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Radha-Krishna – Swapnamoy Chakraborty

Oct 29, 2021 | Fiction | 0 comments

Translated from the Bengali by Shamita Das Dasgupta

Ah, Springtime!
The escaped strands of red-silk cotton from a tattered pillow drift in the breeze of a whirling fan. A plastic bucket overflows with rosy cottonwool and soiled bandages sodden with blood. They are vestiges of a skirmish resulting from a disagreement among celebrants about smearing colored powder during Holi.[i] Nurses, ward-boys, group D workers, all display smidgens of post-Holi colors on their necks, heads, and shoulders. A cuckoo-bird, apparently an ENT patient, shrieks in a raspy voice from the roof of an unidentified wing of the hospital. Even though a notice forbids sternly, ‘Do NOT Play Radio in the Hospital,’ the reception area where admission-cards are filled, is playing the radio brashly. An FM channel is broadcasting songs of Spring…

On this day of Spring…
Buy some meat ‘n go home like a king…

Yesterday was Dol.[ii] So, it might be Holi today. The nation’s Hindi Belt is enjoying its revelries today. I scour my hands with red soap and walk into the staff-doctors’ room.
The fracas occurred when someone threw red color on the white kurta of a Trinamool leader. Perhaps the un-Holi bloodshed wouldn’t have ensued if the color had been green.[iii]

I rest a little in the room that reeks of Lysol. I’ll have to get up again when a new patient arrives. So many workers are on leave today that my duty-hours have been extended. It’s a mutually useful arrangement. The cuckoo keeps screeching in a wicked frequency.

Such a lovely Spring day
No time for colorful play
Two days and nights, endlessly on-duty…

What rhymes with duty? Beauty? If I say beauty, I must bring in Piyali. Right then, in my breast pocket… ring… ring…; Piyali… calling…! She has sent me an SMS with an attempted rhyme: ‘Is it a squalor if I play color… with Sutanu?’
I search for an appropriate response. If I think too much, my hair turns grey. A new patient enters the Emergency room. Before I move to attend him, I write pick…tick…

Imble… dimble… scramble…
Why do you ramble… my sweet?

