The Crutch13 mins 839 13 mins 839
Harjit’s family was very happy. The doctors okayed his release from the hospital in the evening. At the entrance, incense sticks were burned in front of Guru Nanak’s photo, marigold flowers beautified the gate and a coconut was broken on the first step of the stairs. His wife, two sons, their wives and two daughters clapped and danced to celebrate their exit from the hospital. His 20 years old servant Muni carried all his medicines, clothes and a crutch. He smiled back when the nurses and ward boys greeted him with their smiling. He liked everything but hated two things: the crutch and the sympathetic look of all his family members towards him since he suffered a heart attack a month ago.
The joyous cavalcade slowly walked down the stairs where their innova was parked. He tried to stand on his feet to break his thirty days benumbing fixity on the wheelchair. He held its arms tightly to rise in spite of his sons’ denial. A crackling sound suddenly froze their celebration and again he sat in the chair. His heart was pounding faster; he feared that the scary heart burn would return. He shouted, “Call the doctor, now.” His eldest son turned back the wheel chair and started pushing it on the marble. All others followed him throwing their garlands. The doctors took an ECG and diagnosed him as perfectly fine to declare, “Harjit uncle will never die of a heart attack throughout his life; he is perfectly alright. You can take him home.” He handed over a HEALTH MANUAL FOR BETTER HEART. It brought a big smile on everyone’s face. The retired Botany professor also felt relieved but hated the word HEART.
Again he was brought to the vehicle. He saw around and closed his eyes. From the elevation of the hospital entrance, he could see how darkness engulfed a large part of the town as if there was a lunar eclipse but the luminous lights at many places made him comfortable. In the twinkling lights, there was a serene scattering of peace all over the town and, in the noises of vehicles and people’s continuous talks he heard a soothing silence.
His wife bought sweets from the most famous Alankar Sweets. The entire family sang the Gurbani throughout their travel from the hospital to the home. Occasionally he murmured it too. Again he wanted to rise from his seat in front of his home but his sons and daughters forcefully stopped him. They lifted him to his bedroom. He was feeling so helpless; thought why was he saved by the doctors; it would have been better had he died. Every touch of his son made him feel worthless. A stream of tears erupted from his eyes. It fell on Muni’s hands, he looked at his face. The servant wanted to wipe out the tears but knew his master very well, he would not like it. In a few minutes, all the members left the room one by one except the servant. Everybody was sermonizing about diet, exercise, sleep and medicine. His son ordered the servant to sleep with Professor saab despite his denial. The old professor hated to share his room. He felt little relaxed when his ever-talking wife decided to sleep with the children in an adjacent room.
He instructed the servant to open the window and switch off the AC. The cold winds of the AC reminded him of the hospital; still his cloth smelled medicinal. He took the pillow closer to his face; it smelled beautiful. His bed room was his heaven. He was nostalgic about every object of the room. Two brass idols of Krishna and Meera looked magnificent in the dim light of the night. The face of Meera was shinning as the rays of the street light fell on it. He looked at the statue without a blink. A few minutes later, he stared snoring.
The morning sun rays were unpleasant; the sticky sweats around his neck broke his sleep. He rose and sat on his bed. Muni stood there with the crutch. Ssabji held its steel holder tightly to get up from the bed. His feet were trembling and he started losing balance. The servant could sense his difficulty, “Saabji, can I hold you?” The old man groaned, “Just stay away from me. I don’t need your help.” Muni stood behind him widening his arms. Without the crutch, he would not be able to stand on legs. Slowly, he stepped out his right leg with the support of the crutch. He looked outside; a sparrow was chirruping on a flowery branch. Then, he took the left leg out. Now, he could stand without losing his balance with the crutch. He walked into the toilet. Muni sat outside the toilet.
The sparrow was still chirruping on the branch. He started panting, when he came out of the toilet. Intermittently, he breathed deeply. His bearded face had the foams of soap all over. Slowly, he walked to his bed and emptied a glass of water. Muni brought the customized breakfast for him. A few apple slices, a few pieces of fruit breads and a glass of warm jaggery milk. He took the breakfast and threw five tablets into his mouth. Again, he lied on the bed. He looked through the window, the sparrow was not there.
A few minutes later, he started dozing. His wife greeted him with the news, “Your friends Sharmaji, Singhsaab and Mishraji would come in the evening to see you.” He did now want to meet them with that crutch. For him, the crutch was a shame. When he would be able to walk without its support then he would visit them. So, he disapprovingly said, “Don’t call them today. A few days later, I will ring them up.” His wife was not satisfied. She insisted, “But, Professor saab, why?” He shouted at her, “Don’t ask me questions, do as I said.” She walked out of the room without a word.
He instructed the servant to go out and lock the door. Muni sat quietly on the floor. He did not want to anger him, “Saabji, they all would scold me.” The old man threw his crutch and shouted, “You also have started disobeying me. How dare you! You were just seven years when I brought you from the village. Now, you have become their spy.” He bent his head down and moved his legs haphazardly on the tiled floor. Again, the old man groaned, “Just leave me alone for a while!”
The crutch still stood there by the side of his bed. An ant was trying to climb over it with a little piece of bread towards the holder top of the crutch. Just before climbing to the top, it fell on the ground. He looked down the bed; the ant was madly searching the lost little piece of bread.
