Stooping Nose

{Explanatory Note:
This story is in Indian context, where the word 'nose' is idiomatically used synonymous with honor: 'raised nose' means honor gone up, 'stooped nose' means honor lowered down and 'cut nose' means total loss of honor.}

You are seeing my stooping nose ' it has become bent because of a fracture in its bone. But this is not the only reason for its stooping down ' it is also stooping because of my having been born in such a gutless society which turns a blind eye to atrocity being committed on the helpless by the powerful. It is also stooping because of the shame of that police which spends more time in protecting the criminals-turned-politicians than getting them punished. It is also stooping because of the shame of those administrators who for their selfish motives keep trying to emasculate the police and make it subservient to the rulers. It is also stooping because of the shame of those advocates who feel proud in getting the criminals acquitted by hook or by crook. It is also stooping because of the shame of those judges who for selfish reasons or ignorance prefer acquitting criminals on flimsy grounds. And most of all it is stooping because of the shame of those rulers who do not feel ashamed in including mafia in their party and making them members of parliament and ministers.

Please do not look at my nose with disdain ' it was not stooping down at the time of my birth. I was born with a 'raised nose'- my father was a reputed freedom fighter of Lucknow district. He was in the forward ranks of those who led 'Quit India' movement and after attainment of independence his name was spoken with great respect in the whole state. Influenced by the stories of his valor I had joined army as a soldier at a very young age during Indo-Pak conflict of the year 1965. Then in 1971 I was decorated with 'Vir Chakra' for my bravery during the war, which culminated in creation of Bangla Desh. My joy had known no bounds when I was married with the beautiful Sharmishtha in 1975. And when our daughter Roma was born to her in 1979, we had thrown a grand party at our residence in cantonment of Bhopal.

When terrorism raised its serpentine head in Punjab, I was detailed on duty at Amritsar in 1984. There during a fierce and successful operation against the terrorists, a hand grenade lobbed by them had burst near my right leg. This had so badly damaged my leg that the army doctors, despite their skill and devotion, could save my life but not my leg. Consequently I had become dependent on a crutch for walking. But this had in no way lowered my prestige. On the other hand, my colleagues had started treating me with greater respect. My nose had been 'raised' further when I was decorated with 'Mahavir Chakra'. However, due to physical infirmity I was given a medical discharge from the Army with all attendant benefits. Thereafter we had come to Lucknow and started living in my paternal house.

I had never considered the loss of leg in action as my bad fortune, but what started to happen hereafter shook my faith completely. Roma was only a 7 years' old child when Sharmishtha fell prey to the meningitis endemic of 1986 and within a week she left the two of us forever without uttering a word. Thereafter Roma became the raison d'etre of my existence. Now the sole aim of my life was to raise Sharmishtha's nishani (gift) Roma to a dignified womanhood. I bestowed the love of father and mother both on the motherless child. And by seeing her growing into a loving, intelligent and beautiful adolescent, I started feeling that my nose was going up further.

On 12th April 1994, it was the last day of Roma's 10th class examination. On her return from school I had asked her,

'Roma! How did you fare in the mathematics examination today?'
Roma had effusively replied, 'Papa! Today's paper has gone cent-percent correct.'
Affectionately I had put my hand on her head, and started praising her. Then she expectantly asked, 'Papa! Now when are we going to Shimla?'

I had earlier promised her a holiday in the cool environs of Shimla after her examination and without letting her know had already got two berths in the three-tier sleeper class in Punjab Mail (train's name) reserved for 15th of April. So with a twinkle in my eyes I said,

'How soon would you like to go?' and then without waiting for her answer I added, 'Are you ready to start on 15th April?'
She burst with joy and hugged me muttering, ''.

Next three days passed quickly in making preparations for the journey. I watched with inner joy that Roma thought carefully of everything that might be needed by me in Shimla and kept it in the suitcase properly. I proudly noted that she had fully inherited the qualities of sacrifice for the family and hard work from her mother.

'Papa! Rickshaw is at the door.' Roma said enthusiastically and helped me putting the luggage in it. We reached Charbagh railway station and took our seats in three-tier coach S-1 of Punjab Mail at 4.30 P. M. The summer afternoon was hot and the coach was full, but unmindful of the heat Roma was happily engrossed in her imaginary thoughts of Shimla. As soon as the train started, about half a dozen young men entered the coach. Standing near the door they started talking boisterously among themselves as if there was nobody else present in the coach. The content of their talk consisted mainly of offensive and lewd comments against their bosses and women-colleagues. Some of them were also smoking and filling the coach with its offensive stench. From their conversation it became apparent that they were government employees working together in some office in Lucknow and used to commute daily on monthly season tickets from Sandila to Lucknow and back.