I don’t like it. I want to start afresh, when Jagadish calls.
“Come quick, it’s a tiger-bite case.”
During my internship and house-staff-ship,[iv] I’ve encountered patients bitten by snakes, scorpions, dogs, cats, and even wives. But I’ve never treated someone bitten by a tiger.
I discover a man in pajamas and a Hawaiian shirt stretched out on a trolley. His right arm is bleeding. A piece of skin on his wrist is missing and some flesh is peeking out. Looks like an artery has been severed. His clothes are full of blood. A choker of holy-basil wood surrounds his neck – a symbol of the Vaishnav religious sect.[v] The man moans.
I ask, “How did this happen?”
“Tiger.”
“Tiger bit you?”
“Yes, sir.”
“How come a tiger bit you?”
“Was petting…”
“Petting a tiger? Where?”
“Zoo.”
“But the tiger must’ve been in a cage. How could you pet it?”
“Put my hand in.”
“Then?”
“Thwack – it bit me.”
“Oh! Is someone with you?”
“No.”
“How did you get here from the zoo?”
“Zoo people brought me in a taxi and dropped me here.”
“Where are they?”
“Brought me… taught me what to say and ran away.”
I see something green on the hand. I believe the ulna and carpal bones have shattered. I wash his hand, give it a few stitches, and write him up for X-ray. He needs some electrolytes and a few bottles of blood immediately.
I ask him again, “Who’s with you?”
“No one.”
“Your name?”
“Kanai Chandra Safui.”
“Age?”
“Could be twenty-five or thirty.”
“What’s it actually?”
“Can’t remember.”
“What shall I write? Should I go with twenty-seven?”
“Whatever you wish.”
“Address?”
“Peyara Bagan, Khidirpore.”
I write the admission card myself and give him two essential shots.
“You need to get some medicine from the outside. We have to notify your relatives.”
The guy asks, “From the pharmacy? Expensive?”
“Yes, there’s some cost involved – not less than three hundred. There’ll be more expenses still. Why were you compelled to fondle a tiger?”
The man’s eyeballs turn static. His eyelids droop. I pick up his good wrist and press my fingers on the pulse. He’s blacked out. I ask Jagadish to splash water on his face. I push him. He doesn’t stir. I debate whether I should inject Decadron or something similar. He was talking fine a moment ago! What happened suddenly? Fainted when he learnt about the expenditures?
Kanai Safui opens his eyes a couple of minutes later and slurs, “Let me go, Doctor sir.”
In the meantime, I take out the blood sugar kit. People often lose consciousness when blood sugar drops. He has lost a lot of blood. That could be reason enough.
I hear his request and inquire, “If I let you go, who’d you cuddle with next? A rhino? Don’t tell me, you’ll tickle a rhino! Well, it’s gonna laugh three days later.”
The guy shakes his head.
“Then who?”
“Arati, sir.”
His words are garbled. In his delirium, he murmurs ‘Radharani,’ ‘Radharani.’ He emphasizes the ‘r’ in Arati, so it sounds like ‘arti,’ a prayer.
I touch his shoulder and probe, “Who’s this Arati to you?”
“She’s Radha – my meditation, my pursuit.”
No point in making him chatter anymore. The man needs to rest. His body needs some electrolytes. Potassium depletion makes a man babble. He’ll be okay. But his hand is in serious trouble. Nothing will be possible today. Bones Ghosh, our senior, Dr. Tamal Ghosh, will come tomorrow. He needs to look at it. Except, I am off tomorrow. I’ve a date with Piyali to go to Nalban.[vi] Piyali said she’d like to start early. She likes to ride aimlessly in a rickshaw around Salt Lake.[vii] We’ll have Chinese lunch in Tangra[viii] and then, onto Nalban.
It’ll be a good bit of expense. I don’t earn much as a house staff. At times, Piyali offers to contribute. I usually decline, ‘Let it be.’ Piyali has just completed her MSc degree but hasn’t landed a job yet. Wish I could cancel tomorrow’s program! The useless rickshaw trip could cost a pretty penny. And the fun would begin only in the evening in Nalban. I gotta bamboozle her. An emergency patient… can’t make it in the morning. Frankly, to work until late tonight and then, to go out early in the morning means I’d require a healthy dose of steroids. As such, I don’t have to come to the hospital tomorrow. I’ve written precise notes on the Status Chart. Others can pick up from there. There are the interns. I’ll linger in bed late tomorrow. I’ll ring Piyali on my mobile and tell her I’m in the hospital…. Before that, I must soften her up a bit. I call Piyali.
“Pilu, your grey matter’ll fry up if I tell you about a weird case. A bloke tried to hug a tiger, the animal chomped on his hand and turned it into rice crispies.”
“Go on!”
“I swear. Why’d I tell you otherwise? He inserted his hand in the cage to caress a tiger in the zoo.”
“Consider then, how risky it is to caress someone!”
“It’s sure to happen if you attempt to stroke a tiger.”
“I’ve heard that when a man turns into a tiger, he bites and scratches. Hey dude, why don’t you change into a tiger?”
“Will you be able to handle me then? Yo, boo, know how to swim?”
“Why not check it out?”
“At your request, I might try. Go now and throw paints at Sutanu.”
“Are you playing snooty or just fantasizing?”
“Why snooty?”
“Trying to prove how liberal you are?”
“Crap! Gotta go! A patient’s arrived.”
I go to Kanai Safui again. He is in agony – groaning. Yup, the pain will increase gradually. Even though I’ve prescribed painkillers for him, how much could they help? I should inject him with a sedative. None of the seniors are here yet. I alone must make this decision. Before I can sedate him, I need to ask some questions. At least his family should be informed.
I come near Kanai and ask, “Is it very painful?”
“Yes, sir.”
“What do you do?”
“I sing kirtan.”[ix]
“Can you feed your family with what you make?”
“I don’t have a family.”
“But you mentioned Arati, who’s she?”
Kanai remains silent. I repeat my question, but he doesn’t respond. He fixes his eyes on the saline bottle pouring drops into his vein.
“Tell me, who’s Arati?”
“Radha.”[x]
“Besides Radha, who else do you have?”
“God.”
“Mom, Dad, brothers, sisters…”
“No one.”
“Do you sing kirtan every day?”
“No.”
“How often?”
“Couple of days a month. If it’s for 24 hours, then more.”
“What do you do on the other days?”
“Work as a day laborer.”
“For whom do you work?”
“For cow farmers. I take care of their cows. Krishna used to do it.”
“Really! Your name Kanai[xi] is appropriate. But instead of Safui it should’ve been Yadav. Have you heard of Lalu Prasad Yadav?”[xii]
“No, sir.”
“Reading and writing? No? How do you read the kirtan lyrics?”
“I’m not the main singer but in the chorus. I shout ‘Hari bol’[xiii] and I play the flute. If you watch the drama on Krishna, and he seems to be playing the flute, he’s just faking. I play the flute in the background.”
“Where’s your flute?”
“Left behind. I didn’t get to pick it up.”
“Where?”
“In front of the tiger’s cage.”
“Why did you go to the zoo?”
“To cut grass.”
“What are you going to do with grass?”
“Feed cow.”
“Which cow?”
“Belongs to the cow farmer.”
“Where you work?”
“Hmm…”
I understand from the speech pattern that he doesn’t wish to talk anymore. He’s hurting, I know. Even then I think I need to ask him more questions. It’ll help me make decisions about his treatment. The most important question is about how to procure some medicine from the outside. I’ve already invited problems by bringing up expenses.
I enquire, “What does Radha do?”
“Cleans garbage.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean gutter. Filth. Cesspit.”
“Will she be able to bear your medical expenses?”
“How can she? She can’t feed herself enough.”
Albeit the weak voice, the way his carotid artery flowing near the wood necklace swells up, makes clear to me the strength of his protest. We mustn’t take money from his Arati or Radha. Which means, I can’t prescribe any medicine from the outside. I must find out what medications are in the hospital. Or I need to locate the sample vials that medical representatives distribute. The condition of his hand is such…! If he needs surgery, someone must underwrite it. Then, he’ll need post-operative care. He doesn’t have the means to hire an ayah, so we must find Radha.
I question him, “Could we notify your Radha?”
Kanai Safui’s face undergoes a shift. The muscles that transform a face to smile, also move it to weep. Kanai Safui’s face, which was suffused with pain, changes. How could just a name alter facial muscles to such a degree?
“Tell me, how I can inform Radha?”
His lower lip ascends the top one. It means, ‘who knows!’
“Can we contact Radha on phone?”
“Phone?”
“Perhaps people near her?”
“Nope.”
“So, where does she live? I’ll send someone there.”
“Gate number 4.”
“Where is that?”
“Khidirpore, garbage-picker colony.”
Now I induce sleep in Kanai Safui – via a needle.

