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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Flame : Short Story by Harish Mangalam

Translated by Dr.G.K.Vankar

That man sat for long clutching his leg. He was unconscious of time. Due to continually scratching he had black ugly patch on his knees.   Absent-mindedly he would ponder: how many ointments I applied and changed, what variety of allopathic tablets I swallowed, how many herbal medicines I have tried, the itch does not go. Again the itch would recur and   he would begin scratching. His nails were filled with the debris, his fingers would get tired, and he would stare at the fingers for long. Again thoughts would dog him: how many bacteria have hidden themselves under the nails? And how many would be in the eczema patch? Innumerable, cannot be counted. With sulfur ointment his skin had burnt   but why the bacteria remain unaffected?.. Is there no cure? There must be a cure, there should be. Then why the doctors do not treat me properly? If disease like cancer can be cured, heart valves can be replaced then why not the eczema be treated?  That doctor1 had said, it would take time before this eczema improves. It’s chronic, isn’t it? Forty fifty years have passed since then!
That man was expert and intelligent. His mind was sore because of the eczema.  Constant thoughts hammered his mind. He would stare at the tree opposite his home lost in thoughts. At that time his eyes would turn terrifying. Today too his eyes were bulging. The layers of past have peeled off, yes. In the chora of village Toda, a mosquito had bitten him. He   immediately scratched the knee. Since then, till today, it’s itch, itch and itch. With excess scratching his skin had become coarse and dry like a thorn. The white scale of skin was peeling off. The itching increased gradually, never reduced. The skin has grown like that of gho . And now.. How it has flooded with foul-smelling pus!

Looking at it causes nausea. There is a large ulcer and the white red, red white granules are exposed. Inside there are innumerable small serpentine veins . Suddenly the eczema smelled. He spitted with all his might, with loud thoo. The itching started again. He scratched fast. He applied ointment, rather than reducing it worsened. He was anxious. He merged with the surroundings. Now as if whole of his body does not exist, only the leg is perceived. Whole existence has drowned in the eczema. The empty boxes, bottles of medicines, the packs, prescriptions, tablets, herbal medicine, everything appeared very vividly before his eyes. He looked in the distance focusing his eyes. Then with strongest   repulsion he turned his head with a jerk...his mind was full of hate. He would curse. He would abuse the doctors, got angry, and would rise to thrash them. However pain in the   leg would compel him to clutch his knee and to sit down…

That restless man would discuss with intense, vehement arguments.. He would debate with his friends. If the eczema does not improve he even considered amputation of his leg above knee. His friends would advise that this extremist attitude would prove fatal. Then he would calm down. But he in his deep thoughts wonders: sometimes the extreme attitude may become fatal but at other times it can be beneficial too… but it is a pity that   the system is devoid of any  attitude too! We are two million and yet we live as it is, in the same old ways. Like worms swarming in the carcass of a whale washed away by a strong current on a lone island! Other friends would again be engrossed in the discussion. One person shook that man. Thoughts interrupted, he uttered ‘what?’. His friend gestured with his fingers to the tea kettle man to bring tea. He exclaimed:  “Not what! Have you brought book by Marx?” Like a lost man he stared vacantly, didn’t say anything. Gulped the tea, filled his belly with tea. And then he said: Marx? The so called intellectuals have made him only a subject of discussion. Empty discussion! As the itch starts, discussions on ’ art and ideology’, ‘art and reality’, ‘materialism’, ‘equality’ , merely ups and downs of speech and behavior only! Nothing more than that, my friend! And he had the itch again. He briskly continued to scratch. He liked the scratching. His friends were lost in thought. They found substance in his talk: continuous discussions, pamphlets, reports, exchange of ideas, and yet it had led them nowhere…

That man is tired now, is sick of it. Continuous same environment he does not like. He does not like anything. Even after tumult he does not get cure for eczema. He sighed deeply. He is sitting with support of a column. Files buzz around. Someone is driving away the dogs. From the dog’s mouth sticky saliva dribbles, a thread of the saliva that reaches up to floor and then breaks town. He always has to fight with the dogs of opposite street. After getting exhausted he becomes breathless like now. And with the quivering tongue the saliva dribbles. He is absorbed with watching the saliva that breaks and forms. His wife arrives and asks,” why don’t you say something? Why do you sit like this by yourself?” That man got startled. Without looking at his wife he said: This bloody eczema does not improve. And today it pains me more. As she could not see eczema anywhere, his wife laughed loudly as if her husband was talking crap. She began laughing leaning forward. That man got infuriated but he kept his anger to himself. His wife consoled him:  “Are you worried about eczema? Don’t! I will make paste of garlic and salt, if you apply it, the eczema  will be cured , it is as simple as  a whisper in your ear! But where is the eczema?

