After Aruna Shanbaug (66) breathed her last at KEM hospital’s medical intensive care unit (MICU), the hope that she might recover one day died inside her close friend and retired nurse Pratibha Prabhu.
“What never changed in her was her willingness to laugh,” said Prabhu who had known Shanbaug from several years before she was raped in November 1973.
Shanbaug joined KEM hospital in 1967 in the surgery department while Prabhu had joined in the out-patient department in 1966. The two along with Kumud Bhave, also a nurse at KEM, used to spend time together in the hospital. “She used to laugh, but also fight a lot. She used to complain against class IV workers who did not do their jobs well. She always said that they must be held accountable,” recalled Prabhu, adding that Shanbaug’s complaints made one of the ward boys revengeful and finally doomed her life.
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After Shanbaug was raped by ward boy Sohanlal Valmiki, Prabhu had visited her in the hospital. “I had got fish for her. It was her favourite,” she said.
Prabhu, who retired in 2006, said that in the initial years after Shanbaug entered a vegetative state, she used to sit with her for hours, but the hours gradually decreased after her workload increased. “After retirement, I used to go meet her once in a few months. But now, I can’t walk, otherwise I would have went from Borivali to look at her one last time,” she said.
Shanbaug was engaged to Dr Sundeep Sardesai and due to be married in early 1974. “She had not started any shopping for her wedding. It was about to start and then, she was raped,” Prabhu said. According to her, Sardesai quit KEM Hospital after he could not bear to look at Shanbaug’s state. He married someone else four years later.
“After he left, I thought her wild expressions of happiness or aggression would subside,but they did not,” Prabhu recalled, adding that Shanbaug started weeping frequently after the assault.
After her friend’s death, Prabhu, like other nurses at KEM Hospital, said, “It is good that the court rejected the mercy killing plea. She at least deserved to die naturally.”