In such cases, we try to contact the patient’s family by telephone. Often, when accident victims come in, the patient is unconscious and people on the road have brought him. We try to find his address or contact information by rifling through his pockets for a slip of paper and then call the police. Following the clues of his address, the police send a note to the family. This is the convention.
Now, another question rises its head. If this accident has occurred in the zoo, why hasn’t someone from there accompanied him? Is it to avoid blame? Did anyone register a complaint with the police? As far as I know, it is illegal to insert one’s hands into a cage in the zoo. If a mishap results from such an action, usually a case is recorded with the police. Oh, who cares! It’s not my headache. Our obligations end with informing a patient’s family.
I inform the police precinct – Khidirpore gate #4, Arati in the trash-cleaners’ colony. They want to know Arati’s full name, her marital status, her husband’s and father’s name, age. I push back – I have no further information. The patient is under sedation. An Arati who cleans gutters. The officer states, everyone cleans gutters in the trash colony. And the name Arati is quite common in the populace. I convey to them, the patient Kanai Safui is very close to this Arati. The Arati who recognizes Kanai is the right Arati. They ask, what’s her relationship with Kanai? I respond, ‘fiancée.’ The person on the other end exclaims, ‘huh!’ I say, ‘lover, lover.’ The other side guffaws raucously.
The next day I meet with Piyali. I tell her about Kanai.
She says, “I want to meet the guy.”
I promise her, “Okay, I’ll take you there.”

