The spark !

How essential is it to find that spark in a person before you can go on to decide if a person is an ideal life partner for you? That spark, that slight bit of extra peculiar edge that only comes from this one person, in this entire universe, a calling that tells you somehow that she’s the one? Something extraordinary. Something no body else in this world can provide me with. Is it even necessary for your partner to have a spark before you can accept them ?
And is it even possible to ascertain for sure that the person who really does have a spark, will eventually go on to be your ideal mate? That the sparkable person would always be yours and yours alone? True, Loyal, Caring, Respectful? That they will never hurt you or leave you when you need them the most? That they will chose to stay, no matter what the circumstances?
I’ve dealt with too much garbage in relationships to be even giving this ‘sparkle’ shit any relevance this time. The list of things you look for in a person to consider them your ideal mate is huge and immense, so I just can’t say if we really do have a choice. I have come to believe that if the initial click is decent enough, you can always go on to build up a healthy, happy and life long lasting relationship if you put enough efforts to take your relationship further, if you can nurture it, work on it as your own child and wear it with pride and dignity.
Few things are best left to destiny. Lose or win, you can’t control everything. You can’t say for sure, ever in life, if one particular person will be an ideal mate. No matter how good and sugary things appear at first. I guess this is a blind step everyone just needs to take, no matter how weak or strong the initial temptation. For I have witnessed this in the past, that even those relationships that start with booms and bangs, can also fail if you do not nurture them right. Nothing is for certain. And hence, I am, in a way, taking this blind step, putting my firm belief in destiny, surrendering myself completely to the power of the Gods and submitting myself into the delicate hands of fate.
So even if she may or may not have a spark, I’ll take this step. Because I deserve to be happy and this seems like a beginning.
Dr. Prateek Srivastava.
1st July 2019
New Delhi.
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Do not suffocate.

I’ve known Purab for eighteen years now.

We shared the same school, the same college and almost the same interests. I was his good friend and he would come to me when he was either too happy or too upset. I knew his secrets, his likes or dislikes, just as he did mine.

He had set big goals for himself.

He was good at creating digital music and nearly all tracks he created went viral during our college days. He had his own digital work station on which he used analogue set ups like the drum machines and synthesizers with mixing board besides the real instruments to create his own audio library of varying genres. His music was outstanding. He was gifted. Be it any college festival or graduation party, he was our DJ without question. He was blessed with music and knew how to lite the dance floor on fire.

We had been good friends for all those years and I knew he was considering music as his career option. I had no doubts he would be successful. He was focused, passionate and lived life at his own terms.

Besides music, we loved to discuss philosophy. We would often indulge in deep thoughts about life and question everything around us. We debated on the purpose of our existence and wondered about the very reason of creation. His thoughts about his life’s purpose were unclear to him at that time, but he was sure that one day he will find out the answer to the big question – ‘What was the true purpose of his Life?

For then, he was happy… until one day, he met Nandini. Then onwards, his life got happier.
Nandini was one fine lady. She was sophisticated, well educated and had a distinctive persona. She had a clear head, was self built and had done well in her life. When Purab met her for the first time, he fell in love with her right away. He asked her out, she agreed and soon they were a couple. I helped Pruab through the initial stages of his relationship. It turned out well and soon he was committed before I knew it.

Purab and Nandini were perfect for one another. She saw those little details about him that other people would normally miss and she loved him for those. She was an optimist and a believer. She motivated and inspired Purab to be a better man. They both were a perfect match!

As few months passed by, his life took the fourth gear and I saw him the happiest he ever was. Nandini was all over his mind. She was his world. His queen of hearts, his motivation.

Each time he and I met, all he could talk of, was his future with her. The craving for music in his life had been replaced by his craving for loving her in the best way he could. He would tell me how he’d been truly lucky to have found her and how she had enlightened every corner of his heart. He had found his soul mate, he said. And I was happy for him.

