[Can You Save My Life …-Social Short Story]
CAN YOU SAVE MY LIFE … THE RETURN GIFT.
A chubby small boy of three with a smiling face drew the attention of Hargovind to a piece of news in the Newspaper. The boy was very cute and could be anybody’s darling at the very first sight. Anybody would like to cuddle and cajole him. But the photo appeared at a wrong place. It was an advertisement inserted by a doctor under the heading “Can You Save My Life?” Hargovind normally does not bother to see or go through such ads – but this one – because of the cute photo, he went through the details. He was shocked. The boy appearing in the photo was suffering from acute lukaemia along with multiple other problems. The child had to be surgically operated for which a sum of Rs. 5 Lakhs was required – that too urgently. ‘The boy is critically ill and may not live long. Surgery alone is the ray of hope’.
It was very disturbing. How cruel, the destiny was! A cute little flower now in full bloom, will wither away soon – if medical assistance is not provided! Hargovind told his wife Manjula that he wanted to do something for the boy. “Service to Humanity is the biggest worship and there is no charity bigger than saving a life. A helping Hand is hundred times better than the praying lips. Just think about the parents of the child – It must be a terrible mental turmoil for them”.
Manjula laughed at him sarcastically and cut short his thoughts on charity , humanity and blah blah… She said that it could be an ad inserted by a fake doctor who while on the go must have captured the photo of a good looking child on his mobile phone. Any sum that is received from any gullible easy victim – how so ever small it may be, will go to fill his personal pocket. This is a modern technique of getting easy money. She simply dismissed his views on charity, noble deeds, kind heartedness, etc. – because these areas are the gold mines for the mischievous cheaters. Beware of such cons. Hargovind could not take such a snub of his noble thoughts. He told his wife he would go and find out facts. Truth should prevail. Unfortunately if the ad turned out to be true then he would certainly do his best to save the boy. Both the parents’ and the doctor’s addresses were given in the Newspaper. At first he went to the doctor. Both the hospital and the doctor were real entities and fictitious. He discussed with the doctor about the boy and his illness. Yes, everything about the boy given in the Newspaper was true and not imaginary. When he learnt from the doctor about the exorbitant cost of treatment and asked him why don’t you reduce your fees and hospital charges – the latter lost his temper-
“I have spent about a crore of rupees to acquire this medical knowledge and degree. I am still paying the interest on the loan taken. Mind you – only the interest. The capital amount is yet to be attended. Will you take care of my loans, my family needs and my personal requirements …? If you do this, then I will do that. Why do you always ask a doctor to render his services freely? Do you ever ask a tailor to stitch your clothes freely? Do you ask a teacher to cut down his tuition fees? Does any taxi driver come freely for a ride? Everyone has to survive. One man’s need is another man’s wages. Even I have to survive and this hospital also has to run.”
Hargovind went into the details of treatment amounting to roughly about Rs. 5 lakhs , only to ensure if anything could be reduced and the total costcould be within their affordability. He promised to donate blood and that he would get volunteers for some more blood donation and also take care of small little medical needs – so that the total expenditure is kept at the minimum. He asked the doctor to go ahead and fix a date for the surgery. He then along with Manjula went to the boy’s house and met his parents. The cute little boy with a charming smile was not there but in his place a boy with a lean frame of body with a sickly appearance was lying on a mat on the floor. The poor little kid! They thought. Boy’s mother Khaiser burst into tears when she came to know that the visitors – Hargovind and Manjula had come in response to the ad given by the doctor and do as much as they can, so as to save the child from the clutches of Yama. She sobbed and said in a broken voice that the boy was so chubby and cute that the studio owner on the main road, took his photo and enlarged the same at his cost and showcased it on his studio shop for advertisement. He came to them and told them proudly that many a passerby, on seeing the chubby child’s photo at the front door, entered his shop. Such was his charm. All this was just a year ago. Soon after then, things went wrong. The boy Yousuf fell sick. They were tossed from doctor to doctor before they could know what the child was suffering from.
