“Indu, Indu..”, bursting through the door, Sarojini came to a halt inches away from the Godrej almirah, placed near the entrance of the room 406 of the new block of GDIMC college’s girls’ hostel. Indira, who was perched precariously on a plastic chair, trying to push a canvas bag filled with human bones into the empty space atop the cement cupboard, almost lost her balance by this sudden commotion. “What is it Saru? I almost fell from the chair” said Indira. “That’s not new, I mean, just this afternoon, you tripped over the new cement block steps that they have constructed in front of every hostel room and almost fell flat on your face”. “It’s not my fault, what was the need of constructing those cement blocks in front of the doors anyway? And hey, did you see my Maruti’s Femur (thigh bone)? I have been looking for it since this afternoon, but I couldn’t find it anywhere” said Indira.
Maruti was the name given to the bone specimen set, that Indira had got during the first year of MBBS to aid in better understanding of the human anatomy. During the dissection classes, when students had to bring their own bone specimen to the classes, she was happy to have discovered that almost all of the tubercle and tuberosities, processes, fissures and foramina (features of bone) that the textbooks mentioned, were found more distinctly in her bone set than in others’. And she would feel a sense of pride whenever the tutor would ask for her bone specimen for the demonstration purpose. Not only that, the femur in her bone set was so strong, that when they were installing a mosquito mesh for their room’s window, Indira and Sarojini had used the femur to hammer in the nails. And hence, Indira had proudly bestowed the name of Maruti, much to Sarojini’s dismay, to her bone set. “No, I didn’t find your precious Maruti’s femur anywhere! And can you stop calling them as Maruti’s bones? Others would think that we are weird if they find out that we have named our skeleton! We don’t even know if all the bones in that set belong to the same person” said Sarojini. “Of course they belong to the same person, I can feel it in my bones. Wow, I should save this joke for later”. “Ha ha, very funny” retorted Sarojini. “I know” smirked Indira, “And, have you forgotten that these bones helped us both to ace the practical Anatomy exams?” saying so, Indira got down from the chair and started rummaging through the 1st year MBBS books stored in a gunny bag, thinking that the missing femur might turn up there.
“No, I haven’t forgotten and you are steering off topic. Enough about Maruti and listen to this, I am just coming back from the mess office (hostel canteen office) and guess what…”. “Don’t tell me that they have increased the mess charge again or have they limited the extra cup of curds to just 1 per person? I swear, Malli looks at me like I have just asked him to give his Kidney every time I go to write a guest charge for the extra cup of curds that I take”.
Malli was the nickname given to the mess in charge Mallikarjuna by the hostel girls. He was also qualified for another nickname lekka manusha(calculating man), for one could clearly see on his face the calculations going on in his head, whenever he looked at any of the hostel girls, like, whether she had paid her previous month’s mess bill, had he calculated her guest charge correctly and if that girl was prompt in writing her mess off. Guest charge was the extra charge the girls had to pay when they had an extra cup of curd (which was 10 rupees per cup) or on Thursdays, when the mess(which was vegetarian), would give the option of having boiled eggs with dinner, then the interested girls would have to go to the little booth aka Malli’s booth, behind the counter in the dining hall, and enter in a book their name, date and the word EGG beside that, which would then be registered as an extra 5 rupees to the girls’ monthly mess bill. There was a better chance of snowing in Davanagere than Malli miscalculating hostel girls’ guest charge and mess off which was another type of documentation that the hostel girls had to do whenever they went home, so that there won’t be any mess charge calculated for that time period.
“No, they haven’t changed the mess charge, they have changed the mess in charge himself” said Sarojini. “What, how did we get this lucky? I was dreading coming back to the hostel after the holidays just thinking about eating vegetable sambar with no vegetables in them, no vegetable palya whatsoever for the chapatis, and the quantity of curds in each cup decreasing day by day, because Malli considers himself the finance minister of the hostel, and don’t even get me started on the quality of the food degrading day by day” said Indira, who loved curds, and who wasn’t that prompt in writing ‘mess off’, because of which she had a particularly tumultuous relationship with Malli. “I don’t know about the luck, but the manager told me that Lokesh, who was the mess in charge of the Kaveriamma hostel (which stood between the old and new hostel blocks of GDIC college. All 3 were located in the same compound), has been transferred to ours, and Indu, get down from there before you fall and break your bones”. Indira, who by then having not found the femur amidst the books, was balancing precariously on a stool placed on her bed, to see if by chance the bone had ended up atop her almirah replied, “Wah, Saru, you are cracking jokes about the bones now? looks like I am having a good influence on you as you are turning into a more fun person”. “Nothing of the sort, get down from there, we need to order food for dinner as there’s mess off tonight”. “Mess off? So, Malli’s not giving us a farewell meal then, why is he getting changed by the way? The manager has always turned deaf ear to our requests to improve the mess food, so what happened suddenly? Yeah, yeah, I am getting down, just let me go through the stuff here once”. Sighing in fond exasperation, Sarojini gazed at Indira, thinking back on the journey of their friendship.
