Intimate moment in the Himalayas

Ruth Taylor lived and worked in the foothills of the Himalayas during the decade of the nineties. Based at Woodstock School in Musoorie , a hill station in North India, she travelled extensively in the region. She regularly visited and stayed with Dr Rajesh and Rajkumari Singh who run an isolated rural hospital, village clinics and local medical education programmes. She is married and raised three children during her time in India.

It was about nine o’clock in the morning when I followed Dr Rajesh and his wife Rajkumari down the dark path of precipitous concrete steps which led from their living quarters down the deep terraces to the hospital’s primitive operating theatre. I watched as the doctor and his anaesthetist wife donned green thick cotton gowns and gum boots and scrubbed up in cold water stored in buckets. All they asked me to do was remove my shoes and slip my feet into spongey chappals. They led me into a dingy little room lit only by an anglepoise type lamp run on a generator.

Sitting on a small hard backed wooden chair, once my eyes had become accustomed to the dim light, I saw her there, a tiny village woman clad still in her grubby wood- smoke smelling long khadi skirt and bodice. She was lying quietly on the operating table.

Sitting on a small hard backed wooden chair, once my eyes had become accustomed to the dim light, I saw her there, a tiny village woman clad still in her grubby wood- smoke smelling long khadi skirt and bodice. She was lying quietly on the operating table.

Since having my own children I had harboured a desire to see a baby born but never thought this would happen. After moving from Oxford to work in a school in North India I was staying overnight with my friends Rajesh and Rajkumari who ran a rural hospital in the foothills of the Himalayas. The next morning they were going to perform a caesarean operation which has unusually been scheduled in advance. Most village women living in this region of the Garwhal had their babies at home with the help of largely untrained village midwives. Only in dire circumstances and if the labour was not proceeding well would mothers be brought to the nearest hospital in whatever vehicle was available.

This young village woman my friends were about to operate on had already had three babies but each one of them had been a stillbirth. This time it was thought that a planned caesarean birth would increase the chances of a happy outcome.

‘Please could I be present when you operate?’ I had asked” I’ve always wanted to see a baby born” and already felt a little uneasy. But Rajesh readily agreed to my request.

Rajkumari administerd anaesthetic but this was not entirely effective. Rajesh explained to me that this was because village women in these parts habitually chewed a drug which blocked the effects of anaesthesia. So the young woman was only half asleep and reacted with groans when Rajesh made an incision in the side of her lower abdomen. In what seemed double quick time Rajesh pulled out a dark curly head and the body of a healthy baby boy.

It was a moment of relief and joy for everybody when the newborn baby boy started to scream loudly.

Everybody else in the small room had a role except me and I couldn’t even communicate my congratulations to her in the village woman’s language. I felt like an outsider or even a voyeur at that most intimate of moments when Dr Rajesh, asking me to accompany him, took the wrapped- up baby to the young father who was waiting anxiously outside.

I felt like an outsider or even a voyeur at that most intimate of moments when Dr Rajesh, asking me to accompany him, took the wrapped- up baby to the young father who was waiting anxiously outside.

 I couldn’t help noticing that the father looked stunned and showed very little emotion when he was handed his fourth baby, alive and healthy.

I wished that my curiosity had not forced my intrusion into this private scenario. I knew that Dr Rajesh valued my friendship and enjoyed contact with a western friend just as I appreciated knowing an authentic Indian family.

I slipped away and ascending the dank stairs I retreated into the privacy of the Doctor’s quarters.

 

Ruth Taylor

Ruth Taylor lived and worked in the foothills of the Himalayas during the decade of the nineties. Based at Woodstock School in Musoorie , a hill station in North India, she travelled extensively in the region. She regularly visited and stayed with Dr Rajesh and Rajkumari Singh who run an isolated rural hospital, village clinics and local medical education programmes. She is married and raised three children during her time in India.

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