September 2018

Touch Me Not

Drive a few miles East of Vellore, towards Chennai – the burial place of Doubting Thomas – and you will find a green place, on the South side of the road, spreading out like a garden, leading to the foot of a high hill. It is the site of a new hospital. As you begin to explore, looking down at the rich ground, wherever you look is Touch Me Not, a comb-like plant, Mimosa Pudica, which I have never seen in England. Why is it called that ? Because if you touch it, it recoils instantaneously, with a ‘seismonastic’ movement; tightening its flat spread surface into a fine blade.

You can tell this is a good site for the hospital because Touch Me Not only thrives where there is a good water supply. The hospital will have to be self sufficient for water, at the outset at least, so this is a good site.

Look up now past the lines of palms, heavy with coconuts, and there is Golden Eye Hill, looking down on you, fresh and wild, its fauna and flora co-existing in comfortable balance, untouched by Man.

It is easy to imagine the hospital in the future, opening up towards the Hill. When it is built the landscape will be changed beyond recognition but the hill remains the same. The hospital and the hill will be in continual dialogue; speaking and listening to each other. The wards, consulting rooms and surgeries, OPC, ICU, Emergency, Cardiology, Neurology, Gastrology, Renal, Admin, Labs and Prosthetics, waiting areas, store rooms and laundries – the hurly burly of their grueling daily lives – will all look towards the hill, stable and still, calm custodian of peace, and signal of health.

At the centre of the hospital sits the Chapel. The chapel is central to the hospital just as the healing works of Jesus are central to their work. The Chapel looks out across water, towards Golden Eye Hill. Between the Chapel and the Hill is a garden, a plateau of green pastures and a path leading upwards.

It is just before dawn and I wake. I will walk to the top to see the Sunrise, to clear my head and gain a perspective. I imagine a mother worrying about her sick child in one of the wards, eyes filled with tears; she is walking that way too; walking out from the hospital to the hill, across the Plateau. She sees someone in the garden and thinks it is one of the gardeners at work; ‘Noli Me Tangere’, Touch Me Not.