“Different diagnoses, different names, different medicines, different treatments, varieties of drugs, courses, too many tests….Oh! We were terribly exhausted. All our resources too fully drained. Moreover Yousuf is not the only child we have. What about his brothers and sisters? We had no choice. We gave up to Allah. That is why as a last chance, the doctor gave the ad in Newspaper seeking assistance from all good Samaritans. We strongly believe in mercy of Allah. He is really Great. Allah Ho Akbar. He is sending kind souls like you to our doors. Our Yousuf is really lucky. He will have a very good future. He will grow up with all goodness and earn a good name for you all and that will be his return gift to you. How else can we repay this act of generosity and kindness!”
Manjula was in tears and her hands were involuntarily handing out her golden bangles to Khaiser. Hargovind was stunned on seeing Manjula’s readiness to offer her choicest bangles. Only he knew how many shops he went up and down with her in selecting those bangles – that too just a few years ago. Much to his surprise, she was the first one to extend support. Look at the irony – she ridiculed him for believing the ad in the Newspaper and her strong conviction was that it was a novel money spinning idea. But now, when she came face to face with the reality, she instantaneously gave away her choicest bangles to them.
Needless to say things moved faster. Doctor did receive petty odd amounts from many kind hearted people – but not enough to cover the costs. The shortfall was made good by Hargovind which was quite sumptuous. He had retired recently as a Principal from a school and the retirement benefits he received from the school was transferred to the doctor’s account for carrying out the surgery. As already promised he arranged for required bottles of blood. Many of his colleagues cum teachers had come for donating blood. The operation was a great success. The boy slowly recovered, discharged and sent home in due course. Both Hargovind and Manjula were very very happy to see the boy returning to normalcy and picking up good health. Both Suleman and Khaiser and also the doctor thanked profusely Hargoving and Manjula for their selfless service. They went out of the way to save the life of an unknown child. Catching up with the spirit of kindness from them, the doctor too assured on his part that he would attend on the boy freely during the post operative care and during the periodic checkups to follow. Suleman was speechless. He lifted his hands upwards and thanked Allah.
The biggest hurdle was crossed. Both the families returned back to their routine life and drifted away from each other in meeting their day to day requirements. Life moved on… on its own strides. Years rolled by. They had lost contact with each other. Suleman had a tough time in chasing and meeting his family needs with Demand Supply gap getting widened. Yousuf, was growing up and with him, his queer problems too. He got cured completely after the operation – but that was for two years only. Later he often fell sick. Visits to hospital became a routine affair. It was a tiresome affair for the parents – physically, mentally and monetarily. Mal-nutrition and under nutrition became his main problem leading to more complications. Parents could not afford to rich and nutritious food, beverages etc., exclusively for him. His brothers and sisters turned hostile against him. Yousuf was also turning irritant, stiff and stubborn. On many occasions, Sulemaan lost his temper and kept shouting at him for his unruly behaviour. Because of his frequent failing and unpredictable health, he could not be sent to school or madarsah. With no proper education, with no proper health care and with no proper activity to engage his mind and body, his attitude towards everybody had changed. Quarrelling, shouting, crying, beating, throwing things that come to his hands… all such nuisances became his second nature. His crude and indecent behavior in the family ad upset everyone. Sulemaan could not tolerate him any further. He gave him left and right and cursed him bitterly.
In is helplessness, one day he yelled at him – “Better it would be to see you dead than alive”.
That was the turning point. Yousuf was already boiling under pressure from inside. His father’s bitterness became the last straw to break the camel’s back. From next day, Yousuf was not seen anywhere in the house, not even in the neighbourhood. Sulemaan openly said “Good riddance” and did not even bother to register any complaint with police. But Khaiser..? She lamented, wept wailed and became somewhat hysterical also. Everyday she would look for him hoping that he would come back. But such a magic never happened.
Time is the best healer of all wounds. They had learnt to live without Yousuf. Khaiser too happened to digest the hard truth. Occasionally, they would talk about him – on festive seasons, in the family get togethers and on happy events in their community circles. Time and tide wait for none. Old calendars were replaced by new ones. With the passing of time, they had almost forgotten that a boy called Yousuf ever lived with them. But Destiny wanted to test their memory. One day when Sulemaan was standing in the queue for procuring groceries in the ration shop, he saw a young lad strikingly resembling Yousuf. Oh! He was overjoyous. Yah Allah! You are really great. Khaiser – her long penance finally got rewarded and therefore, he wanted to bring her immediately to the spot and bring the two – mother and her long lost son – face to face. Before he would step into action, he wanted to confirm that the lad in question was Yousuf only. So he told the person behind him in the queue, to take care of his position.
