The Formative years

“Come,Watson come! The game’s afoot.”

If I can think of one line, which aptly describes the situation prevalent when I was between 9 years to about 13 years of age i.e. from about 1989 to roughly 1993, then the above written and quite famous line spoken by my favorite fictitious character – Sherlock Holmes to affable Dr Watson in the story – Adventure of Abbey Grange- would be the one.

Yes! So much was happening in India back then, and well actually in the world, come to think about it, that literally the atmosphere was fully charged all the time. These were my formative years, a time when the character and personality of a child solidifies into the mould which the world around him or her has built, and this foundation more or less remains in a substantial form – evident or concealed, in one’s personna through out the life.

I was in the thick of the things – informationally, I mean; I was acutely aware of chaos going around me – students burning themselves in schools and colleges to protest the acceptance of recommendations of Mandal commission, a veteran leader riding on a chariot through the narrow lanes of congested cities to complete his Rath-yatra, later he and others getting up on a building and demolishing it and the country burning, militants gunning down innocents in Kashmir and the numbers of military personnel going up in the valley and that of tourists nosing down, bombs ripping apart Bombay, Harshad mehta decimating the stock market….Phew! Those were dangerous and uncertain times.

I remember the standards fifth to seventh through a haze of repeated closures of school due to one or other unrest. There were curfews, and me and my extended family had a blast in these forced vacations, so much so, that the writer in me was born during this time and I wrote a comical-satirical peice which welcomed the curfew (personified as a welcome guest) in my town, and it was published in the local newspaper! I was in sixth standard and it was the highpoint of my life till that time.

So, I have a foggy memory of school during this period and I have a strong suspicion that the fundamental deficiency in my understanding of most of the subjects is the direct result of spending more time at home rather than the classroom in these formative years.

It was not that only this country was transforming, winds of change were sweeping all over the globe – I distinctly remember watching the English news on Doordarshan with my family in late November’89 as Berlin wall went down, then later the revolution in Czechoslovakia and finally the fall of mighty U.S.S.R. in 1991….It was big man! Big. The cold war ended just like that – once mighty U.S.S.R. got split and communism was dealt a deathly blow. U.S.A. was not going to be left behind- it declared a war on Iraq ( Gulf war) and I distinctly remember the excitement when we saw the first direct reporting from a war field and the Oohs! and Aahs! as we saw Tomahawk missiles being launched, going up a trajectory and then coming down on Saddam’s forces with unbelievable destructive power.

I remember all of it. I had a great interest in current affairs back then and had almost an obsessive desire to ‘know everything’ and I doggedly followed each event keenly – through newspapers, magazines and television.

That I turned up into a slouchy, cynical couch-potato living a comfortable life without any interest in national and international affairs, wolfing away delicious delicacies cooked by my lovely wife as I binge-watch daily soaps on the idiot-box is a testament to the inherent inertia of my personality and the mighty will to – just sit around and let the world pass by.

Yes I do think I was saved by my monumental laziness. Otherwise I didn’t stand a chance!

Had I been a tad more active and enterprising, and had there been google, republic t.v. , twitter and whatsapp during those years, I would have definitely turned up a raving maniac, shouting slogans, sending forwards about our great country and discussing politics and politicians heatedly with my fellow countrymen.

I am infinitely grateful that we didn’t have Whatsapp and internet back then, otherwise I would not have wasted time and would have promptly gone insane. The deluge of inflammatory messages and memes would have been such that anyway nobody could have held on to his or her sanity.

Not that everything was happening in a negative way back then, two leaders; who cannot be named now, were fighting to keep the country stable and progressive; used their magic wand and bingo! the rusty indian economy opened up, big foreign brands started coming to India and the rise of Indian middle class started and eventually reached a point where I and my friends thought of staying back here, instead of going to foreign shores and we were able to create a good life here – decent salary, upscale neighborhood, costly schools for our kids and a gorgeous home.

Of course, one has to ignore the India which one meets outside one’s home and swanky workplace, because otherwise there is a clear danger of our bubble getting burst.

There is a limit to which good things can happen to us and one should not be greedy and demand for everything – like Scandinavians for example. They can demand and perhaps can obtain a non- corrupt beurocracy, an intelligent and well read political leadership, universal health and education for everyone, a non-polluted atmosphere, a high per capita income, a non-biased and influential media, tip-top and efficient infrastructure, liberty and basic rights for everyone…Hugh! I got exasperated in just enumerating all this…imagine, demanding and hoping for of all this!

But we have long been ingrained to- not to be too idealistic and optimistic about our country, so there is no real danger of anyone getting frustrated and disillusioned with current and future prevalent conditions; and if one feels really strong about some issue he or she writes vehemently on facebook and whatsapp,and sends some forceful forwards regarding that matter on social media and goes on living exactly in the same way; so now we decorate our houses, get big cars, eat in Michellin starred restaurants and go on foreign vacation twice an year and ignore everything else. Easy…this is the way to live in India. Why bother about anything else? Anyway it doesn’t change anything.

But I digress, the reason why I got up from my couch and started writing all this was that I was feeling nostslgaic and a bit sad because two of our long standing issues were suddenly brought into limelight and were actually solved and done away with!

Yes I am talking about – Kashmir and Ayodhya issue- and yes I know that I am entering a dangerous territory here, as has been forewarned to me umpteen times by social media- that all the messages will be scrutinised, don’t write or share anything about Ayodhya verdict – as if I already don’t know all of this.

I might be a fool, but i am not an idiot.

What a line!..It has the potential to become a famous quote in the future and seems to have come from the pen of that master of caustic wit – Oscar wilde. But it has a very humble origin i.e. from my typing pad, and it also suffers the ignonimity of being true in my case.

Anyways, I don’t want to delve into the legality, timing, ethical part, execution, and morality of the decisions which has brought closure to these issues because; well – what’s the point?

I am talking about the void which the sudden demise of these two aged problems has left in our lives. It’s like the death of an uncle, a cousin of one’s father, who used to visit one’s home often, and one has become accustomed to his repeated appearances in the house for few days and then the uncle would go away, only to come back later on occasions like marriages etc. in the family.

Suddenly now he is gone, it doesn’t change one’s life in any substantial way but one feels a little sad or a tad empty at the swift disappearance of this distant relative from one’s life.

Perhaps you are thinking, O! wise reader, that I am being a wisecrack and trying to be satarical.

But, I am not, I really feel that what would we do now? What is there to look forward to? and what does media – digital, social and print- have to report now?

Ever since I have gained conscious memory, these two issues have been constantly in the horizon of my mind somewhere or the other – whether in the front glaringly or somewhere in the background- but always present. I had learnt to live with them. How can suddenly they be gone! What about – conscious uncoupling? That’s a word prominently trending nowadays, isn’t there a scope for something like that? Straight away – divorce or clinical execution of these two matters? I cannot wrap my head around it.

And I feel somewhat saddened in not being able to pass these two erstwhile problems to my sons as inheritance, along with all other difficulties which I myself inherited from previous generations, and was looking forward to pass the baton to the upcoming one.

I am totally able to visualise the bitter recriminations which I am going to pour upon my kids twenty years from now, when defeated from the shitty life in this country and this planet, they will argue with me that they want to shift to the Moon village on the moon, which is providing great opportunities to the young and enterprising youngsters who want to explore new vistas to enhance their future and career, ” What do you mean young man that you can’t breathe properly in the toxic air of this city? We have lived all our lives here and we did good.. Didn’t we? We raised you despite all odds ….You are already tired from the threat of the nuclear world war and the scarcity of water…Hamare zamane main…there was Kashmir and and then there was Ram mandir issue. We kept on living with such absurdities through out our childhood and most of our adult life, but were never got tired of them …Never had the escapist tendencies like you to run away from the problems… Hugh! Wants to shift to moon… Who is going to pay for your transport over there?…Your father?”

See? I mean this conversation is quite plausible.. and that is a problem for me.

On further thinking and calming down a little, I have come to a conclusion that perhaps I am over-reacting. Every generation has few social issues which are tied around its neck like the albatross and that generation thinks that it’s only it, which has been burdened with something this nerve-wrecking and humongous, but it’s not so.

Look what my father had to endure in his youth – emergency! Janasangh!…All that was huge!…And I can’t think of what my grandfather went through- The great war of Indian independence!

And it’s not like there are no other distractions available which will drag on few decades further till my sons reach my age.

The issue of reservation has a great potential I think, to keep us busy for many- many years, it’s burning brightly everywhere in the country. Then issues like statehoods for many regions who want their own separate states is one, inter-fighting amongst people originating from different states of India is on the rise and one feels in the bones that it’s only going to worsen in the coming decades – biharis and marathas for example, and of course – the perennial pain in the ‘ you know where’ Pakistan is not going to disappear overnight, it should keep giving Masala to us to talk about for a very long time I think.

And at the world stage, definitely the current u.s. president is going to leave behind such a troublesome legacy that it will be my grandsons who still will be talking about him. Iraq ,Syria and terrorism will be staple news for a long time and of course the cold war might have ended a long time ago, but it’s more sinister version, the economic one, has already started to play havoc, in the form of China. Then there is North Korea. And small talks about global warming, deteriorating environment and pollution are our constant pass times now and will remain so in the future surely.

So, it turns out I was unnecessarily getting emotional about Kashmir and Ayodhya. We can put them to rest …bury them, there are other difficulties to look forward to and get agitated about. And if my kids, currently 7 and 4, ever raise their eyes from the mobile screens and come out of the world of Avengers and Marvel universe, rest assured they will not have any dearth of issues to talk about at their workplaces, in the trains, on the lounges at the airport… anywhere.

Ok!..I feel much better now, my tension has ebbed away. Perhaps you are feeling a bit tensed now, O! Wise reader. Don’t worry , chant along with me – All is well..All is well

And if that doesn’t provide enough solace to you, come watch SAB Tv with me as slide back down on my comfy couch and watch the world pass by.

Homecoming.

A story.

It was that time of the year! The time when everything seems rosy, when the air is crisp, clear and fragrant; the sky is a healthy shade of blue, without even a speck or wisp of a cloud; and the sun is bright but gentle.

It was the time to go home and everyone had a spring in the step. Camaraderie and universal benevolence was overflowing in the hardened hearts of co-workers, secure in the knowledge that atleast for three weeks they wouldn’t have to look at each other’s damned faces. Brotherhood is strongest when the brothers are not present in front of the eyes to confound oneself.

Even the usually reticent and obnoxious supervisor had a rare smile on his face and he actually patted the backs of few lucky bastards! No doubt he was also relishing the prospect of cooling his heels in the backwaters of his hometown in kerala during his vacation.

Harjiram came out of the factory after finishing his night shift around 8 am. It was already hot and the air was stifling. The sand dunes stretched behind the factory to the horizon, dotted by bushes – angry and thorny, ready to sting anyone who dared to go near them. He inhaled a deep breath and coughed immediately due to the the dust that had invaded his system. Even this could not shake his bonhomie. He was feeling that good!

Harjiram squinted in the distance. The scorching stretch of Arabian desert  reminded him of Rajasthan, the state in india from where he hailed, specially of Boodha pushkar, a short swathe of picture perfect desert near his home town – Pushkar. 

It seemed to him that sunshine had a different character that day, it had a deeper tint, which used to be the case when he was a kid and had played in the dusty lanes around his home. He had the insight that perhaps he was getting carried away with the current of nostalgia, but he didn’t care; he was going home after four years and it was all that mattered.

