As I opened my eyes, I found myself in strange surroundings. I was lying on an unusual bed, tubes and bottles on both sides, needles pricking my arms, and my face, chest and the left arm in bandages. Oh! turned into Ah! as I regained my senses gradually. My painful, subdued but audible ahs! reached the nursing station . A nurse came quickly. “ Are you OK?”
“ Yes… but…” I tried to say something, but I was still feeling giddy and my mind quite hazy.
“ If your pain is still intolerable, I’ll give you another injection. You’ll sleep for three-four hours, and you will feel better,” the nurse said in a matter-of-fact way.
“ Water. Please. I am thirsty.”
The nurse gave me a glass of water. I drank and felt better though my whole body was in intense pain. But I took control of myself.
“ Sister, I think I can manage without another injection.”
The nurse was gone in a moment. I looked at my bandages and smiled, though in great pain. “Fool!” I whispered and reflected over the morning’s event…
I was walking to my office from the Metro station. Suddenly I heard a cry: My bag, my bag. I saw a man running after two persons through the crowd. They had apparently snatched his bag and were briskly maneuvering their way through the crowd. He could manage to catch one of them by his collar and pleaded with him to return his bag, “ I am a poor man. This money I have borrowed at from somebody at a heavy rate of interest. I have to pay the last instalment of my house. Or else all the money that I have paid will be forfeited. We shall then never have a house of our own.”
The man laughed, gave him a big punch on his face and turned to run. But there he was, the man with that ‘ do or die’ spirit—his genuine need had perhaps infused that spirit in him—and he pounced on him with all the force and vigor and caught him by his hair. The pain unnerved the grabber completely, and he was overpowered. But his accomplice came back running with a knife in his hand. It was a terrible scene. I felt bad for the man, the poor man—his last hope of having his own house would be dashed, that too because of the two goons. I couldn’t see it happening and rushed to his help. The snatcher with the knife, when he saw me coming to the help of the poor man—he had never imagined that, as a crowd had gathered there but nobody dared come forward—he panicked. He started flashing the knife all around. That was a poor way. He struck the poor man. When he saw blood, he wanted to run away. But it was beyond him now. I had already caught him from behind. And in an attempt to get free, he left the bag there and struck with his knife all around like a blind man. As I was struck at two or three places, my hold on the man loosened, and he could make his escape. But the other man who had fallen and didn’t have a knife, couldn’t escape. He was caught.
My wife and my daughter, Praggya, came to the hospital, and sat on my bed .Praggya was in tears, looking at my shape and bandages, but she said, “ Papa, I won’t cry. You have always told me to be brave. I will be brave. I won’t cry.” And she started sobbing. I smiled and my wife wiped her tears.
“ I am proud of you, my dear.”
“ No, Papa, I am proud of you. You are so brave. I am proud of you.”
After an hour or so, Rahul came and shot at me,” You will never learn. Look at your condition. It is your own doing. Why do you meddle?”
“ Yes, meddle. Where was the need for you to involve yourself? Hopeless. This is Delhi, a Metro, not your small town. And now you have been here for five long years. Five years are enough for learning the culture of a city. Shit!”
I simply smiled
“ Anything could have happened. It is a country of the goons, by the goons, for the goons. How can you fight them alone? You should learn to be …”
“ Selfish. That is what you want to say.”
“ No, practical.”
“ Being practical here means being selfish. The saddest thing about India. Look at our history. Had Aambhi not been selfish, Puru would not have lost to Sikandar. Had Jaichand not been selfish, the Mughals would not have ruled over India. Had Mir Jafar not been selfish, the English would never have occupied India. We are too selfish. We don’t own any moral, social or national responsibility,” I said, and my face twisted in pain.
“ So, you want to be a hero,” said Rahul sarcastically.
“ No, not a hero, but a man. Only a man. And I think I have a right to be a man.”
“ OK. Do whatever pleases you. Some people never learn. They put everybody to trouble,” he said and looked at my wife and daughter. “ But do one thing for me. Don’t brag about your sharp memory and observation power. Don’t identify the persons who snatched the bag. Police would come anytime now. Please don’t identify those two persons. Just be vague and say in that crowd you didn’t see the faces properly.”
“ Why? Why should I tell lies? Why should I tell that? I said, perturbed, my eyes narrowing down, piercing his face.
He kept quiet for some time. He fumbled for words, “For me. You do this for me.”
I searched his soul.
He became his usual self. “ If I have ever done something good for you and you want to repay the debt…”
“ How are you involved in it? Why do you want to save those scoundrels?”
His face fell, and he started trembling. But he recovered and said, “ We are friends. There was a time, when you came to Delhi, you needed me. Today I need you. One of the two boys is my
boss’ son. Yes. And he has specially asked me to prevent you from identifying the two persons. My job is at stake. And if you help me…”
“ You might get a promotion…” I said and laughed. “ For our small personal benefits, we have always pawned this nation. No, I won’t do that. During the last seventy years of independence, we have done only that. And that is how we have handed over this nation to the goons—social goons or political goons. Well, we are friends. But I won’t pay such a heavy price. You are asking too much. If I do that, I too shall, like others, hand over India to those goons. And for me India is bigger than our friendship, or any relationship, or anything… You can kill me or get me killed; I don’t care. That is the only way you can stop me from speaking the truth. And you know this approach is also quite common. We Indians can do anything for our petty gains. Murder is a very small thing,” I said and turned my face.
He looked at me disdainfully and left.