awful hotel. I was dropped off after our day out at 4.30 and fully intended to take a nap, but clamour prevented it. I gave up and went and rang dozens of hotels – no vacancies. My CouchSurfing host’s plans for the next day included a taxi to Mamallipuram, with, or apparently without her. 

Night came and endless hours of listening to traffic and my fellow guests throat-clearing and spitting. So at 6.30 I got up, wrote and delivered a note to my host, and got a rickshaw to the Bus Stand. Let me tell you it’s not easy when three different people give you three different bus numbers, and three different stops, and the bus destinations are only in Tamil script, but I was determined to get to Mamallapuram good and early, so I coped. Chaotic Chennai traffic eventually gave way to palm trees, lagoons, and views of the sea, Finally I was happy.

Advice for my fellow hotel guests,but seen in Mammallapuram.

Mamallapuram struck me as a more congenial place to be. It’s a small seaside town, albeit touristy, With Added Culture. It’s a World Heritage Site with fantastic temple architecture and sculpture which I’ll share images of in my next post.

Walking down the street, I suddenly thought ‘I don’t HAVE to go back to Chennai tonight’. The first hotel I called at had a room, monastically simple, but clean. Outside my room was a shady courtyard, and as I started to talk about Chennai to the American tourist relaxing there, I just burst into tears. I didn’t know just how badly the noise and exhaustion had been affecting me, but I DID know that a night at the seaside was just what I needed.

View of Mamallipuram from the Shore Temple

Indian Journeys: A Local Train Journey with a Dramatic Ending

Blogging challenges, India

It was my last day in India.  I woke up to driving rain – the first I’d seen – a raging temperature and a sore throat.  But there was shopping to be done, packing to be done, general busyness.  I forced myself through the day, feeling worse all the time.

Chennai Station (Wikimedia Commons: PlaneMad)

I eventually made it to the station where I planned to catch a train to the airport: a local service with a quick journey time.  How was I to know that the train would fill and fill and fill until people were hanging from the doorways in true Indian Travel Documentary style?  With me crushed in the very middle of it all, feeling iller by the second.  Actually, ‘crushed’ doesn’t even begin to cover it: the only reason I didn’t fall to the floor was that it was physically impossible.

An image from Wikimedia Commons (archer10) gives the general idea…

At a certain point, I couldn’t stand it any more, and somehow forced myself and my luggage off the train, with everyone shouting behind me ‘No!  No!  Airport is two more stations!’  By then though, I was sprawled across the platform, vomiting and vomiting as the train departed without me.  A lovely man tried to help.  He brought me water which he poured over me, washing my face and making me drink.  A concerned crowd gathered, but by then I had lost all pride as I lay there, being repeatedly sick.

Two policewomen turned up, at as much at a loss as anyone else.  Finally, they made a decision.  They hauled me quite roughly, as if I were a dangerous demonstrator rather than a rather sick and weak woman onto a train – a fairly empty train, now the rush period was over – and chucked me on the floor.

At the airport station, we were joined by a rather handsome male officer who carried me, ‘Gone with the Wind’ style up the airport steps (a shame I was way too ill to appreciate it), and heaved me into a rickshaw, together with my luggage.  Our destination was the airport medical centre.  I was examined and at last a decision was made.  Hospital.  An ambulance appeared and I was dumped on a stretcher.  Bang!  The ambulance driver revelled in using his siren – who wouldn’t if it meant actually moving in the streets of Chennai?  I was at the Sri Balaji Hospital .

I remember little of the rest of the day. But the British Consulate must have been told, and someone there must have dealt with the fact that I was no longer travelling back to the UK that night.

This is the last of my ‘Indian Journey’ posts.  I’ll write more about my trip later though.  You haven’t heard about the Rainforest Retreat, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, French Colonial India, Couchsurfing in Thanjavur, Mamallapuram … or life in an Indian hospital….

Today’s entry for the Ragtag prompt: Sick

Indian Journeys: The Bus to Chennai…..

India

This was not my bus. It’s a school bus, and a smarter version. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of the one I travelled in.

…. was the sort you see in all the pictures. Unglazed windows with bars across, and an engine that had probably been put together c.1953.  If this coach had been a human body, you’d probably have called it ‘lived in’.  As it was in fact a bus, I’d say it had had a long history of ‘near misses’.  Oh, and it may not have been cleaned since 1953 either.

But the big excitement was a motorway.  Well, perhaps not a motorway, but a toll road anyway, with dual carriageway, a hard shoulder and a central reservation.  The road surface was indifferent, but so superior to anything I had met previously  that I could understand why everyone described it as ‘the fast road to Chennai’.  Here’s what I found out:

Goats eat breakfast in Thanjavur. They’d have done better on the fast lane of the motorway.

  • 2 lanes doesn’t mean slow and fast. Everyone uses both lanes indiscriminately and over or undertakes at will.
  • Goats use the ‘fast’ lane.
  • Cows use the central reservation.
  • Bicycles going the opposite way to the prevailing traffic use the hard shoulder. As do pedestrians.
  • Men pushing handcarts use the main highway.
  • The hard shoulder is also for bus stops.
  • There are zebra crossings. God knows why, nobody ever uses them.
  • Pedestrians cross whenever they want to. Not at the zebra crossings, obviously.

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