And this homecoming was going to be special. He had become the first person who had broken the shackles and had gone to Dubai to earn loads of money. Everyone back at home considered him rich.

If only they knew,‘ he thought acidly.

He had come to U.A.E. after giving a lot of money to an agent. He had tried for three years before he could land in the ‘realm of dreams’, but got a rude reality check early on, when he was told that he would be working at a ceramic factory at Ras-al-Khaimah, 80 kms. from Dubai. Infact, he had gone to visit Dubai only once and was dazzled by the skyscrapers there. They were so near yet so distant- it was so costly to enter any of them.

He shared the room with six other men, all were like him-disillusioned and defeated by life.

Hugh! life–Can one call this monstrosity a life?’, he thought – ‘this never-ending cycle of same mundane, tasteless and listless actions- repeated over and over. Room to factory, back-breaking work in inhuman conditions, then back to room, too tired and spent to do anything else.’

That there was not enough money anyways to spend, was another issue altogether. He had even cut down on tobacco, his only indulgence, to save money.

It was a misconception that he was making good money here, albeit, a misconception that he was keen to preserve. Because otherwise what else did he have? He was thirty-six, wiry and thin, with prematurely greying hair. He had tried many things earlier from business to odd jobs, but nothing had worked. Frustrated he had pinned all his hopes on gulf and when that also turned out to be a disappointment, he was broken.

Still, he had a lasting job here, and if one didn’t inconvenience the company with matters like sickness or god forbid- an accident; they were happy to let one work there endlessly- year after year; burning with the hope that one day, one would save enough to go back home triumphantly but knowing in the heart that such a day would never arrive.

Yet, like everyone here he had tried to save money, punishing himself more and more. He hadn’t even availed the annual leave in the past three years to save more, and had decided to go once he could afford expensive and never before seen gifts for everyone, so he could blaze a trail of opulence, prosperity and grandiosity there….He deserved this much.

And, now the time had come to get wings and fly to his abode- resplendent and lively.

—-///—-///—-///—–///—-///—-

“Have you kept my smartphone in your luggage? And the power bank for Nitesh?”

“Yes Shyam, I have kept everything, don’t worry. I have got gifts for everyone.”

“Ok bhai, we are waiting eagerly for you here. Sarpanchji has specially invited you to his daughter’s marriage. Everyone here is excited to meet you after all these years.” spoke Shyam, who was his younger brother, on the phone.

For a moment Harji was too choked to speak and his eyes were moist, ” You can’t imagine how impatient I am to be there, where you are standing right now.”

It was a hectic day and he had to do a lot of things. He still needed to buy some more gifts and now he would have to buy a nice dress to attend the wedding.

Harji was at the end of his wits, on one hand he was acutely worried about his shopping spree..’There goes all my savings..’, he thought with a heavy heart; and on the other hand he had heard from someone that there was a limit to the luggage which one could carry, after that one had to pay a hefty fees to carry it. Harji wasn’t sure about the weight limit, he had travelled only once in a flight, when he had come to this country with a tiny single bag.

By evening he was exasperated, he had to go to Sharjhah to catch the flight and his shopping was not coming to an end. He had been receiving phones regularly throughout the day from his extended family members and neighbours to request something or other from the duty-free heaven of this land. They all had seen swanky things in the hands of tourists which flocked Pushkar throughout the year but hadn’t had a chance to lay their hands on such shiny, alien-looking and mesmerizing miracles of technology. Until now, but as the news spread that Harji was coming and was bringing gifts, nobody wanted to be left behind.

Then there was some jewellery too for his wife, who always angry with him for leaving her behind, and toys for his son, now 5 years old. He had not seen him since four years, ‘how I long to take him into my arms and swirl him in the air,’ thought Harji longingly.

Also, he had stupidly promised to produce bottles of fine Angrezi wine there to commomerate the occasion of his homecoming. He could distinctly visualise all the males of his town smacking their lips in anticipation of the promised liqour

He didn’t have enough bags and suitcases to carry everything, in desperation he looked around and found a large and beautiful, but an old cloth, embroidered in the traditional style of Rajasthan, which he had somehow brought with him earlier. He hastily packed many articles in it and wrapped a tight rope around it.

Finally, the hour arrived when he started for Sharjhah. He was taking along his friend Madan till Sharjhah airport to help him, he could carry back some of the articles in case he needed to offload something. He instructed Madan to wait outside till he got his luggage weighed and finished the formalities at the Air-Arabia counter.

“You are carrying about 15 kgs. extra, you will have to pay 300 dirhams to be able to carry all this in the flight sir. ”

Harji almost had a heart attack when heard the smart lady behind the counter explain to him sweetly. There was darkness in front of his eyes for few moments. With some difficulty he spoke, ” Three hundred dirhams! That is too much. But I don’t understand I am traveling to my home, a person will carry some luggage with him.. Won’t he?”

“Sorry sir, but the flight which you have booked allows only 15 kgs. baggage and you have around 30 kgs. We charge 20 dirhams per extra kilogram, that is the rule. Either you have to pay or you can’t carry extra luggage.”

He pleaded desperately to her but she didn’t budge.

He looked at the pieces of his luggage, lying strewn on the floor, sadly for few minutes, contemplating the next course of action, though at a deeper level he already knew.

There was no way he could have paid this astronomical amount. It would have been insane to do so.

Then he shuffled slowly outside to Madan and handed him a big chunk of his luggage to carry back to the room.

“But…What will you say to your family and friends? It will be awkward.” Said Madan.

Harji took a deep breath, ” One has to change and act according to the circumstances; besides, they will understand.”

As he sat in the overnight flight to Jaipur he was quite thoughtful. His bubbling enthusiasm had quietened down to a steady trickle of an uncertain happiness.

—-///—-///—–///—-///—-///—

He saw them through the enveloping fog of the early cold morning of December through the illumination of bright shiny lights at the Jaipur airport as soon as he came out of the arrival area. It seemed to him that they had acquired a halo in the intervening period when he had been slaving in the Arabian desert.

‘How saintly they all look,’ he thought bemused as he approached them. Of course, it was because of the interplay of the fog and the lights.

“Chacha, did you bring smartphone and power bank for me? ” asked his nephew Nitesh as he touched his feet.

” Nitesh! ” admonished his father Ramsingh, Harji’s elder brother,” your uncle has everything, first let him take a breath.”

“Actually,” Harji spoke hesitantly as he hugged his brother,” I couldn’t get your gifts. I…I ..had to leave a lot of my luggage back there as it was crossing the weight limit of the airlines and they were demanding a lot of money to let me bring it….I mean a lot of money!” stuttered Harji uncomfortably.

It was at this moment that he saw it– the sudden hardening of their faces, the closing of their hearts, the involuntary and momentary clenching of their jaws, the rolling of the eyeballs, the swift exchange of furtive glances, the terrible disappointment written boldly over the faces of youngsters and the sudden appearance of weariness and a well concealed mild irritation in elders.

Perhaps he had imagined it all….It was gone in an eye’s blink…No!…It had happened and he felt a deep gulf opening in his heart, ready to drown him.

“You don’t understand…I could not have brought everything…It’s not my fault,” he spoke rapidly in an attempt to redeem himself, to explain his impossible situation to them, to show how much he loved them but there were practicalaties of life too, to shout at them that he was standing there- in flesh and blood- after all these years! And that was all that mattered, “and I will send everything somehow with other people coming over next few months…next year… whenever…”

There was an awkward silence for few seconds then Ramsingh spoke,” it’s ok Harji, we understand. And you are here, that is the most important thing. Come, let’s go…mother is waiting for you.”

The three hour ride to Pushkar in the dilapidated van was acutely uncomfortable, not because the vehicle was rickety and the seats were designed to give lumbago to its passenger, he could endure all this...hell..he lived and worked in shitty conditions daily; but it was their silence – the enveloping silence, the accusatory silence, the silence on the pretext of being awake all night and thus the pretension of the nap which reeked of – disownment and seperation, of repugnant materialism in the face of absence of those petty shiny articles which he had not got for them ; which hurt him. It was as if someone had poked a knife in his heart- slowly, deliberately and pointedly.

“Hello..Yes, he is here…Umm..No, he didn’t, I mean he couldn’t…Shalu!..Easy, don’t shout..Hmm..I will tell you everything when we reach there.”

Harji listened with closed eyes, pretending to be asleep in the front seat, as Shyam spoke on his phone in a hushed tone in the rear. He could imagine clearly in his mind what would have been happening at the other end- Shyam’ s sharp-tongued wife Shalu would have spewed venom on hearing the news that he had not brought the delicate and finely- crafted wristwatch for her, along with the beautiful decorative peices from the land of Arabia, which she desired so much.

He slid down in his seat and wanted to dive deeeper and deeper until he disappeared completely into the welcoming shadows.

—-///—-///—–////—–////—–///—-

It had been six days since he had arrived here and his disenchantment with the place was complete.

‘Why did I ever come to this god-forsaken place!’, he thought bitterly, ‘ this town can never change. Ignorant fools can never transform into better men and women.’

He wondered that how was it possible that he had such a grandiose and romantic idea about his homecoming earlier. Nostalgia did strange things to one’s mind- it painted a bright and colorful portrait of one’s native place with the brush of happy memories of yesteryears only; leaving behind the hard-core horrible truth and true nature of it’s inhabitants aside, in it’s longing.

Now, he wanted to see it through, to be fully punished and banished. He went to each house in his vicinity to receive his rejection, to see the sneer on the faces of his neighbours and extended family members, to see the smug satisfaction on their faces which clearly said – we were better to not to have gone to a distant land and fail there. He deliberately sat through the dull conversations about nothing in particular, all the time observing the glint of contentment in their eyes, hidden beneath their courteous superficial mutterings, which belied their happiness in his failure, in his poverty and regainment of their superiority over him- he was nothing special after all, he was insignificant….he could be passed over; forgotten.

The extravagant visions of celebrations and parties were long gone. Not many people had turned up to meet him at his home after the news spread that he hadn’t brought anything.

At his home only his mother was really delighted to see him and she herself cooked food his favorite dishes daily. His wife, though happy to see him and the necklace which he had managed to bring, had resumed her constant bickering soon after – why didn’t he take her and his son with him? Why had he left her here to slave for the family, alone, to face the taunts of her mother-in- law and constant manipulations of her sister-in-laws? Why was she here, when he claimed that he was doing so well there? Why couldn’t she go with him?

He didn’t have the willpower to tell her that he was in no position to afford a place for his family back in U.A.E. and that she was condemned to remain in this small and crowded accommodation till eternity. In his irritation he had had a big fight with her and she had gone into a shell since then- silent, burning inside and embers of smoldering anger flashing through her firy eyes.

Harji could not even befriend his son. He proved to be too shy, too young and too immersed in his playful world to heed to paternal overtures of this stranger who had suddenly descended into his life, into his world and into his room where he now shared the bed with him and his mother. Frustrated in his attempt to enamour his son towards himself, he had scolded him severely one day and that was the final straw, after that his son maintained a resentful distance from him.

His brothers and sister-in-laws had abandoned him the first day itself, and went on with their lives as if he was not there.

Few days later in the marriage of sarpanchji’s daughter as he sat alone in a corner, he overheard a conversation behind him,

“Look at this Harji, sitting in the same worn clothes that he has been wearing for days now,”

“Yes, I noticed, he has been wearing only a couple of old shirts with the same trousers since he came back . Atleast, today he should have worn something special,”

“Definitely, if he is earning well in Dubai why is he roaming here as a pauper? I have heard that he didn’t bring anything for his family too, atleast he should have brought some nice gifts for his near and dear ones, if not for the whole town,”

“You know, I doubt whether he really works at Dubai. He must have been lying, I think he is a low level servant somewhere far away in India only. He always was a ‘good for nothing’ fellow.”