That man felt sorry for his uneducated wife. How can I respond to her baffling question? What is its solution? Is there one, at all? And how can I explain her? If the eczema gets cured then doctor’s practice gets ruined, his air conditioner stops working, spring of his revolving chair breaks , wheels of his car get stuck in the mud. Perhaps his tie would strangle him. He wanted to tell his wife all this, but he controlled his impulse and said only this much: I don’t want any treatment. Standing before the doctor with miserable face, tolerating his bragging, and encouraging behavior and pretense that a doctor is different from the patient, I don’t like in the least. Then do our heartbeats reach to his heart through his stethoscope? No, no. I won’t go for treatment. He collapsed, helpless.

That man seemed more serious today. Before his friends could start the discussion he began: this eczema is spreading everywhere.. Let it expand. It has no cure. At the worst, It would kill me isn’t it? I will embrace death with a smiling face. But I don’t wish to get treated by them. Then all of a sudden he shouted: friend, leave it! This is only a hospital. Dr.Vaishnav, Dr.Pande, Dr.Shukla, Dr.Swaminathan, Dr.Trivedi, Dr.Basu,Dr.Patel, Dr.Mehta, all of them have highest foreign  degrees. What treatment did they give? Did the eczema got any better? Look, how it has rotten down? I am afraid that bone inside may begin to rot. Then? Then? Did Ayurvedic doctors too get it cured? Dr.Gandhi, Dr. Andhi and Dr.Pandhi , how did they treat?

That man tried to calm down. For a moment he was calm. But today his friends seemed sad. He was stunned. He didn’t see his friends’ anger and impulse. Hence he asked directly:”why are you silent today?” and yet he dint get any response. He caught hold of his friend’s arm and gave him a shake.” Friend, tell me why are you silent today?” then he stared at his friend. Then the friend quickly unrolled his shirt sleeve and showed the eczema on his left hand. That man got surprised. He asked immediately: when did you get it? His friend straightened his neck and sternly said, 1981 Gujarat cyclone had bitten me. The time stood still. Everyone remembered the past. Another friend also removed his shirt and showed the eczema in armpit and ventilated anger: the burning flame of Jetalpur charred me here! Third friend too raised his fist: In a village in Bihar got married with a girl, people said she was Savarna. The ghost of castes possessed them and they stabbed his private part with spear. He removed the pant and showed big eczema plaque on the thigh. The fourth showed   the neck and the fifth   buttocks with the   dark patches of eczema. That man maddened with rage. He was stunned, immobile. He was silent for long: all of them had suffered silently. Why?  Why? He peered through the faces of all. He hated himself. He felt repulsed seeing foul smelling eczema. Those eczema patches were similar to his own. Foul smell spread all around. It crossed all borders- North-west, east- south. The environment got polluted. A friend proposed: Today we will observe silence. The statue that you see is of a world famous doctor.2 the real expert of the eczema. Everyone peered at the statue craning their necks. He continued: he found the cure of eczema.. But. That man asked “what but , friend?”    Saying rushed towards the statue. His face was full of joy. His friend with low head and voice said: constant anxiety and hard work lead to this doctor’s death.  Thereafter this eczema patches grew larger and larger, frighteningly larger. That man cried:  then let us go and shoot those bustards!  All directions rang. That man and his friends stared at the statue without blinkingly their eyes for long. Like the clouds in the sky, time passed swiftly. The statue shook. A deafening explosion occurred and from the statue  flames leapt out. The flame rose high. Whole sky burned turning into a red ball. With sound piercing sky, all stared at the sky.