The young man who looked like Yousuf was robust, plump, well built and neatly dressed up in rich fancy shirt and trousers. Sulemaan had many doubts to clarify from him – was he really Yousuf, was he completely cured of his multiple diseases, did he go to any school or madarsa, if so upto what level did he study, was he presently employed, how did he raise himself upto this height of prosperity, who was his godfather, did he ever miss his parents in these many years…. and so many. Before he could ask any question, he was overpowered by choking emotions. Words defied him. Sulemaan patted him on his shoulder and held him by his arm with tear filled eyes. Yousuf brushed aside his hand and said in a hushed voice, “Let me go. I am in a hurry”. Father as he was, Sulemaan held him tight and pleaded the boy to at least see his mother before leaving. Yousuf, in a flash of a second released himself from his father’s clutches, that too very ruggedly and whisked away. Before leaving he just said, “Tell her not come to this market area tomorrow” and after a pause added “looking for me”.
In a flash of a second, he vanished into thin air. Sulemaan’s repeated calls, “Yousuf –Yousuf, Oh my dear son” etc., remained empty in the air – with no response. Sulemaan stood there stunned and bewildered for a long while and yet he nursed a hope against hope for the boy’s return. But it did not happen. Oh! What a rough and tough boy was he! Not a bit changed. Sulemaan could understand his indifference, his refusal to recognize him. Really wonder of wonders,’ Meeting his father almost after a decade, still no emotions, no sentiments no attachments, no feelings, not even slightest courtesy…what a stiff creature was he!’ All he showed was a stone like rudeness. Even the few words he spoke were to keep them at a distance – rather to shoo them away.”Don’t come to market tomorrow” and after a small break, as though deliberately added “looking for me.”
His fatherly instinct warned him ‘There is something wrong with the boy – terribly wrong.’ Suddenly a shiver of fear ran through him. Did he mean to say….Could he be so cruel…! ‘Has he fallen into wrong people’s hands – those bloody cruel people? Those dare devils who never hesitated to wage war against mankind or humanity!. They who let loose hell on earth at the least pretext!. “Before anything goes wrong, let me alert the police” Sulemaan said to himself. He did not want to take any chance. He rushed to the Police Station and told them as a forewarning. They laughed at him and brushed aside his undue cautiousness as mere pranks. Then also when he did not budge from his warning, they consoled him, “Yousuf, now a rich man, does not want any connections with his poor parents, brothers and sisters. So he, in order to keep people at a bay, behaved rudely and said – don’t try to meet me”. Sulemaan found this argument convincing – though not fully. Butterflies were still fluttering in his stomach. He prayed “Yah Allah, save my child from doing any evil deed”.
He went home and told Khaiser that he met Yousuf in the market and also about his fears that his visit was not for any good intention. Perhaps it could be a recci. Khaiser on hearing such satanic phrases, beat him harshly with whatever came into her hands. “What a father are you …? The boy whom we have given up as gone and dead, has come back richer and healthier – Ok not into this family fold, but still… and you are telling tales about him that he could be a wrong doer!! He was never brought up in that manner. He was the most pampered child in the family. Of course in the later stage he was a little spoilt child and that was mostly due to his frequent sickness. How I wish I were there! I would have certainly convinced him to come back.” Right then, Khaiser wanted to hold the boy and console his wounded heart. But where is the boy? She decided to go to the market as early as she could, whether she would get him there or not. Sulemaan did not stop her. By now he also started believing that there was no inherent meaning in the baseless utterances of Yousuf. He had unnecessarily dragged everyone into an unwanted tension apart from troubling himself.