Harji was frozen, he didn’t dare to look behind and see who had spoken these words, in the fear of finding out that they could be someone whom he considered close to him and that would shatter him. Not that he was not broken already, his heart was irrevocably torn to shreds.

He wanted to run away from here, back to the comforting monotony of his factory and sweaty-smelly odour of his overcrowded room.

Early next morning before the first rays of the reddish sun started baking the sand, he went to his beloved patch of desert at Boodha pushkar and sat on a dune. In his hands was a big package wrapped in the cloth done in the traditional work of this part of Rajasthan and tightly wound with ropes. He kept the package on the sand and lay down in the cold desert.

Up in the still black sky he could see the constellation of Big dipper or Saptrishi, the two front stars of the bowl of the dipper pointing towards the pole star or Dhruva Tara. On an imaginary axis passing through this star, the earth rotated, he knew, but on what axis did the lives of inhabitants of this planet rotated around – Money? Mere material things made in some puny factory in china or middle east or even India? The axis was not love he now understood, it did not hinge upon family, friends or relationships.

Suddenly he wept- Why did he test them? Why did he try to prank them? It would have been infinitely better had he continued to believe in the false notions of brotherhood, nostalgia, coziness of family, and noble intentions of neighbours and acquaintances.

When it had come to shedding off weight at the airport he had given all his personal belongings -clothes, toiletries and some other lesser important stuff to Madan, who had protested that he would look like an impoverished fool stuttering around in just a pair of two old shirts.

But he had insisted upon carrying most of the gift items to India. He had thought how delighted everyone would be after receiving them. But, he wont give them just like that – first he would joke around it, as he was ever the prankster.

He flinched as he thought about the scene which he had rehearsed in mind throughout the journey in the plane – He would come out…they would be jubiliant on seeing him…amidst all the hugging and feet-touching, someone, most likely an impatient teenager like Nitesh would ask about the gifts…then he would act hesitant and tell them that he could not bring them. There would be a moment of mild shock..then they would all laugh and tell him that it did not matter one bit. He was there – their brother, uncle, son, husband, father….And that was all that mattered in the whole wide world. Then Viola !..He would sweep out the gifts to give them the surprise of a lifetime.

But things had gone awry; stunned by their response he could not tell them the truth there or later at any time at his home. Then it was too late.

Initially he had wanted to give their respective articles and make everything all right – a happy ending. But the more he thought about the affair the stronger his desire grew to explore the depths of their indifference towards him.

Nobody asked him, not even his wife, that what was in the tightly wrapped cloth, which he had kept beneath his bed the first day. If he hadn’t brought anything and didn’t have any clothes to wear -then what was in that package? Nobody cared

Far in the distance, at one edge of the desert where it petered out to a narrow pathway leading towards a village, he could dimly see some lights and faint outline of a camp or dera of Kalbeliyas – the nomadic tribe living their migratory life in this region.

He got up and strode towards it purposefully. Nothing was stirring as yet, he gave a last parting look at the package. A smile broke through his wet face like a rainbow after the rain . He felt some closure by the thought that atleast all the exotic stuff bound in that package would bring happiness to kids and people of that tribe. He left it near the entrance of the dera.

Then he turned and walked briskly towards his home… towards jaipur….toward sharjhah….towards Ras-al-Khaimah.

—-///—-///—-///—–///—–///—

Later that morning the elders in the Kalbeliya camp heard the noises of their children fighting and squabbling amongst themselves outside the entrance.

They found a bunch of kids fighting over an old but exquisite peice of cloth which had been handcrafted in the folk design which was so familiar and thus inviting to the children.

As they untangled the bawling kids, someone caught a glint of glass reflecting the rising sun.

The celebrations lasted for two nights, despite the protests by the womenfolk, but they also knew that it was a rare and special occasion when men got their hands upon delicate Angrezi wine.

They had also seen other electronic and digital items scattered over the distance in the sand, and perhaps had an idea what they were, but they didn’t have any use for them; so they left them there – to be buried slowly under the sweeping Balu sand of the all enveloping desert for eternity……

Nothing Ever Happens Here…

A story.

I boarded the Maglev, which was going towards the mining dome, in the most crowded compartment and stood in the centre amongst fellow travellers.

Statiscally, I had the least chance of detection in the train now. Realistically, however, it did not matter….did not matter at all..It was just a matter of time before they arrested me.

I had been inhaling and exhaling repeatedly to stop my blood pressure and heart rate from shooting up. They could read my vitals… everyone’s vitals actually.

They would know!

As the adrenaline in my system ebbed away, I found myself shivering and my teeth chattering. I could feel a chill settling over my body and tears starting to brim over the corners of my eyes. I desperately tried to hide them by rubbing the eyes as if they had moistened up due to an irritant.

But they came stronger and stronger ever and a stiffled sob emanated from my mouth despite my current predicament, I immediately acted to yawn to cover it up.

Sahar!….my Sahar.

I tried to make sense of the events of the last twenty minutes or so, but it was pointless. How could one commit a double murder and try to make sense of it ?

Perhaps I was caught in a bizarre dream, how else could it be explained that the love of my life was not alive anymore…that I had killed her with my own hands?

There was a lurch as the Maglev came to a halt, and I jolted out of my reverie. I got down on the station and through the connecting tunnel walked briskly towards the building where my office was situated. There were things to be done…. Important things.

I paused hesitantly for a second before punching to enter the building. It would immediately give away my location. But then again, how difficult was it to find a run-away criminal in a colony of six-hundred? And I was the only suspect.

Anyhow, by now, the silence of the health chips of both the victims would have alerted the authorities, and the poorly hidden bodies would be on the verge of getting discovered any moment.

I had kept the bodies of Sahar and that detestable De Jong in an empty cupboard inside the lab and hurriedly stacked a table in front of the cupboard. ….it was the best I could do in my panic.

Time was ticking away… anyhow, what else could I have done? It wasn’t as if they could have been burried away somewhere secretly.

Despite myself, a smile broke out on my face at this thought….bury them…ha!.. The very process of changing my clothes to wear the appropriate dress would have consumed precious minutes…then it would have been the question of carrying their bodies our of Yuri Gagarin dome…How would I have accomplish that without anyone noticing me?…Suppose it would have been somehow possible to manage all this…where and how would I have buried them?…The soil here was not exactly friendly, also; imagine what a big hole it would have been needed to befit their bodies, which would have swelled enormously quite soon; and to think of it … there weren’t any tools to do so.

There were no tools… because nobody had thought that one day someone would have needed to stealthily bury someone here….here; on the Moon!

—-///——///—–///—–///—-///–

I had reached my office while thinking all this and I quickly booted my computer, and transferred the relevant and now important files on the memory stick. Then I deleted them from my computer…This was my trump card now.

I went to an unused backroom at the end of the building and locked the room; and waited for them to come.

At rest finally, I could not contain myself any longer, and slid on the cold 3-d printed wall and slumped on the floor, weeping bitterly.

How did things end up like this?

We have had our ups and downs like any couple but the inherent love and trust had always been there; till about three months ago; when things started to get ugly.

She started complaining about us, about me actually, more and more – I was very possessive….was controlling her life….We had different goals….there was nothing common between us.

At first I could not make sense of this sudden tectonic shift in our relationship – I had not changed one bit; had always been like this, a bit mercurial; and she had relished my temperamental nature in contrast with her calm and cold-calculating personality. She savoured my over-protectiveness, so called ‘possisiveness’, towards her earlier.

So what had gone wrong?

I first heard about the increasing proximity of Sahar Shirin, the efficient and extremely beautiful astrophysician and Luuk De Jong, conventionally handsome and second-in-command of the –Astrobio, the powerful biological wing of Moon village, which took care of all aspects of growth of plants and meat on the moon, in short – our food; from a colleague at the mining site, deep in the perennially freezing shadows of Shackleton crater; where I headed the lunar mining operations, as an astrogeologist, for the company Blue dot; doing my bit to mine out Helium 3 and water; in short – our fuel and water supply.

One could not keep anything under wrap here at moon village, everyone knew everyone and everything.

Sahar knew this and I suspected that she was building up a rhetoric before breaking up with me…And that enraged me to no end.

And that filthy De Jong, with his blue eyes and powerful ‘connections’, that bastard knew she was my girl! Still he was filling her ears with sweet-nothings or perhaps he was promising her the Mars. It was quite well known, you see, that De Jong was a confirmed ‘Marsy‘ i.e. a person who was quite sure to make it to the list of people going to Mars colony, which was sure to come up sometime in the future.

Yesterday she told me that she would be going to Gagarin dome, where the headquarters of Astrobio and the lab of De Jong were situated, instead of her hospital, which was at the far end of of moon village, to attend a meeting on some ongoing project; I immediately suspected that she was lying. And I was hidden inside the dome when she entered and made way to the lab.

I entered some moments after her on the pretext of getting a soil sample from the mining site checked as it looked promising for the growth of plants.

Once inside I wandered a bit aimlessly, as if bored while waiting for the sample to be tested. I quickly found the area where De Jong’s office and a secluded minilab was situated.

After making sure that nobody was looking and hiding my face from the ever-present camera, I tried to push the door and to my surprise I found it ajar, perhaps they had not closed it properly; of course, they didn’t have any reason to expect me.

As I tiptoed inside I heard murmurs …Soft and romantic..coming from dimly lit far end of the lab. Then i saw them – sitting on a sofa with their backs towards me, Sahar’s head was leaning on his shoulder and he had his arm around her.

I was frozen…my legs seemed like they were made of lead. I realized one thing about humans then – we would always remain same, bound and affected by same raw emotions :- hate, jealousy and love, we could never escape from their clutches. We could escape the clutches of gravity and could built futuristic colonies on moon and mars, but deep down humans were destined to be chained down by same laws of human interactions which were so common on earth -‘earthly‘ was the term we had coined for such emotions, banal, we called them here or clichéd; but they did matter and always would.

I searched for something heavy and solid, but on this forsaken and miniscule satellite of earth, there were no weapons! Suddenly I saw a large empty beaker which was probably used in some experiment. I knew it would be unbreakable, had to be here, and was quite heavy. Silently I picked it up, and as he turned towards her to kiss…I raced and crashed it over his head. Before she could recover from the shock and shout, I brought it down over her head with great force; her betrayal had given me the strength and agility to act. Both of them slid on the floor and I waited to see whether anyone had heard anything…Nothing happened… Probably the room was noiseproof or something.

I was shivering with anger and strangulated both of them to make sure they didn’t live.

I got up and staggered on the sofa.

What had I done! I was a man of science not a murderer.

But two disfigured faces stated up at me and I had to react fast. The health chip embedded deep in the skin would relay the absence of pulse and heart rate at the monitoring zone and they always started a search if the chip didn’t start sending the signals within twenty minutes. This time was given as sometimes the chip malfunctioned like in a solar-storm.

I had at the most thirty- minutes to act. What could I do? I could not bury them…Could not run to some lonely place on the moon. It would take precious minutes to dress up in the suit and then take a rover to run away on the barren surface of moon. But..Then what? It was a certain and gruesome death if I ran away.

Hugh! I was the first outlaw in history who was more afraid of running away than being caught. No, I had to remain in the pressurised atmosphere of moon village and had to act fast.