The conduct of these men was highly offensive to other travelers, but they did not appear to have any consideration for others. Their loud voice unnecessarily attracted the attention of other travelers and they were forced to listen to their foul tongue.

After the train crossed Lucknow city, one of them said,

'Come, let us play Rummy.'
Another added, 'O. K. You make space available. In the meantime I am lighting another cigarette.'

Then the first one threw a long look inside the coach and came to the place where Roma and I were sitting. We were sitting near the window and by our side were an old couple that, from their clothes, appeared to be simple rural folks. The young man looked at the four of us haughtily and commanded, 'You people vacate these seats as we have to play Rummy here.'

His voice was threatening and the old couple started leaving their seats. Seeing this I intervened and told them, 'Why are you leaving your seats? You have been sitting there from before.'

Upon this that ruffian insolently said, 'You oldie! Shut up. You also get up and tell that girl also to get up.'

My face got red with humiliation, but controlling my emotions I said, 'Don't you have manners to speak properly?'

On hearing our hot talks his companions started closing near us. I was feeling surprised to see that out of about 60-70 persons sitting in the coach nobody was coming forward to help me nor anybody was even speaking in my support. Their faces were showing only frightful need to escape the ugly situation.

Then that man advanced towards me and holding my right hand pulled me with a jerk. I could barely manage to stand balancing wholly on my left leg. On seeing me being humiliated like this Roma got up and started hitting him with her fist. The ruffian got infuriated and caught Roma by her shoulders, and then immodestly forced her down on the berth. In the meantime I got opportunity to pick up my crutch and as I was about to hit him with the crutch, he snatched it from my hand and hit me hard at my nose. I heard Roma calling 'Papa' and then that rogue's voice, 'Hey girl, how dare you stand?' Then my head swooned and while getting unconscious I slumped on the floor. During the interregnum I heard Roma crying with a choking throat, 'Papa'..' and then again ' Papa' help me'save me' During my semi-conscious state also I could hear the cries of Roma, but could not lift my body up. Roma, whose every tear had been like thousand tears of mine, was crying for help and my heart was squeezing on my incapacity to help her and other passengers' cowardice of not coming up to help her. Then I became fully unconscious.

When I regained consciousness I found Roma holding me in her hands and sobbing with the words 'papa..papa' Some other passengers were also standing by my side and one of them was sprinkling water on my face. The scoundrels were not there. Roma's face was flushed red because of her humiliation. I saw that she had some reddish marks on her cheeks but any other injury she did not seem to have suffered.

My nose was aching unbearably as its bone had broken in the middle. Somebody had cleaned the blood, which had oozed from my nose. The passengers who had watched Roma's and mine humiliation like frightened kittens were now incessantly speaking on the growing criminality among the youth and police's inefficacy. From their talks I learnt that the hoodlums had detrained at Sandila railway station, which had come soon after I lost consciousness. Roma and I got down at Hardoi station and came back to Lucknow by the next train. Next morning I was admitted in the Command Hospital where the doctor fixed the broken bone of my nose.

The two parts of the bone of my nose have joined, but it has become bent and stooping in the same way as my self-pride has become stooping, as my self-confidence has become stooping, and as my faith in sacrificing oneself for the society has become stooping. Today I find myself unable to convince myself that by sacrificing my leg for such a thankless society I have acted wisely.

Sometimes, in my lone moments, I have also started questioning myself whether such a democracy in which hooligans and rogues roam free is more desirable than dictatorship.

Roma's entire persona seems to have become thunderstruck. She has withered like a cruelly broken bud. When I face her I become dumbfounded: with which words can I redeem her honor, how can I rebuild her self-esteem, how can I light her heart with hope?

I am an old soldier, my nose is also old and within a few years it will become dust along with me; but will Roma ever be able to stand by the ideal of my life that instead of earning power and pelf through dishonesty, cheating, and selfishness, it is more worthwhile to stand by integrity, devotion, and sacrifice for the country.   


More by :  Mahesh Chandra Dewedy

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