Monday, May 19, 2008

Greetings from: Sarad Bagh Palace, Jubilee Hospital

Today, two new words: bukum, the Hindi word for earthquake. And wabi, the Japanese word for a beautiful image of destruction.

The gardens surrounding the Sarad Bagh Palace are shady and peaceful, with plenty of nooks where lovers can sneak in quick moments of intimacy. It’s a break from the sun and the strong wind blowing today, carrying sharp bits of dirt to bite into your skin. A one-floor summer house holds the Palace’s treasures: chandeliers, silver mail holders and pheasants, pictures of dignitaries, and a distressing number of dead animals. Two stuffed tigers, a stuffed leopard, long, graceful elephant tusks, and heads mounted in a taxidermy roar. This was the time of the Great White Hunter -- or in this case, the Great Brown Hunter.

I can only imagine what all that must have looked like in the Palace itself. The yellow building must have been beautiful once, embellished with ornate carvings and graceful arches; now, these had fallen in upon themselves, held together with good intentions and hope. Sealed up doors, shuttered windows; the crumbling top floor of the Palace houses nothing but pigeons.

I came across the Jubilee Hospital quite by accident in my wanderings; I’m not sure I could retrace my steps. And even if I could, as eerily beautiful as the hospital is, it is equally heartbreaking to think about what had happened here. Along the railing of the second floor, people tied mementos -- ribbons, prayers, memories. Like the outpouring of candles and teddy bears at any American disaster area. But how they got there, I don’t know; no staircase remains to the second floor, though the hint of where one had once attached to the wall remains. Contorted I-beams, a mound of concrete blocks, some wobbly bamboo poles: this is the only access to the second floor now.

The debris of everyday hospital workings -- a temperature chart, a water bottle, a rubber slipper -- still lie haphazard amongst the debris, as if the earthquake had simultaneously both destroyed the moment and frozen it in time. The painted “please no smoking” sign seems almost cheerful in its anachronism. I imagine a nurse in her crisp whites frowning at a visitor and tapping the sign with her pen. What’s the point now? The rooms are empty, the windows broken. The dead, the dying who were once trapped here are long gone, and now the building has been left to decay. One sky-blue metal door stands half-open, as if waiting to receive patients again. Just outside of the hospital was a temple. To honor the dead? I wonder. It was closed.

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