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Cats, cricket in virus war zone
- Staff quarters atop ID Hospital’s isolation block

Name: S. Ghosh. Occupation: Group-D staff at Beleghata’s Infectious Diseases Hospital. Permanent address: Block G-7 (fourth floor), ID Hospital, Beleghata, Calcutta.

Name: T. Sarkar. Occupation: Group-D staff at Beleghata’s ID Hospital. Permanent address: Block G-7 (fourth floor), ID Hospital, Beleghata, Calcutta.

Everything, except the names, is real. For more than 30 employees of the Beleghata Infectious Diseases (ID) Hospital, Bengal’s strongest shield against severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), home is where the office is. Isolated from conventions guiding every other infectious-disease hospital, they have set up home directly above IB-I (an isolation block), which has been earmarked to house SARS suspects from all over the state.

Metro managed a sneak peek into the private world of the Ghoshes and the Sarkars — all Group-D staff of the ID Hospital — and their wives and children on Monday afternoon, even as Jamil Ahmed was being treated for some SARS symptoms and a senior physician (D. Mukherjee) was briefing newspersons about how Ahmed was being treated a few floors away.

Replete with pets (parrots in cages and cats everywhere appeared to be the favourites) and beds (for the well-deserved afternoon siesta between the tough hours on duty), almirahs with mirrors and dressing tables, this block has been home for these families for “quite some time”.

As in every other residential block, Monday afternoon found residents of different age-groups going about their varied activities. S. Ghosh (not his real name) was busy having an afternoon nap. Waking up at the sight of unknown faces, he explained what it was like to be working from his residence.

“We are very comfortable here,” he said from the bed on the south-facing, fourth-floor balcony. “We can’t imagine moving out of this place,” he added. His wife — from inside her ‘flat’ — nodded in silent assent.

Playmates Munna and Rakesh were trundling down the stairs, armed with cricket bat and stumps. Their playing arena: the ground in front of the block housing Ahmed (and other potential SARS suspects and victims). “Our friends in school are very jealous of us,” the youngsters chirped. “We have such a huge playground and such big quarters.”

For Ruma, a little older than the two budding cricketers, it was anything but playtime. She was washing utensils on the floor of the G-6 block. Life was difficult for her, she said, explaining that she had to help her mother manage her brothers. “But this place is great,” she agreed. “Where else in Beleghata would you get running water throughout the day, throughout the year'” she asked.

“Everyone” was happy there, she insisted. A larger family had more beds, a smaller family a smaller number, according to its needs, she explained.

The curious arrangement of housing members of the hospital’s highly-unionised Group-D staff is here to stay — at least till the SARS scare blows over. The hospital authorities on Monday didn’t appear too keen on disturbing the ‘working’ arrangement. Principal Pushpa Mitra would not speak to the media and, instead, redirected them to “Writers’ Buildings”.

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