A year after dating one another, they decided to spend the rest of their lives together.

One day Purab called me and said – ‘I think I’ve found the purpose of my life. Nandini is everything to me and I would dedicate my entire life to her. Keeping her happy is now the sole purpose of my life.

They got married. They were happy initially for a few months but then onwards, their lives started to change, for bad.

Purab who was once a vibrant and passionate young man with a goal in life, had started to lose focus. He was getting so much involved in his marriage that nothing else mattered to him. He went lazy, soon got broke as started taking his career for granted. However, he was doing everything he could to keep his woman happy. So much that he stopped having a life outside of her. He thought that this was the right thing to do. That his over-involvement in the relationship would make Nandini happy. But she wasn’t.

Nandini wanted him to be successful. She knew his potential and knew he could take his career forward, but only if he worked hard.

But Purab had changed. He was no more the man he was supposed to be. He wasn’t working towards his dreams, his goals, his music. He got careless, gained weight and stopped working on himself.

Seeing him wither away like this, hurt Nandini. This was not the man she fell in love with. The man she loved was passionate, flamboyant and enthusiastic about music. It was that passion in him that had attracted her in the first place. But now with that passion missing, she failed to convince her heart that Purab was even worth her decision. He was once the man she’d decided to spend the rest of her life with. But today she failed to find it in her heart that respect she once had for him. She tried and failed to keep that fire alive which had kept them going till now. She started to feel that her life was getting ruined with this man.

The marriage wasn’t working for either of them. It was specially hard for Purab. He failed to understand initially why Nandini didn’t return back his love to him. He felt he was doing everything right to keep the spark of their relationship alive. He still loved her, more than ever. So much that besides Nandini nothing else in life made sense to him. His parents, his friends, his career were all secondary. But he failed to realize that this extra effort being put by him into this marriage, was actually suffocating her.

Nandini tried to persuade him to get out into the real world. She wanted him to start living the life he had once envisioned for himself. But Purab had lost his love for music. His feelings for Nandini were so strong that nothing else besides her mattered. They would fight daily and none of them could win. They soon had communication breakdown and things just kept going downhill. There was anger, blaming, denials, arguments, threats and intimidations.

They finally decided to bring things to the table. I too, wanted them to resolve their disputes through communication, or arbitration. Purab called me to be besides him when he confronted Nandini.

You don’t love me anymore‘, he said. ‘You don’t respect me. You don’t see how much I have been putting in this marriage. You don’t even appreciate the effort. I’ve put my job, my dreams, my friends and my parents aside for you. I’ve made you the sole purpose of my life. I don’t want to devote my time to anything else but you. And I just want you to love me back. But you have changed so much. You hardly care.’

‘I do‘, she said. ‘But love is not the only thing I need from you. You love me so much that at times it starts to suffocate me. You don’t have a world outside of me. And you expect me to do the same for you. I love you, believe me I do. But I have a life apart from you as well. My work, my friends and my parents are equally important for me as you are. Unlike you, my work provides me a major share of my happiness. So do my friends. But now I feel my life is getting ruined with you. You have no life!

The one difference between me and you is that the source my happiness is compartmentalized while yours has become one-dimensional. You’re not a bad person, but I want you to be the man you were destined to be. Be that ardent, zealous and energetic person who lived for music. Nothing is more sexy than a man who is passionate about his goals that make him truly happy. We can still make this work. I want it to.’

So do we still have a shot at saving what we have? Can I earn your respect once again if I could change?‘ he asked.

Of course we do. And that would make me so happy‘, she smiled and they kissed.

Being a witness to their entire conversation, I knew Nandini was right. But at the same time I couldn’t help but laugh at the very irony of love. It’s such a rare commodity. Just a handful of people are lucky enough to have experienced true love in their lives. And yet if received in excess, can have severe consequences.

