He hobbled in the rain like the last soldier of a dying battle. His eyes were dreary, skin drawn tightly against his bones with no sign of underlying flesh, his hair coarse and dry as a broomstick, his hands swung lifelessly along his torso and his ragged clothing gave an obvious impression that he retired from bathing years ago. He drew closer to me with each of his limp, trying hard to manage his ataxic gait, as I tried my best to remain oblivious of his presence. I wanted to ignore that man who was more of a walking zombie but the moment I walked past him, I received a slight nudge at my apron from behind. As I turned around to look who it was, the same man, somewhere around his mid thirties, had held my left arm hard within his grip and wouldn’t let go. I was taken by surprise out of his awkwardly bold act that came out of nowhere.
‘What is the matter with you? Who are you?’ I yelled at him out of impulse.
The man quickly realized that he had crossed the line. He released my arm and fell to the ground with a thud. Then he somehow gathered himself, rolled up his pants and exposed his left leg to reveal a large bruise below his knee joint. It was a red, swollen area and gave a clear indication of a brutal trauma to the underlying bones. All my anger evaporated in no time. I folded my umbrella and decided to take a look.
‘What happened? How did you get that?’ I asked him as I kneeled down to examine his limb.
‘Saab, I was returning back from work last night, when a drunken sadhu standing on the middle of the road whipped his wooden stick in the air without purpose! (Maybe alcohol did him enough good, I thought). Somehow his whirling stick found my leg and crushed the bony framework inside. It hurts bad doctor saab…please write me some medicine.’
The man sounded Bihari by accent. He smelled like a rotten onion. I had to drift a few inches away in order to avoid the anesthesia. But duty is duty. I examined his leg, rolled them over, looked for tenderness and other signs of inflammation and it came to my mind that some way or the other, it was definitely a broken leg. Analgesics and immobilization for three weeks was the ideal treatment in such a patient but the protocol says you’ve always got to confirm your diagnosis first. So ordering him an X-Ray in order to find out which of the two bones had had him limping was mandatory, but since I was just a medical student, it wasn’t in my legal rights to write him an investigation. I decided to take him to the orthopedics OPD at my medical college.
There the doctors examined him, X-ray was done and it revealed a broken fibula. So the diagnosis was made and just as I’d thought, analgesics and cast was prescribed to him for three weeks. He was a poor laborer by profession and worked at a construction site to earn his bread. Somewhere inside I was overwhelmed to have helped a helpless man. I paid for his medications and OPD card and told him to get his cast fixed as soon as possible. I had my lectures to attend, which meant I couldn’t have been with him all day. So I gave him 1200 bucks and strictly told him- “In paison se plaster lagwa lena…warna pair theek nahi hoga (please get a plaster done with this money otherwise your leg won’t get healed).”
He nodded and I took his leave.
Five days from then I saw him again. I made out from his gestures that he was trying to avoid me. He wore the same old torn shirt and smelt as bad as he did previously. He still had the limp. So I looked down at his leg to search for the cast. There wasn’t any!
I asked him- “Plaster kyu nahi karwaya? (Why didn’t you get the plaster done?).” I was rather furious.
He was taken aback by my abrupt questioning and gave quite an illogical reply. He told me that few of his co-workers bullied him when he got back from the hospital that day and took away the money I gave him for the cast. There was definitely something fishy in the whole made-up story but he put it so brilliantly before me, with all those tears and accents full of grief and agony that I had to surrender before the likelihood of his tale. His tale true or not, but the fact was that he still had a broken fibula. What surprised me the most was the will power and endurance which God had given him, that was letting him carry that broken leg for five days! I quivered even to think how I would have fared in a situation as painful and tormenting like his!
I decided to end what I had started, but this time a little intelligently. I told him I would take him to the hospital again and this time place the cast on his leg myself. He agreed to it and was rather happy. He told me he had some job to attend to and would be free only after an hour, so we decided to meet at the same place an hour later, which was at 1 pm.
At 1 pm I was standing exactly where we had our meeting fixed but there were no signs of him. An hour passed by and this little shrewd was starting to get onto my nerves. No one had ever tested my patience for this long in twenty five years. Irritably I finally arrived at the construction site where he worked. It took me a little while to search for his contractor and I asked him where could I find the man with a limping gait? He was rather surprised seeing me searching for that guy. Moments later he gave me a scornful laugh and his co workers gathered there and joined him. It didn’t take much time for me to understand I’d been made a fool of.
When his mirth ended he told me that little brat had been doing this since ages. Every night he would fool someone or the other, make up a story and narrate them in a manner that no lie detectors in the world could even get a clue, extricate money from lenders and buy local alcohol which he would drink upto his xiphisternum. The injury that was spotted on the X-ray was sustained by him years ago and mysteriously his wounds would somehow never heal. And when I thought this was all I had to hear, I was told by the service provider that the Uttarakhand government had considered him for the “berozgari bharta (Income for the unemployed)” and he had been receiving forty thousand rupees every six months which he would spend all on alcohol.
As I returned to my hostel, on my way back on the same road I had a lot of questions that perturbed my mind. How could a man sustain an injury as brutal as a fracture and live with it for years without treatment? I did examine him myself and even the doctors at the hospital did. The signs of inflammation were true. He limped, that’s for sure, and he didn’t fake that. The guy was a natural actor. Why didn’t he try his chances in bollywood? And if at all God had given him the endurance and stamina to sustain that pain, what a miracle of nature he was!
That night I couldn’t sleep. I kept struggling to find out as to who was actually at fault? Was it the drunken sadhu? Or the stinking bihari lad? Or his parents who never sent him to school? Or the police who never took care of his acts? Is it the government who’s at fault that gives such people allowances for their physical challenges? Or are the people like myself and others who easily fall in trap?
The disturbance in my mind is still there. I never saw that man again.