He used to sprint up ten flights of stairs in those days. It was a game Ganesan and the other CBI commandos loved to play. They would race the Chief Minister’s elevator and arrive before the doors opened, ready to protect and to serve, to take a bullet if necessary.
I first met Ganesan in my clinic, a seventy-year old man suffering from debilitating asthma and the long, cold decline of diabetes. All that remained of his former self was his glorious moustache and black-dyed hair. For several years I didn’t even know what his profession had been.
One morning Ganesan showed me the old photos that he carried everywhere in his billfold. As I gazed into the past, I came to see that this man had been one of the guardians of Tamil Nadu’s Chief Ministers, from former movie star MGR to Jeyalalitha. MGR had even trusted his wife Janaki to Ganesan’s care. Ganesan had trained in a special forces camp for CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) commandos in Pune. He wore a white uniform and a concealed revolver. Once during an operation, the suspect had raised a gun and was about to shoot Ganesan’s companion.
“Don’t shoot him!” Ganesan raised his right arm. “Don’t shoot!”
The man shot Ganesan instead, blowing off his ring finger. Ganesan charged ahead anyway and overpowered the criminal.
Once Ganesan found ten thousand rupees on the street. He tracked down the owner and returned it. This act of honesty was rewarded with a medal of honor from the Inspector General of Police. “Is it true that there are bodies buried in the Chief Minister’s back yard?” I asked him one day. “That’s what the locals tell me.”
Ganesan looked at me in surprise, then laughed.
“Well? Is it true?”
He smiled broadly. I continued.
“The milkman told me that both political parties which have occupied the Chief Minister’s residence have buried bodies under that urban forest. He says neither side wants to uncover the evidence because they could both be implicated.”
Ganesan could see that I wouldn’t let him leave without an answer.
“People say lots of things. What does a small man like me know about what does on behind closed doors?”
Though he always came regularly for his medications, one month Ganesan didn’t arrive. Another month passed, and then another. I began to wonder.
One Thursday morning as I was parking my bicycle, I saw Ganesan sitting under the neem tree, waiting for his token number to come up. On my desk among the other patient’s notebooks was his neatly bound outpatient record.
“What happened? It’s been over 3 months.” The twenty-foot walk to the examining room had left him breathless.
“My wife has been ill. She’s… on dialysis. We’re hoping for a kidney… donor, but it doesn’t look promising.”
I checked him over and prescribed his usual medicines. When taking leave, he snapped to attention and saluted me as he always did.
“See you next month?” I asked.
He smiled his characteristic smile and held up empty hands.
I thought about the photos he had shared with me, the wrinkled images that proved he had once been somebody. Somebody big. Yet, here he was, caring for his wife in the same self-sacrificing way he had cared for MGR and Jeyalalitha. And without a trace of self-pity.
I thought about the photos I could carry, black and white windows into the young man I once was. Would I have a commando’s grace to live fully in the now, while remaining aware of those other days, those shadows etched on tattered sheets?