BOOK EXCERPT

‘My heart’s in my mouth whenever I get to the scene where she seduces her brother-in-law.’

An excerpt from a novel about an actress’s son stumbling into adolescence.

His mother acted in plays. He carried that knowledge like a wound. He was afraid to nurse it lest others noticed. But pain swirled around it, and flies buzzed. Everybody thought it was wrong of his mother to leave the home every evening, delicately dressed and fragrant.

Evenings spent in the glare and noise of rehearsals, shows on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays in the local theatre halls. Bright-lit evenings and the warm, perfumed smell of greenrooms and the rowdy energy of men and women whose limbs swam in the lilt of music. It created bitterness at home, great dark swathes of it.

They tried to hide the wound but it spilled over everywhere. His grandmother, his Mummum, never mentioned it; she nursed it in silence. His aunt Rupa muttered about it, grating words inside her mouth.

He remembered the men who used to dash into their house when he was little.

They were men who smelled of wild grass and cigarette-smoke, with stubble on their cheeks that hurt when they kissed him. ‘Uri Uri Bahbah!’ They would whistle. They would tickle him and swing him in the air; he would see the blue sky below him and the bannister of the balcony above and shriek in fear. But they never stayed long.

Sometimes they just crowded the landing of the staircase, thickening the air with smoke and song and strange cuss words while waiting for his mother to come out, dressed and ready for her rehearsal. Inside the house, the maids lowered their voices to a whisper and a cloud fell across Rupa’s face. Sometimes Rupa’s maid answered the door and called Ori’s mother: ‘Didi, your babus are here.’ Ori hated the way she said it. He wanted to run out of the house, leave with his mother, with the wild and smoky men.

But these days, his mother left the house alone. Sometimes, a car came to pick her up, but no one ever stepped out of it.

The smell of violence always floated in the air.

Back when he was seven or eight, he remembered an old man who sometimes came to see his grandmother. Mr Tarafdar, a retired barrister who had worked with his grandfather. Even in his late seventies, he had the manner of the stern English magistrates you saw in movies. Ori’s grandmother never forgot to cover her head with the end of her sari, pulling it low over her forehead, like a shy newly-wed before a stranger.

‘I’ve never really cared for plays, Manashi,’ Mr Tarafdar had said one evening in his rich voice that filled up the room. ‘But my daughter and son-in-law dragged me off to see Bar-Badhu at Rangmahal, and what can I tell you? Your bouma, Garima, she is magic on stage. Pure magic, that’s what she is.’

Bar-Badhu was a funny play where a man and a woman pretended to be married; apparently the woman did this for money, play wife to men who needed to look like they were married. Garima was such a natural, such a genius in the role of the fake wife, so full of tears and laughter and domestic bliss, that you forgot that you were watching a play inside a play. The old man had sipped at his tea noisily as he spoke, his aged eyes dreamy, and Ori’s heart had swelled with so much pride that it hurt.

But moments after Mr Tarafdar left the house, a hiss of words between Rupa and his grandmother struck a slap on his cheeks. The barrister was such a dirty old man, they said. Ori had stared at his grandmother’s stricken face, the sari-anchal slipping of her head, and he heard Rupa chew out bitter words against the shameless Mr Tarafdar. Slowly, Ori’s anger had swelled – against the old barrister who had watched his mother on stage, and then, against his mother. Great, fuming burst of fury that had made his eyes well up.

It was wrong of her to pretend to be someone else’s wife.

They hated it, his aunt and his grandmother. Sometimes the maids giggled with strange, star-struck eyes. He remembered the photograph that had appeared once in a newspaper, a close-up shot of his mother’s face and that of another man, looking at each other with a strange kind of fear in their eyes. White and intense, the faces did not seem fully human. But it was a picture from a play he had seen her rehearse, where she was married to a young and handsome landowner, a rich zamindar who drank whisky all the time and lost his estate.

