Whammmm!! the silver color Mahindra car rams into my scooter. I lose my balance and fall on the road. The car driver just looks at me and drives away. I can’t see the car’s number but as he speeds away I see three words inscribed on the number plate ‘Government of India.’ Ha! So this is government’s new plan, kill commoners like me. It seems like a perfect idea to reduce the population and get rid of the people whose taxes do not contribute much towards their pocket money. But in my case the government didn’t have to make the extra effort, I am dying already.
No regret, no remorse the car driver just drives away with the “Babu” the bureaucrat in the backseat, who does not even bother to look up from his evening newspaper. I stand up,dust my clothes, pick up the scooter and check for any dents or scratches on it. Although it does not even matter if there are any, it is too old, a 1996 Bajaj Chetak model. I bought it for my son when he got into junior college, he used it for two years and after that begged me to buy him a motorcycle. I bought him that and since then I have been using his discarded scooter. He now lives in Delhi where he works and drives a Hyundai Santro.
I am returning home early today, leaving Ramu at the shop, I am a grocer. I own a grocery store, a small one, where we do not use optical bar code readers and do not have security guards at the door, mine is a simple grocery store, the kind of place you find everywhere in this country.I still use weights to measure the pulses and rice, do not stock up the shelves with imported chocolates and expensive shampoos but have freshly ground wheat, rats lurk in the store sometimes.
Most of my customers are housewives, I spend my day listening to their cooking woes and suggesting the best brand of spices, they sometimes run out of money while shopping and I let them take stuff after they promise they’d pay later but most of them never come back. It is a no profit only loss equation to run a store like this. Unfortunately I had no other option this is what my father had left me with, and this is what a man who could not clear his class tenth did, run the next door ‘ karyana shop.’
In the boot of my scooter is the doctor’s report, I have been having a severe stomach ache for the past one week, my wife Lakshmi thought it was gas and kept me on a diet of gooey liquid mass she called khichdi. At fifty five you never know what can ail you, the doctor’s report says I have stomach cancer. I need immediate treatment, the doctor said it was extremely urgent. That means Lakshmi will have to forgo her Shirdi trip. She will curse me for postponing or maybe canceling her trip. I can not afford the surgery and that trip at the same time.
What good does one get out of praying to god anyways? I stopped praying after 2000, the year my shop had caught fire. It was a dreadful day, Kasim the butcher next to my shop called me at 9:30 PM, no 9:36 PM precisely on 29th March, 2000 to inform me that there was a fire in my shop and he had called the fire brigade. The cause of fire is still unknown but that was like the doomsday for me, after that I had to start from the scratch. I wonder why god didn’t help me then but that’s when I decided he probably didn’t exist let alone helping me. We cannot rely on god for everything and every time. I wish Lakshmi did not insist on going to Shirdi so much, anyways that was the least I could do to keep her happy. She had spent her no ‘our’ entire married life complaining and cribbing. She wasn’t wrong though.
Reaching home I open the gate and park my scooter, finding the door locked I go to the immediate neighbor Sharmaji’s place, Lakshmi always leaves the house keys with them whenever she goes to the temple in evening. That’s what her life is about going to the temple in morning, once again in the evening, complaining and cooking. For the rest of the day she is either found talking to Sharmaji’s wife.
My son, Vikram now lives far away and hardly visits, calls only on Sundays to make sure if we are fine. And I had disowned my daughter Priya, she had fallen in love with a Christian man, I was against her marrying that man but she did. I had forbidden my wife and anyone else related to me to even mention her after that. I had done everything to give these kids the best education, to make sure my son did not run my shop, my daughter like all other girls worked and earned money. The little investment I had made on these two now seemed to be a waste. They are thankless creatures. I try not think about them.
I am hungry, the Khichdi keeps me hungry, I still can’t believe I have stomach cancer. How could I get it? I wonder what my Lakshmi’s reaction to that will be.
I go to my room and try sleeping, yes in the middle of the evening, the stomach is really troubling me a lot. Its really hot, and I am all sweaty but slowly I drift into a deep slumber. Few hours later I wake up to Lakshmi’s voice, she says Ramu has closed the shop for the day and the key is at its usual place. I grunt to let her know I heard her, she calls me for dinner, I cannot summon the energy to get up, so I tell her I am not hungry and drift back into my sleep. I dream of funny things, Ramu taking over my shop, my wife abandoning me in the hospital and going to Shridi, its all weird.
My phone is ringing at 9:00 AM in the morning, its Ramu asking when will I come. I tell him to take the keys, I can’t delay opening the shop, the business will suffer. I get out of bed, I am late, something that has never happened. Lakshmi is in kitchen talking to someone over the phone.
” The doctor called, said it was something urgent and asked you to visit him as soon as possible.” she said to me, while talking over the phone. I wonder what it can be, another growing cancer or a quick chemo session. Did they start the treatment so soon after detecting cancer? I have no idea about it.
” Its nothing, just some stomach ache, you know na how he eats, bound to have it, will be fine, don’t worry” she says to the person on the phone.
After a pause.
” No beta don’t worry, everything is fine, how is Steve?”
I can’t believe my ears she is talking to Priya, right under my nose. She comes to the dining room and sees me, she looks shocked.
” You didn’t go for your shower?” she asks me, still holding the phone close to her ears.
I go to her and snatch the phone and disconnect it.
” Nobody mentions that girl in my house.”
I see tears in her eyes and walk away. I feel like a cruel man, stopping a mother from talking to her daughter. But then I thought I was dying soon and then she could talk to Priya as much as she wanted, live with her probably and look after her kids if she had any. If I could pay for her Shirdi trip, this was the least she could do for me.
After the quick shower I left home without telling Lakshmi, she always hears the scooter and comes to know when I leave and come back. I did not want to go the doctor. I had had enough of it, let the cancer kill me, strangle me to death. My entire life seemed like a cancer, slowly growing into a monstrous thing, I had let it rot without realizing. Suddenly my scooter hit a cyclist, he fell down.
“Dekh kar nahi chala sakta cycle?” I scream at the boy, surprised at myself, this was the second time in less than twenty four hours I had hit or had been hit by someone on the road. It was my fault, I was the one driving recklessly this time.
Without listening to what the boy had to say and asking if he was okay, I kick my scooter to a start and drive to the doctor’s clinic.
” Arre Singla Saab, where have you been? I was calling you on your mobile phone.” the doctor, the prophet of my death said.
I look at my phone.
” Its on silent mode, I didn’t hear it ringing. Do I have to get the chemotherapy right now?” I ask him.
” Singla ji I have some good news for you, my nurse accidently swapped your medical reports with someone else’s, here are your reports. Those were the reports of another patient, he is just twenty-seven and poor fellow has cancer. You just have a minor stomach infection, here is your prescription, take these medicines and you will be fine in a few days.”
I took the report from his hands and look at it.
Name: Krishan Singla, Age :55, Problem: Minor Stomach infection. My reports said.
I read the report of the young man.
Name: Abhinav, Age: 27, Problem: Growth in stomach, linitis plastica detected.
I had not even looked at the first report yesterday, I winced instead of me a young man was dying all at twenty seven. The circle of life was vicious. I take my prescription and leave the doctor’s clinic. I crush the paper and throw it in the trash bin feeling like a sadistic man, now wishing that report was mine. For once nothing wrong was happening in my life, I wasn’t dying but I wished it was the other way round.