I return to duty after the day off and find Kanai has been shifted from the emergency room to a bed. I go to visit him around 11 am. A woman in a green sari with red and yellow stains on it, is sitting on a stool near him. She gently rubs his forehead. The woman is dusky. She has a sharp nose, thin arms decorated with glass bangles, and reddish, dry hair. I gather this is Radha for our Kanu.[xiv] Kanai has his eyes shut. He doesn’t know I’m here.
Kanai says to the woman, “Because you’re here, the hospital has become Brindaban.”[xv]
Aiyoo! What dialog! It’s truly post-modern!
In this garden-alcove resplendent in wrecked racks, stools, cylinders, bedpans and cats, Radha cajoles, “Don’t you ever do this again, yes?”
Kanu says, “Oh let it go. When you pick lotus, you’re sure to be pricked by thorns.”
Radha seeks enlightenment, “Is lotus a type of fish?”
Kanu smiles, “You ninny, lotus is a flower, like you.”
Kanai opens his eyelids to view the lotus sitting nearby and spots me. He is embarrassed. I ask him, “How are you doing? How’s everything?”
He answers, “Painful.”
I notice that his hand has puffed up hugely. I read his chart. The x-ray was done yesterday, so, we should get the report today. Sir will drop by today also. Kanai was feverish to my touch.
Most people occupying the beds in this ward have their arms or legs in plaster casts. A few are in traction. The majority suffers from a common problem, ‘Doctor, it itches something horrible inside my plaster.’ I can’t do much to relieve this discomfort. I think a modern band could have used this as its song-lyrics: “If the itch is inside the plaster, no point in scratching the outside.” What word would rhyme with plaster… waster? ‘What good is it to chop down poison ivy vines / if you keep watering the root-waster.’
The x-ray report doesn’t arrive by the time Sir comes on his rounds. I rush to get it myself. Regardless, people will complain that government appointed doctors don’t work. I was shocked at the x-ray plate. The Carpal and Lunate are destroyed along with the Ulna, which has a noticeable crack. These would not set by themselves.
Sir looks and remarks, “Everything has turned into minced meat.”
He says to Kanai, “Son, wouldn’t it been easier to pet a deer or two first? You jumped directly to a tiger! You’re an ambitious lover, I say! If Maneka Gandhi[xvi] comes to know, she’s sure to award you a medal.”
He tells me, “We have to open him up to set things right.”
Surgery! There are seven or eight bones in a wrist – all have been displaced. What power in a tiger’s jaw! But just because one needs an operation doesn’t mean he’ll get it. There are some rules and regulations. Even if he’s assigned to a charity bed, there’s bound to be some expenses. If an MLA[xvii] or Councilor[xviii] sends in a signed recommendation, it might help. Perhaps Radha could do the legwork…
I appeal to Kanai, “Please ask your Radha to see me when she visits.”

It’s lunchtime and a plate with compartments has been delivered. I see there’s meat on it – a very tiny portion. Kanai looks at the meat and then his eyes plead to me.
“Doctor sir, Arati’s waiting outside. She’s skipping work today and will be here all day. They threw her out of here. Please let her come, I need her.”
I see the lady standing outside. I look into her eyes – quite anemic. I tell her, “Kanai wants you.”
She says, “They kicked me out, you take me in.”
I guide her into the ward, “I’ll give you a card. Stay with him after the surgery.” I explain to her about the need for money and a certificate from the Councilor.
The following day, the patient in the next bed informs me that Kanai had asked me to bring in Arati to feed her the meat. Also, he had fed her the boiled egg given at breakfast.

Today we have Spring’s trove
Feed some meat to make lo-o-ove.

