SHE A Serial By Varalotti Rengasamy Episode 18 Shalini had enrolled herself in Sharmaji’s Ashram near Sriperumpudur on the outskirts of Chennai. She had made it clear to Sharmaji that her enrolment was on trial basis with her retaining the option to call it quits anytime. Within a week Shalini started loving the routine and was fully immersed in her study. Time was flying. For the first time in several years, Shalini felt a peace in her mind which could not be easily described. She liked her field visits the most – the bi-weekly visit to orphanages, hospitals and the like. It was one thing to sit all alone and contemplate on the High Principle. And it was something totally different to see people in flesh and blood suffering and then offering them help, even if the help was just a few words of comfort. Seeing suffering all around her Shalini’s first instinct was to give her money away to all these people so that they will be happy. She remembered her father’s views on helping others by giving money. “Money is not a panacea for all ills. If we can solve the problems of our poor by money, they could have done it long back by distributing money along foodgrains in ration shops. It does not happen that way.” On that hot Friday afternoon Shalini was assigned to a group that was visiting a hospice for terminally ill patients. The difference between a hospital and hospice is this. People go to a hospital to get cured; but they go to a hospice to die peacefully. Patients in advanced stages of cancer, AIDS victims, children born with some congential illness who are about to die any time – a hospice is a sanctuary for these people. The hospice they visited that day was run by a missionary organisation. Shalini and five others from her Ashram got down from the vehicle and were taken to the Controller’s room. Shalini was passing the general ward of the hospice. She was shocked by what she saw. She could not believe her eyes. She went ahead to join her group. She then retraced her steps and saw that again. Yes. What she saw was true. But how? She ran down the hall to join others. Then on an impulse she came back to see the occupant of bed number 14. Then she ran up faster to join others in her team. They were to spend five hours in that hospice. Each were allotted three patients among whom they should apportion their time. Their brief: just talk to them. Hold their hands. Or do anything that might comfort a dying person. The others started their work, while Shalini asked for time and went into the Controller’s room. She told him with pleading eyes that she wanted to know all details about the patient in bed number 14. The Controller said in a sad voice. “A very unfortunate case. HIV Positive. But AIDS has not yet struck. Who knows, he may live for another ten or 15 years. With the kind of retro-viral drugs available now, he can live a near-normal life. The problem is that he has nobody.” “Please check your records Controller. Does he not have a father, a wife and children?” “No. A retired Captain from the army has had him admitted here. The Captain said that he is a distant relative and was working for him. He is paying quite a lot to keep him here. “Normally we do not admit this kind of people. Our rules allow only terminally ill patients to be admitted here. But the Captain paid us quite a lot of money and we just closed our eyes. In a way that man is a bonanza for us. Because of him, because of the money we got for him, we are providing another twenty patients, a decent life till they die.” If Shalini was shocked she did not show it on her face. But could not hide her emotions when she spoke. Her voice was almost choked. “Can you tell me Controller, when is the Captain likely to visit the man in bed number 14?” “That I can say for sure. He does everything with military precision. You see today is Thursday. He will be here on Saturdays and Wednesdays. He would come around three in the afternoon and stay here till late in the night. He has also requested me to locate a good orphanage for two children.” In spite of her best efforts, Shalini’s eyes became full. She took enormous efforts to muffle her sobs. After some time she told him in a emotionally drained voice, “I think I will be able to help you on that. Don’t tell anything to anyone. I will be here on Saturday.” As soon as Shalini reached the Ashram she contacted Sharmaji on his mobile and briefly explained her life-situation. “Go ahead, Shalini. What you have in mind is a thousand times better than the life of a sanyasin. May God Bless you.” Sharmaji’s words were soothing. She was released from the Ashram on Friday morning. She spent rest of the day contacting some persons and digging up more information on the occupant of bed number 14. She did not have a wink of sleep on Friday night. She got up early on Saturday. She stood before her father’s framed picture, the closest she had ever come to worshipping God. She was silently meditating on the options available before her. She took a decision and looked at her father’s smiling face. It appeared as if her father were talking to her in person. “You are right, dear. Go ahead. I am with you.” She wiped her tears and started preparing herself for the visit to the Hospice late in the afternoon.