Though they were classmates while studying PUC (pre-university course) in Thirthahalli, their friendship was limited to Hi, Hello at best. And when they both got medical seats in GDIC college, Davanagere, Indira had called Sarojini about a month before their college was to start, asking if she would be interested in sharing a hostel room with her. Sarojini had agreed immediately, thinking a familiar face in a sea of strangers and a new environment would be comforting, never anticipating that they would become the thickest of friends in a span of few months. And so, they had found themselves in room 406 of the new hostel block, which was luckily a ground floor room, having to share the room with a senior doing her internship. Funny, how in spite of knowing each other for more than 2 years, all it took for them to go from being Indira and Sarojini to Indu and Saru was sticking together in the face of new challenges and really getting to know each other. And though, both were very different in their personalities, in their likes and dislikes, somehow the differences had only aided in cementing their friendship further.
“Ok, so what do you want to order? Rice or roti?” asked Sarojini, scrolling down the hotel names in her contact list. “hhmmfff…” replied Indira. “What did you say?” “hhmmfff…” “I can’t understand a word you are saying”. Indira, who by then was searching for the femur behind the almirah, popped her head out and said “Anything is fine”. “Anything is fine with me too” replied Sarojini. This back and forth of ‘Anything is fine’ was the usual, initial few minutes scenario of when the two friends decided to order food, whether, it was while deciding in the restaurant or over the phone, before one of them would finally relent and express what they wanted to eat, which would then prompt the other person to convey their wish as well. After Sarojini called their usual restaurant and ordered rotis with egg curry and onion pakoda, she freshened up and changed into her night suit. When the delivery guy called her 15 minutes later, she went to the hostel gate to receive the food, instructing Indu to freshen up for dinner. Indira, who by then was looking for her precious bone below the study table, hummed in response, deciding to continue the search after dinner. In between a tiring bus journey from her home in Thirthahalli to the hostel, during which she and Saru spent more time being suspended in mid-air than on their seats, courtesy the roads being in such superb condition, and then sorting out her luggage once reaching the hostel room, dusting everything and cleaning out her book cupboard to make room for the books of 2nd year, she was exhausted.
After freshening up, she joined Sarojini at the Kaveriamma courtyard, which was also the center of activity at night, with girls either walking along the length of the courtyard talking on their phones or sitting at a corner and eating or simply chatting. With a gentle breeze blowing through the night and the courtyard lit softly by the moonlight, both the girls sat at one corner of the courtyard and devoured the food in silence. Their hunger had made the food taste even better and in a matter of minutes, their dinner was done. Not even a scrap of food was left. Having made both their taste buds and tummies happy, both of them leaned back contentedly. Sarojini’s eyes, which were lazily looking around in that ‘post good meal contentment daze’, suddenly caught sight of something.
“Indu, what is that on your forearm?”. Indira, who was leaning back on her outstretched hands and enjoying the gentle breeze, took a few seconds to register Sarojini’s question. “What did you say?” “I asked, what is that on your forearm? Is that a scar? When did you get that? It looks pretty nasty, it must have been a serious injury for you to get a scar like that. Don’t tell me that you fell while frolicking around the farm during the holidays! You are never careful, how many times have I….” rambled on Sarojini, failing to notice a flicker of shadow pass quickly across Indira’s face. Running her fingers over the scar, Indira halted Sarojini’s tirade saying, “You worry too much, it’s not a big deal. I fell on an uneven ground on the last day of the practical exams. You don’t know of this because you had already left for your home having finished your exams 2 days prior”. “What? You fell on your Anatomy practical exam day? How were you able to even take the exam? Looking at the size of the scar, it must have been a pretty big wound”. Not meeting her eyes and gathering up the empty food packets to be thrown in the dustbin, Indira replied, “Umm….I fell bef..that is, I fell after I gave my exam, on the way back to the hostel. It’s not a big deal at all and thankfully, the scar is on the inner aspect of my forearm so it’s not that noticeable. Come on, let’s go to our room and sleep, it’s been a very long day”.
After brushing their teeth, locking up the door and switching off the lights, both the girls fell on their beds exhaustedly. Indira’s bed was situated on the furthest side of the room from the door, right beside the windows, which opened onto the parking area in front of the hostel building. Whereas, Sarojini’s bed was the one closest to the door, as she had wanted a wall to be there on at least one side of her bed. One more bed stood between the two, which was currently empty, waiting for it’s new occupant, as their roommate had graduated and left right about the time the girls also left for their holidays, and the hostel manager was yet to allot a person to their room. “I am really excited to start 2nd year as we finally get to start our clinical postings at the Girivana hospital tomorrow, I wonder how the PGs (postgraduates) will be…”, Sarojini’s ramblings were cut short by “Do you think that I might have given Maruthi’s femur to someone and forgotten about it?”. “Argh, again Maruthi? Don’t talk about skeletons before bedtime or I would definitely dream about them tonight. Besides, we have already finished Anatomy, we won’t be needing that bone set, except, maybe for the Forensic Medicine class, but there’s still a long time for that and why are you so obsessed with that bone anyway?”. Despite waiting for an answer, exhaustion finally took over and Sarojini fell into a deep slumber. Caressing her scar absentmindedly, Indira turned her back to her friend and looked out at the moon just visible through the open top windows beside her bed, as her thoughts went back to that day.
To be continued…