I stuffed their bodies and briskly walked towards Maglev station.

There were footsteps outside..Coming nearer and near. A loud thump and the door opened with a burst and I shielded my eyes from the sudden burst of light. There were many footsteps and then a voice-

“Shri…My boy, come to papa,”

—-///—–///—–///—-////—–///–

I looked up and saw the grinning face of Jean Le’creck, the chief of police and honorary mayor of moon village…What was he so happy about?

Stoutly built, balding, with a rotund face and a sagging paunch, Jean was the butt of many jokes here. The Frenchman who could speak flawless english was considered ‘unworthy’ by the residents of the lunar colony. He had not earned ‘the right to be here’, it was thought about him unlike everyone else here, who had come here based on the merit in one scientific domain or the other. Though god knows I had to slave it out- with my intelligence, with my single-minded zeal to land on the moon, with yesmanship of my bosses…Yes, it was difficult, and I had to do some regrettable things…but I had made it in the end.

But Jean was a different story. He was not a scientist and that automatically made his position untenable in our eyes. And he has had nothing to do all over these years, except sitting on his fat bum. Not tonight though….Perhaps he was enjoying some action after all these years.

“Oh! I almost forgot,” spoke Jean, ” Shrikant Dave, I hereby arrest you on the charge of homicide of Sahar shirin and Luuk De Jong, anything you say might be used against you.”

” Boy! I never thought I would get a chance to say that.”

He was positively radiant on the journey to the police headquarters and treated me like a star. There were no handcuffs or any other restraining device ( where could I go!) and as I sat on one side in the train, Le’creck and two junior officers along with two humanoids rode on the other side of aisle, maintaining a respectful distance.

As we travelled from one end to other on the rim of Shackleton crater, I reflected how far I had come…From the dusty lanes of Nashik to swanky roads of Toronto to the wastelands of the moon, I have had an eventful journey. But the future looked bleak, like the sky, which was pitch dark despite the sun shining there.

However, I had hope..I had few aces up my sleeve.

—-///—-///—-///—–///—–///—

I had been sitting on the chair in the interrogation room for two hours when Le’creck strode in, with a plate of sandwich and a colorless soda.

” Shri…I can’t tell you how happy you have made me,” he said settling on the chair opposite me, ” how are you doing?”

“What do you think…You bafoon! “

“Tch!..tch!…Such hatred…What I have ever done to you scientists?”

“You won’t get it fathead..And why are you behaving as if christmas is here? Getting your picture clicked with me…What was that? Don’t you realize how much damage this scandal would do to the reputation of Moon village?” I found myself taking the high ground!..How was it possible?

“Relax Shri…Calm down, you have done enough disturbing activities for a lifetime in one day. Enjoy my boy…You have become immortal! History beckons you.”

I stared at him for few seconds, not able to understand who had lost the grip on sanity here – him or I.

” Shrikant Dave, you have become the first space criminal ever! And no ordinary criminal either…A double murderer. I had hoped for a crime to be committed here for a long time now, but I had no idea that it would be a jackpot!” Jean stated animatedly as he gulped a sip of soda.

I was stunned – I had not thought that I had become the first person to commit a crime in space ever. Who wanted this dubious honour? Nobody.

“Look …I deny the charge, you have got  the wrong person. Rather my fiancee is dead. I am the victim here. “

” Bah! Don’t go down that road…”

“You can’t prove anything” I retorted sulkily.

” Shri..Shri ..Shri; I have enough proof to get you hanged…Don’t be a child!”

” And how will you go about it?,” I bristled as I shot the first arrow from my quiver, ” Sahar was of Iranian descent with U.S. citizenship, De Jong was a dutch national, I am a Canadian citizen with dual Indian citizenship. The alleged crime had been perpetrated not on earth but on the premises of a joint venture of many international space agencies and private companies on the moon. It’s No-man’s land! There’s no law to prosecute me.”

He smiled like he was a benevolent uncle,” That’s the beautiful part Shri. That is how societies evolve, need is the mother of invention. As this case will drag on, relevant stake holders down below will be forced to draw clear-cut laws, and it will be done- make no mistake about it. Also, the Baikonur convention of 2030 gives me enough power to hold you in captivity and proceed according to my wisdom. I am the chief of police here after all.”

“Baikonur convention also gives me the right to demand to be taken down to earth and tried there if I feel my rights are being violated, and until proved otherwise..I am innocent,” A sort of reckless confidence had crept into my voice, ” I demand to be taken down to terra firma.”

“Sure, where you would like to go- Panama? Where you have stashed your kitty, siphoned from blue dot’s account, or Canada? Where they are still willing to proceed with that case of plagiarism against you.” He asked as his eyes bored into me.

I sat there ashen-faced, blood had drained away from my face..How did he know? I had stashed a lot of money in a bank…but it was a secret, even Sahar had not known…And that case, it was true that I had generously borrowed the conclusion and other important information from a junior researcher at Toronto university…but I was working on the same technology simultaneously and would have reached to the same results eventually.

It was an important paper regarding extraction of Helium 3 on the moon and had lead myself to be recruited in Blue dot, and eventually to the moon. I desperately wanted to to be here, one has to take these chances!. Later there had been a bit of hue and cry about it but it settled down all of a sudden and I went on with my life.

” Look at you …Ghosts from the past have an uncanny habit of turning up at the most ill-opportune moment,” he remarked inexplicably, ” don’t look startled mon ami, I know everything about you.”

” Life has been generous to you – things always worked out for you in the end.. Didn’t they? Roads have been paved for you, obstacles removed,” Jean spoke in a calm manner, as he wiped his mouth then he sat back in the chair and looked at me with penetrating eyes, his face turned at an angle,” hmmm..And you have wondered..Oh! how you have wondered, that how, despite your mediocrity and criminal tendencies you have made to here… Haven’t you?”

I stared at him. He was uttering the thoughts buried deep inside my heart…privy to no-one..then how come he knew all this?

” I have watched you for a long time, I have observed you like an animal is observed in the zoo..behind it’s enclosure, every move, every action of the animal is observed,” he said venomously,” how do you think that case of plagiarism suddenly died away? How do you think you kept on siphoning money through the glitch in payment gateway in the accounts of blue dot without getting caught?”

“It was me Shri – all the way; I have nurtured you, nourished you. I knew you could cross the line of law if suitably provoked. It was an easy task to drop suitable hints to Sahar that De Jong had a soft spot for her, she was ambitious and practical, she knew you would always be stuck here or would go back to earth. De Jong was travelling to Mars and she wanted to be on that ship. Of course, De Jong was child’s play, he was my friend and an irrevocable philanderer…few words to him that Sahar wanted to be on his ‘good’ side and he warmed up to the idea! “

” Yes; it was me- the ‘spider’ at the centre of the web, in which you have been entangled for so long. Professor Moriarty himself would have been proud of me,” he rambled on in his musings as I looked on wide-eyed, ” Moriarty? Sherlock Holmes? Conan Doyle?… No? Nothing?” he paused for a moment as he looked at my blank face, ” Agh! Your generation! No idea about good literature… Never mind, It was a long time ago…back on earth,”

He suddenly chuckled,” By the way, what did you lovers talked about here – I love you to Mars and back!” and smacked his knee with his right hand.

” But we digress; ofcourse; I had never imagined that it would come to this! A scuffle, a minor scandal, few bruises and broken bones was what I was looking for- but you exceeded my expectations! Too bad about both of them though…Bah! What the heck.. Collateral damage.”

I lunged at him, screaming , wanting to tear his eyes from their sockets.

“You bastard! Because of you I killed Sahar and destroyed my life!”

He easily deflected me and I fell on the floor – defeated and deflated. Immediately two humanoids surrounded me.

“But why ? Why did you do all this? This might ruin everything! This colony, further progress…Mars! Don’t you care for anything?”

” Moon village can easily afford one crime, rather it is most unnatural not to have any crime in a human settlement.”

I was flabbergasted,” Just to prove this adage and to practice some policing you went to these lenghts?”

He looked at me for few seconds as if deciding something,” Nah! I am not that gullible.”

“Then why did you do you do it; you fool!” I was bursting with frustration and anger.

” Pateince was never your forte. You know how much a news like this is worth? The interest in moon village has been on the decline amongst general public for quite some time now,”

” What are you saying – everyday people here doing amazing things, each day new discoveries are being done,” I spoke heatedly

” And you think an average man cares for all this? He is bored stiff of your stuff. This is 2041 Shri, we have been here for about nine years now. It was a big deal at the beginning, still is; scientifically; but public is not bothered much about your everyday miracles now. Interest in space exploration is at its lowest at this point. Mars is some years away…We needed something big. Some news to spark interest again in the public.”

“Trouble was it was very quite and orderly here always… You see – Nothing ever happens here.”

—-///—-///—-///—-///—-///—

“I will expose you! I will tell everything you have told me.” I screamed

“Be my guest – the murkier the news the better, all media moguls and houses have betted huge on this story. I am going to be rich beyond imagination my boy!”

” Anyway; who is going to believe you? I will deny everything- your word against mine, and you don’t have any credibility.”

” I do have something else though,” I felt the memory stick in my pocket, it was very reassuring, ” that could change your attitude; it’s worth is unimaginable, whole countries will be after it.”

” Ah yes! The near-earth asteroid which you accidentally discovered having abundance of platinium. Blue dot is already working on it – I gave them the tip. A sort of goodwill gesture in return for the help they extended in..Ahem!.. your case. Of course I will have a share of the pie. What! why are you looking at me like that?,” He rolled up his eyes and brought his face near to mine,” you have no secrets hidden from me.”

It was as if someone had kicked me in the stomach and knocked the wind out of me. There was nothing left now… Everything was lost..

He got up to leave and stretched his body,” I almost love you like a son, albeit, the one who has to be sacrificed. Your good luck ends here, future is black. You cannot go to earth and will rot here. I can do one thing for you – let the news roll along for few days, then it can be theoretically arranged, if you are willing, that due to a colossal error by these robotic guards you are able to run away from here and are able to go out of the village, in the open and, well; take off the helmet there.”

I was horrified at his suggestion and looked at him mortified.

” Come on…there is no other option and compared to the life in prison it will be a mercy, and a quick one too. Think about it – what a glorious headline it will be – ‘Jilted lover committs first suicide in space after killing his fiancee and the ‘other’ man on the moon! Dramatic scenes on the lunar surface.’ “

After he left, I mulled over his words and came to the painful conclusion that he was right – it will have to be done…Somehow, I will have to gather the courage to go through it. There was no other way.

From a little window, a patch of sky was visible and I could make out the outline of the constellation Taurus. The red giant Aldebaran shone brightly at one tip, stars here are brilliant, they don’t twinkle you see. I had always loved Aldebaran, used to watch it from our small house in Nashik. How far away from home I was! And how desolate…

****×××****×××****×××****

Post script :- A good story is an extrapolation of life – human interactions, emotions and possible circumstances; and good science- fiction should be dipped in good science.

I have attempted to do both here. Moon village is coming up by 2030, if the efforts of Moon village association bear fruit. Moon village association is a consortium of many international space agencies, spearheaded by European space agency, and many private companies. Rim of Shackleton crater is one of the principal sites for its creation.

I have tried to write the story scientifically based on my research.

– The ‘Knee’dy Traveller.

Further reading:-

https://moonvillageassociation.org

.

The Truck driver.

A story.

