The Epidemic Memoirs


by Ruth Thaveedhu


It would be surprising if someone made it through SV without being infected by any of the annual epidemics. With bunk beds stacked together like the Nazi camps, infections easily went viral. For at least a month, each year, half the names during the roll call were answered with chicken pox or mumps or eye infection or measles depending on what the year offered.

I wonder what we called the sick room at school. Was it the isolation room or sick room? Never a permanent place and never for petty illnesses like the flu or common cold it was probably one of the most longed for places in SV.

For the Madras eye in ‘92 they used the guest room opposite to the chemistry lab as the sick room but thankfully I didn’t catch it that year. J…. caught it though. He had spent the previous evening peering through the gate and laughing at the infected ones. The rest of us spent the next morning philosophizing on reaping what you sow. When I caught it years later the sick room for girls was moved to an empty room in between the senior and junior girl’s dormitories. We passed time by practicing dance moves and creating new recipes from buttermilk and pickles.
One year I had caught the chicken pox as it did its rounds. Now chicken pox is sometimes a lonely affair as the number of people infected is very small. That year I had to spend one scary night of chicken pox in the room near the kitchen (opposite to the chapel). There were two rooms in a row and one of them was used for the sewing class which was also the makeshift sick room that year. The other was a store room where, among others, the school’s biology lab skeleton was stored. Not the best of neighbours to have when you have an active imagination and a high temperature. That was a long sleepless feverish night.


I think I liked the mumps year best. In ‘93 the year of mumps, we were housed in the guest room opposite to the chemistry lab. The peacock lived on one side of the building and PT sir’s (Mr. N.B. Thomas) family lived on the other. Any visitors who came took the front portion of the guest house. Mumps had chosen its victims well that year as we had some really funny people in the list. Given the sick room’s proximity to the higher secondary section, we were expected to keep quiet during the assembly prayers. But K…. always managed to interrupt the solemn prayers with his loud off-key singing. Collecting peacock feathers was a popular pastime. One theory was that if you put a peacock feather in the middle page of a notebook and never looked at it for 6 months you would find a new one. One day we dressed up in plaid bed sheets and acted out bible stories. Since we were not supposed to cross over to the visitor’s guest room, P… had to keep the name lists of all those who crossed over. The house mother akka, who brought food featured in all the lists along with the things we intentionally through over the line of control. It was then ceremoniously presented to PT sir’s wife who didn’t know what to do with it. When the rest of the school quietened down for the study time, we sat down to share jokes, riddles and ghost stories.

I thoroughly enjoyed these times. To live for a few days without being part of the bell or the whistle was heavenly. To simply “stand and stare” as the rest of the school worked up the routine was a wonderful experience. The Friendships forged over bloody red eyes or measles rashes and laughter shared with aching mumps jaws are some of my sweetest memories from school.

*Madras eye -common name for Conjunctivitis


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