The spotlight and the make-up had made their faces scary. Everyone at home hated the picture, throwing away the day’s newspaper like it was touched with disease; he had seen the maids pick up the rubbished page, smooth out the creases, gaze at the photograph with a shine in their eyes, whisper to each other.

~~~


Some evenings, he tagged along with his mother to her rehearsals, full of anxious actors and musicians.

Fidgety, nervous people who pinched his cheeks and ruffled his hair and then forgot about him. All except the hairdresser Pallabi, who shadowed his mother wherever she went and seemed to secretly wait for him to arrive. She smiled and sometimes winked at him but never said anything. Ori liked her but he did not like it when she winked; he always turned his face away.

Quickly, he became invisible again, free to wander along the corridors outside or stay inside to see young actors try to get jealous or sad. Or to read a book he’d brought along. He could follow the rehearsed lines far better than most would imagine, and the most intense scenes, repeated endlessly, took on strange colours in his mind. But he rarely spoke to anyone, and the actors, too, forgot about him and got on with their rehearsal.

Every time his mother came back from a rehearsal with Ori in tow, a hushed silence fell at home.

As if everyone was holding their breath. And then the questions began to trickle out, voices dropping so low that they were mere whispers. Where did his mother go for the rehearsal? Which part of the city?

Did you see a lot of men there? Were they young like your Baba, or old men with no hair?

Sometimes their words burnt a hole through his heart.

One night after dinner as he was sitting on his grandmother’s bed and talking to her, his aunt, Rupa, had walked into the room to take care of her last chores for the evening. A woman from the neighbourhood walked in with her, a friend of the family whose raspy voice often echoed throughout the house. As the two women pottered around the room tidying up stray ends, Ori’s grandmother fell into silence.

‘Ori?’ Rupa asked. ‘How was the rehearsal this evening?’  He didn’t know what to say.

‘That play is a classic,’ Rupa chattered on, pouring water into his grandmother’s glass and covering it for the night with a small porcelain saucer. Everybody agreed that Rupa was the working nerve centre of the house.

She was the widow of Ori’s uncle, his father’s only brother, a man with weak lungs who had died when Ori was a toddler. Rupa was a dark and angular woman with a face nobody glanced at a second time in this family of beautiful, fair-skinned people. Briskly, she would go around the house making sure none of the maids shirked their duties or filched a chipped coin lying forgotten under the bed.

Her fingertips understood money; she worked all day counting crisp notes and shiny coins behind an iron cage in the local branch of the State Bank. No maid in this house could get away fooling her about change due back from the shopkeepers.

Her voice tightened whenever she spoke about Ori’s mother.

‘But it has only one female character,’ her friend said absently, her bangles clinking against each other. ‘Perfect for an amateur group in a corporate house.’

‘Naturally they had to hire a professional actress.’ Rupa said as she arranged the old woman’s night-time pills on a little dish. ‘No woman in the office would act. And certainly not in such a role.’

Ori’s grandmother looked out of the window. She was the most beautiful old woman Ori had seen. A marble statue in widow’s white. She looked lonely. Gazing at her deep-wrinkled hands, Ori’s heart ached with love.

She was an ancient, regal woman, his Mummum, clean and fragrant with a fresh-mint smell. She loved to read and tell stories, loved to recite hymns in Sanskrit in her trembling old-woman voice.

Rupa shot a glance at Ori. ‘Garima is the only woman in that play, isn’t she?’

Ori wanted his grandmother to look inside, say something. Urgently.

‘I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read the novel.’ Rupa’s friend said dreamily. ‘My heart’s in my mouth whenever I get to the scene where she seduces her brother-in-law.’ She paused, holding her breath. ‘A boy half her age.’

The night air breezed through the window. The old woman’s jaws tightened.

Rupa left the room with her friend. But the air would not thaw. Slowly, Mummum turned to him, her ancient eyes unblinking. ‘What was your mother wearing today?’ she asked.

Bewildered, he still knew better than to tell the truth: that his mother, the only woman that evening in a loud group of men, had ditched her staid cotton sari to put on a skin-hugging salwar for the rehearsals. Got to live the character and move free, she had said.

Sweat thickened on the bridge of his nose. He grimaced, worrying his glasses would slip off. For a moment, he was silent.

‘Why?’ suddenly, he had turned to stare at her. ‘She was wearing a sari. The cotton one the colour of pista.’

Excerpted with permission from The Firebird, Saikat Majumdar, Hachette India.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

What hospitals can do to drive entrepreneurship and enhance patient experience

Hospitals can perform better by partnering with entrepreneurs and encouraging a culture of intrapreneurship focused on customer centricity.

At the Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, visitors don’t have to worry about navigating their way across the complex hospital premises. All they need to do is download wayfinding tools from the installed digital signage onto their smartphone and get step by step directions. Other hospitals have digital signage in surgical waiting rooms that share surgery updates with the anxious families waiting outside, or offer general information to visitors in waiting rooms. Many others use digital registration tools to reduce check-in time or have Smart TVs in patient rooms that serve educational and anxiety alleviating content.

Most of these tech enabled solutions have emerged as hospitals look for better ways to enhance patient experience – one of the top criteria in evaluating hospital performance. Patient experience accounts for 25% of a hospital’s Value-Based Purchasing (VBP) score as per the US government’s Centres for Medicare and Mediaid Services (CMS) programme. As a Mckinsey report says, hospitals need to break down a patient’s journey into various aspects, clinical and non-clinical, and seek ways of improving every touch point in the journey. As hospitals also need to focus on delivering quality healthcare, they are increasingly collaborating with entrepreneurs who offer such patient centric solutions or encouraging innovative intrapreneurship within the organization.

At the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott, some of the speakers from diverse industry backgrounds brought up the role of entrepreneurship in order to deliver on patient experience.