“How can you say that you can’t save his leg? Don’t you understand how important one’s limb is for a person? What sort of a doctor are you… Can’t you even try?” said a man standing in the front row of the crowd rather angrily.

Doctor sanjay, who was one year senior to me, and was the second year orthopedic resident in the hospital, turned sideways and squinted to see who had spoken these words. Sanjay and I were sitting in the small counselling room near the emergency room, and were surrounded by a crowd of about 15-20 persons, all of them were relatives or acquaintances of Bhanwar singh, who had been admitted four hours ago in the emergency room of our hospital after he met with an accident on the highway nearby.

“His left leg is totally crushed, muscles and tendons have become a mesh, and there are many small pieces of shin-bone. In this condition there is no point in trying to save the leg, even if we somehow are able to put pieces of bone together, his leg will be useless. And also, the treatment will stretch quite long – consuming both time and money. What’s the point in doing a treatment which will drain your resources and won’t lead to a good outcome?” explained Sanjay to that man and others.

“Amputation is a better option in such cases, he will be walking independently with a prosthesis a lot sooner.” added Sanjay further.

“He will not have an amputation! My brother cannot and will not become an invalid,” thundered a man from the crowd, and came in front rather aggressively. He was a tall, well built man with thick moustache and a stern expression on his face. “I am Ram singh, Bhanwar’s elder brother, I and my family will do anything to save my brother’s leg. If you cannot do anything, write it down a paper and we will take him to another hospital.”

Doctor Sanjay sighed and muttered under his breath to me- ‘ Trying to save his leg is the surest way to make him an invalid, but these emotional fools won’t understand,’ then turning towards the crowd he said aloud, “All right, we will operate upon him and will try to reconstruct his left leg. My duty was to discuss with you all the modalities of treatment and their pros and cons; now as per your wish, we will do reconstructive surgery.”

“Ok, who amongst you will donate blood to him? We need atleast three units.”

As if by magic, the crowd in front of us thinned out on hearing these words, and all of the loving relatives excused themselves quickly citing one reason or the other, until a thin, frail old man was left standing alone. He must have been in his seventies and had a worn out stick in his hands.

Sanjay winked at me and said grinningly -“And that’s how you disperse a crowd in an Indian hospital.”

I smiled and thought- I had much to learn from my seniors apart from surgery.

At this moment, that old man came forward. He had folded his hands and said pleadingly, “Sir, I am Bhanwar’s father, he is my youngest son. He has a young wife and two small kids. We are not very rich and I have a small farming land in my native village, which I have divided amongst my three sons, but Bhanwar wanted to move to a big city, and so he came here and became a truck driver.”

“Sir, please take as much blood from my body as needed but save my son’s leg. He is the sole bread-winner of his family. ” he said, wiping a tear.

Both of us were moved by his words and Sanjay patted his shoulder and said, “Don’t worry, we will do our best.”

There was no way that he could have donated blood to his son or to anybody else, for that matter.

—–///—–///——///—–///—–///–

On the fourth day after the surgery, in which we had put an – External fixator- an orthopedic device initially kept for some time, while the tissues healed, before final surgery was performed; Bhanwar suddenly spoke to me, as I was dressing his wound-” Vivek sir, are you from Kota or nearby area?” He and I had been talking a lot lately in the ward, as I was mostly in the ward, being the junior most.

“Yes, true, I belong to Kota, how did you know?”

” I have detected an accent in your speech which points towards that area. Also, don’t know why, but your face reminds me of a famous doctor in Kota, whose clinic I had visited few years back with a relative. I belong to a village near kota sir.”

“Are you talking about Dr. Mukesh sharma?”

“Yes, exactly! How did you guess sir?”

I laughed and replied – “No wonder my face resembles his; he is my father.”

“You are the son of Dr sharma saheb!” ejaculated Bhanwar and held my hand, ” now I am sure I will be all right, he is not a doctor but an incarnation of god. No doubt, your hands have healing powers too. I will be allright sir, won’t I?”

” Of course you will be fit and fine, don’t you worry, it will just take some time with the kind of injuries you have had, but we will fix you up.” I said, rather over confidently. But I was feeling strangely happy and pompous.

After that day, Bhanwar developed special devotion towards me, and he regarded me the senior most doctor and behaved in that manner.

—-///—-///—-///—-///——///—

Four months later:

I had seen Bhanwar after a gap of few months and immediately noticed the change in his appearance. He had lost considerable weight and his face had telle-tell signs of prolonged anxiety.

Though his face brightened when he saw me, I could see that his natural exuberance was nowhere to be seen and he seemed subdued. It’s not uncommon in orthopedic patients.

Noticeably, there was a significant decrease in the number of people accompanying him, his wife was there; like before, but somehow it seemed she had lost the reserve, which she displayed earlier in front of her husband and father-in-law, who was there too; looking more and more anaemic. There was only one other person, a brother, who had not appeared last time and was looking lost in the melee of the hospital.

“So Bhanwar, you are here again…this time we have decided to do a magnificent surgery, which will make your leg normal again.” I patted his back with the new found confidence of a second year resident, which I had become in the intervening months,.

I had discussed his case with my professors and seniors extensively and knew that the plan was to remove the fixator and implant another type of special external fixator called – Illizarov- that is helpful in such cases, but is a very long process, requiring multiple admissions and frequent adjustments, but my professors wanted to use this approach and assess it’s progress.

” Yes sir, I have faith in you,” he hesitated a bit before adding, ” please sir, make me walk normally, so that I can be an earning man again.”

“You know, it’s very depressing to be dependent on someone else all the time.”

I looked at him with concern, ” What’s wrong Bhanwar? Did anyone say anything to you?”

“No..No vivek sir, ” he exclaimed hastily and said in a low tone as his wife went away for some errand” but I do get this feeling that I have become a burden on everyone.”

“Don’t worry… everything will be fine, it’s normal for chronic patients like you to be depressed.”

I thought it would have been so good for him had he undergone an amputation the very first day, he would have been moving about with a well-fitting prosthesis by now. But, the aggressive and over-zealous relatives, who had been brimming up with camaraderie and noble intentions that day, were nowhere to be seen now. And, we hadn’t even reached the halfway point of the treatment!

You have to help him!…Don’t abandon him’ I was startled by this sudden burst of emotion in my sub-conscience, but it was anyway not possible for me to abandon him- professionally, and even personally – I considered him my protégé, if one can use this word for a patient.

Two days later as I was entering the male orthopedic ward to explain to Bhanwar the basic care and hygiene of his newly implanted Ilizarov fixator, I overheard Gulab, a senior male attendant in the ward, bragging to another attendant about his flirtation with Bhanwar’s wife, and how she was positively responding to his amorous overtures.

When I saw him, Bhanwar was sitting dejectedly on the cot and was starting at the fixator absently…..How soon a perfectly healthy and confident man can loose his mojo, I reflected.

I patted his shoulder and he gave me a sad smile. Through his honest eyes, it seemed, I could enter his soul and could feel the waves of helplessness and self-pity crashing on the shores of his embittered and belittled heart.

—–///—–///—–////—–///—–///–

Seven months later:-

I was busy in the o.p.d. when he came and sat on the floor near my chair.

His appearance appalled me, a luxuriant beard was sitting on his face like a hive and he had become cachexic. His bright and benevolent countenance had been replaced by a personna which can be described in only one word – melancholic.

I was expecting him as we were again admitting him for the third and final readjustment of the fixator. Previous two adjustments had shown good results and the bone in his leg was growing and responding to the treatment, and we were quite hopeful that in few months time we would be able to remove the fixator and he would be able to move freely, without any aid again.

” We are quite happy with your progress Bhanwar. Infact, my professor commented yesterday that he had not seen a case like yours in his experience. Your treatment has exceeded all our expectations!” this was quite true.

“Hmmm…If you say so Vivek sir.”

“What is the matter? Aren’t you excited…You would be out of this fixator soon.”

” My wife left me…ran away with kids alongwith another man from my village.”

“It’s not your fault, she should have supported you in your time of need.” I said, stunned.

“Said, I was not a man enough for her now. I don’t blame her, sir…I have become an invalid, who does not earn a penny and whose own leg has become a giant hole in the pocket of his household.”

“I can unburden my heart in front of you vivek sir, you are my true friend and guide…My brothers have refused to give any more money to me, and I had a fight with all of them. Do you know I have come alone this time. My father is dying due to all this stress.”

“Please tell me what to do..” he started sobbing with these words.

I was at a loss of words for few moments, because how can one console a person who had lost so much? What can few soothing words achieve?

“You consider me your friend..right? So, listen to me – have heart, I know it’s difficult, considering the circumstances, but worse is over…We are reaching the end. Your leg is progressing so well. Just bide some more time…Keep floating on the log of hope…all right?”

He nodded slowly through a wall of tears.

——///—–///——///—-///—-///—-

“Dr. Vivek sharma?” said a voice as I picked up the phone.

“Yes, speaking”

“This is Dr. Nihar agarwal.”

“Good morning sir!” I tried hard to suppress my excitement.

“Morning…good news Vivek, we have selected you for Berlin, congratulations.”

“Thank you very much sir. When should I…”

He cut my sentence,”No hurry, I was told by your professor Dr Patel that you were getting married soon and going to Malaysia for your honeymoon … congratulations again”

“Thank you sir…that is right sir.”

“Ok..as soon as you are back from honeymoon, complete the remaining formalities and send everything to us. Then we will parcel you to Berlin.”

I laughed,” All right sir…Have a good day sir.”

—–///——///—–///——///——

Seven weeks later:-

It was a sunday morning when I leisurely walked up to the orthopedic ward to take a round and get acquainted myself with the patients who had been admitted during my absence of about three weeks. I had landed at Ahmedabad late last night.

Only three weeks!’..seemed like an eternity that I have had anything to do with orthopedics,’so much has happened in this time,’ I mused with a glowing satisfaction which was the result of a having spent a fairytale time in a distant land with my newly-wed wife, Ritika, and being genuinely happy.

As I turned round the corner in the corridor which lead to male orthopedic ward, I was forced to stop dead in my tracks, and all my warm and mushy feelings were jolted and then evaporated, to be replaced by a – horror! An unlpeasant and deep horror – there in the corridor was Bhanwar, leaning onto two crutches and where his left leg should have been, caged in the fixator with wires and pins – damaged, but on the point of healing; was a stump!..

He was walking towards me with his head down, concentrating on his gait, trying to learn the pattern of walking with the help of crutches and one leg. Then he looked up and saw me – a big smile spread on his face, a smile which representated his erstwhile nature – honest and child- like…

Arre! When did you arrive Vivek sir? I had been waiting for you for the past ten days, look!” he pointed proudly to the freshly amputated stump below his left knee,” I am free at last.”

He came excitedly towards me gingerly balancing the crutches and held my hand, ” I should have listened to you the first day when I met with the accident and should have got the leg amputated. You are my true well-wisher, how correct you were that day in your advice to not to go for an attempt to save the leg. “

I felt as if an abyss had opened below my legs and I was falling into it. “But Bhanwar… why now ?…We were reaching the end of treatment…Why didn’t you call me? Didn’t other doctors tell you not to cut the leg at this point of time, when success was almost in our clutches?” I fired one question after another…there was a storm going on in my mind.

“I tried calling you so many times sir…but your phone was unreachable. Few days back my father expired and you know what my wicked brothers did? Expelled me from my own house! They usurped my home and my portion of land saying it was their due as they had lent me money over past one year and half, and now it all belonged to them as I had become an invalid and couldn’t repay them. They even did not let me attend my father’s funeral! Reason?…I had brought shame to our family by not controlling my wife and that scandal had ruined our family’s name forever.”

