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The Leper

I am a young doctor doing my internship from Patna Medical College, Patna. Patna Medical College is one of the oldest medical college in India. It was established in 1925 and was formerly known as Prince of Wales Medical College. I had the privilege of being one of the numerous students to study in this esteemed college. Situated on the banks of river Ganga, it holds numerous memories of love, survival, sincere prayers and heart-breaks.
I worked as an intern posted in the surgery ward when I first met the Leper. He had come for treatment of a wound on his hand. His fingers had been reabsorbed and there were only short stumps left. It was unfortunate, that even in this modern world there are people who are cursed with leprosy. An unfortunate story of a great nation! The Leper had lost the digits of his hands and feet. The poor and ignorant do not understand the cause of leprosy and do not know that it is curable. The bacterium causing the disease, M. Leprae, is sly, growing at a very slow rate. The disease is seen as a socially unacceptable evil. The victim is thought to be cursed for some previous birth sins. The social stigma associated with leprosy makes the lepers totally be excluded from the society.
The lepers live separately, away from the mainstream society. With the introduction of drugs for treatment of Leprosy, people have grown more tolerant towards the lepers. Multi-Drug-Therapy (MDT, a combination of Rifampicin, Clofazimine and Dapsone) is available for those who have begun to show symptoms and signs of the disease. The symptoms appears as sensory loss in the forearm or legs or there are lesions in the skin which appear lighter than normal skin. The disease can be prevented from progression with timely treatment. But once the digits decays off due to external wounds and infection, there is nothing to do but rehabilitation of the patient. It is unfortunate that India has the highest prevalence of Lepers, all because of ignorance, poverty and misinformation.
As a doctor, I never asked the religion and caste of my patients. Though I would make my inference from their names. And that would help me to predict their food and sanitary habits, to some extent. However some names like – Sonu, Chintu, Suraj without any surname, were confusing.

The leper was named Sonu. He visited my OPD (outpatient department), seeking treatment for the infection that occurred on his hand. It needed proper treatment. I wrote the medications, and later dressed his wound myself. I told him to come every day for treatment till his wound healed. There are many poor who come to the OPD to seek treatment. The government services has saved the lives of such poor folk.
Sonu would beg on the streets of Ashok Rajpath. That I got to know when one Sunday night, I went to eat at a restaurant in Sabzi Bagh. Sabzi Bagh is famous for its kebabs and non-vegetarian cuisines. The Mess is closed on Sunday nights in Patna Medical College. So, either we cook Maggie by ourselves or go out to eat in some hotel. I would walk to the restaurant which was less than a km away from my hostel. On the way I saw Sonu, fighting with another man. That man was physically normal and was probably demanding money from Sonu, which was not unusual as ruffians do extort money from beggars. I was surprised to see the aggressiveness of Sonu. I stood in awe watching Sonu strike the other man with his digit-less hands. I wondered whether to intervene or mind my own business. The shady streets of Patna held shady characters doing shady business. The fight was short, and the two made peace. It left me wondering at the spirit of the leper. I was lost in thought as I ate in the small restaurant in Subzi Bagh.
On Fridays, there is a huge crowd outside the Makhaniya Kuan mosque. Makhaniya Kuan is a street that leads to Ashok Rajpath and Patna Medical College. Usually beggars stand outside the gate of the mosque after the prayer is over for alms. I used to find Sonu begging outside the mosque wearing a traditional skull cup of the Muslims. I do not know what he got, but it sustained him to stay alive. Sonu was just another patient for me, and with time he disappeared into the back of my mind.
My Post Graduate Entrance Exams were in December. In November, the winter comes along with the most important festival of Bihar - The Chhath Puja. The married women fast and pray to the Sun God to increase the longevity of their husbands. The women offer water in water bodies to the setting and rising sun. Usually it is celebrated six days after Diwali – which is the festival of lights. The area around the river or pond, where the women take their path from their home to perform the rituals are cleaned and purified. Throughout the night bhakti songs (bhajans) are played.
My hostel is close to the banks of Ganga. The organizers of the Chhath Puja put loudspeakers and played the bhajans all through the night. As the exam was close, I wanted to study but studying for the night was useless. Anyway one night wouldn’t make much of a difference. There’s an old Kali temple on the banks of Ganga. This Kali Temple is attached to the Darbhanga House, which was the palace of the erstwhile Rajas. Darbhanga House is now used mainly for educational purpose. Passerby can go through this Darbhanga House to the banks of Ganga.
It was on the occasion of Chhath Puja, when I had gone to the banks of Ganga to see the setting sun. It was extremely crowded, with women performing the rituals and men staying close behind them. The government had built a temporary bamboo bridge, which could take the women from the banks to the water depths in Ganga for performing the Puja. People flocked in large number on this bamboo bridge.

There were beggars sitting in a line outside the Kali temple waiting for alms. After offering water to the setting sun, the women would give some prasad which they usually carry in a winnow to the beggars. As I returned, I saw Sonu sitting in the line, along with other Sadhus in saffron, waiting for the alms. I looked at him quizzically and he saw me. He said nothing, and I could say nothing. In the fraction of a second that I could meet his eyes, I could hear his eyes speak – We are poor folk sir, what does religion of people matter to us? Either we beg outside the mosque or the temple, it is all the same. We fight each day for food to survive.
I walked on, unable to decide what I saw. I reached my hostel, washed and dressed myself in night clothes. My phone rang, I saw it was from my senior doctor in the surgery emergency. Before I could say anything he shouted, “Come to the emergency quickly. There’s a huge surge of patients and we need every hands available.”
I quickly changed my dress again and ran towards the emergency. The emergency was in chaos. There were injured patients groaning for help. Some were unconscious. Most of them were old, children or women.
 What had happened was that somebody had spread a rumour that a live electric wire had fallen on the bamboo bridge. It had caused a scare among the public, and everyone in panic rushed to the banks for safety. The bamboo bridge collapsed due to the stampede and several people were injured. Some died immediately, crushed under the feet of the panicked crowd.
The police personnel brought unidentified bodies who had no one to take them to hospital. Those who we could save, we gave them treatment. But those who were dead, we could do nothing but declare them dead. The relatives of those who died, shouted on the doctors and become violent. They were aggressive and physically assaulted the doctors. So, we stopped working and ran to save our own lives. The police were called for protection and making a safer working environment for the doctors.
After a few hours when the cops had taken over the reins of security, we resumed working to save the lives we could save. And that was when, while going through the unidentified bodies brought by the police I saw a familiar face. It took me no time to recognize it was the leper. I hastily tried to find his pulse. No pulse! I tried giving him CPR. But his heart didn’t budge from its resting positon. His eyes were open with pupils dilated and his deformed hands and feet were lying helplessly as if cursing the society. I was silent, the leper was dead…
Chhath Puja Stampede
The Leper Reviewed by Polymath on 11:21 pm Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. very interesting , good job and thanks for sharing such a valuable topic.
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