Vijayamma dropped her broom and came up to me and said that she didn’t feel well. I noticed that she was talking through her teeth and immediately recognized the classic symptom - locked jaw. The girl had tetanus.
I panicked. I was all alone in the house with this young girl who helped out with the domestic chores, and I was not keeping too well myself. Fortunately, she lived in the colony adjacent to our compound and I asked her to go home immediately and ask her aunt (the girl was an orphan) or some relative to accompany her to the hospital. To make sure her people got the message, I called out to her aunt over the wall and asked her to take Viyajamma to the hospital as she had contracted a dangerous, life threatening disease.
I waited anxiously for some news. After more than an hour, I heard the gate open and ran out to see Vijayamma staggering in all by herself. Apparently, she had gone to the General hospital alone. I helped her on to the sit-out where she collapsed. I noticed that her fist was closed tightly over a piece of paper. Pricing open her fingers, I pulled out the chit given by the hospital. It said that she was administered a TT injection but she needed to be taken to the Medical College Hospital without any delay.
I ran to the wall and called out to her aunt, and told her that Vijayamma had collapsed and should be hospitalized immediately. I guess the panic must have made me shout, for in a minute, my compound was full of people, the residents of the colony who were in some way or other related to Vijayamma.
I gave Vijayamma’s uncle money for a cab and immediate expenses. The minute he got the money, he called out to for help to carry her.
“Where are you taking her?” I asked. “Leave her here till the taxi comes”.
“No sir, we’ll take her home now and take her to MCH when I am free”.
I was furious and scared. Guess it showed in my voice when I barked at him to run for a cab, which he did immediately.
Soon Vijayamma was on her way to the Medical College Hospital accompanied by her uncle and aunt with whom she lived.
But the people in my compound did not leave. I noticed that they were engaged in an animated discussion. Some of them looked belligerent. Then a couple of men walked up to me and said:
“This looks like villu vaadam (arrow disease, as tetanus was referred to in Malayalam, as the patient, during the seizures, raises their torso in the shape of an arrow).
“Yes. It is tetanus”
“Isn’t it true that it could have come from her stepping on dung? She has cracks on her heels? “
“Quite possible”. I replied.
And then, with a hardened expression on his face, one of them asked me
“Which dung did she step on? The dung in your cowshed or on the streets?”!!!!
It took all the discipline I was taught to put a lid on my inner fury. I almost blurted out that it was my grandfather’s dung, but then my breeding came to my rescue. Instead, in a controlled voice which did not conceal my anger, I asked him where all this concern was when she went to him and all the people standing there, asking them to take her to the hospital. Then, I quietly asked them to clear out which they did.
Yes. That’s the typical Kerala attitude. When it comes to duties, we are real shirkers. But when it comes to claiming our rights, we’d go as far as checking the DNA of dung to extract from the employer!
By the way, Vijayamma survived.