“I was mad with sorrow and rage…could not bear to have my left leg attached to my body one more moment!..that blasted useless peice of flesh had brought nothing but misfortune to me..God! how I hated it. It was like a cancerous growth at the end of my knee gobbling up my body, my wife, kids, my father… everything!”

“When I couldn’t contact you on the phone I immediately came here and asked the doctors to go for amputation. They all were very reluctant, Dr Patel sir told me that it was healing well, and I shouldn’t insist on getting it amputated. But I was like a madman…could not bear that damned leg…I had brought a knife with me and threatened to cut my leg then and there, in o p.d. in front of everyone and bleed to death. It was my leg after all… my decision.”

“Vivek sir, you have been so good to me..I know if you would have been here you would have supported me whole-heartedly. I am beginning a new life now…With the amputation of my leg I have cut all my ties to my previous life. After I have the artificial leg, I will go to your house in Kota…tell bade Dr Sharma saheb that a humble servant is coming to his house and clinic…I will do anything that he says.. Anything! Just let me be there..Don’t pay me ..Two meals a day would suffice for me.”

I was standing frozen … Couldn’t breath.. Couldn’t move…With a lot of effort I nodded to him slowly. He hugged me gently and ambled away in the corridor determined to learn the baby steps of his new life.

Suddenly all my muscles gave way and I sat with a thump on the ledge and the sheaf of papers which I had been clutching in my hand fell on the floor and were swept away in the wind.

If someone would have bothered to have a look on those papers littered on the floor, he or she, would have read the following title :-

‘Limb salvage with Illizarov fixation in a mangled extremity with M.E.S.S. score 7:- a case report. Dr Vivek sharma, Dr sanjay choksi, Dr Nishant Patel.’

It was the draft of the paper which had been selected to be published in the Indian journal of orthopedics, and I had been selected, after a lot of efforts and lobbying, to present the case report in a very reputed international conference going to be held at Berlin a few weeks later.

It was nearly complete..I had reported falsely that the patient in question had fully recovered and I would send the much needed last picture of fully healed leg and it’s x-ray soon. Dr Agarwal was a friend of my guide Dr patel, and had agreed to publish it in the journal as soon as I would send the last pictures. I was so confident that Bhanwar would listen to me and do what I told him to do! It was just a matter of time..

Now .. Everything had changed…there was a stump in place of a well healed leg…With one swift strike of the knife not only his leg had been amputated, but also struck off were my dreams, aspirations and ambitions.

He said I was his true well-wisherThat I would have supported him in his decision

As I stared at his amputated stump…It seemed to mock me – I know your secret… you are not what you pretend to be

“But I had good intentions for him!… Didn’t I and others told him and his family to cut the leg very first day?”

I found myself replying acidly to the retreating stump and threw a glance around to see whether anyone had seen me….

Getting immersed in the brilliance of an inverted temple :- Rani ki vav.

Yours truly at Rani ki vav with my younger son.

Sometimes it so happens that a wonderful destination is within one’s grasp, so much so, that one only has to venture out of one’s place and get going to that destination, which is at an arm’s length from one’s abode, without any planning and without working out any micro-details of the trip – it’s such an easily done day trip! Yet, it is years before that day arrives when one ventures out to go to that beautiful place; something just prevents one from going there, perhaps the proximity, which seems so easily met, becomes the most formidable distance, shrouded in the fog of – ‘ oh! we can go there anytime’- syndrome. Or perhaps – life happens.

It indeed is true for my wish to visit -Rani ki vav- an UNESCO world heritage site, sitting in all its glory, just 125 kms. from Ahmedabad, where I have been staying for roughly two decades now.

I have always wanted to go to Patan, where this gem of a monument is situated, since the day I first landed at Ahmedabad, as a dreamy eyed teenager way back in 1999, to enter the gates of medical college and study medicine. But as the fate would have had it- it was only recently that I ventured out to go there- a much married man, with a lovely wife and two sweet kids.

So, one fine sunday, we set out in our car to visit this approximately 1000 year old masterpiece of ancient architecture, which has survived earthquakes, floods and submersion in silt for many centuries.

Hugh! If only our roads could be like this!

Anyway, as we were nearing the end of our journey, I, as usual began cribbing that even though this place was an important historical structure, it would be suffering from the usual apathy and neglect of the government and A.S.I.(archeological survey of india). My wife chided me for my cynisicm, but I was quite sure that my words would be proven right once we arrived there.

Surprise!..Surprise!…For once in my life, I was very happy to be proven wrong. The place turned out to be a delight from the start – well maintained and spic-spac!

There is a huge well maintained garden as one enters the premises, and it is pretty clear that this place is well looked after and certainly lives upto the expectation of a world heritage site.

There was only one problem though – only manicured lawn was visible; nothing else – only a perimeter of a fence was to be seen at one end of the garden, no structure was visible.

At that moment it struck me fully – what was the meaning of a step-well, everything was subterranean!…Not a teeny-weeny brick or stone above the ground.

As we went near the fence, the full grandeur of the place was revealed to us.

Rani ki vav as seen from one end.

History:-

This magnificent step- well was commissioned and built by Queen Udayamati, around 1022-32 A.D. in the memory of her husband – King Bhimdev 1, of Solanki dynasty; which is said to be the golden period of Gujarat and Patan(which was capital of Gujarat from 8th century to 15 th century).

It is situated near river Saraswati, which was said to be flowing quite near the site, but over the ages it has disappeared and has gone subterranean, or so they say.

But sometime after Patan lost its splendour and the kingdom floundered in 15th century, the structure got buried under layers of silt, which was brought by a flood.

Over the coming centuries all signs of this magnificent structure were lost and it lay forgotten. It was only in 1940’s that few signs were detected by the farmers of the region. But it wasn’t until 1980’s that full excavation of the site began under the aegis of A.S.I.

Slowly, this grand underground building emerged from layers of soil, and thankfully a major part of it had survived the centuries.

It’s journey to fame reached the peak, when it became only the second site in gujarat to get world heritage site status in 2014 ( first was champaner).

This is named ‘Rani’ ki vav, as it was built by a queen for her husband, rather than other way round,which was the norm in that era.

Exact purpose for which it was built is not clear, but it is supposed to be a temple dedicated to water and Vishnu.

The area receives quite less rain, and so, such step-wells were common in the region in those times as a measure of storing water, and helping people to use water. But it’s no ordinary well…It’s designed as a temple dedicated to hindu mythology and way of life.

Architecture :-

Myself at wife at the platform from where the steps of this vav start.

The vav is built in the -‘ Maaru-Gurjar’ style of architecture, which was prevalent in this region at that time; and is classified as a- ‘Nanda’ type of stepwell (there are four types, according to our guide).

There are four horizontal floors, which one descends one by one. The walls of all four floors are adorned by beautiful statues depicting various forms of Lord Vishnu (Dashavatara), other dieties, various apsaras, saints and scenes from hindu mythology.

After the horizontal floors, there are seven verrical floor descending down and ending in a well and a reservoir which was filled when the well over flowed. Unfortunatley, now its only filled for few months in the rains.

I am not a religious person and have no inclination for mythology, but I sure can appreciate excellent craftsmanship and art when I see one.

And I can assure you that the craftsmanship on display here is breathtaking to say the least. Infact, I would stick my neck out and say that statues and sculptures at Rani ki vav are at par with such art on display anywhere in India and in world.

In all there are around 500 major and about 1000 minor statues here, and we all were blown away by the beauty of these statues and art carved on sandstone, which is the stone from which the whole step well was built.

In the absence of cement, earlier artisans had amazing technologies to fit stones amongst each other. They used an ‘interlocking’ technique, which comprised of locking two stones with a piece of wood (which swelled and contracted in presence and absence of water) and locking stones with each other with clever use of slits.

With this masonry, the structure has survived centuries of torment by the elements like floods and atleast two very severe earthquakes, one in 1819 and recently in 2001 which ravaged north gujarat, and in which yours truly had the unpleasant opportunity of trembling along with terra firma.

The rough dimensions of the step well are – 64 meters long, 28 meters deep and about 20 meters wide.

Concluding thoughts :-

Rani ki vav is easily accessible from Ahmedabad and other major cities, on Mehsana- palanpur highway and should be visited atleast once in lifetime.

I have written this blog, not to show our happy pics. from the trip but to generate more awareness about this fantastic place, very near to Ahmedabad. Because, unfortunately it has not received enough attention as it merits. I was surprised that even my family members were not aware about it till we visited there. Even though Rani ki vav has been placed on the back side of new hundred rupees note by the government.

Rani ki vav on new 100 rupees note.

Also, it’s my humble opinion that although it’s very essential to have fabulous vacations like going to hill stations or exotic foreign destinations; and day outings like going to resorts, waterparks, picnic destinations are most welcome; but once in a while, we can have a funfilled visits to to places of historical, architectural and cultural importance, and that can prove to be very gratifying.

However, I don’t want to sound preachy.

If you think that our kids would have got quite bored, you could not be more wrong….They had a great day and enjoyed a lot.

Kids having a great day.

In the end I would say that it was a great experience to be there and we all enjoyed a lot.

A trip to Patan can be combined with a trip to Patola weaving centre, which is the place where world famous Patola sarees are woven, the only place in the world where it is done, and a short detour to – Modhera sun temple (35 kms. only ), which we did.

Modhera sun temple.

Go out and start exploring your neighborhood and have great fun. Enjoy!

Yours truly.

The Kneedy traveller.

Traveling in the fantasy land!..

Hello all….I have been rather busy last few days, too caught up in the profession to either travel or write something here.

But surely I wasn’t sitting idle in my mind, rather was traveling in the realms of fantasy – a luxury and a birthright, awarded to all who take birth on this planet, and however deep and engaging one’s professional commitments might be, they cannot stop one from having a flight of fantasy now and then.

Rather, I would say, the more busy one becomes, the more he or she finds himself or herself longing to go on a dream vacation or wishing that life could provide some respite from its constant demands, temptations, sorrows and recriminations.

And so one day, I, too found myself wishing that timeless wish of everyone – What if I could have the superpower that all my words could come true! – I know it was quite childish, and perhaps very foolish of me to think upon these lines, but I was indeed passing through a phase, where such wishful thinking was never far from my thoughts, and I hope you would humour me this time, o! wise reader.

So, I pondered over it rather seriously, and well, by this time you know what I would have done – yes, indeed I penned down a ghazal about it, which you will find below.

If such a wish could come true, what would one wish for?…What would you wish for- o! wise reader, I ask you?

Well, it might seem clichéd but indeed I think that I would wish this world to have peace and contentment. It is not that selfless as it seems, because, if the world will have tranquility and prosperity, I automatically will have these two evasive states.

Current state of my country and world in general is so morbid, so acrimonious and pathetic, that it surely would be my wish that this state of affairs could come to an end.

Everywhere, squabbles about religion, immigration, caste and colour are going on, superimposed upon the perineal struggles of economics, culture and politics.

I might be sounding quite foreboding and rather like a doomsayer, but many people feel like myself, I know. Surrounded by propaganda of one political leader or other, one finds oneself constantly immersed in a sea of shameless rhetoric, which percolates down to one’s soul via the miracles of technology I.e. digital media.

Naturally, one would think that all this would stop if everyone was sufficiently provided for on this planet… Wouldn’t it? Or would it?