I ask Kanai, “What’s going on? Why’re you feeding the girl your food?”
“I am a vegetarian – a Vaishnav am I.”
Hat’s off! A true blue Vaishnav. I had heard about Jaidev and the washerwoman[xix] – and now, it’s Kanai Safui and the scavenger-woman.
So many people come to the hospital. If only I could write their stories! What a panoply of plots I shall have! A Sadhu with dreadlocks arrived a few days ago. He had a fishbone stuck in his throat. Once a woman came whose Guru harvested lice from her hair using a magnifying glass. Should I try to write a story? Perhaps I need to collect more materials.
I call the zoo and ask to speak to the Director. I introduce myself and state, “On xx day, a man named Kanai Safui was admitted in our hospital. He says he tried to pet a tiger in a cage, and it bit him. Can you give me a little more detail about it?”
The Director bellows, “Ahh?”
I repeat myself.
The Director is stunned. “Is that so? I don’t know anything about the incident.”
I get hold of the Deputy Director. He immediately denies, “No-no-no, nothing like that happened here! It’s absolutely rubbish! Rubbish! Have you already informed the press?”
I whiff a mystery. Why does he stress ‘rubbish’ twice? A simple denial would suffice! And why is he so worried about the press?
I ask, “Why would I talk to the press? Why’re you evoking the press?”
He mumbles, “I mean, if it’s printed in newspapers, we have to face giant difficulties. The papers don’t bother to confirm but print anything they wish. Such gossips have legs…”
I soothe him, “That’s why I’m asking you. The patient confessed that he voluntarily went to the tiger’s cage…”
He interrupts before I can finish, “No-no-no, your patient must be touched in the head.”
I dispute, “Not at all. Why should he be nutty? We doctors can certainly identify something like that! It’s the truth.”
“Really? At least I don’t know anything about it. Goodbye!”
I recognize that he’s trying to shirk all liabilities. Maybe he doesn’t wish to deal with the police.
The evening visiting hours are over. I go to Kanai Safui. I immediately detect a red ‘teep’[xx] pasted on the iron bedpost; a few broken pieces of glass bangles strewn on the bed.
“I have to talk to you. Why did you go to the zoo?”
“To mow the lawn.”
“Do you often go there to mow?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Do you pay them to mow their lawns?”
“No.”
“Do they pay you?”
“No. The farmer pays me.”
“How much?”
“One sack full, twenty rupees.”
“Do you have to buy a ticket to enter?”
“No. I know the people.”
“How did you get to know them?”
“Once I was mowing grass in Garer Math,[xxi] there’s little grass there anyway. In this city, where will I get grass? A gentleman saw me and asked, ‘Do you want to go to the zoo? Lots of grass there.’ The gentleman helped me get into the zoo.”
“Did you have to pay him anything?”
“I won’t lie, not a penny.”
“Then?”
“From then on, occasionally I go there to mow grass. I use a sickle or push a machine. They use a grass cutting machine. It chops grass short. The man who pushes the machine every day, gave me permission. ‘Go ahead, push the machine.’ I do that. Actually, I pull rather than push. One must pull it. He sits around and smokes. Then I pack a sack with grass-nubs and bring it out. At times, a man makes me put my thumbprint on a paper.”
Now I understand the situation a bit more. There’s a budget for mowing lawns. I’ve heard that our hospital also has one. They cut grass free of cost and submit falsified invoices. Perhaps the higher ups are unaware of this practice. Or they might have to keep mum about small infractions. I too may face such circumstances in the future.
“Okay, you go there to cut grass. Do you feel like petting often? So, you put your hand in the cage?”
Kanai nods his assent.
“Didn’t anyone say anything?”
“No.”
“What did you do with your hands in the cage?”
He looked this way and that, scratched his head, and said, “Nonna, nonna!”
“Who did you do ‘nonna, nonna’ to?”
He is reticent.
“Elephant?”
“Yes.”
“Monkey?”
“Yes.”
“Did you do ‘nonna nonna’ to Arati?”
Kanai grins and makes an awkward gesture.
“Did you do ‘nonna nonna’ to the crocodile?”
“I can’t get in there.”
“A lion?”
“No.”
“Why did you have to do it to the tiger?”
He’s quiet for a while and then says, “The tiger suffers a lot.”
I tumble headlong into this statement; but I still explore, “Who suffers more, the tiger or you?”
“I’m not in any pain. I roam around, play the flute, sing kirtan.”
“Yes, of course. You gad about with your Radha…”
Kanai throws me a shy smile like last century’s timid singer Sehgal and drops his head.
“Where did you find your Radha, I mean Arati?”
“God sent her.”
“Stop the BS. Tell me, how did you entice her?”
“What all you say, Doctor sir!”
“Tell me.”
“She asked me for a few candies. She is so weak that she couldn’t get any of the sweets that we scattered around during the kirtan. She came and said, ‘Give me a few for the kids.’ I gave. The next day she came again…”
“Ah, I understand. It’s entirely extra-marital. How many children does she have?”
“Two.”
“What does her husband do?”
“He’s a sweeper with the Corporation. But he doesn’t want to work. Drinks a lot. He doesn’t care for his family. Bugs are gnawing on Arati’s chest bones – the doctor asked her to eat good food. Her husband doesn’t care.”
“I get it. My dear, you’re in a soup / you walked into some gluey love-goop.”
I leave but Kanai calls me back. “Sir, may I ask you something? I’ve heard that TB[xxii] heals if you eat food-waste of a tiger. Is that true?”
I ask him, “Who said that?”
“Just heard.”
Sir shows me the X-ray plate. “Look at that fracture! Just setting the bones won’t do. It’s a delicate situation. We need to stick ‘em with some screws. We can’t do it here. Perhaps a better place…”
I demur, “Where will he go? Let’s treat him here…”
One day, Piyali comes to the hospital. I take her to visit Kanai Safui. Arati is there also.