Khaiser was waiting for the next day to dawn. At the earliest opportunity, she went to the market both looking for Yousuf and also getting him a new dress. For her, in her excitement and eagerness, everybody looked like Yousuf – but the actual Yousuf was not to be seen anywhere around. She went inside the Readymade Garments shop which was over crowded due to festive season. In the sea of people, how could she find her son – even if he was there! She kept gazing at everybody and all of a sudden she spotted a couple whom she had met some years ago and soon recognized them as saviours of Yousuf – Hargovind and Manjula. She, who came in search of Yousuf, got in touch with people who once saved him from death – the couple who gave him a new lease of life. They too recognized her after a while. After initial exchange of enquiries, Khaiser took Manjula to a Ladies’ Fancy Shop and got her a set of stone studded dazzling bangles as a token memory of Manjula’s instant gesture of donation of golden bangles. This memento had helped her to satisfy herself for keeping silence on their repeated queries on health of Yousuf.
While returning from the bangle shop, Khaiser almost hit against a lady whose eyes were fixed on the shining stone studded bangles worn by Manjula. The lady apologized to Khaiser and turned to her husband to get her the same type of bangles as worn by Manjula. To her surprise, Khaiser found the husband was none other than the doctor who treated Yousuf a decade and half years ago. What a strange co incidence she thought!!’ All those who pulled Yousuf out of danger when he was critically ill and gave him a new life – almost rebirth – are now in one place!’ She introduced herself to them and insisted that she only would get the bangles to the lady. She as mother of Yousuf, was very happy that she could buy things for those people who had infused new life into her son. She believed that it was better to buy some small gifts for those kind souls than buy new dresses for Yousuf, particularly when it was doubtful whether he would turn up or not and even if he turns up, whether she could meet him or not.
She then happily went to the fruit market area and bought quite a few custard apples. Not only Yousuf, even his brothers and sisters at home like the fruit. Now is the peak season and the air is filled with the aroma of ripened custard apples. Having finished some more purchases of other sorts, she was about to go home , when she heard a big explosion – a bomb blast – and a few pieces of broken bangles with shining stones fell on her with strong force. She screamed, because she knew who wore them. Just a while ago she had gifted the bangles to two ladies and the joy of giving still brimming in her heart and in a few seconds, somebody had blown everything and reduced it to ashes. She rushed to the spot where bomb blast had occurred, with a hope against hope that nothing should have happened to her close acquaintances. Sulemaan too had come there running from somewhere else.
Somebody on the way interrupted him saying, “Don’t go there… It is a ghastly sight. Some three to five people died on the spot. Their bodies are blown to pieces and strewn all around. Many got injured also. A real blood bath! A normal person cannot bear to see such a horrible scene. Don’t go. You cannot stand the sight.”
Sulemaan ignored such cautious warnings from a passer by. He rushed to the scene of ruccus. He wanted to ensure that his son Yousuf was not available anywhere around and hoped he was not involved in the gruesome affair. He had his own fears that his son’s hand was certainly behind the hideous act. He might not be alone – but surely he too could be one of the team. That was the reason why he went to Police and forewarned them. On the contrary, they did not pay heed to him and had dismissed his warning as childish pranks. The Police also could not be blamed, for very often they get hoax calls and it is happening very frequently. Oh! No! Now the bomb had blasted killing a few. It is all too late now. The stone-like emotionless words of Yousuf in a hushed voice “Don’t come to this market area” confirmed that he was the culprit or he was aware of the hideous action.
“Thank God!” he thought Yousuf was not seen anywhere around. “So he escaped. Let the Police catch the real culprits whenever they may find them”. Meantime he became aware of his surroundings and his wife Khaiser’s loud cry. He saw the dead bodies blown to pieces. Khaiser held Sulemaan and repeatedly hit him by her head and cried bitterly… “Those very three people who saved our son are lying here in pieces. Can Anybody Save their Lives”. Sulemaan understood who they were and had nothing to offer than join his wife and cry louder and louder. People surrounding the horrendous area and watching the wailing couple, thought that the two could not withstand the bloody gore and gruesome bloodbath. Such weak minded people should not have come to the centre of the scene. One of the persons in the crowd said, “I even warned him not to proceed. You may not withstand seeing the blood soaked dead bodies in pieces”.
But who is there to explain to the crowd in detail, why the two are pouring out their hearts…and with their broken hearts how can they tell anyone about the killer’s return gift to those who helped the very killer see this day! A Return Gift – even Allah will not pardon. Sulemaan really wished to see his son dead than alive. And Khaiser too.