They say – Love is a drug. But what we at times fail to understand, is that, like any other drug, there is a highest dose to Love as well. If crossed, it is liable to have it’s side effects. Too much love can suffocate you. One can feel trapped in too much happiness. Perhaps it’s one of those many complexities of human mind which we still fail to understand. A little pain at all times, is necessary. Just as is, a little love.

~ Prateek Srivastava.
19/08/2018.

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Normalcy.

Had it not been for Maya, I would have never seen that patient. 

Entering the OPD that fine Thursday morning, he wasn’t a hard one to spot. Amongst the crowd of some forty people in that room, he was the only one with the description she had given me. I looked for his file amongst the bunch of dozen others lying on the table and called out his name. As per my guess, the same man, well dressed and seemingly coming from an educated background, somewhere in his mid-twenties raised his hand, somewhat sluggishly, hinting signs of disinterest in the proceedings going on in that room. 

Well, let me describe the room for you. 

Located in the center of the premises of a leading Psychiatric center in New Delhi, this room witnessed some fifty odd lives being transformed every day. The walls in this room have heard the strangest of tales and weirdest of experiences undergone by men and women struggling to combat various mental disorders they deal with, and still, those walls kept those tales a secret, unlike a few mortal beings like myself who chose to put a tale out for my readers, and to some extent breach patient confidentiality.

I took a look around. There was hardly any vacant spot. The whole room was chaos. The huge center table was over occupied with my co-JRs, post graduate students and interns, each engrossed in extracting patient information and putting pen to paper. I loved this part. Being a doctor in Psychiatry, one has the luxury of being the person whom people would open up their darkest secrets to. Most of the parts in their stories are intriguing, and most of it becomes routinely common with time. But if you have a keen ear, the vigor is always there. Most doctors in Psychiatry love to play with the dynamics of their patient’s tale, the heartiness of their narratives and the sanity of their accusations. Even if they malinger, the Psychiatrist knows it, and that’s when it becomes fun. 

Finding no space in that room, I decided to take him to the doctor’s duty room in the male ward. He slowly followed me and I judged from his disheartened gait, drooped shoulders and long melancholy face that he badly needed help. Thankfully the duty room was vacant and provided us the privacy needed for the forthcoming conversation. I tried to make him comfortable, briefly introduced myself and assured him that his friend and my school-mate Maya had sent him to the right place. But he chose to remain pretty silent during most of the interview and spoke only when pestered. His eyes had that hint of ache, his face had lost all expressions, indolently exuberating a lot of suffering, an ocean of misery and a million painful stories to tell.          

It took me a while to build up a rapport with him, and even more, to find out problems that were bothering him. He was lost, hopeless, depressed, and to an extent, felt guilty of something terrible that he had done. His sexual interests lied in men and his last relationship with another man that lasted for a year, had recently come to an end. What made things worse for him was that he was still struggling to find his place in the matrix created by the accepted norms of the dominant majority in our society. 

Often the toughest question one has to answer when asked to, is – ‘Who are you? What is your identity?’ This man here, was clearly struggling to find that for himself. 

He told me that he had been hiding the truth of his sexual interests from his parents, from his sister and best friend, and even his peers at college. But it always came with a price. If anyone amongst the gang of his male friends spotted a hot chick, they would expect him to join the series of erotic comments and guffaws that followed, but he completely found himself out of place. Out of place to an extent that, the feeling of non-belongingness to people slowly crept in on him. He described it as a suffocating feeling that he’d been struggling to free himself from, ever since he had hit puberty. He was in a constant battle with himself, every single day of his life, fighting hard not to succumb to the false convictions that he had been trying to convince his mind with. 

It took me a while to realize the seriousness of his problems. This was the first time I was dealing with a patient like this during my residency. I asked him how difficult was it to spot people with the same sexual inclinations as him and he said it was a pretty hard and risky venture. He feared being mocked and abused if any desperate attempt of inquiry from his side failed to parallel his assumptions. 