Arati has brought a new flute for Kanai. He has asked her to bring one. He hasn’t played his flute for a while, and thus, is struggling with acid reflux. Although Kanai cannot move his fingers well, he blows into the flute and creates music. Have the walls of this hospital ward ever trembled with such melodies?
Piyali says, “Get well soon, I want to hear you play flute.”
Arati’s anemic eyes stare with astonishment at the jeans clad body of the MSc degree holder, Piyali.
Piyali questions, “Once you get better, are you going back to the zoo?”
Kanai shakes his head and says he can’t go back there anymore. The zoo workers have forbidden him, ‘Don’t ever come back here. If you do, we’ll break your legs…’
“Yes, don’t. No need.” Piyali smiles.
She takes out two pieces of chocolate from her handbag and gives one to Arati and the other to Kanai. Arati puts hers in a plastic bag, “’Taking it for the kids.” Kanai gently puts his in the bag also. Piyali takes out two more and unwraps them. She sticks one in Kanai’s mouth and the other in Arati’s. All three laugh aloud. Hospitals aren’t a place for spits or glee. But on that day, their mirth mingles with strains of the flute and transforms the ward.
The surgery date is fixed, as it happens to many who are there. Then, new patients arrive with new ailments, as it happens in all hospitals. My Sir, under whom Kanai is admitted, leaves for Chandigarh. He is presenting a paper there in a seminar on bone grafting and implantation of metal devices. He’s a subject-matter expert. The sponsor is a foreign company that manufactures surgical tools, bone clips, screws, nails, binders, etc. Sir takes his whole family with him. They are going to travel to Kulu-Manali from there. Someday, I’ll also receive similar offers.
Piddly surgeries mustn’t be postponed for grand seminars. Someone else does the honors. I, too, am there. When we look at his hand, it is in miserable shape! A tiger’s jaws are incredibly strong. This Sir doesn’t turn his mobile phone off in the operation theater. For a surgery at the level of Kanai Safui, one doesn’t need to turn off cell phones.
Kanai keeps asking when’ll he go home? I say, ‘We’ll let you go in about ten days.’
In the meantime, the cuckoo in the hospital grows tired. The radio spews forth the goodbye ballads of Spring: ‘Oh dear, the days of Spring are numbered.’ The Tata Sumo and Maruti cars run over the fallen red-silk blossoms on the ground.
One day I say to Piyali, “Spring’s coming to an end. We didn’t get to celebrate it much.”
She quips, “Let’s get some chicken spring-rolls.”
She chews on a spring-roll. “A piece of good news for you. Sutanu got his visa. I am fully yours now.”
From then on, I sign my SMS to her as ‘Fool-ly yours.’
Kanai’s hand has engorged again; says he’s in dreadful pain. It’s obvious that the hand’s full of pus. We do another X-ray. I can tell we’ve really messed up. I won’t go into the details. When he looks at the plates, Sir keeps scratching his head and yells at us viciously.
“Go sell okra from now on, you fool! There’s no other option but to chop it off. We must amputate from above the wrist.”
It’s a safe case. The patient’s family won’t make trouble. The patient has no family. There’s anemic Arati and she has TB. She goes to the charitable clinic in Khidirpore. Nonetheless, I’ll have to inform them.
I put on my solemn expression. I’ve never addressed him as Sir. In the evening I say, “Kanai sir, we tried a lot but didn’t succeed. We need to remove your hand from above the wrist – I mean, cut if off.”
My voice trembles. Kanai is quiet. His eyes stare at something in the space above, “I won’t be able to play the flute anymore, no?”
At those words, a few drops of not-so-smart tears roll out of my idiotic eyes. Oh, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pannalal Ghosh, Aloknath Dey… or Sudam buddy, you don’t even appreciate your beloved flute…[xxiii]
Kanai lays down on the bed like a discarded piece of rubber tube. In that room’s jaundice-yellow light, his face resembles an empty saline bottle. He caresses his right hand with affection. I try to lighten the mood of the moment.
“They say that a tiger’s touch brings in eighteen injuries – that’s what is going on here. It has pulverized your bones – we did the surgery. We tried. Now, the situation is such that the whole arm may be affected. So, if you could umm… a little…”
“What does umm… mean? Amputate?” Kanai looks at my eyes and asks for clarification.
I can’t return his gaze. Kanai grabs my hand with the swollen fingers of his right hand. His fingers have no strength, yet they penetrate my body like fishhooks. I pull my hand away. The flute lies nearby like an orphan. Arati’s green sari is scrubbed clean of all stains.
She cries, “Dogtor sir, you’ll take away his hand?”
I clutch the tubes of my stethoscope hanging from my neck. I can’t utter a single word. Arati continues, “What work will he get then? How can he eat?” I quickly leave for the next bed.
My mom has put away some old saris to exchange them for cooking vessels. I choose two good ones, wrap ’em up in a newspaper and give them to Kanai. “Give them to Arati.” He is happy.
I keep gifting Kanai with packets of biscuits and grapes. He says, “You’re blessed by goddess Radha.”
He says, “At least I can get some food in the hospital. What’ll happen after this? What shall I eat? No hands no rice.”
I suggest, “Won’t Arati look after you?”
Kanai grows gloomy – shakes his head. “One shouldn’t expect anything back.” And adds, “I believe in ‘no reason.’ Do you understand – no reason! Clouds pour rainwater on the earth, on the dirt. Clouds don’t want anything back. I’m like Radha. Radha didn’t want anything in return from Krishna. She lived for Krishna’s love. I think of Arati as Krishna. I believe my queen Radha resides in every heart. Otherwise, why do you bring me biscuits and grapes?”
What biochemistry or psychopathology makes him utter such words? I don’t get it. Is philosophy the same as pathology? Who knows! I don’t make him speak anymore. If Piyali hears about the Radha in my heart, she’ll torment me. I think of a song by a band.

