"Don't be cruel. He needs immediate help. Every minute is precious."
"How can I forget what he did to me?" Arjun retorted.
"And how can you forget what he did for you?"
Vidya had told him everything.
Indrajit had taken Arjun to a hospital when he was one of the early victims of the Dengue outbreak. His temperature had shot through the thermometer and he was in delirium. Hospitals were overflowing with Dengue cases. Indrajit fought with the Medical Superintendent for a bed, did not leave the hospital for forty-eight hours, roughing out the nights on a chair in the waiting lounge, while Vidya slept on Diwan (sleeping couch) in Arjun's room. He ran around frantically, nagging doctors and nurses to attend to Arjun immediately, whenever his condition worsened.
Platelets were in short supply. Relatives were paying crazy sums to procure them and save the lives of their patients. Indrajit paid with his blood; the hospital extracted platelets and transfused them into Arjun.
"But for him, I would have been widow long back," Vidya said.
"And but for me, they would have starved. His export business had gone bust. Thanks to his dubious business ethics – a corollary of his character -- one of his high-value consignments got rejected because of low quality. I guess he was caught out. He must have gotten away with fobbing off dubious stuff on his clients and amassed ill-gotten wealth. He had to sell his bungalow in Vasant Vihar to pay back the huge loan to the bank, and also his suppliers of raw materials. It was with his wife's jewellery that they bought this flat in our Housing Complex. Nemesis generally catches up."
But he went on breathlessly, "I introduced him to my business. I stood surety for his bank loan and shared with him all my contacts in hospitals and Nursing Homes."
I know all that, she said in a low voice.
"And how did he reward me?"
"Arjun, please this is not the time to think of …."
Vidya lost her temper, "You are acting like a monster. Remember, God has mysterious ways of punishing ingratitude. In one minute, lives can be destroyed."
Arjun was a staunch believer and that seemed to impact him.
He calmed down a little and changed track, "Nobody in the Housing Complex is ready to endanger his life. I'm no Bollywood hero to perform perilous feats others can't."
"They are being inhuman. Do you want to be like them? I know you are different."
"You are hell-bent on killing both of us. I will contract the Virus for sure, and since both of us have co-morbidities like diabetes and high blood pressure, we would have no chance."
"Don't be paranoid. If you take all precautions, nothing will happen to you."
He reflected awhile, slowly got up, and started changing. She gave him half a dozen N95 masks, and several small bottles of sanitizer.
"Keep changing masks and sanitize your hands frequently," Vidya said. "When you get back after admitting him, spray sanitizer inside the car."
As he was about to step out she said, "Take him to Life Force. That's the nearest and is quite good."
Her lingering smile was proud and fragrant. "That is like a good boy. Believe me, you will feel nice to save his life."
He rang the bell of the opposite flat. Mitali was amazed, ran into a room, and asked her husband to get ready.
Indrajit just stared at him in disbelief and dumb gratitude.
Arjun drove out of the Complex with Indrajit in the back seat -- hunched up and half-conscious because of high fever. As he got on to the main road, fluffs of memory started floating in his mind. Soon the past transformed into a movie on the auto-mode with the two families as dramatis personae.
In the first two years after Indrajit and Mitali had moved into the flat, warmth and affection marked the relations between the two families. The ladies spent a lot of time together gossiping, going out for lunch, or to watch a movie at the nearby PVR, while the men were away at their offices.
Indrajit and Arjun would go for regular morning walks during which they discussed business, politics, the safety of women in Delhi nuclear families, and what have you. They trusted each other fully and shared business information with each other. They practised an unspoken code of ethics: if one filled a tender at a hospital, the other would not. Whenever one of them clinched a tender, both the families celebrated.
But Indrajit fell prey to greed and stabbed Arjun in the back. Once, he not only submitted a tender to the same hospital where he knew Arjun had but also undercut his rate by a measly sum and clinched for himself the order for the bulk supply of Anti-Rabies injection.
The gash Arjun received was deep and he was enraged; he vowed to teach Indrajit an unforgettable lesson. Now was his chance. Suddenly, there was a blast of honking and raucous shouting from behind. Arjun hurtled forward eliciting a groan from the back seat.
He had been driving for almost an hour without arriving at Life Force which was just about ten minutes from their Housing Society. He was lost in the moral intricacies of the frightful idea that was haunting him. Indrajit was a worm, no doubt. He would be doing good to squelch and rid the society of him. But death? Arjun seemed to baulk. Did Indrajit's perfidy merit the death sentence which the courts reserve for the rarest of the rare heinous crimes? But the old wound had begun to fester and stink.
Finally, his car stopped at a little distance before the Entrance gate of Life Force. People were rushing in and out, their faces streaked with fear. Every now and then an ambulance or a private car pulled up with a new patient.
But Arjun remained a spectator, watching the spectacle as it were. He was a detached viewer of the real-unreal scenes. He had nothing to do with them.
After about twenty minutes, a doctor going off duty came out of the Nursing Home and was aghast to look at the back of the car.
"Hey man, what are you waiting for? He is gasping for breath; he needs oxygen straight away and has to be put on a ventilator. He phoned Emergency and in a couple of minutes, two orderlies with a stretcher appeared.
"Take him to the ICU quick and tell Dr Minocha I have sent him."
Arjun came out of the trance as it were. He realized he was about to commit a murder for which law, of course, could not haul him up, but God would never ever spare him. Retribution would have followed as sure as the daily sunrise.
A doctor came out of ICU and berated Arjun.
"Who is he to you?"
"Did you plan to kill him?"
Arjun turned pale.
"His lips have turned blue for lack of oxygen. He would have died in the next few minutes. "
After some time, Mitali called him.
"How is he?"
"He is being attended to in the ICU. He will improve, don't worry," Arjun said.
Actually, the doctor had said, "We are trying our best to save him, but he is in bad shape. One of the lungs has a patch of pneumonia."
Arjun was scared Indrajit could die because of the aggravated condition caused by him. Now he had forgotten about his contracting the Virus.
"I am coming over," Mitali said.
"No need, Bhabi. (Brother's wife). Don't expose yourself. Nobody can go into the ICU anyway. I am here."
"Oh, Bhaisaab …" she sobbed, "I have already been exposed… if something happens to him, I don't care if I live or not… you are doing so much. You have put your life on the line for us."
Vidya also rang up and he told her the same thing.
She sounded worried.
"How will you manage at night?"
"Don't worry. The Nursing Home provides clean food for the attendant for a charge. They observe complete hygiene. The doctors want me to be here 24x7."
He did not tell her the rest. The doctor had added sombrely, "We have a space problem. Therefore, we can't pile up the dead here. If we are not able to save him, you will have to take charge of his body immediately. "
"Doctor, how is he?" Arjun inquired on the third day.
"I am not too sure. You ought to have brought him much earlier."
Mitali came to the Nursing Home, but Arjun persuaded her to go back.
"Why do you worry? I'm here. He will be fine soon."
In the afternoon of the sixth day, a Nurse strode towards him with a professionally impassive face. His heart thudded in his ears.
"Your patient is improving. He is breathing more easily," she informed him in an impersonal voice and moved on.
Now Arjun visited home once a day. He sanitized his hands, changed clothes, bathed in his bathroom, and went back to the Nursing Home. He was still spending the nights there.
On the tenth day, a doctor told Arjun, "He has tested negative. We will discharge him tomorrow morning."
"Oh thank you so much, doctor!"
"Thanks to his strong immune system, he has come out of it faster."
Arjun made Indrajit sit on the passenger seat.
"Will you be able to forgive my vileness?"
Arjun smiled feebly.
"We will resume from where we left."