On one such previous attempts a year ago however, he had run into a charming man his age, who shared the same interests as him, befriended him and he gave him the best time of his life. He said he taught him to cherish life, to accept himself the way he was, to grow into a better person every day and, to Love! He claimed that he had spent with him the happiest time of his life. This relationship lasted for a year before fate decided to play cruel, plunging him to a realm of emotional challenges he had never dealt all by himself before and that had brought him to me.

The moment he finished talking, he burst into tears, trying hard to fight back his naïve emotions as he attempted to conceal his poignant face with his tiny hands. The sight was somehow very touching and I knew right at that moment that I had to help him in whatever possible way I can.  I was also glad that something called ‘compassion’ was still alive inside me somewhere. I wrote his case on few sheets of paper and asked him to follow me into one of our senior consultant’s chamber for further work up and counseling. He was earlier reluctant but then he loathly followed.

As I approached the consultant’s OPD room, I saw he was already occupied with a huge crowd of patients that were allotted to him that day. I went inside and asked him if I could discuss a case with him and the consultant was generous enough to grant me my wish but said he’d do it once he was done with the remaining patients. So he kept my sheets and asked my patient to wait outside and that he would call his name when he was finished seeing other patients. Since I had other patients for myself to attend to, I gave him my contact number, asking him to give me call when the consultant calls out his name.

Within an hour I got a call from him, I reached the consultant who addressed the patient properly, exploring every aspect of his history that I had missed, wrote him some medicines and suggested a few counseling sessions and made sure he felt better when he left the consultant’s room. He left that day and in subsequent weeks the clinical psychologists at the department took care of the rest.                              

Two months passed for this incident, when on a yet another Thursday, I received a similar case for work up. This new guy was equally distraught, had more or less the same issues like the previous one and was equally in need for medical help. In addition, he had an urge to turn into a woman physically as he always felt he was a woman trapped in a male body. He wanted me to help him kill that urge. He too, was ashamed of being the way he was, failing to come at par with his natural mental state and not accepting himself the way he existed. He had come here for treatment of his, what he described as ‘abnormality’ as he strongly desired to fall back in the socially acceptable norms of Normalcy, get married to another woman and produce kids as was expected of him. 

On further enquiry he revealed that he was incredibly gifted with the talents of sculpting and painting which he also used to earn his bread. When asked about how he spotted his companions in a world that was full of judging people, he said picking them up in a  crowd was almost as difficult as spotting a needle in a heap of hay. He was later diagnosed of gender identity disorder. I took his number as he invited me to one of his upcoming sculpture exhibitions in Old Delhi. I browsed his work on his Facebook page. Most of his works in stone were inspired by ancient scriptures and figures in Hindu mythology, depicting various forms of people with gender identity disorders, Shikhandi from Mahabharata being the most prominent. He had also portrayed the body of both Shiva and Parvathy fused into a linguistic creature which he’d labelled as Ardhanariswara.

I had a hard time sleeping that night. What kind of a society do we live in ? Where survival of the majority is all that matters yet survival of the fittest is the rule. What if the majority isn’t fit to survive? The socially accepted norms are often hard on the neglected. And perhaps they are neglected for a reason. The majority fears challenge. They fear being overthrown. The kingship is at stake if the pawn chooses to question. I kept turning and twirling on my bed up till dawn, then reached out for my phone, scrolled down searching for the previous guy’s contact number, forwarded it to the sculptor guy and hit send.

Then I cursed Maya. And then I cursed some more.

Dr. Prateek Srivastava.

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Free Days..

” He stopped for a while to look back at those days he’d been working constantly. Days that took so much and gave so less. The days in which he blindfoldly worked day and night to achieve an impossible yet luring target. Days in which he craved for a break..
For free days..

Now the free days are here. He’s living the break he wanted so much.
But life now seems purposeless..
Life is boring without purpose.

The struggling days were better.
He realised, he had got addicted to pain.. ”

– The struggler.