On deeper reflections, I came to conclusion that even this universally benevolent wish of mine would not cure the world of it ills.

The nature of man is such that he is never satisfied with what he has, even though it might be more than sufficient, and in such an utopian world too, a section of population would try to gain more than others – corruption would still seep in and things would become much like they are now at some point of time.

There would be one danger to myself though- a person who could bring any wish to fruition would be so valuable, so as to pose a mortal danger to himself! People would kill to be near him and there would be murder on the streets for my tongue!

Also, after making world a happy place, I would certainly wish to return, perpetually to that time of my life which was innocent, free of worries and devoid of any blemish – childhood.

And, no doubt most of the populace would certainly like to return to childhood, then how would next generation emerge?

Further, in such a world, where economic stability would be ensured, and good outcome of all deeds would be assured, who would try to excel in life?

There would be no ‘greats’ in any sports, music, arts or in any profession for that matter. It would be quite a dull place!

Well, well, well!…It turns out that no dream or wishful thinking is needed for this life. Things might get even murkier, and might take a turn for the worse, in such a world.

But it is my sincere hope that, if not my request, atleast my undying and rather quixotic optimism can produce some effect upon the prejudices which are deeply entrenched in the minds of majority of my fellow countrymen, and even on people of distant shores; and are being played upon by politicians in their tryst to attain power; and that they could realize the simple truth that this world would be a much better place if everyone treats each other with the respect a person needs, based on principles of humanity, and not based on his or her religion, caste, nationality, and political preferences.

Hugh!.. I didn’t want to be preachy 🙂

I hope you would realize that I am really troubled by what is going around me, perhaps, for you everything’s fine, but i do not concur.

And, not being in any position of changing anything anywhere drastically, we, you and I, could atleast try to do our bidding; however little it might be.

If nothing else- one certainly can wish in one’s mind for a beautiful world.

There’s nothing wrong in going on a flight of fancy once in a while, and I hope you would excuse my trip to dreamland, and not consider this peice as overly dramatic, preachy, kiddish or heavens forbid – rubbish!

Yours truly,

The ‘Knee’dy traveller.

Misgivings of a traveller…

If you are wondering, o! wise reader, that why I have posted this ‘ghazal’ (penned by me, ‘Shikhar’ is my pseudonym), here, on this space which schreechingly says that it’s a blog about my travels; then you are not wrong in being confused and feeling incredulous.

In the introductory line of this blog, i have written that – it’s a ‘strabismic’ or cross-eyed view of life as seen by me. Surely, you can’t expect things to move linearly or in a well programmed manner, after reading such an introduction.

So I will be posting about things which move me along with details about my travels. And I do think that it should be done, because it’s a space created by me to express about the things which I like to talk about and discuss

Secondly and more importantly, this ghazal indeed is about travel -The most important journey one undertakes; the journey of ‘life’.

Going to  unchartered himalayan kingdoms or exotic beach destinations is a privilage of few in this country and the world, but the journey of life – is done by each and everyone.

To put in a scientific perspective, and to put some weight to my actions (in a lighter vein) – you have travelled with me for about 900 kms. in space, assuming it took about 30 seconds to read this blog up till here. This is because our planet moves approximately 30 kms. Per second in its journey around the sun.

But in this epic journey, as one moves from childhood to adoloscence and then to adulthood, the world tries to mould one according to it, whether one wants it or not, it is inevitable.

Specially, after entering the professional world, a person has to encounter various forces which were hitherto absent, namely – boss, seniors, juniors and colleagues, and their vagaries, politics, jealousy, demands, whims, fallacies, shortcomings, talents and all the chaos associated with all this, additionally, there are- commitment, obligation, promises, aspirations and expectations of one’s expanding family i.e. wife,kids etc.

Phew! It’s a heady mixture and I don’t know how, I and you, manage to remain sane. Perhaps we all have already gone bonkers and didn’t notice.

However, in dealing with all above factors, one’s character comes under intense pressure. ‘The way of the world’ does not pass from honest, clean and unblemished lanes.

The teachings, which are inculcated from childhood and are deeply entrenched in one’s mind, are severely put to test and more often than not, they are found wanting against the gail of treacherous mindgames and cunning manipulations of one’s fellow workers, neighbours and even sometimes one’s family members.

How to deal with such situations which are commonplace in one’s life. Should one remain brutally honest, innocent and neutral? And face exploitation, wrath, and detrimental consequences. Also, more often than not, such a person is considered- weak, inconsequential and a pushover. Insignificant in the scheme of things. Yet, he or she remains true to core his or her core values.

Perhaps, this is the way shown by Mahatma Gandhi. My respect towards him and has increased manifold in the past few years. I cannot manage few people at my workplace. How he managed to get on the nerves of our colonial masters, armed with his weapons of non-violence and non-cooperation, I fail to grasp.

Should one follow his path?

Or better are the policies of that old fox- Kautilya or Chanakya. He advocated – tit for tat, and better still – to adopt all means to reach your goal, if your goal is mighty and you are right. The path didn’t matter to him- only the destination mattered.

Should one walk down this road?

These are not just rhetorical questions- I am really asking these questions to you, because I am clueless and much troubled by them.

It might be so that I am over-reacting, I frankly admit the possibility. But, that thought does nothing to alleviate my anxieties.

Is it anyway possible for one to remain unblemished and untarnished in this world, yet remain relevant, successful and progressive in one’s profession?

So, burdened with these thoughts, I turned them into a ghazal and posted here, to share with you all and to pick your minds.

Please feel free to give your inputs and ideas.

Thanks.

Yours truly.

P.S. :- A travelogue about a fantastic place in Bhutan is coming up shortly. Stay tuned.

Preventive and social medicine?

An orthopaedician’s cup of woes runneth over.

“She is having a lot of pain in her heels, specially the right one. She cannot stand and work for even ten minutes in the kitchen…Please do something doctor.”

I turned a stern gaze at the lady who had spoken these words – burly, middle-aged and with greying hair, she presumably was the mother-in-law of the young lady sitting in front of me, whose right heel had been thrust towards me for examination, and I had enquired from her about her complaints.

‘ Madam, could you let her answer for herself…’ I said with exceeding politeness in an attempt to be sarcastic.

” What can she tell you? I am telling you na,” she blurted, shredding my attempt at sarcasm to peices. ” We even got her x-ray done 2 months ago, showed that to another doctor, but there has been no improvement. Neetu, go, get the x-ray from the car, I forgot it inside the car in the parking.”

Before I could protest that I don’t see the x-ray prior to taking the detailed history and a proper examination of the patient; Neetu, which seemed to be her name; had swiftly got up and had gone outside sulkily.

“There is nothing wrong with her heels doctor, she is very lazy, she doesn’t want to work. The whole day she is sitting upon the sofa or lying on the cot..No wonder her weight is increasing, this is why her heels are paining. Please tell her to be up and about, and do some work in the house.” said the dominating mother-in-law, as soon as her daughter-in-law had exited my consulting room.

It was a well calculated move of hers to send Neetu out of the room!

I applauded inwardly at her street-smartness and said. ‘I am an orthopedic surgeon, I can treat an orthopedic problem, not the problems of your household.’

” But you are a doctor …If you will say, she will follow your instructions.” she said unbashedly.

“Mummyji, I couldn’t find the x-ray. I think you will have to go and find it yourself.” said the so -called ‘ lazy’ – Neetu, entering the room, at that point.

As soon as her mother-in-law went out, she said- ” Sir, I deliberately didn’t bring the x-ray so that I could talk to you alone,” she continued conspiratively “please tell her not to make me work so much!…I am made to stand and run throughout the day at our home, not for a single minute I am able to sit down; what else will happen to my heels and joints other than pain? If you will tell her that so much work is not good for me then she will definitely listen. You are a doctor after all.”

No!’

No!’

No!’

I shouted in my mind three times and each time my head turned decisively towards her, with a loud music blaring, and my eyes glaring. This is how it is shown in the insensible ‘Saas- bahu’ drama of indian daily soaps on television, much like the one in which I found myself entangled in currently.

Indeed, it would have been so good had it been possible for me to behave in this manner. Alas! real world demands one to behave reasonably, specially from doctors, even in the face of such absurdities.

Eventually, after having seen the x-ray, and diagnosing the ailment, correctly, as Plantar fascitis due to a calcaneal spur; and in the process, disappointing both of them with my medical advise, as against the domestic advise which they desired, I exhaled a breath of relief as they left after much argument.

But the relief was short-lived because soon after, a boy of about three years, in the arms of his father, who was standing in the queue, inside my outpatient department(o.p d.) in the civil hospital Ajmer, starting bawling loudly.

“Don’t cry Bittu, or else Doctor uncle here will give you a large injection.” said the man hastily in an attempt to quiten the boy, while pointing towards me.

He was magnificently successful in this endeavor of his, as the kid stopped crying and looked at me, with his large and beautiful eyes, in a terrified state, with intermittent sobs emanating from his mouth. It would have looked to any onlooker as though the boy had glimpsed a big, ugly monester or a troll.

Now, I might not look like a Greek god, but I consider myself decently handsome at any rate, moreover, I have always had a genuine affection for kids; so it has always stung me mightily, whenever I have been treated in this manner by the parents, which was quite too often.

Bhaisaab, please don’t make him afraid of me, or of any Doctor, for that matter. It’s not right to instill this fear in the unsuspecting and impressionable minds of children.’

” Sir, you don’t know how difficult he is to manage, nowadays he is not even afraid of witches and babas. It’s just the fear of injection and doctors that can quell him now.”

Great! I thought. So now I am trending above babas and witches in the list of abhorrent,scary, humongous and supernatural beasts – Way to go!

‘Listen…’ I started to admonish him angrily, but stopped as I remembered the time-honored adage of my father- “Son, you cannot control how other people behave, you can just control your behaviour and attitude towards them.”

Being a famous and successful surgeon, he himself had faced such situations throughout his life and finally, he had given up protesting and had reluctantly accepted the role of – ” injection-weilding evil doctor” which our relatives, acquaintances and general public had thrust upon him from time to time. Apparently, I too was walking down the same road.

With a cold sigh, I turned to the next patient, who in the meanwhile, had come and had sat in the examination chair.

I looked at him keenly, much after the ways of Arthur Conan Doyle, a physician and the creator of Sherlock Holmes. He and his character were famous for observing and deducing important clues about a person. I had been a lifelong fan of Mr. Sherlock Holmes for nothing.

Here was a septuagenarian gentleman in a well tailored shirt and trousers, with a dignified air about him, sitting in the clinic of an orthopaedic surgeon. His knees were bent at an awkward angle and he had shuffled with some difficulty into the room earlier.

Hmmm… ageing… suffering and affording. ‘ I enumerated my deductions about him mentally to my imaginary Dr. Watson.

Here was a patient, at last, after my own heart! He obviously was suffering from advanced arthritis of knee, and wanted surgery for the same to be performed by me…and best part was – he seemed like he could afford it.

Feeling a wave of tenderness towards this man, I asked him in my sweetest voice – ‘Uncle, what can I do for you?’

Doctor sahab, though my knees have degenerated and I have some pain, I am managing quite well. I will never ever get surgery done for them, this is my fierce determination. Also I don’t consume these English medicines, as I don’t believe in them. And yes, I am too old to do any physio or exercise too.”

Taken aback by the total and utter failure of my detective abilities, I was smarting under his ‘fierce determination’ of not undergoing any surgery ever. I wondered what this unusual specimen of humanity desired from me. He had already destroyed all the arrows in my quiver- surgery, medicines and physiotherapy. What else I could possibly offer him- black magic and sorcery?