We amputate, or else gangrene would have set in. The fingers that embraced the flute to make music are now wrapped in blood-soaked cotton and bandages and cast off in a blue plastic hospital waste bin. A few flies come to inspect.
He’ll be released in a few days. When he’s there, I’m a bit tense. Does everyone feel like this? Or is it because I have Radha in me?
Such surgeries require the patient to be anesthetized adequately. They are also given saline and oxygen. When he surfaces, I am by his side. I hear him murmur, “Hari, tiger, Hari, tiger, tiger, tiger, Hari, Hari.”[xxiv]
I solicit, “How’re you feeling?”
He looks once and shuts his eyes; doesn’t speak again.
I go back in a couple of hours. He is running a temperature. I touch his head, stroke his forehead. He opens his eyes, “Did the tiger come?”
I stop. “Not yet. Is he expected?”
Kanai burbles, “If he comes, feed him my cut hand and tell him, we are even.”
What kinds of wisdom peep out from his words I don’t know! I pat his forehead and ask, “Why do you need to be even with him, Kanai?”
Kanai responds, “I took the tiger’s food, so Hari punished me.”
“What’s tiger’s food?”
“Meat.”
“Did you steal the tiger’s food?”
“There’s so much food in the tiger’s cage, and Arati’s chest-cage is eroding. What should I do, eh?”
Kanai tries to turn sides – can’t make it. He goes quiet.
The day of his release, I’m there. He extends his shortened hand towards me. “You’ve done so much for me, I’ll never forget.”
I, too, extend my hand a bit. The empty space between our two hands remains mute with pregnant narratives.
The case ends. A new patient occupies the same bed. The red-cotton tree has sprouted new leaves; the mobile-phone carries a new call-tune; Piyali has a new boyfriend; posters demanding new and improved pay-scale abound everywhere; my house staff-ship is at an end. I must find a new job…. Don’t I need to advance?

