AT THE GATES OF THE GMC: Patients’ relatives prefer to buy their snacks here for they are both homemade and fresh, ranging from idli-dosa to upma, poha, sandwiches, chappati-sabzi and much more that is more desirable for the discerning palate, no processed junk food here! These hard-working vendors deserve a proper food courtyard a little away from the hospital gates to do their undoubtedly more economical and qualitatively agreeable food…the only headache is the litter and clutter here which hinders smooth flow of traffic in and out of the hospital at least in the morning hours!

By Tara Narayan

ON the first morning the patient got a light white cardboard glass filled with a delicious hot ragi milk drink in his Room No.5 in private ward No121 at Goa’s premier public and heritage hospital, the GMC. It’s filling up with more blocks out at the Bambolim plateau. I was zapped about the hot ragi milk drink and wondered since when did patients’ breakfast get get so good at the GMC? It’s another story that the patients don’t even look at it or relish it, this patient refused the lovely looking pinkish ragi drink for breakfast. Actually, it was an interesting ragi drink and I drank it eventually, unwilling to chuck it in the bin or wash basin or just leave it out in the pantry near the nursing station.
All the patient wanted was two mugs of good old plain home-made tea, “Take away this rubbish, I don’t drink any ragi milkshake, you want me to drink ragi which I grew up which my mother forced down our throats every morning, noon and night?” No, I murmured, of course not, no ragi drink for you, thank-you. I drank the still warm ragi drink thinking I would have added a wee drop of honey and cardamom powder in it to make it more palatable. But then palatable defines itself differently from person to person or patient to patient, no?
Generally, I take an interest in what is called nutrient-dense things to drink and eat and never mind patients who’re difficult and will on some damned principle actually refuse something which may be remotely good for them! Funny but not funny. Such are the situation of life.

At the popular Sodexo outlet where the pharmacies are located…a mix of decent combo meals as well as junk food of fryums, confectionary and tetrapack drinks. But you may only stand and have a bite here, cannot hang around for long!

SAY this is one more time of many times at the GMC where the patient’s dismal health story started and will probably end. Every time I’m at the GMC I invariably end up reviewing my foodie adventures inside and outside the hospital. Interestingly, the ragi drink came one morning only and the next morning there was no ragi drink and no glass of milk last thing at night at 10pm either (crazy, do grown patients drink milk at that time of the night). Both ragi drink and milk varnished once the patient had waved them away with naka, naka, take away, the good Lord alone who benefits from patients’ denials. Patients get billed regardless of whether they drink or don’t drink, eat or don’t eat.
The GMC’s paid for private ward is some kind of a milch cow and patients up single or double in one of the 27 odd rooms. Some patients move from general ward to a private room just because they find the general ward’s bathrooms difficult to use and don’t want some nursing attendant to offer them a contraption in bed for natural or unnatural ablutions (which may affect many senior patients) from constipation to diarrhoea which is very often provoked by a host of medications and dependent on varied medical history.

BLESSED HOSPITAL YOO CANTEEN: Original place to catch a bite for almost everyone, hospital staff as also patient’s relatives and friends…long queues at meal times but excellent Sodexo service and a larger menu of food preparations. Doctors have a special section here for their rest and recreation. Comfy but more expensive.

BUT to stick to the foodie side of a public hospital stay in Goa, the next morning breakfast arrived with pau-bhaji as the piece de resistance, which naturally the patient refused. It went back because his wife didn’t want to eat pau-bhaji for breakfast as patient’s attendant! The Goan poie can be pretty constipating even if one eats it dipped in tea or even milk; there are finer versions of this much praised local bakery bread loaf of Goa but the GMC specimen from its canteen is a pretty tough version. No patient in his or her right mind would dare to eat it for breakfast in combo with masala bhaji (you may of course request for the softer pau if you wish).
From what I have seen Goan patients at the GMC wards end up eating a lot of pau-bhaji (yes, served up by the famous Sodexo canteen but I learned that the Sodexo chefs don’t cook the food anymore, only some indifferent employees do). One of the nurses told me I may order food from outside courtesy Swiggy if the patient wants a dosa or idli, but I didn’t want to do that for one is never sure from what kind of a kitchen the food has arrived. In any case why should any patient be forced or order food from outside the hospital when there are several options attached in the GMC complex itself?