Chacha, you have come to the wrong place. This is a hospital.’ I said, trying to be a wisecrack.

“I know,” he continued, ignoring my condescending tone, ” I want you to refer me to a good massage waala…who can give expert massages to my ageing legs, and I can again walk many miles. You must be knowing such a person, won’t you? You must be referring a lot of patients to such a person.”

I had a throbbing headache behind my temples. A gigantic anger was building up inside me, ready to unleash it’s fury on a soul.

I took few deep breaths to calm myself down, and glanced at my watch – 9:45 am!

Only 45 minutes into the o.p.d. and it had come to this!… This sorry state of helplessness, this continuum of absurdities, this flux of farce, this comical display of diagnostic and deductive mindgames; where a well qualified orthopaedic surgeon was bubbling with endless zeal to cure patients of their joint pains and muscle aches, through his knowledge, experience, training and surgical skills, but as it turned out – they didn’t want him to!

All they ever wanted was – moronic solutions of their household problems or equipped with their age-old preconceived notions about surgery and medicines, they wanted him….Him!…to refer them to a quack, who could cure them of their pathetic states.

When our teachers taught us pathology, pharmacology and surgery of a disease in the halls of medical colleges, they never told us about this social aspect of medicine, as to – what to do when confronted by a mother-in-law who was looking to make her daughter- in-law work, who was equally determined not to perform it?

There had been no lecture in those temples of wisdom, about a man badly in need of knee replacement, but who wanted a masseuse instead.

How to deal with such patients? How to overcome their ill-begoted notions, beliefs, theories, fears, superstitions, apprehensions and inhibitons? And was this a duty of mine or of any other doctor to do so?

No medical book had the answers to these searing questions, I pondered philosophically.

Unable to concentrate anymore, I signalled the two senior residents of my unit to take care of this patient and rest of the o.p.d. and I went out, intending to take rounds of the wards, and immediately bumped into Mrs. Joshi.

“Vivek…I was coming to meet you only, wanted to have a word with you.”

Mrs. Joshi and her family had been our old neighbours, when I was quite young and we had lived in our previous home. Because of this reason she treated me like her son – forcefully.

Yesterday, our unit had operated upon her husband for left sided total hip replacement and he was still in the I.C U.

He had been suffering from a disease called- Avascular necrosis of head of femur- an ailment which frequently affects chronic alcholics, and Joshi uncle was a champion alcholic.

“Vivek..look what has your uncle brought upon us due to this wretched drinking habbit of his- this surgery!”

“It’s high time that he leaves this addiction immediately or we will be ruined “

I nodded sympathetically, wondering where this was leading to.

“Vivek, beta, talk to your uncle and instill some sense in him, so that he never touches alcohol again…do it right now!”

Me?’ the sympathetic attitude that I had for her was suddenly turned towards – precious ‘me’.

‘How can I talk to uncle about this?… You know it will be awkward.. he would feel insulted.’ I pleaded in front of her.

“Nonsense, you no longer are a kid who used to play cricket in our garden, look at you- you are a big doctor now! I am so proud of you. Talk to him like a senior doctor..he will definitely listen and obey you “

I surveyed her keenly- muscularly built and strong- jawed, she had a fearsome reputation when I was young, and had seen many kids wilt in front of her gaze and bitter words.

If this fair maiden could not mend her knight’s ways, if this representative of fairer sex – bold, sharp-tongoued and strong-willed- could not bring her husband to his senses; then what chance- I; a mere practitioner of Hippocratic oath, a common wielder of orthopaedic hammer,screws and nails; had?

In my experience and opinion, if a wife; with her constant meddlesome presence, omnipresent manipulations about her home, kids, money,food etc, devastating weapons of her love, tears, beauty, coyness and bickering words; could not control and change her life partner’s addictive ways, then nobody could.

But she dragged me to I.C.U. with her, where I approached Mr. Joshi with a lot of ebullience, very low confidence and zero moral authority.

‘Good morning uncle, you seem to be doing quite well today. The surgery went absolutely fine and in no time you will be running again.’

“All thanks to you Vivek. Yes I am doing all right, a little pain but nothing serious.”

‘Ahem..ugh.. Uncle..you know the reason why you ended up here.. don’t you? I think it’s the time to say goodbye to your magnificent drinking glasses.’

“How right you are…I won’t touch a drop from now on.” He replied smilingly and added a wink at the end!

I should have known that my words would have no effect…he was an old campaigner, impervious to my words.

But Mrs. Joshi went off the handle and started a big fight with him, and was hushed and sent out of I.C.U. I turned quietly and was about to exit the door, when I heard a voice..

“Psst… sir, please come here..over here.”

I looked in the direction of the voice and found that it was originating from the mouth of Mrs. Sarita’s husband standing near his wife, who was lying on the first cot.

Mrs. Sarita had met with a serious accident two days ago and had sustained three fractures, two on left leg and one in right thigh. We had operated her throughout the night and now both her legs were in plaster from upper thigh to toes.

‘Yes..what is it?’

“Sir..hee-hee..umm..I just wanted to know that in your expert opinion, how much time should we let elapse, before…you know…we could be together?” He said in a low voice while throwing furtive glances around.

‘Together?..I didn’t get you.” I fully understood what he meant, but I wanted to prolong this vile man’s agony.

“Err..meaning sir…you know…when can we behave like ..like a man and wife again?”

I glanced towards his wife, who was giving him a thouroghly disgusted look and as I saw, she turned her face to other side and hid her face inside the sheet covering her.

Wait a minute!..I had seen that look.

Having received a fair number of such looks from my wife over the years I was no stranger to such a facial expression, which conveyed- I don’t know how I ended up with this man, there were so many eligible men…but I had such rotten luck!”

Suddenly I was cheerful- I wasn’t alone in being the recipient of wife’s ire. There were others!

I felt a bond of brotherhood with this man, repulsive as he was, he deserved my compassion nonetheless.

‘Look, your wife has sustained grevious injuries, though we have fixed the fractures but it will be weeks before we will allow her to stand, and months before you can do what you are hinting at.’

“Months!” he exploded,” what is the use of these surgeries then, so much money spent and no use. Has medical science not progressed even one bit in last fifty years?”

‘Listen mister’ I growled, the bond of brotherhood had quickly evaporated, ‘ we don’t do surgeries to heal bones faster, that nature does in its own time, but we operate so that bones unite in a correct position.’

As he apologized to me, I went out fuming and returned to my o.p.d.

The moment I sat upon my chair, sister Estella, the incharge of our operation theatre, entered followed by a plumpy man, bordering on obese.

“Good Marning sir,” sister said in her malyali accent.

‘Good morning sister, how can I help you?’

“Sir, this is my husbund – Michael- I have called him here to consult you “

‘What is his problem? He seems quite healthy to me.’

“That is the prablem sir…he is tooo healty. See how his tummy is growing nicely. He does not listan to me…whole day he is only eating and eating.”

” Please tell him to go on strict diet and do regular exercises. He will listan to you…you are a doctor no sir…”

——-///—-///—///—///—-///—–///—–///—-///—

Till this day sister Estella does not understand why I started shouting on her that day, even after a lot of apologising and cajoling done profusely and repeatedly by me.

She has been in a ‘cold war’ mode since then, and religiously blocks all my surgeries at first, then after a lot of pleading I get the worst schedule, that too with an uncooperative staff and non-working equipments.

The only happy person to have emerged out of this gruesome episode has been her husband, who is still eating away merrily. Her wife’s attention and energies have been engaged, and diverted elsewhere since then – in devising ever-new devilish plots to stall and vanquish her new nemesis — Yours truly!….

Welcome to My New Blog

This is the first post on my new blog. I’m just getting this new blog going, so stay tuned for more. Subscribe below to get notified when I post new updates.

The ‘Knee’dy traveller

सैर कर दुनिया की ग़ाफ़िल, ज़िन्दगानी फिर कहाँ,

ज़िंदगी गर कुछ रही तो ये जवानी फिर कहाँ।

-ख़्वाजा मीर दर्द

Travel the world o! carefree man, the life is short;

Even if the life is prolonged, the youth is short.

  • Khwaja Meer Dard

Though the above written couplet is hugely inspiring and brilliant, it is also true, unfortunately, that I have spectacularly failed to follow it in my life, till recently, atleast.

Being a doctor, a knee replacement surgeon(orthopedic surgeon) at that, in India, has meant that I have lived about ninety percent of my life toiling hard in school and medical college followed by exhausting struggles of private practice and married life.

But, lately, the essence of the couplet has slowly dawned upon me – life is short and youth even more so! Admittedly, the golden years of youth, might have already slipped out of my buttery fingers. Nevertheless, some life, short as it is, still remains in my ambitions to travel the World. Thus, lately I have begun to consciously roam around the planet and observe the unending beauty of mother nature, and additionally observe the eccentricities, fickleness, traditions, joys and sorrows of the people inhabiting the world.

Being a medical professional, I, alongwith my fellow medicos, come across death and disease, and upheavals these evil twins cause in the lives of people, perhaps a little more than other professionals.

This blog is my humble, if feeble, attempt to write about, not only my travels, but also about experiences and events that I come across in hospitals and the life in general.

It is my firm belief that to survive in this society, and the world at large, one needs to have a healthy dose of humour and an ability to laugh at oneself, prevailing circumstances and the surroundings. Otherwise serious harm can be caused to one’s reason and ego.

Thus I have written in the introductory line of this blog, that this is a – ‘Strabismic view’- of the world as seen by the eyes of an orthopedician. Because I do think, rather strongly, that the world is too weird, too awkward, too preposterous; to be looked and thought upon directly and seriously. One needs to have a slightly diverted or strabismic, or ‘cross eyed’, if you will, view to remain sane, in this crazy crazy world.

I hope you all will enjoy my travelogues, stories and even ghazals.

Thank you for visiting here.

Yours truly.

Dr Himanshu Mathur

Introduce Yourself (Example Post)

This is an example post, originally published as part of Blogging University. Enroll in one of our ten programs, and start your blog right.

You’re going to publish a post today. Don’t worry about how your blog looks. Don’t worry if you haven’t given it a name yet, or you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just click the “New Post” button, and tell us why you’re here.

Why do this?

  • Because it gives new readers context. What are you about? Why should they read your blog?
  • Because it will help you focus you own ideas about your blog and what you’d like to do with it.

The post can be short or long, a personal intro to your life or a bloggy mission statement, a manifesto for the future or a simple outline of your the types of things you hope to publish.

To help you get started, here are a few questions:

  • Why are you blogging publicly, rather than keeping a personal journal?
  • What topics do you think you’ll write about?
  • Who would you love to connect with via your blog?
  • If you blog successfully throughout the next year, what would you hope to have accomplished?

You’re not locked into any of this; one of the wonderful things about blogs is how they constantly evolve as we learn, grow, and interact with one another — but it’s good to know where and why you started, and articulating your goals may just give you a few other post ideas.

Can’t think how to get started? Just write the first thing that pops into your head. Anne Lamott, author of a book on writing we love, says that you need to give yourself permission to write a “crappy first draft”. Anne makes a great point — just start writing, and worry about editing it later.

When you’re ready to publish, give your post three to five tags that describe your blog’s focus — writing, photography, fiction, parenting, food, cars, movies, sports, whatever. These tags will help others who care about your topics find you in the Reader. Make sure one of the tags is “zerotohero,” so other new bloggers can find you, too.