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Short Stories

A Packet of Poison

Written By: Smt.Sundri Uttamchandani
Translated by Arun Babani

My hospital is quite small. Perhaps there are too many visitors that make it appear small. Inspite of its size it has given me a vast experience of the world and my mind is filled with a strange sense of peace. It feels as the whole of Kalyan camp is getting a medical checkup done in this small space of mine.

The moment Kumari stepped into my hospital I had noticed her but my experience has taught me that a doctor is supposed to be deaf, dumb and blind person! Somehow we have to build these three qualities in ourselves. I was busy treating other patients and her gaze followed me each time I took in a patient for a check-up. As soon as I came out her gaze went back to its original place, like a pendulum. Kumari was very disturbed and was sitting on the edge of the bench. Her eyes had a strange mix of fire and pain. I was sure that this girl would burst into tears now. That is why, while checking a patient I asked her, "Kumari are you in too much pain?" That is the only difference between other doctors and me. Biting her lip, and lifting her heavy eyelids she shook her head in affirmation. After giving medicines to other patients I took Kumari into the examination room. As soon as she climbed the stool she burst out, "I want poison, doctor."

"Why? Why?"I had seen many such cases but I had not learned to underestimate somebody's pain.

"Have you committed some wrong?

Kumari shook her head in affirmation.

"One can correct a mistake. What use is poison?

"The mistake I have made of being born to such a father cannot be corrected except by poisoning him"

My sympathy was totally shaken. As it is I had too many complaints against present day girls. But I felt this to be a slap on the entire culture and civilization. I felt like driving this girl out of my hospital. But how can I forget my culture simply because somebody else has discarded it? I said, "Kumari, one cannot get sympathy from a doctor by taking undue advantage of him.."

She held my hands, "No doctor, don’t get me wrong. I have come to this decision only after thinking hard for a full month."

"What a great decision! Hats off to your intelligence. Such an educated girl.. and this is your intelligence.."

Kumari became very nervous, "Doctor just come home with me and see my mother's plight. How he has beaten her. Does a single man have the authority to destroy the entire house?"

Truly, my spirit was quite eager to visit the house of this girl with a strange request. Just as I finished checking all patients within half an hour or so and got free, I saw that Kumari had fallen asleep on the chair while waiting for me. It was rather strange! Someone can actually fall asleep while planning to murder her father? What kind of a mindset does this young generation have! But what had happened to me? My body felt feverish. Murders, thefts and fights are not new in the camp, but a daughter getting ready to kill her father?

Kumari got up with a jerk, "Come doctor, come and witness the hell in our house. And you yourself will agree that in such a situation there is no other option. Even now, as I was asleep, I dreamt of him beating me also."

"Yes"

Looking at her facial expressions I asked, "May be he is not sane.."

"No doctor it is not so. I feel that such types of straight people are even more dangerous than lunatics."

Our camp is not a village but a large family. One has to greet quite a few while walking through. At times someone even would request to treat his child on the way. Often I free myself from such encounters by just saying, "I'm coming back" Often I hear voices from behind saying, "Look at the doctor's attitude. He has made a living through us in the camp and now he acts arrogant." But nobody knows my real feelings besides myself.

Kumari's house..

A typical two-room barrack. In one room, was sitting on a four-legged cot was the man about whom Kumari, his own daughter had uttered abusive words and expletives. I am a happy-go-lucky person, but when he asked, "Why has the doctor come? Who has called him?'I burst out laughing, and I patted myself because I have often learnt that such people too have a good heart. I calmly replied, "Kaka, are you OK?" and touching the legs of his cot I said, "Kaka only knowledgeable people like you value these treasure of Sindh."

"You may be right but it is not the job of doctors to check cots and beds."

I smiled to myself. A doctor is merely a remedy for sickness, nothing more. I said, "doctors are humans too, Kaka."

"Human beings in camps! Stop joking doctor." he replied.

"Kaka I can see only human beings and that too large hearted humans. As you know, even saplings become weak if they are uprooted and planted elsewhere, until they grow their strong roots in the other soil."

"What roots will grow? Kaljug is growing stronger by the day. Girls are walking around with tight clothes and exposing their necks. Boys are smoking on street corners. This is our life! Mahatma said that the educated youth should improve conditions of villages. But tell me doctor, has anyone improved the conditions in the camp...?"

I was left gaping at this man's face after hearing this lecture. Kumari and her mother were waiting outside the room. They appeared bitter. I looked at them. They both pleaded me to come into the other room. I felt the intentions of this 'abused' man to be pure as Ganga Jal.But he was irritated as I got up to go to the other room. He said, "Look doctor, it is your duty to treat patients. It is not graceful to come into somebody’s house and get close to the wife and daughter."

A strange stroke. I had no words to explain to him that. My intentions too were pure. In fact I had come to rescue him. I was standing there, looking down, confused. This man ordered, "Say what you have to say in front of me. Kumari.. For whom have you brought the doctor home?"

"To get Amma treated" she quickly replied.

"Bring her here. Let me also see what her ailment is."

"Would you be able to know the ailment?” asked his wife, raising her hand.

"Look doctor, look at her behaviour. Not just the country but the people too have changed. There is no etiquette as to how to behave with a husband and with a father."

"I am fed up with your lectures. Do you see, doctor?" This plump woman was saying from the other side of the room.

"Doctor, first check this man who is opposing us at each step. He is angry at our dressing up and bitter at our eating. Who knows what fire burns within him!" said Kumari whose clothes were stuck to her body as she had just taken a bath. I looked wide-eyed. Was she the same Kumari who was weeping in my hospital!

On the other hand, the father who was quiet looked at the watch and said, "It is two o'clock. It is time for my elder son to come back after roaming about. He is different from these two. I have another daughter too whose husband has deserted her. Thank God she is not useless like them but she is a loudmouth like them. I only expect all of them to work hard and earn a living, but they eye only my bank balance."

On the other side of the window Kumari's eyes were full of anger. She said, "Will you carry the money to your grave. Can we not enjoy part of it?"

"If everyone is busy enjoying then of what use was the freedom of the country?"

"We did not ask for freedom. Others asked for freedom. They were prosperous even when they were bonded. But we are slaves to this selfish man even during freedom. "This came from Kumari. Another stroke came from the mother, "What are you saying? People who have not even lived their youth should start dying for the country?"

The father got up from the cot and leading me towards the door said, "My dear sir, don't open anymore the cover over this hell of ours! If they could, they would eat me up alive. Yes Sir, each one here is a packet of poison."

"Packet of poison?" I said with a jerk. And I quickly walked out.

 

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