YOO’S SALT & PEPPER’ I TOOK my usual walk out to the YOO’sSalt & Pepper’ Sodexo outlet which never disappoints – here one may find samosa, batatvada, veg pattice/chicken pattice, egg patty, sandwiches, other junk fryums with endless shelf life and tetrapack drinks of lassi, etc…if you wish ask for one of the advertised “Awesome Burgers” in the flavour of the day. There is standing room here only. At this canteen outlet one is assured of decent fresh hot combo meals at least breakfast, lunch and dinner time.
However, my usual GMC rendezvous is with the vendors who pile up close to the gates of the GMC outside with some of my favourite fare! Every now and again there is an effort to remove them but they return to do their retail business in more honest and economical range of freshly made food, these vendors are the salt of the earth as far as the majority of patients’ relatives in attendance are concerned.

GUIDED TOUR: Just walking around the GMC grounds to take a break looking at the trees and studying the fancy shampoo and cosmetics at the chemist’s outlet! Monsoon time sees unkempt areas with tiles coming off here and there and an inaccessible bench! Desperately in need of repairs and regular cleaning up.

I imagine these vendors wake up pretty early in the morning to prepare their chappati, plain and sweet to go with a alsane or masoor dal, sukki batat bhaji, soft aloo paratha, masala dosa, sanna plain and sweet (I have never seen brown sanna before), batatvada, meduvada, sheera, etcetera, one woman vendor even offers tea sugared and not sugared.
These home-based vendors come from far and near and most are positioned outside the hospital complex only from 7am to 9am or so. I become quite addicted to some of their stuff, finding it more edible – a young and educated Prerna Shirodkar has the most delectable “gavanche” (soft steam-cooked large thin rice dosa), Rs20 a packet of two “gavanche” with a chutney packet and I’m good for the day, sometimes I take my packet to the patient’s room and feast on them or take them home for lunch. These “gavanche” may be finely thin or indifferently thick depending on who’s made them that day, but the flavour is always agreeable.
Elsewhere Sandeep Kundaikar is the only with a table and chair arrangement so that one may take a break for a cup of tea – one early morning while collecting the day’s newspaper from Chandrika near the temple I said hello to Sandeep – tasted his idli which was very good, also “oopit” (or “upma”), but his tea was cloyingly sweet for me. Sandeep tells me he has been vendoring here ever since the hospital was inaugurated by President Zail Singh so he has some rights surely!
Yes, he has some rights, I assured him, what all the vendors deserve is a proper facility like a food courtyard where they may vendor their food preparations — which are so much more decent and economical buys for so many patients’ relatives through the day. Every now and again these vendors are removed, they go on strike and in a settlement of sorts they resume their business outside the GMC anew, nothing really resolved.

I WOULD say that the solo vendors’ food retailed at the gates of the GMC is far more tempting (but the plastics in which the food is packed are deplorable)! This here is more honestly made food which you won’t find in the GMC food outlets inside, perhaps with the exception of the GMC’s officially baptised hospital canteen on the ground floor of the old original building, which has improved vastly over the years and there’s seating space here including a Doctor’s Only section.
The hospital canteen is Sodexo-run but on several occasions I found the cashier too fond of asking for change of a rupee or two and my billing loses in the end in a clever cheat manner which I may or may not want to make a fuss about. I want to make a fuss about a rupee or two? Actually, I should and so should you! Still, despite the long queues the young Sodexo-capped and aproned women in charge of doing the first come first serve service are on their toes and do an admirable job…the menu offers more choices but is pricier. One morning I ordered an omlet but couldn’t get buttered toast, only plain sliced lightly toasted bread!
MY last take outside the GMC gates: Hey, there are two vegetable vendors here too and I don’t understand why anyone should want to shop for vegetables at fancier rates here outside a hospital! In the first place why should a mini-market flourish at the gates of the GMC?
I understand that Health Minister Vishwajit Rane is busy with Town & Country Planning — I wish he would take a walk out here with me incognito to see for himself the dangerous turns and twists of the current merry-go-round outside the GMC. Goa’s premier public hospital has improved some but take a look at the outdoors of the garden grounds – the tiles are coming off, a bench here or there invites you to sit a bit to collect your thoughts, but the monsoon has taken a toll and one may not access the bench with some fears of going for a toss!
All this notwithstanding I’ve always loved to wander around a lush and green GMC grounds for old times’ sake and new times’ sake – so many empty courtyard spaces here which could become kitchen vegetable and medicinal herbal gardens (in my imagination of course). I guess that would be asking for too much, is there any money for better healthcare in the public treasury?

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