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Is ‘humane’ executions really possible..

03 AUGUST 2015, 14:57

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Yakub Memon’s hanging in India, once again put the spotlight on whether death penalty should be abolished and, if not, whether it can be made more humane. Globally, a wide range of methods of state execution are used — hanging, decapitation, firing squad, lethal injection, stoning — with hanging being the most common and used in around 60 countries. Electrocution, gas chambers and ‘pushing off a great height’, the last being only used in Iran, are the least used. Since most methods of state executions are chosen for historic and cultural reasons, here’s a review of what medical science has to say on death without discomfort.

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Lynching is far more complicated than Westerns would have us believe. India’s official method of execution is largely dependent on the hangman’s skill, which involves complicated calculations that factor in the prisoner’s weight and the length, thickness and quality of the rope. Executioners use the ‘long-drop’ method of hanging that causes almost instantaneous death from ‘hangman’s fracture’, a colloquial term for traumatic spondylolisthesis of axis vertebrae, which snaps the C2 vertebrae in the neck.

The preparation for the hanging must be exhaustive, as any miscalculation in the length of the drop can rip the prisoner’s head clean off. The prisoner is weighed the day before the hanging and a rehearsal is done using a sandbag of the same weight, to ensure a quick death. Too short drop would not break the neck at all, and would result instead in death by strangulation, which can take several minutes. In almost all cases, however, asphyxiation from the pressure of the rope on the windpipe and the blood vessels that feed the brain results in the prisoner losing consciousness within 10 seconds of being hanged.

Lethal injection was adopted in the US in 1977 as a humane alternative to the electric chair, with three drugs being used, the anaesthetic sodium thiopental, to numb the prisoner, followed by pancuronium, to paralyse the lungs and stop breathing, and potassium chloride to stop the heart.

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Several nations were forced to consider other forms of execution after a botched execution last year, in which the prisoner writhed in pain for 43 minutes before his heart finally stopped. One identifiable reason why he was in pain for so long was that he was administered the sedative midazolam instead of sodium thiopental, the latter being unavailable because of bans on the export of lethal drugs in the country.

Accidental electrocutions at home involving low voltage usually cause death from the heart stopping (arrhythmia), with a person losing consciousness within 10 seconds. The electric chair was designed to make the brain and heart stop instantly, by conducting a high-voltage currents directly through the person. But there have been several cases of the prisoner taking more than a few minutes to lose consciousness. In one case, the synthetic sponge attached to the electrodes was such a bad conductor that it went up in flames and the prisoner’s head caught fire. Most visible burns in such executions, however, are on the head and legs, where the electrodes are attached, and occur after death. If the voltage is insufficient, the prisoner is likely to die of the brain overheating, or of suffocation from the paralysis of the lung muscles.

Beheading is a gruesome way to be killed. If the executioner is skilled and has a sharp blade — like The Hound from Game of Thrones — it is among the least painful ways to die. When the infamous debate, to make beheadings painless and error-free, was first officially used for public execution in France in eighteenth century, the crowd baying for blood were reportedly disappointed by the speed of death.

A study of rats in 1991 found it takes 2.7 seconds for the brain to use up all the oxygen in the blood in the head, which is the duration of the consciousness of pain. In humans, it is about 7 seconds. In the absence of the guillotine, the skill of the beheader comes into play. In 1587, as per history books, a clumsy executioner could not behead Mary Queen of Scots in three attempts and finally used a knife to finish the job.

A shortage of drugs for lethal injection last year prompted several death-penalty states to look for alternatives. And a few insisted on nitrogen gas asphyxiation as the most painless way to die. Nitrogen gas causes asphyxiation by depleting oxygen in the blood. Though this inert gas is yet to be put to test as a method of capital punishment, accidental inhalation does not cause any symptoms and people do not experience the suffocation associated with carbon monoxide poisoning or the hydrogen cyanide used in gas chambers. Deep-sea divers exposed to nitrogen gas report feeling mildly euphoric — called the ‘raptures of the sea’ or the ‘Martini effect’ — because of narcosis triggered by the anaesthetic effect of the inert gas at high pressure.

