Florence Nightingale was a Malayalee in her last birth. I have been in and out of hospitals long enough to have faith in this belief!
The nursing profession would dissolve without a trace, like absorbable sutures, if not for the Malayalee maidens who hold it aloft on their able shoulders. They converge from every nook and corner of Kerala – Thrissur, Kottayam, Allepey, Kozhikode, Ernakulam…or they are Gelf-returned. They win their patient’s heart with their beacon of service shining through as bright as the jet black, generously coconut-oiled hair, severely pulled back in a plaited bun.
Their effective and patient-friendly service is in stark contrast to their stiffly starched white uniforms. A fat, matronly, languishing Malayalee nurse is hard to come by. Most of them are trim, brisk and as lithe as the swaying palm trees that lace the banks of the placid water bodies back home.
Their names, like Sissy, Anamma, Theresa, Joby, Baby… resonate with your inner fiddler on the roof!
Perfect to a fault, the Malayalee nurse is much sought after not just in hospitals across the length and breadth of the country, but the world over! I fondly remember the Malayalee nursing contingent that landed as a swarm in a government-aided hospital in Kitwe, Zambia, three decades ago! Although, physically they paled in front of the gigantic, troll-like, mis-proportioned average Central African, they were the queens of the wards. “Verk is Vership” is their mantra to success.
The Malayalee enterprising zeal for being in the right place at the right time is often the subject of humour – it seems when Edmund Hillary (he was not Sir then, hence the miss) reached the peak of Mt. Everest after an arduous climb that spanned many a stormy night and day, he was rudely shocked to be greeted by a Malayalee in a folded lungi-banyaan, selling steaming chai in a hurriedly put-together shack!! “Chai veno?” he enquired of a startled Edmund whose tongue lay frozen in the pit of his mouth for reasons other than the sub-zero temperature! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Malayalee guy was there because his wife was working as a nurse in a nearby hospital!!
The Malayalee bonding in the nursing fraternity is striking. The older ones are respectfully called Chechis (elder sister), while the younger ones are endearingly addressed as ‘molay’ (child). If you are privileged enough to be placed in a ward that is graced by a Chechi-molay combination, it is fatal attraction, in a good sense of the word! You will be effortlessly drawn into the irresistible web of motherly instinct. Their largesse will hold you together like a cocoon and then, speedy recovery cannot be far away.
A dear friend recently recounted: This dusky beauty of a nurse walked up to him as he lay in bed one morning in hospital, and whispered in his ear, “Ungle, urine pass kiya?” The gentleness of her tone could make any bladder fill up to the occasion!!
During my brief sojourn in hospital last week, I had this Chechi pampering me. We got talking and I asked her the question that was uppermost in my mind. “Yeh nursing ka kaam kaisa lagta hain?” (“How do you feel about this nursing profession?”).
Chechi answered, “maa-baap ne paala, posa, beda kiya. Kis ke liye?” (Sorry, can’t find an apt translation for that!). As I racked my brain for an intelligent answer, Chechi answered her own rhetoric, “Tum log ka service ke liye. Hum nehin, toh tum nehin,” she said flashing a Colgate smile.
Wow, what a philosophy! I was belittled. Long live the Malayalee nurse! As long as they continue to walk through hospital corridors in their efficient demeanour, hospitals can promise their patients at least one happy memory!