One day, I catch a cab at the Howrah station. I need to be at a nursing home in Park Circus. The total route spreads across flyovers. We jump from one flyover to a new one and I see Radha and Krishna on the sidewalk below. Krishna’s wearing a tinsel crown on his head and a coat of a band-party. Radha has a paper lei around her neck.
My taxi speeds away from this scene and approaches the flyover. Once I’m on the flyover, I won’t be able to see them. I stick my head out of the window and try to get another peek at Radha-Krishna. I desperately look back through the rear window. The scene is lost. I can’t get another glimpse of Radha-Krishna. But I know, they are there, somewhere below.
Oh my! I suddenly observe a chopped hand flying after the taxi.
Ah…, no, my mistake. It’s not a hand but a crow!

__

End Notes

[i] Holi is an ancient Hindu festival of Spring, which is celebrated by participants playfully daubing colored powders on each other.

[ii] Around Holi, ‘Dol’ or ‘Dol Purnima’ is celebrated mainly in the eastern part of India. It is the festivity commemorating the union of Lord Krishna and his beloved, Radha, and occurs on a full moon night or purnima.

[iii] Trinamool (aka Trinamool Congress) is the current ruling political party in West Bengal, which is virulently opposed to the previous left-wing government of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). Hence, the abhorrence to everything red. Trinamool (meaning grassroots) is associated with the color green.

[iv] House staff-ship in India is equivalent to Residency in the U.S. medical education system.

[v] Vaishnav is a major strand of Hinduism. Devotees of Vishnu are known as Vaishnav.

[vi] Nalban is a palm dotted park in Bidhan Nagar (Salt Lake), Kolkata. It’s a popular rendezvous for lovers.

[vii] Salt Lake or Bidhan Nagar is a planned suburb and the IT hub of Kolkata.

[viii] Originally, Tangra is an area of Kolkata where the city’s tanneries were located. It is also an area where immigrants from the Hakka region of China have settled. Tangra is famous for authentic Chinese restaurants.

[ix] Kirtan is a call and response type of song or chant. The lyrics of a kirtan describe legends of deities and/or the devotion of worshippers. Private homes may arrange for kirtan singers to come and sing for a few hours or even 24/7 for a few weeks. Kirtan is often accompanied by religious dancing, scattering of sweets, and various other displays of spiritual fervor.

[x] Radha is the perpetual lover of the Hindu deity, Krishna. The love story of Radha and Krishna is emblematic of divine love.

[xi] Kanai is a pet name of Lord Krishna.

[xii] Lalu Prasad Yadav is an Indian politician and a former chief minister of the state of Bihar. He comes from a family of traditional cow farmers.

[xiii] During kirtan, singers and the chorus line chant ‘Hari bol’ – encouraging the audience to join in the calling of God’s name.

[xiv] Kanu is another pet name for Lord Krishna.

[xv] Brindaban or Vrindavan is a holy city in north India where, supposedly, Lord Krishna spent his childhood and fell in love with Radha.

[xvi] Maneka Sanjay Gandhi is an Indian politician and animal rights activist. She was married to the youngest son of India’s former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi.

[xvii] Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) is an elected official for the legislature of State government.

[xviii] A Councilor is an elected representative of his/her region to the local government Council.

[xix] Jaidev or Jayadeva was a Sanskrit poet who lived in the 12th Century. He is well known for his epic poem, Gita Govinda, describing Krishna’s lovefest with Radha and other female friends. The love of Jaidev’s life was a washerwoman.

[xx] Teep is the decorative dot that Indian women put on their foreheads. It’s also known as ‘bindi.’

[xxi] Garer Math or Maidan in Kolkata is the largest urban park in West Bengal.

[xxii] Tuberculosis.

[xxiii] Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pannalal Ghosh, and Aloknath Dey are accomplished and revered flutists. Sudam is considered Lord Krishna’s best friend and a flute player.

[xxiv] ‘Hari’ is God Vishnu.

Translator's Note

An urban, modern young man learns a lesson in unconditional love from an unlikely source. The author, Swapnamoy Chakraborty, weaves an enchanting narrative that is deceptively simple in its apparent minimalism. He gently coaxes the readers to fall in love with the twin protagonists, the dingy surroundings of a struggling hospital, and the city itself. The ascetic imagery and clipped language with which he juxtaposes parallel stories is highly effective. At its core, ‘Radha-Krishna’ is a story of earthly love that transcends everyday limitations.

Swapnamoy Chakraborty was born in Kolkata. He started his writing career with short stories. His first short story was published in 1972, Chakraborty’s first book Bhumi Sutra was published in 1982. His book Abantinagar won the Bankim Puraskar in 2005. His work is both critically acclaimed and well-received by readers. Holud Golap is a seminal, monumental work about the LGBT community and its relationship with larger society.

Shamita Das Dasgupta is a cofounder of Manavi, the first organization to focus on violence against South Asian women in the U.S. She has taught Psychology, Gender Studies, and Law at the Rutgers University and NYU, authored five books, written a bunch of academic papers and monographs, and is still conducting training for DV and SV practitioners in the U.S. and India. In her retirement, she is enjoying writing mystery stories in Bengali.

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