Getting the best from collaborations

Speakers such as Dr Naresh Trehan, Chairman and Managing Director - Medanta Hospitals, and Meena Ganesh, CEO and MD - Portea Medical, who spoke at the panel discussion on “Are we fit for the world of new consumers?”, highlighted the importance of collaborating with entrepreneurs to fill the gaps in the patient experience eco system. As Dr Trehan says, “As healthcare service providers we are too steeped in our own work. So even though we may realize there are gaps in customer experience delivery, we don’t want to get distracted from our core job, which is healthcare delivery. We would rather leave the job of filling those gaps to an outsider who can do it well.”

Meena Ganesh shares a similar view when she says that entrepreneurs offer an outsider’s fresh perspective on the existing gaps in healthcare. They are therefore better equipped to offer disruptive technology solutions that put the customer right at the center. Her own venture, Portea Medical, was born out of a need in the hitherto unaddressed area of patient experience – quality home care.

There are enough examples of hospitals that have gained significantly by partnering with or investing in such ventures. For example, the Children’s Medical Centre in Dallas actively invests in tech startups to offer better care to its patients. One such startup produces sensors smaller than a grain of sand, that can be embedded in pills to alert caregivers if a medication has been taken or not. Another app delivers care givers at customers’ door step for check-ups. Providence St Joseph’s Health, that has medical centres across the U.S., has invested in a range of startups that address different patient needs – from patient feedback and wearable monitoring devices to remote video interpretation and surgical blood loss monitoring. UNC Hospital in North Carolina uses a change management platform developed by a startup in order to improve patient experience at its Emergency and Dermatology departments. The platform essentially comes with a friendly and non-intrusive way to gather patient feedback.

When intrapreneurship can lead to patient centric innovation

Hospitals can also encourage a culture of intrapreneurship within the organization. According to Meena Ganesh, this would mean building a ‘listening organization’ because as she says, listening and being open to new ideas leads to innovation. Santosh Desai, MD& CEO - Future Brands Ltd, who was also part of the panel discussion, feels that most innovations are a result of looking at “large cultural shifts, outside the frame of narrow business”. So hospitals will need to encourage enterprising professionals in the organization to observe behavior trends as part of the ideation process. Also, as Dr Ram Narain, Executive Director, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital, points out, they will need to tell the employees who have the potential to drive innovative initiatives, “Do not fail, but if you fail, we still back you.” Innovative companies such as Google actively follow this practice, allowing employees to pick projects they are passionate about and work on them to deliver fresh solutions.

Realizing the need to encourage new ideas among employees to enhance patient experience, many healthcare enterprises are instituting innovative strategies. Henry Ford System, for example, began a system of rewarding great employee ideas. One internal contest was around clinical applications for wearable technology. The incentive was particularly attractive – a cash prize of $ 10,000 to the winners. Not surprisingly, the employees came up with some very innovative ideas that included: a system to record mobility of acute care patients through wearable trackers, health reminder system for elderly patients and mobile game interface with activity trackers to encourage children towards exercising. The employees admitted later that the exercise was so interesting that they would have participated in it even without a cash prize incentive.

Another example is Penn Medicine in Philadelphia which launched an ‘innovation tournament’ across the organization as part of its efforts to improve patient care. Participants worked with professors from Wharton Business School to prepare for the ideas challenge. More than 1,750 ideas were submitted by 1,400 participants, out of which 10 were selected. The focus was on getting ideas around the front end and some of the submitted ideas included:

  • Check-out management: Exclusive waiting rooms with TV, Internet and other facilities for patients waiting to be discharged so as to reduce space congestion and make their waiting time more comfortable.
  • Space for emotional privacy: An exclusive and friendly space for individuals and families to mourn the loss of dear ones in private.
  • Online patient organizer: A web based app that helps first time patients prepare better for their appointment by providing check lists for documents, medicines, etc to be carried and giving information regarding the hospital navigation, the consulting doctor etc.
  • Help for non-English speakers: Iconography cards to help non-English speaking patients express themselves and seek help in case of emergencies or other situations.

As Arlen Meyers, MD, President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs, says in a report, although many good ideas come from the front line, physicians must also be encouraged to think innovatively about patient experience. An academic study also builds a strong case to encourage intrapreneurship among nurses. Given they comprise a large part of the front-line staff for healthcare delivery, nurses should also be given the freedom to create and design innovative systems for improving patient experience.

According to a Harvard Business Review article quoted in a university study, employees who have the potential to be intrapreneurs, show some marked characteristics. These include a sense of ownership, perseverance, emotional intelligence and the ability to look at the big picture along with the desire, and ideas, to improve it. But trust and support of the management is essential to bringing out and taking the ideas forward.

Creating an environment conducive to innovation is the first step to bringing about innovation-driven outcomes. These were just some of the insights on healthcare management gleaned from the Hospital Leadership Summit hosted by Abbott. In over 150 countries, Abbott, which is among the top 100 global innovator companies, is working with hospitals and healthcare professionals to improve the quality of health services.

To read more content on best practices for hospital leaders, visit Abbott’s Bringing Health to Life portal here.

This article was produced on behalf of Abbott by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff.