An excerpt from Shahikant Mishr’s book, translated by Prerna Vij
There was chaos at the Katihar Zila Hospital. The senior doctor was very anxious. She couldn’t decide anything, after all what could she even do? Such a complicated case! Should they save the child or the mother– they did not even have that option! The other doctor was so scared she did not even venture close. There was a crowd of the woman’s family outside.
“After the case went bad they got her to the hospital. Now if anything happens, they will blame it on us”
The senior doctor paced around her room. The other doctor just listened to her silently.
“So much ruckus! I tried to explain it to them so many times that, take her to a private nursing home, but no one was ready to do that. Instead they made the MLA phone in and that bastard MLA! He is telling me to ‘keep them happy’. Once she gets admitted to the hospital then the question of life and death is in god’s hands.”
“He really said that?” asked the other doctor, surprised.
“Yes. Bloody lowlife! I will tell them clearly that I will try once but there is no guarantee of the life of the child and the mother. If they are okay with this then I will operate otherwise I am not even going to come close.”
Seeing no other way, the other doctor prepared herself to conduct the operation.
“Ma’am, can I try once?”
“You?” the senior doctor asked with amazement.
He was the compounder of the hospital. His salary was 11 thousand but somehow he spent 12 thousand on petrol. Through jugaad, he became the secretary of the hospital union. All the contracts of the hospital went to him. He was the loyal dog of the local MP and MLA.
“What will you do?”
“Arrey come with me, you can see it there.”
The doctor stared at his face with both worry and amazement.
“It will only take two minutes ma’am. There is absolutely no danger. I won’t even step inside the labour room. Will just say two words from the door and everything will be alright.”
“What are you even saying? What mantra will you say, that everything will be sorted?”
“I cannot tell you that ma’am. Just come with me. We have already been delayed too much.”
They reached the door of the labour room. The mother inside gave a heart-wrenching scream. Anybody’s heart would have skipped a beat!
The compounder got his face closer to the door and then screamed- “Today is the last day to fill the form for UPSC Beta! If you miss it then you would have to wait another year.”
Lo, behold! Immediately, there was the sound of a small child crying. Kuhuun Kuhuun! The screams of the mother got gentler. A tiny NRB had been born, with dreams of clearing the UPSC in the future.
The doctor stared at the compounder. This was a miracle of medical science! She had never heard, read, or seen this! Neither before nor after! She put her head in her hands.
“Careful Madam, you’ll fall.”
“How did you achieve this miracle?”
“Just like that Madam.”
“No no tell me how this happened? How did you do this miracle?”
“Nothing madam, just past experience helped .”
“Past experience! Don’t talk to me in riddles! Just tell me clearly, how did you do this?”
“Arrey, nothing Madam! I was also born like this.”
This time the doctor couldn’t handle herself. She fainted on the spot.
“She is not from Bihar, that is why she doesn’t know. If she was, she would have known this way of delivering a child .” The compounder looked at the senior doctor with pity and came to the conclusion when he saw her fainting.
21 years later…
“Mahananda Express departing from Guwahati to Delhi will be at Platform 8. The passengers that..”
When the announcement of the train stopping at Katihar railway station was being made, at the same time Rahul was descending the steps to the platform. He had a large VIP suitcase he had got at his brother’s wedding in one hand. There was a bag hanging from his other hand. His friends had already got most of his stuff to the platform. Everyone was cursing Rahul and his girlfriend.
“The idiot must be crying in his girlfriend’s arms!”
“She must be the one crying, this idiot is..!’
Loud laughter echoed on the platform.
They spotted the struggling Rahul. They grabbed the VIP suitcase and the bag from his hand and went to the gate where they threw it at the foot of Bengali moshay standing there. A sort of mantra escaped the Bengali babus mouth, but he did not really say anything. He just muttered …uncultured…untrained…uncivilized man! No one paid attention to him. Everyone hugged Rahul and he boarded the departing train.
The endless journey of another NRB had started. Where would the search for a car with the red light take him in life no one knew! Maa had shown him to a lot of Pandits. Everyone told her that his future was bright.
“Just wait and see, my son will clear the UPSC.”
“Who said this?” the father teased her.
“Pandit ji said this. He saw his kundli. All the planets are aligned, just Saturn is a little angry. He told us to do a puja. Once the puja is done, everything will be fine.”
“Even if it isn’t great for everyone else, Pandit ji will definitely be happy because of this. At least 500 rupees in cash, dhoti- kurta, and then the stuff for puja will result in a commission for the shopkeeper.”
Father did not believe in the pujas. He believed in the tenacity to work. Rahul also would not have fallen for all of this.
“If we knew about our tomorrow today, then what is the fun in life then! Living in suspense has its own perks!”
“How?” Shalu would ask
“Look, if people got to know that they would die tomorrow then they would not live in the present and if they get to know that they would be successful in the future then they would keep waiting for it. Some will be waiting for his death and some for their future success and no one would enjoy their present.”
Rahul looked outside the window. There was a miracle of nature right there- a rainbow! The sky was bathed in seven colours. Small pieces of colorful clouds were floating around. Almost as if fairies had become clouds. All of them were leaping towards the sun and the sun was welcoming them. Fairies covered in seven colors! Look at how the sun’s face is glowing!
Rahul was jealous of the sun.
“This sun! He is having so much fun with the fairies and one is me! Enjoy even a little and you get slapped.”
Rahul’s hand rested on his cheek. The cheek was neither shining nor glowing like the sun. It had been slapped only a while back, although it wasn’t hurting. Instead, there was a sweet feeling.
Don’t know when this idiot Shalu would change? What had he done? He was going to Delhi and didn’t know when they would meet next? Just wanted to hug her once before leaving instead what did he get? A slap. Then she tried to kiss and diminish the pain of the slap. What does it even mean!
Rahul was rubbing his cheek. A little later he kissed his hand. He felt good. He thought ‘ Didn’t get to kiss his girlfriend he would have to do with the feeling of it. Not everyone can have the fate of the sun.’
“Every time you shouldn’t be crying over your fate, beta. Sometimes we expect too much from our fate.’ Rahul remembered these words from his father.
His mother’s face also came across his eyes. Dearest Ma! He might be a 21-year-old young man but he would always be a little child for his mother.
“Beta, eat. I have to put mustard oil on your head. You should comb by lifting your hair. Whoever has a big forehead is supposed to be very lucky.’
Remembered his sister’s teary eyes, his brother’s hardworking face.
“Work hard. If you clear the UPSC exams it is almost like going to heaven.” These were the last words of his father before he left.
He didn’t realize when they had already passed Burauni. Felt hungry so he opened his bag. Plain paratha, aaloo bhujia and mango pickle. This was his mother’s favorite dish during train travel. He liked Barley paranthas with yogurt but his mother never gave them to him. She would say that Barley was inauspicious for travel.
Without much interest, Rahul ate two-three bites and then he realized that Shalu had also given him a packet. He was angry then so he hesitated in taking that, hot paranthas after a slap! Shalu asked him to swear on her and that is why he took it. He opened it and found Barley paranthas and yogurt. Shalu’s mother also did not give barley during travel but she didn’t believe in all these superstitions.
“Girls are changing their ways now but not about that. Everything will happen on the night of your wedding only.“One day Sanjay had mused about the nature of relationships after marriage.
“On the wedding day, society issues the bride and groom an ‘adult license’. Here kid, this is your love license now play as much as you want in the field of love. Society rewards you for remaining patient for so long. There are no irritants, drive as fast as you want no one is stopping you…”
“No red light, no speed breaker!” Gopi had chimed in.
“But there is always a test drive before getting a driving license. Whoever passes the test gets the license, whoever fails is out.” Sujit had said jokingly.
“Yeah man you are right! There should be a way to do a test drive before this ‘adult license’!”
“Gopi you do one thing, file a Public interest litigation in the supreme court. All these TV channels that are looking for weird stories will interview you and then you’ll become famous in the country.” Sanjay would leave no chance he had in pulling Gopi’s leg.
“ Yeah and then after that the Supreme court would issue Gopi in public interest. The idiot will have so many “adult license” test drives that..” everyone laughed loudly. Gopi fumed silently on the side
Rahul’s lips turned into a smile when he reminisced about the times he’d spent with his friends. He got lost in his memories for a while before drifting off to sleep.
Rahul’s eye’s opened just a few stations before Allahabad. The cold winds that blew in from Triveni sent a weird shiver down his spine. When he returned to his seat after brushing his teeth, the train had reached the platform. The world-famous guavas from Allahabad were right in front of him. His father loved them. Whenever he would recount his college days he would mention these guavas. He used to say that the soil of Sangam has something special in it because it would mix nectar in these guavas. He tried to plant the guavas in his home many times but the taste was not the same.
“An uprooted plant hardly takes root in some other land.” he would say dejectedly.
“Then how did so many people from Bihar settle in cities like Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore?” he had asked him.
“When have they ever settled properly? Yeah they adjust well. The root remains in Bihar and they keep moving around with the trunk—looking for employment and food.”
“If they found this sustenance in Bihar only then..?”
“Then many of them would return. Some of them might not want to return too. There are more chances to succeed in the world outside.”
“Aren’t there many problems because of differences outside papa…?”
“Yes beta, but this is a universal problem. It would be. If they feel threatened by you then they will make you the target. Everyone does that, this is human spirit; You have to win them over. By your abilities and your love.”
“Even after that if they make you a target then?”
“Then the road of struggle is always open. Anyway the foundations of human existence are grounded in struggle and greed. First humans took away the rights of the animals, made them their slaves, and then made a house of their own greed on their land. Once the animals were in control, they started to exert control over other humans. Rich people try to oppress the poor ones and the larger nations try to control the smaller ones. Nature is stronger than everything else and that is why no one has been able to control it.”
Rahul listened intently.
“ Read history differently, Rahul. In every corner of the world, every timeline, there is always a common thread of struggle and greed. You will find that the foundations of all kingdoms were built on greed and injustice. Yet people hail this as a victory of courage and virility.”
“What about the present…?”
“It is the same thing today. It’s just that with the passage of time the form of human struggle has changed– both at the level of the world and the family. Only the ‘dress’ of struggle and greed has changed their average meaning and utility remains the same. The clash of the uncle and nephew in Mahabharat is still ongoing, beta. Earlier, the Kauravas and Pandavas bandied together to attack another kingdom. They created a huge kingdom by winning them. And when their interests clashed with each other they started infighting. The story is the same today. There is just a new twist in these old stories as the generations change.”
There was a bitterness on papa’s face when he talked of things like this. After two pegs of alcohol he would talk like this. He would specially refer to the Mahabharat.
“If Krishna wanted to, he would have stopped one of the world’s greatest wars but he didn’t want to. It was the question of the establishment of nature and truth. In the flames of demolition you can see the light of goodness shining through! And this destruction still has its control all over the world but there is no good left now. There are flames of destruction everywhere in the world! These flames would continue to be fanned till the time human greed has its place in humanity.”
The train reached Old Delhi at 9 in the night. There were three-four friends on the station. There was too much luggage. Two bags, one VIP suitcase, and lots of cartons. You would get at least something from every friend’s house when you were traveling to Delhi. The coolie was not agreeing to anything less than 200rs. Lala took the money from his hands and picked up more than half the stuff. The rest of it his other friends picked up.
“Saala, he is asking for 200rs! We can buy an entire bottle of old monk with that. There are so many friends in the room but only five bottles. A friend has come over, a party is due. Litti- chokha and the blessings of the old saint.”
Old monk rum was nicknamed Old saint in this circle. If you got intoxicated the saint would turn into a devil. Old saint!
This was a sacred knowledge in the group. Litti -Chokha and old saint was a deadly combination. All three of them were old friends. If even one was lost everyone would be sad. Litti chokha would take you into the fire and the old saint would show you the world of love. The friends met at the plot. Some had come three months back, some six. Some time had passed for Rahul too. The grain crop had cheated them. They would have to wait for the wheat to get ready.
He got a little hesitant after seeing the people from Mauritius. Guys and girls in one room!Fun and only fun! People would sing and play late into the night, but no one was actually paying attention to the tunes of the songs. Kalpana was singing at the speed of a supersonic jet…Taal se taal mila! As soon as the ‘t’ hit your ear it would become a ‘g’. Original thoughts were coming out. If Vatsyayana had heard this, he would have been surprised. If they had had a party with him, he would never have made the mistake of limiting his kamasutra to simply 64 ways.
As morning approached, Rahul saw a completely different world. Romila Thapar was peeking from the rack in front. Jha- Shrimali had rolled near the cushion. Baasham Sahab was crying about his bad luck over the bottle of rum. He took so much pain to write “Wonder that was India” but could not understand where to categorize these NRB idiots in Indian culture and tradition? Neither the beautiful women of Khajuraho could capture them with their graces. Nor could Buddha explain to them that the world is full of pain and suffering. They didn’t have a work ethic, neither did they believe in the principle of being responsible and duty bound. They laugh at the thought of heaven and hell.
“Heaven and hell are all on this earth boss. And what special thing do you get in heaven anyway? The same nectar and the same angels! That all is available here also. Heaven will only have nectar. Made of local herbs and spices. Who knows if they even have proper export facilities? Earth has everything available, national and international. Chopin, scotch, vodka, beer, brandy! If you have less ‘coriander’ in your pocket then polythene and mahua are great substitutes.” This was a famous dialogue of Sanjays.
“And the angels in heaven- the same four five. Rambha, Urvashi, Maenka- Indra has already captured them. And look at the edge that he has! Gopi’s grandfathers, great grandfathers and great-great- grandfathers all go to heaven before their time for the same angels and then saala Gopi should also take the same ‘ eye tonic’ from them only! This is wrong. The same things for both father and son! Damn them!”
Rahul and Abdul laughed heartily after listening to Sanjay. Gopi cursed him loudly.
“Forgive me, I like the beautiful women on earth only. How would the angels of heaven have their figure and attitude? And the savory way they walk! When they walk it feels like someone is driving a bulldozer over your heart! Dhak, dhak, dhak…”
Everyone laughed at Sanjay. Sanjay shamelessly went on…
“And then the sexy, transparent, and stylish dresses of these girls! Have you ever seen an angel in this dress. Bechaari, where would they wear these stylish dresses anyway! They won’t have designer dresses there. Whenever you see they would have a saree draped over them. And the blouse would be conservative. Bechaari, they would yearn for ‘low-cut’ and ‘backless’ blouses.”
Everyone in the room laughed.
And man how will we organize fun stuff in heaven? The same old classical music with angels trying to match the tune and dancing on it! Will they be able to do sexy dances like Shakira! Hips don’t lie..shakira…shakira…shakira..!”
Laughter erupted in the room when they saw Sanjay trying to dance like Shakira. When they calmed down after a while, Rahul was quiet. He was facing Gopi and Abdul.
“That is why friends I tell you to not fall for this heaven and hell scam. Our earth is the most beautiful. Heaven, exodus- beautiful than everything else. Some people are hell bent on destroying its beauty. Use your power to beat these people up with lathis. I understand that we can’t solve all the problems in the world but if there are some tears we can wipe then we should try doing that. We can put smiles on some faces at least. Is this work any less?”
Rahul and Sanjay would often get emotional looking at the religious wars and hatred which had spread the world over and how it has impacted the people living under these regimes. There was an emotional person hidden in both of these but only people close to them could see that. When religious gurus swindled innocent people, it made them really angry. “Saala, if this was in my hands I would drag these idiots who have opened shops in the name of religion to my field. Bihar already has a labour problem these days. If they did some work, we would have crops and people wouldn’t go hungry.”
Note: The translated passage is for academic purposes only and has no commercial application.