[April 1, 1977, Friday, Calcutta, 12.30 pm] I had returned to my home at Calcutta after completing my 3 month data collection at Air India, Bombay for my M Tech thesis. After a couple of days rest in my home, I was looking forward to get back to IIT, Kharagpur. I packed all the items I would need for my last lap of stay in Kharagpur. I had decided to take the afternoon local train from Howrah to Kharagpur so as to reach well in time for my evening dinner at J C Bose Hall of Residence. I finished my lunch, said bye to my parents and took the mini bus at Lansdowne road for Howrah Station.

[April 1, 1977, Friday, Calcutta, 1. 15 pm] As the minibus was about to enter into Esplanade, it suddenly struck me that I had forgotten to pick up the bath towel from the clothesline. I quickly calculated that I have enough time to catch the 3.00 pm local train, and I got down with my bags to purchase a towel.

There were many street vendors in Esplanade selling all sorts of things, and I could find a towel vendor easily. I selected a white background turkey towel with blue roses, and quickly boarded a tram bound for Howrah station.

[April 1, 1977, Friday, Howrah, 3.00 pm.] I reached Howrah station, purchased a local ticket for Kharagpur and boarded the local train. The train journey to Kharagpur was uneventful.

[April 1, 1977, Friday, IIT, JC Bose hall 7.00 pm.] I reached my hostel JC Bose Hall of Residence around 6.30 PM, had a quick shower, used my new towel, and got ready for dinner. I found my friends Abhaya Kumar and Madhav ready for dinner, and all three of us were among the first few to sit down for our dinner in the mess.

We were having a light hearted conversation and while I started to eat a piece of roti (chapatti), I noticed my right palm had a bluish tinge. I saw my left hand which also had a uniform bluish colour. I showed my hands to Abhaya and Madhav who also agreed with me that there is bluishness in the palms. I joked, after all my blue blood royal lineage has to show up sometime. Madhav joked it must be some colouring agent or dye and possibly cannot be any royal connection.

Anyway¸ we finished our dinner, and came out to wash hands. I took extra time to wash my hands properly and saw both my hands near the wash basin. The bluishness had substantially reduced. Both my friends also noticed and agreed that blue has faded considerably and said I couldn’t fake any royalty any more.

[April 1, 1977, Friday, IIT, Technology Market 8.00 pm ] We decided to visit the nearby Technology market as Madhav wanted buy some essential items. He made his purchases and I picked up some 10 Horlicks energy tablets which were introduced a few weeks before. I gave one to each then and there and we resumed our walk back to the hostel.

After a few minutes of walking we noticed that we had finished the tablets and noticing a street light nearby, I took three more of those Horlicks tablets and held it in my palm for others to pick up. As Abhaya and Madhav picked up one each and then I noticed that my palm has become predominantly blue again.

I showed it my friends and they agreed that the blue colour has returned strongly again. This was quite unsettling now. After washing,the bluishness seemed to fade away and then it was back again with full vigour. So, this may not be any temporary dye or colouring, but may be more sinister, I thought. Others agreed. All that energy from Horlicks tablets vanished and in no time we were wondering what we should do next.

Madhav suggested that we should check with the Doctors at Technology Hospital. I agreed, and we reached quickly the Technology Hospital.

[April 1, 1977, Friday, IIT, Technology Hospital 8.15 pm]

It was around 8.15 pm when we three entered the BC Roy Technology Hospital. While I stayed near the entrance to the duty matron’s office smoking, Abhaya and Madhav entered and enquired the Chief matron for the doctor on duty. I could hear the conversation between Madhav, Abhaya and matron;

Madhav: “Good evening, madam¸ can we the duty doctor?”

Matron: “What is the problem?”

Madhav: “This is emergency. Thepatient has blue hands.”

Matron: “What?”

Abhaya: “Yes Madam, The patient has blue hands.”

Matron: “I don’t understand. Who is the patient among you two? And, what do you mean by blue hands?”

Madhav: “The patient is outside smoking in tension. He has blue hands.”

Matron: “Is this some kind of joke? Call the patient first.”

I thought it is time to enter the scene. I threw the cigarette off and entered the room.

I: “I am the patient. I have these blue hands.” I showed my palms and told, “Madam, I noticed the bluishness in my hands when I was having dinner with these two. After dinner, I washed my hands, and bluishness faded to a great extent. We all thought that it must be some temporary colouring. However, when we saw again after visiting the technology market, the bluishness came back strongly as you can see. So we want to see the doctor, as the blue colour is coming from inside and not external. Can we meet the doctor, please?”

