Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Crutches

The bus stopped on the barren village road blowing the dirt and dried leaves around. The driver got out and turned around to help the passenger get down. The crutches of the passenger came out first as he put his leg forward and positioned his arms on the crutches thanking the driver. He took a few steps forward as the bus moved, blowing the settled dust all around again.

The crutches seemed to fit him well as his sweaty hands moved them forward and his one leg followed to meet them. The country road lay in front of him with green fields on either side as he started threading the familiar path. He saw many familiar faces but continued without stopping. He finally stopped in front of a depleted structure which was once his home. Some parts of the wall and roof were still there, but the rest of the house lay completely burnt. Pictures and voices of his days in the village crossed his mind.

This was the place he was born and it was his village as he would often say. He worked at a farm which was passed on to him when his father died. He, his wife, his two year old son and his mother now stayed at the old house. His wife and sometimes his mother would help him in the field as any other typical family in the village. The villagers traveled to the city, for selling their produce and procuring resources, which was an hour’s distance from the village.

Though on the surface it looked a sleepy village, there was turbulence beneath. There had been a spike in naxal activity in the area. Rumors of shootings in nearby villages, sightings of armed men in their own village, posters and writings on the walls had all called for a formation of a village defense committee in which he was an active member. The committee members formed small groups, and the groups took turns to patrol the village after dusk. Though there never was an incident in their own village, the rumor was, someone in the village was secretly supporting the naxals and an attack was just around the corner.

On one such patrol, he and his associate had happened to overhear a conversation between a man from their village and some people whom they figured were naxals. They tried to raise an alarm but were spotted by the naxals who followed them into the village. He ran towards his house, shouting all the way trying to alert the villagers. His associate had run away in the other direction. He had managed to reach his house and lock the door behind him. The naxals who were close behind him locked his house from outside and had lit the house on fire.

A single drop of tear flowed down his cheek as he stood in the burnt house recalling the day which had changed his life. A part of the roof and the wall had collapsed on them as he tried to rescue his family from the fire and that was all he remembered of that day. He had regained conscious in the city hospital after 3 days in coma, only to find out that he had lost one leg, his wife and his mother in the fire. His associate who was with him on that fateful day was also killed. Only his son survived and was now looked after by the village headman and this was the reason he was in the village today. He had vowed to himself, never to set foot in the village or talk about what happened that day. He had never told anybody that the village headman was the person who was with the naxals. The very thought of his son, being cared by the same person who had killed his family, sent shivers down his spine. He had spent many sleepless nights in the hospital with nightmares of his son growing into a gun wielding leader of the naxals, setting houses on fire.

He started towards the village headman’s house. “No arguments, no confrontations”, he said to himself. He had planned this whole scene. He will take his son and settle at a place far away from this village. He would never discuss with his son as to how his mother had died. Very soon he reached the headman’s house. Contrary to his own, this house was big and beautiful. He went near the door to call out the headman when he saw his son for the first time in many days. Tears of happiness rolled down his cheeks as he saw the boy crawling around the room. It was a beautiful sight as he stood motionless with only love in his heart, wanting to hold his son, wanting to hold a part of himself. He tried to call out stretching his arms. The whole world blackened on him when he realized crutches were all, his hands could hold. The burden of his heart pulled him to the ground as he wept. He had got everything he wanted, only to lose it all the very next moment. Unaware of all this, the boy happily played with his expensive toys with his baby sounds filling the room. The headman’s wife was behind the boy feeding him with a silver spoon as he crawled all around. It was a beautiful sight from the swollen eyes of his father who lay outside crawling to position his crutches. Maybe the sound of the crutches caught the boy’s attention when he crawled to the door to look at the man with the crutches standing out. The man outside, got up and looked into those beautiful eyes. He just wanted to hold the baby but deep down inside he knew he will do the boy no good by taking him. He could never afford such expensive toys, feed him with a silver spoon or even provide for a decent life for the boy. All his nightmares seemed trivial now as he turned back to thread the dry path again.

~Narendra V Joshi

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