Eating, sleeping, gazing through the window, shouting at Muni and his wife became his new life. Now, already fifteen days had passed. His overgrown beards started pricking his neck and chest. One day he decided to trim his beard. He slowly walked towards the mirror with his crutch. The mirror was dirty; with a cloth he cleaned its surface. His turban looked grayish black; half of his face looked so dark; the two tiny eyes were hiding under his face with a towering nose. He disliked his face; cleaned it with water and trimmed the beards. Now, he looked better. Still, there was no peace in his thoughts; no joys in his feelings; no gleam on his face. He stopped liking himself. Why all his interests were dying day by day? His wife appeared disenchanting, his sons’ words pricked holes in his heart, his grandchildren’s shouts became so unbearably noisy unlike before. In the night, he saw dreams of an unknown land of darkness where he was lost in a dark wood. The more he was trying to escape from it, the deeper he was losing himself in its labyrinth. Most often he screamed to find the way out but in vain.
Muni was fully aware of his master’s mental state. Saabji’s loud shouts and violent reactions sometime hurt him but he was used to forgetting it quickly. When he compared his life with his brothers, he found a great consolation. Therefore, in his every shout, there was a sense of possessiveness and a child’s innocent adamancy was at play in his every physical reaction. He never wanted him to be in that self-drowning state anymore. He must do something to bring back his old Profesor Saabji.
One day, he hid the crutch from Saabji. After he woke up, he started searching it madly. The morning peeing pressure was unbearable. He shouted and shouted but no one came to his rescue. Muni laughed at the gradual unfolding of the morning drama outside the bedroom. Then, the old man took off his feet from his bed and staggered. He rested his hands on the table but from there he must walk twenty feet to the toilet. He lifted his left leg. He lost his balance and fell. He looked around if anybody had seen him. He felt relieved that nobody was in the room. He sat on the ground and first thought to crawl towards the toilet but he thought it to be so animalistic. Animals crawl for food but not human. His whole body was trembling in unknown fear. As he rose from the floor, he felt as if there was a heavy stone on his chest. His heart was pounding faster. He stood there and closed his eyes. The fear of the first attack was coming back to his mind repeatedly, as if a mountain had fallen on his chest and anxieties and strange thoughts gripped his mind. He feared of dying. He must overcome his fear first if he wanted to regain his old self. He opened his eyes and raised hands to place it on the table; used one hand to stand then slowly he lifted it. Now, he was standing on feet without a support. He felt great for the first time ever since he was back from the hospital. He stood there for some time and tried to take one step after another. All his toilet works were completed without the crutch and he did not have the fear of falling again. Muni was silently witnessing his journey from three legs to two through the window. Then, he entered the room with the breakfast plate. Saabji shouted, “Where is my crutch?” He remained silent. Again, he shouted, “Answer, Is it lost?. He shook his head. “Throw it, I don’t need it now. I can walk without it. Do you understand that? ” Muni felt so happy but he kept the crutch at a corner. That day, Saabji had a better sleep.
On the next day, Saabji woke up early before Muni. He walked two rounds around his bed. The faltering steps now footed on the right area of his vision. He sat for a few minutes and again started encircling the bed. It was so refreshing. He felt lighter as if he had lost a few kilos of weight. After four rounds, he sat on the bed and opened the newspaper. An item caught his attention titled “SENIOR CITIZEN MARATHON WALK”. Immediately he scanned the date and time. He had full thirty days. Inviting Sharmaji, Singhsaab and Mishraji would be a great idea. But, If he collapsed in the middle of marathon? Again, the fear gripped his mind like an eagle mercilessly preys upon a helpless bird. He calculated by fingers: two kilometers means two thousand meters and that equals to almost seven thousand feet, two hundred thirty three times than the distance between his bed and the toilet. He screamed, “I Can do it! I will do it!” Muni saw through the window but could not understand it.
Muni’s locking the door, walking around his bed for minutes first and then for an hour later, screaming after his walk with sweats all over his body begun his day. Every now and then he shouted at his family members to keep them away from his preparations. They were happy with that.
Finally, the time came. Before one day, he called his three bosom friends over phone to meet at the NH-6 bypass where the Marathon would be held. He lied to his sons and wife on the pretext of the health check up and reached the venue with Muni. The servant carried the water bottle, medicines, glucose and even secretly took the crutch with himself. He ordered the driver to divert the route from the Hospital road and drove towards the venue.
The sun was blazing in the morning. He wore a scarf around his head and took his position at the starting point. The siren blew. He took one step after another slowly. He was comfortable up to five hundred meters but his legs started aching after sometime. There was a bench, he thought of taking little rest but seeing an older woman walking briskly again he started walking. Muni followed him behind with the medicine, crutch and glucose water. After one kilometer he slowed down and felt like fainting; stood at one place; his heart was beating faster; his mouth was turning dry; continuously he was breathing. From behind, Muni appeared with the water bottle. He smiled and drank a little water. Muni shouted, “Saabji, You can do it. Don’t panic! I am behind you. Walk slowly, simply, you have to finish the line.” Saabji wiped his dripping sweats from his face and again started walking.
After walking for an hour, now, he could see the red flag. A few volunteers were cheering. Under a tent, a temporary health centre was set up. Over its top, a big heart shape logo hung. The shape was so unpleasant. He saw a few sparrows flying high in the air. He increased his pace; his heart started pounding heavier and faster; a sudden anxiety was trying to overpower his mind but he screamed, “I will finish, I will not fear my fear!” He held his palms tightly in the grips and took bigger steps to cover the remaining distance. Then, the flock of sparrows sat on the top of the heart shape. He rammed into the red flag and fell down. From the back Muni shouted, “Saabji, I am here.” A sudden darkness filled his eyes. Still, he allowed his thoughts to flow naturally. He was breathing rapidly. Slowly he opened his eyes. The sun rays were directly falling on his face. He could see a circle of human faces. Behind their faces the sun was hiding. His wife, his sons, Sharmaji, Singhsaab and Mishraji all were there. They all were clapping. He sat and turned around; Muni was throwing the crutch.