Marad Kasumbal Rang Chade:Short Story by Praveen Gadhvi

Translated by Dr.G.K.Vankar


Like dry firewood, Duda was ablaze. Every vein was afire. In every pore burned with the flames. He was stretching the strings of the drum.  The drum was taut. Like that his daughter's belly, too, was taut. When he would beat the drum, the sky would fall, the mountains would thunder, and the clouds would burst. With one kick, lump of Babuji,  muscle and blood was out. The foxes stopped crying, the walls of the house peeled off. The village that was destroyed seven times, will now be destroyed the eighth time. This drum, Duda's drum, Father Abha had given this drum. This drum has got whole village married. The drum danced, hopped, danced in  circles,  throughout the nights on the occasions of  Koli  marriages. Now this drum will not dance, will not hop, and will not jump. One beating and it will burst and the village will burn. For the eighth time the village will get destroyed. One Babauji was born , the enemy of the village. Fire… Fire… Fire all around. Duda will dance on one foot in the burning fire like Shiva, he will dance in circles. He will beat the broken drum and the fire will ablaze. His veins were bursting.  Karsan blacksmith's large hammer was pounding on his temples, dhum…dhum…

As if he thrashed a bunch of fire-sticks, he beat his wife. daughter and two barely clad children. There was weeping, as if in the nest of street the birds screamed. Babuji is the wild he-cat with grey eyes. Duda had gone mad. He broke his poor wife's back without any fault of hers. He got hold of his daughter's braid and made her move in circles. He broke two pots, kicked in the belly.
'o father, help us, he will kill us!', they screamed. But Duda did not listen anything.  Duda was a master drummer, like his father Abha. If he beat war drum , fire blazed around eighteen miles. The swords would shine. If he beat the drum for dance, children in their mothers' wombs would dance.  He learnt the art by being constantly with his father. Like Abhimanyu, lying in his mother's belly he was listening drumbeats of his father, Abha. In the Koli marriages he would take a drink and begin to beat his drum, till sunrise next day. Whole night, neither Duda would tire , nor the Koli girls.

Duda was also mad about bhajans. He would sing whole night. From his throat, Raidas bhajans would spring like the village river. He would purify the tamboora with sprinkle of water, take it in his hand, sing bhajan and enter in some other world away from the earth. Duda bhagat, wonderful, wonderful! He would accept Prasad , he would take tea in the cup he used to bring in his pocket. Though in the durbar of God, all are equal, Duda would sit at a distance. Again purified with sprinkle of  water , the tamboora would return to Narshi Bhagat.

His wife and daughter would go to Babuji's farm to weed. Duda would remain at home, stretch the drum strings. Duda's hands   never took sickle to work on farm. His wife and daughter would bring firewood, beat bread. Duda is the king of drum, the devotee of tamboora.

Babuji , the wild cat with grey eyes. He would get drunk as soon as he woke up   in the morning. He would offer even his horse a bucket full of drink. When he would ride the horse, both   would be drunk. The moustaches like a dagger. Though he was barely a skeleton, if he got enraged he would consider nothing. He thrashed and thrashed  Patels    on their bare backs. He throttled his own sister, only because she faintly smiled to Magan Nai. Babuji is drunk all twenty four hours a day. If he passed through bazaar, banias would rise from their seats uttering , ' welcome bapu, welcome bapu,'

Duda thrashed his wife. Duda drank a potful of liquor in the Koli vas. "Slut, it's your fault only. Why did you allow the girl to go alone to weed in the farm alone? Why did you not die of cholera? Fever ? What fever you had? The village trembles with Babuji and you send the innocent, rabbit like girl alone in the farm? And then you say that Babuji tore away the girl's clothes? O slut I will break your back.."

Duda caught hold of the girl's hair and made her swirl. "Slut, why were you not born as a stone from your mother's womb? How could you nourish the sin of Babuji in your belly? Are the wells and ponds scarce in the village that you didn't drown?" Duda tightens the strings of the drum. He has drunk full pot of liquor at Hiraji Thakor's. The eyelids feel like closing. Every vein burns. Duda bhagat caught hold of Babuji in the open market. As if he were possessed with Ma Meldi, whole body shivered. "O bustard, you used force on a poor laborer's daughter? If you are so much   strength, why don't you go to Vadodara and catch hold hand of King Gaikwad's daughter?"

