Posted September 22, 2009on:
First day at Leelapur, an interior hamlet in Utter Pradesh, was like a rude shock for Kahan. Till now he had read about hunger and destitute in books, but never was he in such close quarters with either. He was to serve as an intern in this village for three months. He was allotted a room besides the so-called dispensary. The room was almost the size of his bathroom at home. There was a wrought iron bed in the corner and the mattress did not look too inviting. Now he wasn’t even sure of safe drinking water either.
“Sir, would you like to rest today and start seeing patients tomorrow?” Dukhiya, the attendant, asked half expecting Kahan to run away from this place as soon as possible.
Kahan looked around and did not find any incentive to stay back in the room.
“Come, we will see how many patients are there!” replied Kahan.
“Only a couple of them as there is no doctor for about six months now. The nurse is managing with whatever he has.”
Kahan nodded somberly. He was too overwhelmed by his surrounding to say anything else. As they started towards dispensary, Dukhiya started filling him in about the village and its people. But his conversance did not prepare Kahan for what he was to see in the coming three months.
“Tell me something, why is your name “Dukhiya?” asked Kahan to feel a bit lighter.
“I am told that when I was a baby I used to cry a lot and always had a frown on my face, hence the name.” answered Dukhiya with a grin. Kahan noticed missing incisors. Dukhiya was a slight man with a slouch. His face was weather beaten and lined deeply. Later during his stay he observed that most of the adults in this village looked prematurely aged and had deeply lined faces at very young age.
He was reminded of “colour streaked” hair of young ladies of his city when he saw “flag sign” of malnutrition in the kids here. For one it was fashion, for other it was an aftermath of privation! Day after day Kahan saw and felt despair. Basic amenities were luxury here. He felt helpless when he could not give injection to many of the children because there was no muscle mass to poke needle into. He was a theist but looking around now, his faith in God was quivering.
“Sir, sir….” shouted Dukhiya knocking at Kahan’s door. Kahan got up from his slumber with a start. He heard dread in Dukhiya’s voice.
“What could it be at this hour!” wondered Kahan looking at his watch. It showed 2 am.
“What is it? Why do you look so alarmed?” asked Kahan while still trying to get oriented to his wakeful state.
“Come sir, come fast, Bijuri is bleeding profusely.”
This was not the first emergency since he came to this village two and half months back, but he had never seen Dukhiya dismayed before. They almost ran to the consulting room. He saw a thin young woman sitting on the floor with her head bowed and her chaperone was crying and cursing profusely. He assumed that they were a mother-daughter duo. As it turned out, the daughter, Bijuri, was a widow since she was sixteen and presently she was brought here as she had miscarried. That explained the cursing. Bijuri did not look up nor did she say anything. It was difficult to tell from her demeanour what was she feeling and it was equally difficult to gauge her age, but she looked to be in her twenties.. With the treatment done he was requested to keep the matter to himself. He reassured them as he sent the duo home.
Feeling numb, Kahan dragged himself to his room and tried to sleep.
He dreamt of a young girl wearing floral pink and yellow frock running around in the field with a balloon in her hand, her unruly hair bouncing with each gallop. He hears her laughter. She runs into a boy and they both hold hands and play some more. The boy is called away leaving behind the girl alone. A small tear trickles down her chubby cheek. She looks around to play with somebody but found herself alone. Suddenly the little girl is whisked away by a lot of skinny and ravenous people. The girl starts wailing and the whole universe is filled with her cry. Kahan wants to snatch her away from the mob but his hands can’t reach her. He sees her being dragged away. Then he sees her again at his clinic, with her head bowed and bleeding. He sees the blood all over the floor. He wipes and wipes but the blood won’t go away. She sits there in the pool of blood looking at Kahan. Kahan frantically tries to stop the bleeding. Bleeding stops. She smiles at him, a rueful smile and walks away. Kahan runs behind her, to find her, to protect her, to tell her that life is much more than what she has found it to be. He runs and runs through the narrow lanes and fields to catch her, frantically looking for her. She slips away. Then he sees her again, on the other end of the field standing under a sandalwood tree. He could smell the perfume. He breathes deeply to fill his being with the aroma. He gingerly takes the steps towards the girl. He reaches the sandalwood tree and looks around for her. His head collides with something hanging from the tree. There he finds her finally, hanging by the twine, a small smile playing on her lips. But this is not the same girl who had come to his clinic. This is the girl with the balloons in her hands…the nine year old girl! Suddenly the mob appears and starts pelting the girl’s dead body with stones.
Kahan wakes up drenched in his own sweat!