The old TVS Suzuki motorcycle was doing all it can to go as fast as it can. The 100CC two stroke engine that was handed down from the Japanese was simple and inefficient. There was not even a separate oil circuit. You added the lubricant into the petrol, which got into the engine via the carburetor. Those engines didn't generate too much power, and the smoke trail, uniquely smelling of burnt oil and unburnt leaded petrol used to be the signature for Indian cities in those days. It was the dream of every young man to own one of those 'bikes'.
Sikandarabad was sixty odd kilometres from where he was. Still Anil decided to ride up there. He felt that reading the diary further should be done only after getting a handle on what he think it is all about. He had started reading casually, but as it progressed, it took more concentration and effort, as he read the words, lines, and in between those. He was dead tired, not only from sleep deprivation, but also from the mental effort involved in the process.
It was noontime when he reached Sikandrabad. The town was somewhat deserted. He had no clue where Asha hospital was. As he approached the town, he made some inquiries, but none seemed to know anything about it. Finally he saw a medical shop and hoped to get some information from there.
The old pharmacist was sitting behind the counter, reading something. He had the long shabby beard and a skull cap, typical to old muslim men of those areas. An old pair of spectacles rested on his nose, as he concentrated in his reading, despite the small wavy motion of his head due to early parkinsons. Anil parked his bike and walked to the shop. The old man was too much indulged in his reading, he didn't notice Anil. After waiting a bit, Anil cleared his throat.
“Salute, sir. Do you know where is Asha Hospital here?”
The man turned to him, and peered over his glasses. A pair of eyes, deep set in the sockets guarded by wrinkles skin and dark rings made by years of toil looked at him miserably.
“Who are you Son?” a voice, as ancient as the face, croaked.
“I am coming from Delhi. Could you tell me where is Asha hospital here?”
“Why do you ask, son?” The man asked in a soft, but insistent tone that is peculiar to old folk. Anil was a bit irritated by that question.
“Why? I want to go there, baaba.” He managed to hide his displeasure.
“Why do you go there? Is someone sick?” It didn't go quite well with Anil. He was in fact in a hurry. He must get back to Delhi before it is late. He didn't want his mom to figure out what he was up to.
“Nothing like that, baaba. Just tell me where it is.” The voice was a bit harsh. The man's eyes narrowed.
“Are you angry? With the babbling old man?' He attempted a smile. “The Asha hospital is no more. The new owner has renamed it to Dr. Yadav's Hospital”.
Anil was surprised. “New owner?” He blurted out.
“Yes. The heirs sold it off” He said, with a sigh.
“Heirs? I don't understand, baaba” Anil was really confused.
“Yes, the lady didn't have children, right? After she died, someone from her husband's family took it over. They knew nothing about hospitals. Greedy folk! They sold it off”. For some unexplained reason, the man seemed to be angry.
A bulb flickered in Anil's brain.
“The lady doctor, what's her name..” He trailed off, as if thinking.
“Lakshmi Sharma”, the old man filled in. “Very nice lady. Everyone liked her, but allah wished otherwise..” He looked up to heavens. Anil felt a jolt of adrenaline.
“Yes, what happened to her husband?” Anil asked, trying to hide the excitement in his voice.
“He had gone long ago. Poor lady. The hospital and patients were her life thereafter.” The man went into a monologue. “Liked me a lot too. Used to give me sample medicines to give zakath. Allah keep her!” Anil suspected that the man's eyes went moist.
“How did she die?”
“Oh, my son, allah gave her a bad death. Who am I to complain. Allah knows best.”
“Bad death?” Surprisingly, Anil found himself not surprised much.
“I don't know, son. Some say accident. Some say murder. Good people go first. Bad people survive.” His voice broke up.
“That is terrible, baba. Where is this hospital? I would like to go there.” Anil said. The man reluctantly gave him directions. As Anil walked back to his bike, his melancholy eyes followed him.
Anil did not go to the hospital. He already knew what he wanted to know.