Wearing surgical scrubs over his clothes, staying out of her way but standing close enough to provide her with any help she may need, Hadi watches Jhoomar Rao fight to save Roganjosh’s life.

She has shaved the bleeding animal’s chest, swabbed it with antiseptic, given her a quick anaesthesia shot and secured her fore and hind legs into restraints. The dog is now intubated and out cold, her mouth and eyes slightly open, her tongue lolling. To Hadi, uninitiated in such matters, she looks dead.
“Have we lost her, doc?” he whispers and she gives her head a fierce shake, a gloved finger pointing at the flanks of the beast moving faintly in and out with every breath, before throwing him a withering look that clearly says: “Are you stupid?”

Abashed, he goes silent and lets her do her thing.

She looks…same-same but different, he thinks. Her eyebrows are thicker than he remembers, her hair darker, without highlights and pulled back into an unflattering askew knot. Her movements seem surer than before strong, deft, and economical. The tightly tied gauze bandage around her left arm doesn’t seem to be slowing her down in any way. And she clearly knows her way around an operating theatre. She switches on an X-ray machine and signals him to wheel up the operating table upon which he had laid the dog.

Hadi does as he is told.

The X-ray machine makes a low whirring sound and a few minutes later, Jhoom is studying a sheet.


“What?” he asks, worried.

“It’s bad,” she says crisply. “One of the bullets just glanced off her, but the other one’s lodged between the first rib and the manubrium. I have to get it out or it could embolise.”

This is Greek to Hadi, but he nods readily enough. “You’re the boss. What can I do?”

“D’you have your phone?” she asks, and when he holds it up she says, “Play some eighties rock, please.”

“Sure,’ he replies, surprised into smiling. ‘You got it!”

His heart lurches as her eyes smile briefly at him above the mask, and then she bends over Roganjosh.

Hadi steals a look over the sterile drapes drawn across the dog’s torso, but it is all too bloody to watch.

So he focuses on the music, choosing each song carefully, rejecting “Another One Bites the Dust” as too pessimistic and picking “We Are the Champions” as more suitable, while standing ready to hand her anything she points at.

Twenty minutes later, he hears the chink of metal being dropped on metal and looks up to see a bloodied roundish chunk of steel in an enamel pan. Jhoom is still bent over the belly of the beast, working.

“A ball cartridge,” he whispers, surprised.

She looks up sharply. “What?”

He shakes his head. ‘Nothing. It’s a bloody whopper, that’s all. Enough to kill three dogs. Is that it?”

“Yeah,” she says shortly. “But there’s a lot of internal bleeding. I’m gonna have to –”

A strangled moan rises from the slack black lips, a sound so ghastly it makes the hair at the back of Hadi’s head stand on end. The dog stirs and begins to struggle.

He stops the music.

“Hold her down,” Jhoom snaps. “She mustn’t move. We need more anaesthesia. I’ll get it.”

He moves in, holding the dog down, murmuring soothingly. Roganjosh struggles weakly, her grizzled head turning this way and that. Her eyelids flutter.

Jhoom comes back, holding a syringe. “Just keep her there,” she says. “This’ll take just a sec…”

And then there is a deafening thunderclap and the clinic is plunged into pitch darkness.

Roganjosh moans again, a guttural, despairing howl.

“Shit,” says Jhoom tightly. “Now what?”

‘Don’t you have power back-up?”

“I can’t afford it.’ Her voice is defensive. ‘The electricity only ever goes at night, so I never schedule surgeries then, but this, as you can see, is an emergency.’

“O... kay... I’ve got this,” Hadi says in as reassuring a voice as he can manage. “Nobody panic.”

“I’m not panicking.”

“I’m talking to myself, obviously,” he replies placatingly. “Could you put your syringe down somewhere and hold her for one nimsha? I’ll switch on my camera torch.”


A second later, he feels the cool, light touch of her hands on his shoulders. As he breathes in the unexpected scent of fried bacon, they slide searchingly down his arms, all the way down to his hands, and take over the holding of Roganjosh’s squirming body.


“Great,” he breathes. “Now lemme just...here you go.”

The torchlight comes on, illuminating the little scene. The girl, the dog and the operating table.

He restarts the music; then, carefully slipping the phone into the front pocket of his tracksuit jacket, he regains hold of Roganjosh’s flanks and gives a quick nod.

“Do your thing, doc.”

As the lead guitar riff of Dire Straits’s “Money for Nothing” kicks in, Jhoom picks up her syringe again.

When the lights come back about seven minutes later, she looks up at him, her eyes fever-bright above her mask.

“Still taking requests?”

He nods. “Yeah, tell.”

“‘I Will Survive’ by Gloria Gaynor.”

“Should’ve thought of that one myself. Coming right up.”

Jhoom continues to work steadily, clamping, tying, dissecting, suturing, her focus absolute. Half an hour passes before she finally puts down the needle, looks up and says, with a little sigh, “Done.”

She steps away from the table, removes her mask and stretches out her stiff body, unselfconsciously massaging the back of her neck. Watching her, he thinks she looks plainer than she did back then, less glossy, more ordinary, or maybe it’s just because the understated flash of incredibly high-grade diamonds at her throat and ears is gone. She wears absolutely no jewellery now.

“She should start stirring in about two hours’ time. I didn’t give her too strong a dose of anaesthesia because she’s like a hundred years old, and has lost so much blood. That’s why she started moving about in the middle.”

“You did great,” he reassures her. “If I ever need a surgeon you’re the one I’m gonna call.”

She has released her hair from its top knot and is raking her hands through it tiredly as he speaks, but at this, she turns to look him full in the eyes and smiles.

It’s a sudden, wide, somehow wild smile. It causes her spikily lashed eyes to crinkle up in a manner that is utterly adorable, it blooms out like the moonrise all the fasting aunties had been waiting so hungrily for and makes nonsense of her ordinariness.

Dazzled, he holds out one sinewy hand and utters the words he’s been waiting to say to her for sixteen years.

“I’m Haider Sait, by the way.”

She takes it. Her grip is firm, friendly and utterly unaware of the momentousness of the occasion.

“Of course you are! And I’m Jhoomar Rao.”

Excerpted with permission from The Fast and the Dead, Anuja Chauhan, HarperCollins India.