Advaita Vedanta (/ədˈvaɪtə vɛˈdɑːntə/; Sanskrit: अद्वैत वेदान्त, IAST: Advaita Vedānta, literally, “not-duality“) is a school of Hindu philosophy, and originally known as Puruṣavāda is a classic system of spiritual realization in Indian tradition. The term Advaita refers to its idea that the true self, Atman, is the same as the highest metaphysical reality of the universe, Brahman. Wikipedia
சூசைம்மாவும் அத்வைதமும் – இந்திரா பார்த்தசாரதி
Annamma looked at her watch. 5.15. Mathew must be waiting outside the hospital in his scooter. He would get angry if she is late, even if it is only five minutes.
She went to the change room next to the General Ward to remove her uniform and wear a Saree.
Exactly in three minutes and forty seconds, she came out of change room screaming, banging the door behind her. Her holler stopped three nurses, four visitors who were visiting patients and two doctors on their tracks in the long corridor and they stood like still photographers.
Everyone looked at her.
‘There is a rat inside.’ she said but that did not bring any reaction from anyone. They kept looking at her.
She said, ‘a dead rat.’ Immediately everyone was shocked and they started running to different corners. Annamma kept looking at them.
Nursing Superintendent Susaimma, who just emerged out of the lift, saw the people running and asked Annamma with bit of anger, ‘What happened?’
‘I went inside to change my dress and saw a dead rat.’ said Annamma. She was shivering a bit.
‘This is an hospital and you all are nurses… I am ashamed.’ said Susaimma as she approached Annamma.
By this time Mathew walked inside, looked at Annamma and said, ‘It is already 5.30.’
‘I know. I went to change my dress and saw a dead rat.’
Nurse Swarnam said, ‘My dress is inside.’
Annamma said, ‘Thank God, I have changed my dress.’
Mathew commented, ‘Not fully! Where is your blouse?’
Annamma looked down. She adjusted her saree to cover herself.
Susaimma touched her shoulder softly and said, ‘are you sure it was a dead rate.’
‘Nurses, please stand aside. Don’t be stupid.’ said one of the young doctors who started running when Annamma screamed. He was a young doctor.
Susaimma looked at him as if she would burn him at stake. An hospital employee approached them. He was wearing a mask and started distributing masks to everyone.
Mathew said, ‘I don’t need one.’ He got into the lift.
Susaimma did not accept the mask either. She told Annamma, ‘Look at him. He is running away. Are you going to marry this guy?’
The young doctor said, ‘Susaimma this is suicide, not courage.’
Susaimma did not respond to him. She told Annamma, ‘I will open the door. Tell me where you saw the rat.’
The young doctor said, ‘I won’t allow this.’
A middle aged doctor who just arrived at the scene, put his stethoscope around his neck as garland and said, ‘Nurse Swarnam, you go to special ward and request Medical Superintendent to come here. Only he can take a decision. He will be available in the special ward.’
Swarnam did not even wait for the lift. She just started running down the stairs.
The middle aged doctor said, ‘Susaimma, please wear the mask.’
The assistant offered her the mask, but Susaimma did not take it.
The doctor said, ‘Wear it. It is my order.’ He raised his voice as he said this.
‘For me?’ asked Annamma.
Susaimma was getting angry as well. She asked, ‘Have you all gone mad. Your are scaring a young nurse.’
The Medical Superintendent emerged out of the lift in a hurry. He must be about fifty years old. His moustache had gone grey but his hair was gleaming in black thank to the dye.
‘Who has got plague?’ one of the doctors who came with him asked.
‘No one has. But someone may get it with all the ruckus you are making!’ commented Susaimma.
M.S. asked, ‘What happened?’
The young doctor told Annamma, ‘please explain.’ Annamma described how she found a dead rat inside. M.S. looked at her intently. ‘Mask?’ he said. The assistant offered him one and said, ‘Susaimma is refusing to wear one.’
M.S. said, ‘Give her a mask.’
The assistant maintained some distance and offer a mask to Susaimma. She could not refuse the M.S’s command. She accepted one and wore it.
M.S. slowly walked towards the room Annamma indicated. He said, ‘Susaimma open the door.’
Susaimma opened the door and M.S. looked inside. He could not see anything.
‘Where is the rat?’ he asked. Annamma went near him. He immediately moved away from her.
‘Look there. There is cloth bundle, it must be below that. When I got scared, I must have pushed the cloths on top of it.’
‘Are you sure it was dead?’
‘It was lying on its back.’
‘Was there a foul smell?’
‘I did not realize.’
Susaimma said, ‘even now there is no foul smell.’
‘It is good that the cloths has dropped on top of it. You can just bundle it..’ M.S. said this and thought for few moments.
‘The middle aged doctor said, ‘We have to call the guy who cleans the bathroom.’
Don’t worry. I did not ask you to pick it up.’ M.S. said and started laughing aloud.
When the M.S. laughs everyone should laugh. This was one of the unwritten rules of the hospital. Everyone laughed except Susaiamma and the middle aged doctor. Annamma laughed slightly to calm herself.
M.S. said, ‘Take this in a hearse van and burn it in the nearest cremation ground.’
The young doctor said, ‘Good idea.’
Annamma asked, ‘what about me?
‘Not you, the dead rat.’
Humour and the laugh that came after. Susaimma’s face was reddening. She did not like the M.S. He came into this senior position with the help of politicians. He did not know anything about medicine. He got his degree paying ‘capitation fee.’ He is a surgeon only for name sake. He would not be employed even by a saloon.
M.S. said, ‘jokes apart. Annamma you go for a check up. Call the hearse van. You go with the van.’ he pointed to the young doctor.