Babuji weighs spear on Duda's chest. Duda bhagat is the one in whose heart lives Lord  Rama.
Babuji is Ravana, the image of arrogance. Duda was a player of war drum and Now   Duda's heart also beat like a war drum.

With one blow the spear fell down. Kalka appeared in Duda's body.  "My daughter is daughter of the village. Are you not ashamed of   stripping honor of an unmarried girl?" Enraged Duda gave Babuji two strong slaps. Those sitting at the temple platform rushed, "what a kaljug ! A Dholi beating a raj darbar?"

Whole village turned into a war drum.  Dhrabang, dhrabang, dhrabang… in the square of Darbars, swords, spears and live torches gathered. Even a five year old child arrived with a stick used to drive away stray dog. Babuji is riding a horse. The taft of turban shines like a spear. He is totally drunk; his eyes are red, blood-shot. As if the outlaws have come to destroy the village, have set out to kill holy cows and Brahmins, and the villagers set out for combat, the Garasiyas followed Babuji.

The poor low castes shut themselves in their houses, Nayka women trembled like the flame of a lamp. "Duda, the sonless one, what came to his mind that he raised his hand on Babuji? Its dooms day, Its sign of Kalyug , o father!'
"O you live on the left over food of the village and you are raising hand on Babuji! What a justice?   The low castes girls, low character too! Can you show, leave alone an unmarried girl, a married woman with a good character? Duda is an artist of drum. The village respects him for that. 'Did he raise his hand? Bapa, gazab ! its a sign of Kalyug." They set out to burn the Dholiwada.
The green will also burn with the dry; the innocent will also burn with the guilty.

Poor kites! Where will they settle at night? 

Babuji is pungent like the chillies of Shanka Vaghri's farm. Darbars are given liquor since the first drink of life, since birth. They would drink from childhood. Very strong. Patels are also terrified with him. Did Babuji not grab breasts of Vanmalidas's daughter? But he belongs to a high caste. They would not utter a word. Urgently she was married off. Now, not tomorrow. He didn't do what Duda did. Now this will be the talk of the nation. The newspapers will caw caw like the crows. The village will be tarnished. How many ministers and social workers will throng the area, day and night? Who knows,   B.B.C.may broadcast it, too.

The high castes are silent, the low castes tremble. The valiant army sets out. The drum of Duda walks ahead, what a strange thing? Not Duda,  but his drum. Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang…in early days, Raj darbars would set out of the village like this,  to protect cows and Brahmins.

Dham dham dham… Duda's veins burst. He made a shining sword from the drumstick. "My father! Protect my honor, my brother, o drum! I have loved you day or night more than my son; with your sound let every child of this village and the sun and the moon in the sky above shiver. " Babuji darbar is the neighing horse, the   drink astray, a shining sword and the torches burn.   A bug of the village raised his hand on Babuji? If the head is cut the torso fights! Marad kasumbal rang chade! The kshatriya dharma will be in shame. Today it's a crisis for  dharm. Today it's Babuji's insult; tomorrow it will be that of the village.

The light of the torches appeared. The limitless dust flew in the air. There were noise and shouts, the army is marching.  The kites wonder, "what kind of Mahabharat is this?"
O cowards. The wife and the daughter, the father ,  the old men and women, no one is seen in the vas. Not even the dogs. Only Duda Bhagat, like Khetarpal, the protector God of the field. The drum on his shoulder, the drum sticks in hands. Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang…It's Dadhichi's bones, Duda's drumsticks. Run o run! Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang…run o run ..! Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang

A torch came flying like an arrow from Ravana!    Duda's hut got fire.. The mountain Meru may move, but not Duda.
In the blazing fire stands Duda.. the drum jumps,  the drumstick beats. Duda dances Tandava. In the blazing fire Duda turned into a roasted meat. Dhrabang dhrabang dhrabang… If the head is cut the torso fights. Marad kasumbal rang chade! O Duda, be glory to the mother who gave you birth!