Matron: “Oh, I see, the duty doctor is not in the hospital right now, but let me contact him. You wait outside.”

As we could overhear the conversation, we gathered that the matron was trying to reach the doctor at his residence. He was attending a party at Nair’s restaurant. Then the matron tried the restaurant. Dr. Ghosh had just then reached Nair’s restaurant. The matron explained the situation. Dr. Ghosh said he would come if the vehicle is arranged. So the matron dispatched the ambulance to fetch the doctor.

I had smoked another cigarette and we all three looked at my blue palms, and they continued to be predominantly blue.

[April 1, 1977, Friday, IIT, Technology Hospital 9.15 pm]Dr. Ghosh got down from the ambulance, and came hurriedly to the matron’s room. He asked for the patient.

Matron called me in. Madhav and Abhaya followed me. The matron pointed me to the doctor and told that he is the patient.

Dr. Ghosh looked at me and asked, “Ki hollu? (What happened?)”

I: “Blue hands”, and showed my hands.

Dr. Ghosh: “How did this happen?”

I: “I don’t know. I noticed it while having dinner. After washing, it seemed to go away. But then it came back after about half an hour.”

Dr. Ghosh: “Are you sure that the bluishness went away and came back again?”

I and my friends: “Yes, we all saw it reappearing again”.

Dr. Ghosh muttered: “Hmmm., strange.”

The matron interjected: “He smokes continuously”.

I: “Doctor, what do you think is the reason?”

Dr. Ghosh: This can happen due to any of three reasons. One, there could be some local rupture and blood from the veins spreading. Did you handle any heavy weights today?”

I: “No., just carried my suitcase, nothing particularly heavy to cause any serious injury.”

Dr. Ghosh: “The second reason is Oxygen deficiency. Show me your tongue.” OK, your lips have a slight bluish tinge, though not your tongue or eyes.”

I: “What is the third reason?”

Dr. Ghosh: “Congenital heart disease, like a hole in the heart”.

I could already feel the breathlessness. May be there is oxygen deficiency. Or could there be a development of a hole in the heart?

Abhaya asked the doctor, “What are you planning for the patient?”

Dr. Ghosh: “We are admitting him for emergency care. He will be administered Oxygen immediately and will be monitored continuously.” Then he addressed the Matron, “Admit him, and start administering oxygen.”

He wrote the instructions in the log book and left for Nair’s restaurant in the ambulance. Later, I could gather that Dr. Ghosh did not want to take any chances as he had already been criticized for making pimple septic in the past, and soon. Hence, he took a safe course of putting me on oxygen.

I was allotted bed number 4 in first floor twin occupancy room. Two ward boys came down with a stretcher looking for an unconscious or semiconscious patient.

I told the perplexed ward boys, “I am the patient and I can walk up to the room.” A nurse followed me and also my friends to the room.

[April 1, 1977, Room №2, Friday, IIT, Technology Hospital 9.45 pm] The oxygen cylinder with regulator was wheeled in, and the nurse asked me to lie down. She adjusted the oxygen tube into my nostril, adjusted the regulator and asked me to breathe normally.

She then asked my friends to leave. However, I asked my friends to bring me some book, my toothbrush etc., and some night dress from my room.

All the while, the patient on bed no. 3, an undergraduate student with a swollen leg was watching the emergency patient who looked normal being administered oxygen hurriedly.

[April 1, 1977, Room №2, Friday, IIT, Technology Hospital 10.45 pm] I was on oxygen for more than an hour and however much I tried to sleep I could not. I tried whatever techniques like counting up to 100, buying and selling sheep in Mongolia but without any success.

I was wondering what kind of disease I have. In the meantime I found my nostril was blocked a bit, so took out the tube from one nostril and inserted on to the other, increased the oxygen pressure a bit more and then less and again more. My roommate in bed number 3 was observing all this with some amusement and some bewilderment. I was in no mood to strike any conversation with him.

I think it was nearing 11 pm when Dr. Ghosh came in with another doctor looking more senior. Dr. Ghosh explained the disappearing and appearing again of the mysterious bluishness. He also explained the bluishness is not seen in the tongue and the eyes. Dr. Agarwal, as I learnt from the nurse, the Chief Medical Officer also agreed that the best course of treatment is to continue Oxygen and probably we could shift him to Railway hospital the next day depending on the condition of the patient.

Now, more than ever, I was worried. If I was to be shifted to the bigger railway hospital, then I must be in real danger.