Whatever the mode of death may be, it is only the dying who witnesses death. If by any chance by far, we could communicate with the dead, we’d clearly know what it takes to depart from a living body.

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3rd August 2015.

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Memories of the Dissection Hall

Hiking along the path right from the creaky wooden benches of the Lecture Theatre to the dark indoors of the Dept of Anatomy, we used to reach the Dissection Hall after three lengthy sleep inducing lectures which used to test our patience to the fullest. If we were to start dissecting the Abdomen that day, then as per my teacher’s say I’d to give the initial few pages of the dissection manual, a read.

It’d been three months and by now we’d grown quite friendly with my co-students on the dissection table with a few table parties and lots of truth and dares and dumb sharads which we played when extreme dissection started to piss us off. We celebrated our birth days or success in any part completion test, partying out hard. Also we grew quite familiar with our female cadaver, whom we called ‘Mayawati’ who probably heard almost everything we discussed in secret. Altogether our dissection table including me had 3 guys and 7 girls with surprisingly all genius minds. If there was a test, a scholarship programme, a sports event or any academic enterprise, one of the participants had to be from my dissection table.

I remember the first few days of dissection.

‘HERE THE DEAD ENLIGHTENS THE LIVING’ said a rusty yellow iron board outside Dissection Hall at its entrance. Facing a dead human body right in front of you was always a haunt. Before joining Medical College, dissection was one of my worst fears as I’d seen Munna Bhai faint out of frenzy on holding the scalpel in his hand like a pen. The first day when we were allotted our table and lockers, the bodies had their shrouds on. We were gradually mentally prepared for the big task ahead-that of dissection of course. The other day I almost had a goose’s skin when the shrouds were jerked off the bodies to reveal what it carried inside-a dead fat human female in her mid fifties with all four limbs intact, un-dissected and fresh.

As months would roll by, she would gradually impart to us what the anatomies of the human body were and eventually get dismantled limb after limb, organ after organ. The memory I have of her this day, four years post dissection is merely that of a limbless torso, skull sawed and brain removed; chest cage ripped apart at the breast bone and the heart and lungs dismembered leaving a gaping cavern. Her face is another undying memory with her jaw half open revealing a neat line of teeth with two or three missing members, the skin of her face drawn tight against the underlying facial bones giving her a curious, grinning expression. There were ten bodies for a hundred of us, being assigned ten to one per table.

All the cadavers had been duly processed before being provided to us for dissection and the processing had left them no different from the bunch of roses left to dry under the sun – Black, Stiff, Motionless and Hideous.

The daze of seeing the cadaver for the first time was distracted by the harsh, pompous voice of Dr Rohatagi who wanted to get done with taking the roll call of a hundred freshers number by number. We were expecting to be guided about the maiden approach towards studying the cadavers but we were in for a major misunderstanding. ‘All….open your Cunningham’s manuals….start reading. Page one to six’ was all we were worthy of according to Dr Rohatagi on our first day in medical college.

But it was an experience! Five students on each side of the cadaver, not being able to raise our heads and look around to evaluate the equally scared peers as to have a good look at the still bodies on the cold steel table before us. Yet gradually one by one by referring from the books, we got the real first glimpse of the inside of our cadavers making us even more inquisitive.

And I must confess that the first three pages of the manual were the toughest comprehension passages I had ever read. Medial, Sagital, Coronal, Axial were all as Latin or German in pronunciation as in comprehension. The description of movements as Abduction, Adduction, Flexion, Circumduction and Extension added to the mounting tension. Surely, reading the first few pages was treacherous for someone who had just eighty two percent in English in the twelfth standard.