The young doctor started begging, ‘Me? No doctor. I just got married.’
‘Once you have become a doctor, you should not be afraid of all these. What is oath you took when you got your degree?’
Susaimma said, ‘I will go.’
M.S. said, ‘I thought it would be better if a doctor goes.’ and looked around.
All the doctors who were there avoided M.S’s line of sight and looked elsewhere.
M.S said, ‘Susaimma you are a courageous woman.’
Susaimma said, ‘how can we take the rat in the cloth bundle. We need a coffin.’
‘What? you are funny. You may ask for funeral rights next.’
‘How can I take it without a coffin. May be we can tie a bier and take it in a procession.’ As Susaimma said this the M.S. got very angry.
‘Are you teasing me?’
‘No. You tell me. How can I take the dead rat and bury it?’
‘No burying, you need to cremate it. You can put the cloth bundle with the rat in a carton.’
Susaimma said, ‘That’s what exactly I told you.’
A pregnant silence engulfed the place. Susaiamma has cornered the M.S.
‘OK Susaimma. You take care of everything and give me a report once you get this done. Where is Annamma?’
‘She is gone.’
‘Not for check up. She went down.’
‘My God. She is going to spread plague to the entire city. Go stop her.’ shouted the M.S.
Realizing this is a good chance to get out of the place, the young doctor ran towards the stairs.
Someone brought a cardboard box and placed it there.
M.S. asked, ‘who is going to put it inside the box? Where is the toilet cleaning guy?’
‘No one is here sir. All have gone home.’ replied nurse Swarnam. She just returned after arranging the hearse van.
M.S. ordered his assistant, ‘You go and pick it up.’
He did not reply but just stood in his place.
Susaimma took the cardboard box and went inside.
M.S. said, ‘Please put it inside with the cloths.’ Susaiamma bundled it all and put it inside the box.
‘Close it tightly and seal it.’
Susaimma brought the ‘coffin’ outside. Everyone moved away from her.
Susaimma asked, ‘Is there a brahmin here?’
M.S. asked, ‘for what?’
Susaimma responded, ‘for reciting the mantras!’
Everyone standing there tried to control the laughter. M.S was getting very angry. But he needed Susaimma now to get this done.
An assistant brought arrack and seal.
Susaimma took it from him and burnt the arrack and sealed the box at the edges.
‘Is this Medical Superintendent’s seal?’ she asked.
‘Yes. But why are you asking?’
‘Then only the parcel will directly go to heaven.’
M.S said, ‘OK enough of this playing. Get on with the job.’
Susaimma said, ‘I am sorry. But it is not good for us if the rat goes to hell.’
M.S said, ‘Are you crazy?’
The final procession started. Susaimma kept the ‘coffin’ in the hearse and sat near the driver.
‘Such a small box? Is it a still born?’ asked the driver.
‘It is the a holy corpse of a rat.’
‘Madam you are laughing. What if it is a plague infested rat?’
‘I have put Medical Superintendent seal on top. Can the plague bacteria break his seal and come out? You just drive to cremation ground.’
‘Yes that is the order.’
When they reached the ground, the officials asked them if they have a death certificate.
Susaimma, ‘There is a dead animal inside. The Medical Superintendent of the Government hospital has clearly given an order to burn it here. I am a nurse.’ Susaimma showed her ID.
A helper asked, ‘do you need sandalwood?’
The official asked him to keep quiet and told Susaimma, ‘We don’t have provision to cremate animals here. Even if I do it, I need a medical certificate from a doctor. Without that, I can’t cremate.’
‘Do you know which animal is this?’
‘Let it be anything. I need a medical certificate.’
‘A dead rat!’
‘Yes. A dead rat.’
He got angry, ‘Vacate the place immediately. Have you come here to pollute the cremation ground. You don’t want plague to come to your place but it is OK if it come here?’ he covered his mouth with a handkerchief.
‘No No please go.’
Susaimma came back to the van.
‘They won’t allow cremation here.’
The driver asked, ‘what can we do now?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘We can throw it in the river.’
‘What a great idea. Cremation ground is not permitting to burn it. You are suggesting to throw it in the river.’
‘What else can we do?’
‘Just drive to my house.’
‘I will burn it in my backyard in the night.’
‘Nothing will happen. They are making such a fuss over a poor rat, when there are so many bandicoots running around in the country without a worry.’
The driver understood what she meant by bandicoot.
‘OK mam. As you wish.’
Susaimma was a spinster. She kept the cardboard in the veranda behind her house.
Once the night fell, she took the cardboard box to her backyard. She wanted to see the dead rat.
She also wanted to bury it with proper respect. She went inside and brought the Holy Bible.
She broke the seal of the box. She felt happy as if she was breaking the control and power of the Medical Superintendent. She started unwinding the cloth bundle, put it down, went inside, wore her mask and came back. She started unwinding the cloth bundle again. She kept at it for quite some time. Suddenly she started laughing and could not control it at all. She realized the truth and shadow are two sides of a coin. But she could not figure which is the coin.
Indira Parthasarathy (commonly known as Ee. Paa.) is the pen name of R. Parthasarathy, a noted Tamil writer and playwright. He was born in July 7 1930. He has published 16 novels, 10 plays, anthologies of short stories, and essays. He is best known for his plays, “Aurangzeb”, “Nandan Kathai” and “Ramanujar”.
He has been awarded the Saraswati Samman (1999), and is the only Tamil writer to receive both the Sahitya Akademi Award (1999) and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2004). He received Padma Shri in the year 2010, given by Government of India.