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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.

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ninest123 said...
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