If you thought that the dissection began from the head and completed with the toe, you are wrong. We started with the lower limb, proceeded to the upper and then to the Thorax and Breast-all in a disorderly order!

The first few days we wore rubber gloves which we got from Dispensary Road, Dehradun but they were either too large or too small and since our seniors hadn’t been using them in 15 years, we too decided to go bare handed.

The funda of doing well in dissection was simple-pay attention in class, read the dissection from Cunningham before handed and keep your patience till you finally search what you wanted.

As we dissected the palm, we were expected to identify the Palmer Aponeurosis, the Fascia Reticularis, the Median Nerve and many other bigger tongue twisters. Thus seeing or imagining the structures that were being dissected, I found myself staring at people’s palms in all public places-the Daily Needs shop, the Library, the Royal Mess and even Nescafe. But the next week when the time table on the notice board said ‘Dissection-The Breast’, I was rather scared. Imagine staring at lemons, oranges and water melons in public!

No medical student can ever recall a dissection theatre without the pervasive formalin. It is this acrid liquid that caused a lot of trouble in the initial days. Our cadaver was extra fatty so fat and formalin formed a really deadly pungent combo and we could smell it everywhere-during food, during writing or even playing Table Tennis.

However, looking back today, I realize there were so many untaught, but naturally learnt lessons in those ten months of dissection. Dissection taught me perseverance. We had to understand the intricacies of the human body before getting down to dissecting it. Understanding the greater sac and lesser sac, arguing about the cornea and sclera, and discussing the formation of the arches-all contributed to cracking the mystery of the body bit by bit. If the concept was not clear, then any amount of dissection could not show us what we wanted to see. THE EYES DO NOT SEE WHAT THE MIND DOES NOT KNOW.

And the greatest, most important lesson for the life of a doctor- respect for the human body. We owe it to those corpses who lay patiently tutoring us the marvels of the Creation, the beauty of the architecture and reverence to the most awe inspiring creation of God-the Human body!

Image-Prateek Srivastava

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THE ACTOR

He hobbled in the rain like the last soldier of a dying battle. His eyes were dreary, skin drawn tightly against his bones with no sign of underlying flesh, his hair coarse and dry as a broomstick, his hands swung lifelessly along his torso and his ragged clothing gave an obvious impression that he retired from bathing years ago. He drew closer to me with each of his limp, trying hard to manage his ataxic gait, as I tried my best to remain oblivious of his presence. I wanted to ignore that man who was more of a walking zombie but the moment I walked past him, I received a slight nudge at my apron from behind. As I turned around to look who it was, the same man, somewhere around his mid thirties, had held my left arm hard within his grip and wouldn’t let go. I was taken by surprise out of his awkwardly bold act that came out of nowhere.

‘What is the matter with you? Who are you?’ I yelled at him out of impulse.

The man quickly realized that he had crossed the line. He released my arm and fell to the ground with a thud. Then he somehow gathered himself, rolled up his pants and exposed his left leg to reveal a large bruise below his knee joint. It was a red, swollen area and gave a clear indication of a brutal trauma to the underlying bones. All my anger evaporated in no time. I folded my umbrella and decided to take a look.

‘What happened? How did you get that?’ I asked him as I kneeled down to examine his limb.

‘Saab I was returning back from work last night, when a drunken sadhu standing on the middle of the road whipped his wooden stick in the air without purpose! (Maybe alcohol did him enough good, I thought). Somehow his whirling stick found my leg and crushed the bony framework inside. It hurts bad doctor saab…plz write me some medicine.’

The man sounded Bihari by accent. He smelled like a rotten onion. I had to drift a few inches away in order to avoid the anesthesia. But duty is duty. I examined his leg, rolled them over, looked for tenderness and other signs of inflammation and it came to my mind that some way or the other, it was definitely a broken leg. Analgesics and immobilization for three weeks was the ideal treatment in such a patient but the protocol says you’ve always got to confirm your diagnosis first. So ordering him an X-Ray in order to find out which of the two bones had had him limping was mandatory, but since I was just a medical student, it wasn’t in my legal rights to write him an investigation. I decided to take him to the orthopedics opd at my medical college.

