The ‘Prayer Room’
The ‘prayer room.’ That’s what it was called. One had to exit the main building of the hospital, wade through a sea of ailing, sick men and women to reach the main entrance. The ‘prayer room’ was at the basement. A ramp led you to it. A ramp, probably, aimed to make the passage easily accessible for the patients on wheelchairs or else on trolleys. So their path to God would be unencumbered. After all, when everything else failed, all science and medicine, one needed God. He was the ultimate Healer.
I dragged my feet along that ramp, with metallic beams embedded at regular intervals along it, as if placed knowingly to slow down the pace of desperate men and women seeking divine intervention. So they didn’t fall as they lunged forward and sprinted, in a last ditch attempt, to pray for their loved ones.
The ramp that connected science and God. The downward path that bridged the divide between the seen and the Unseen. A link between reason and faith. The threshold between this world and a gateway to the Other.
I dragged my feet along that ramp….
I was glad for the sun, for having been cloistered in a tiny room devoid of any window, was beginning to make me feel claustrophobic. It was a relief to breathe some un-conditioned fresh air and feel the winter sun on the back of one’s neck. I took slow, deliberate steps along the ramp, turned at the only bend and sauntered along. To my right was a room full of steel almirahs filled with old files to the very top. This was the medical records section where each patient’s file found its resting place. Files replete with all the necessary details. Patients particulars, diagnoses, course of illnesses and treatments received along with the outcomes. Many files carried a death certificate as well, for this was a cancer hospital and of those who entered, many would not make it back.
The room adjacent to this was where I was heading. The ‘prayer room.’ I took my shoes off at the threshold, carefully kept them aside and entered barefoot. On the left were symbols of various names of the Divine. Straight ahead on a steel almirah full of various religious texts were many folded prayer mats. I took one. The roughest of the lot. A jute mat with three borders, one inside the other, white, black and light brown from the outermost to the innermost respectively.
As I began muttering under my breath in slow, deliberate tones, I closed my eyes and let myself be immersed in it completely, my hands becoming heavy and limp. I had been restless. I closed my eyes because what I feared the most then was darkness. The uncertainty of not knowing. Fear of the unseen. And that darkness was, in reality, devouring my present. This fear was making me die every single second. As tears rolled down my cheeks, my heart seemed to be saying…. “I feel tired. I feel broken. Lead me ashore. Deliver me out of my pain, for only You can. Help me help myself.”
The sound of glass bangles clinking and anklets chiming and tinkling signalled I was not alone anymore. Two women surrounded me, one on either side. And as that musical sound filled the room, I knew I had to let go…I had to let go off myself. Drift with the music that played around me.
‘Wash yourself of yourself’… Isn’t that what I had just read?
I had to break my old glass bangles and extend my hands forward for a set of new ones…
I had to cup my hands further upwards so He could fill it with His Goodness…
I also had to keep both my ears and heart open, for His tinkle could be heard in places unheard of….
As it did now, in their bangles and their anklets…
Jingle… Jingle… Jingle…
(Dr Saba Shafi Makhdoomi is a doctor by profession currently working in Delhi State Cancer Institute as a Pathologist. She is also author of “Leaves from Kashmir”).