The octagonal foyer of the Hinduja Hospital on Mumbai's Veer Savarkar Marg is a busy beehive through the day. As I enter the foyer and pause a while, not knowing how to proceed, I hear a friendly voice: "You seem to be lost. Looking for someone? How can I help you?
The voice belongs to diminutive lady in white: Cecilia Santa Maria, former Nursing Superintendent, now on her third stint with the Hinduja Hospital. Her first innings was as a private nurse in the 1970s, when the Hospital had just two floors. Then she went off to get married and raise her family. Maria's second stint was thanks to her chance meeting with Mrs. Lalita Hinduja who persuaded her to come back. Maria couldn't refuse, having known Mrs. Hinduja ("a very dedicated lady with a golden heart", remembers Maria.) In the fifteen years till she retired in 2001, she has seen the hospital growing vertically and in fame and faith.
Back home, into her retired life, she was in prayer, asking, "My Lord, what have you planned for me?" As she was getting up, the phone rang. Mrs. Usha Raheja, daughter of Mrs. Lalita Hinduja was on the line: "Darling, what are you doing these days?, she started and wanted Maria to handle a help desk the Hospital was setting up in OPD (Out-Patient Dept.). Maria was reticent – she had no training for that job. Finally, her loyalty prevailed, but not before she overcame "the anxieties of having a male boss for the first time".
For almost 10 years since then, she has been at it, guiding patients and visitors consoling those in sorrow, praying for and giving hope to those in despair. She knows many of those families well enough to crack jokes and slap grown-ups on the back with a grandma's freedom. Maria's narrations are dramatic and she is an engaging conversationalist proficient in four languages.
An ardent believer in the power of prayer, Maria recalls a 'miracle'. A Dubai-based wealthy businessman was a regular patient at the Hospital. Inflicted by metastasis (galloping cancer), even after chemotherapy and radiation, doctors predicted limited days for him. "Maria, place your hands on me. I am very sick. Pray for me and my wife", he pleaded. Maria obliged and soon he returned for Dubai, in pretty bad shape. Then, months later he reappeared, healthy looking and asking for Maria, to thank her.
When appointments occasionally go awry and the patients are upset, Maria intercedes with the doctors, to get them appointments, "It is a question of our reputation and the patient's satisfaction," she would argue. The doctors can only say, "Maria, how can we say no to you." That makes sure that one more family goes home happy. And Maria "feels so happy for God, for the patients and for herself."