Where are my friends? Why did they not come so far with my things?

All the time, my roommate in bed №3 was observing me both somewhat perplexed and amused, and neither of us was able to sleep though the clock showed it is nearing midnight.

[April 2, 1977, Room №2, Saturday, IIT, Technology Hospital 12.15am] I was lying facing the other patient in the room with my back to the window. I heard someone softly calling my name through the window. I saw Abhaya motioning me to come near. I thought he would have brought the things I had asked for (Dhoti, T-shirt, under garments, tooth brush, paste etc.), but he had none in his hand.

When, I rolled and moved near to him from this side of the window, he whispered into my ear………. I was totally surprised and asked him whether he was sure. He repeated and told he had personally checked and found out. He has already talked to Dr. Ghosh as well and Madhav is waiting downstairs in matron’s room to complete the discharge procedure.

He talked quite softly so as not to disturb the other patient in bed no. 3 in my room, though he was wide awake by now. I just pulled off the oxygen tube from my nose, sat down on bed, turned off the regulator, and started walking to the door.

The bed no. 3 patient was now totally astonished, and seeing his wide open in bewilderment, I thought I owed an explanation to him. I told him with all the seriousness, “I just had some oxygen, buddy”, and left the room.

On our walk back to the hostel, Madhav told me that fortunately, before informing my parents they could get me discharged from the hospital.

Who can solve the mystery of Blue Hands?

Those of you with a detective frame of mind might have deduced by now. All those reading this real life story, which became not just the talk of the JC Bose Hall, but the entire campus in the summer of 1977, must seriously attempt to solve the mystery of Blue Hands!

The story found its way into the Alankar magazine eventually.

[Flashback — J C Bose Hall, April 1, 1977 Friday, 10.45 pm]

Madhav and Abhaya started walking back to the hostel wondering what they should do now, inform my parents about the emergency admission of their son, or wait till the morning. Anyway, they reached the hostel, opened my room, and started collecting the things I had asked for; toiletries, change clothes, magazines etc. Then Abhaya noticed the blue roses’ turkey towel hanging on the clothesline. As he picked up the towel, he noticed that the towel is still wet. I had used it in the evening after my bath.

Abhaya is quite fair, with extremely fair pair of palms. When he involuntarily rubbed his hands on the towel; lo and behold, his hands became blue. When he told and showed the towel to Madhav, who is also fair, his hands also became blue, the more uniform the rubbing, the more uniform the bluishness. Madhav let out a respectful whistle and quipped, “Let’s get back to the hospital and stop that fellow enjoying any more oxygen.

Abhaya said it is more important to inform me that I do not have any hole or other serious trouble with my heart. The culprit is the cheap blue roses’ turkey towel from Esplanade street shop. So, they decided to get back to the hospital and explain everything so that I can be released.

Suddenly, Madhav remembered the day is April 1st. How would they explain the whole episode. Would not the doctors think that we have pulled a real prank on them on all fools day? While walking back to the hospital, they started wondering how the whole situation would pan out.

[April 1, 1977, Friday, Matron’s room, IIT Technology Hospital 10.45 pm.]

When Abhaya and Madhav returned to the hospital, they found a new matron and staff. The shift has ended at 10 pm, and the new staffs had taken over.

They asked for the new matron and told that they have come to discharge the patient in room number 2, bed number 4. The matron opened the register and found the patient in bed number 4 is an emergency case under continuous oxygen. She asked my friends whether that was some kind of joke trying to take away an emergency patient. My friends explained that it is all a mistaken problem created by a low quality colour bleeding turkey towel.

The matron was not convinced. However, she said that she will connect Dr. Ghosh for my friends to talk to. The party at Nair’s had finished, nevertheless the matron reached him at his house phone and connected.

When Madhav explained the whole story of the bleeding blue colour towel, the doctor seemed to have been relieved that the problem is solved. He was happy that he does not have to grapple with this case in the morning.

After making sure that my friends’ story is true, he advised the matron to discharge the patient.

However, there still remains one peculiar and perplexing fact of the appearing, disappearing and then reappearing bluishness of the hands!

Appearing, disappearing and reappearing bluishness — who can solve?

The first three correct answers will have a chance to meet me and get surprise gifts. Any takers?

Note: Some of the names of the persons mentioned in this real story are changed to protect the confidentiality.

~V. Rama Krishnan

1977 | IM | JCB | MTech

Alumni cell is a student body in IIT Kharagpur with the aim to foster and bridge the interaction between the institute and its Alumni.