There the doctors examined him, x-ray was done and it revealed a broken fibula. So the diagnosis was made and just as I’d thought, analgesics and cast was prescribed to him for three weeks. He was a poor laborer by profession and worked at a construction site to earn his bread. Somewhere inside I was overwhelmed to have helped a helpless man. I paid for his medications and opd card and told him to get his cast fixed as soon as possible. I had my lectures to attend, which meant I couldn’t have been with him all day. So I gave him 1200 bucks and strictly told him-‘In paison se plaster lagwa lena…warna pair theek nahi hoga.’ He nodded and I took his leave.

Five days from then I saw him again. I made out from his gestures that he was trying to avoid me. He wore the same old torn shirt and smelt as bad as he did previously. He still had the limp. So I looked down at his leg to search for the cast. There wasn’t any!

I asked him-‘Plaster kyu nahi karwaya?’ I was rather furious.

He was taken aback by my abrupt questioning and gave quite an illogical reply. He told me that few of his co-workers bullied him when he got back from the hospital that day and took away the money I gave him for the cast. There was definitely something fishy in the whole made-up story but he put it so brilliantly before me, with all those tears and accents full of grief and agony that I had to surrender before the likelihood of his tale. His tale true or not, but the fact was that he still had a broken fibula. What surprised me the most was the will power and endurance which God had given him, that was letting him carry that broken leg for five days! I quivered even to think how I would have fared in a situation as painful and tormenting like his!

I decided to end what I had started, but this time a little intelligently. I told him I would take him to the hospital again and this time place the cast on his leg myself. He agreed to it and was rather happy. He told me he had some job to attend to and would be free only after an hour, so we decided to meet at the same place an hour later, which was at 1 pm.

At 1 pm I was standing exactly where we had our meeting fixed but there were no signs of him. An hour passed by and this little shrewd was starting to get onto my nerves. No one had ever tested my patience for this long in twenty five years. Irritably I finally arrived at the construction site where he worked. It took me a little while to search for his contractor and I asked him where could I find the man with a limping gait? He was rather surprised seeing me searching for that guy. Moments later he gave me a scornful laugh and his co workers gathered there and joined him. It didn’t take much time for me to understand I’d been made a fool of.

When his mirth ended he told me that little brat had been doing this since ages. Every night he would fool someone or the other, make up a story and narrate them in a manner that no lie detectors in the world could even get a clue, extricate money from lenders and buy desi daru which he would drink upto his xiphisternum. The injury that was spotted on the x ray was sustained by him years ago and mysteriously his wounds would somehow never heal. And when I thought this was all I had to hear, I was told by the service provider that the Uttarakhand government had considered him for the ‘berozgari bharta’ and he had been receiving forty thousand rupees every six months which he would spend all on alcohol.

As I returned to my hostel, on my way back on the same road I had a lot of questions that perturbed my mind. How could a man sustain an injury as brutal as a fracture and live with it for years without treatment? I did examine him myself and even the doctors at the hospital did. The signs of inflammation were true. He limped, that’s for sure, and he didn’t fake that. The guy was a natural. Why didn’t he try his chances in bollywood? And if at all God had given him the endurance and stamina to sustain that pain, what a miracle of nature he was!

That night I couldn’t sleep. I kept struggling to find out as to who was actually at fault? Was it the drunken sadhu? Or the stinking bihari lad? Or his parents who never sent him to school? Or the police who never took care of his acts? Is it the government who’s at fault that gives such people allowances for their physical challenges? Or are the people like myself and others who easily fall in trap?

The disturbance in my mind is still there. I never saw that man again.

-Prateek Srivastava
15th August 2013

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