CHAPTER SIX: The place that has seen it all…
I ordered for an extra strong coffee and occupied one of the vacant tables in the canteen.
It was a tiring day. The Operation theatre and dental treatments with a few casualty cases, the past 10-12 hours had been exhausting. After a follow up of the operated cases, I decided to unwind with a cup of coffee.
The hospital canteen is on the zeroth level of the building, diagonally opposite to the entrance. As you enter the canteen, there is a separate small section for the doctors on the left and a larger section for the patients’ relatives and visitors, the general crowd.
A typical Government hospital canteen, it had around 12-14 steel tables with 6 chairs on each of them. Every table had a coloured plastic jar filled with water and a few steel glasses. The menu was displayed on a board behind the cash counter with a limited array of food choices. The place always smelled peculiarly of the boiling tea and echoed with the sound of utensils.
Being more of a people’s person, I preferably sit in the common section of the canteen, usually occupying the second or the third table facing the others. The canteen always chaotic and brimming with people, is a sight to watch.
Exactly opposite to my table, I see two people sitting and sipping their chai ( tea), sharing their table, but no stories to share with each other, just forced smiles. To my left is a middle aged man, with two little boys eating their meal from their tiffin box. The man is feeding the younger one with his hands, while the older boy is eating on his own. They ask their father when they can take their mother and their new born sister home. Soon, their father assures them. Meanwhile , the canteen boy comes with my glass of coffee, I keep it on the table as the glass is hot.
There are a few tables on the extreme left occupied by a few men. They discuss about a relative who has been admitted in the hospital, critical and is under observation. Their conversation audible enough for the entire crowd in the canteen. An extremely old man, occupies a table on the right, near the canteen kitchen. He silently eats his dal and rice, not bothered by the topsy-turviness of the place. His eyes, display sadness, something that is difficult to go unnoticed.
The waiters run in and out of the kitchen, getting plates and tea glasses, serving water and cleaning the dirty tables. The cash counter always crowded with people paying their bills and waiting for food parcels. The man behind the counter yelling aloud, for the cook to hurry up as there are food orders waiting to be delivered. The place is a mess.
I begin sipping my coffee, which by now has cooled a little.The radio near the cash counter, is giving updates of the ongoing IPL match.There are a few staff members standing near the counter listening to the scores and cheering for their respective teams. This place, I realise is for people to unwind, to relax, to slow down.
It is here that people can sit calmly and peacefully at least for a few minutes, without being disturbed or worried about anything.
The canteen I think, must have witnessed more people, more laughter and sadness, and above all many tales than any other corner of the hospital.