March 12, 2010

Red stump

In the sleepy village of Semariya well north of Bilaspur in Chhatisgarh this morning, I wander away from an antenatal clinic I was observing, and into the grounds of a school establishment next door. This is the Balmitra Shaskiya Prathamik Shala, a collection of five or six one-storey and grubby buildings set around a large ground with a couple of large trees and a hand-pump.

The kids are out on their morning break, running around and playing and tossing paper planes about. One or two eye me curiously, and come past shyly, doing a namaste as they pass. Several cluster around the hand-pump, trying to operate it. A teacher strides out and says she will work the handle; with many giggles they stick plastic bottles under the streaming water and drink.

A dog or two stroll across the ground. Behind me somewhere, a lone cow moos, steadily, ominously. A breeze blows, almost lazily. Beyond the children at the hand-pump is a tall thin man. He is wearing grey pants and a bright orange checked shirt. His left arm ends in a stump just below the elbow, and the stump is wrapped in a bright red cloth. With that half-arm, he holds what looks like a book, or some folded papers, to his body. His other arm, he waves above his head, repeatedly, as if tossing a fishing line, or tugging at a kite string.

He stops this routine. Then he starts again.

He stops again. Then he unbuttons his shirt and takes it off. Unbuttons his trousers and steps out of them. Unwinds his red cloth. He is standing there now, a thin man in bright blue boxers, and he does that tossing thing with his right arm again.

He gets dressed. Carefully winds the red cloth on his stump, gathers up the papers, does the routine again.

I walk over, by which time he has sat down against the tree. He tells me his name is Nandram. He shows me the papers, which turn out to be a blue-bordered NTPC publicity brochure in English and Hindi, one page listing "Our Core Values". I ask him what happened to his arm. He gives me a long explanation in a voice so low that I cannot understand a word, despite asking him to repeat a couple of times.

I walk back to the clinic. Some time later, as I'm getting ready to leave Semariya, I look over at the ground.

Nandram is down to blue boxers again, doing the tossing routine with his right hand again.


Anonymous said...

over 3000 people killed in Delhi, yet no justice. Of course I am referring to Delhi riots in 1984.. and some people write about Nandram..

ramani said...

thanks dilip, for illustrating the huge unmet need for care of the mentally ill in india. this is a real problem: too few doctors who understand mental health issues; the cost of medication; the stigma attached; the inability of poor families to spend time taking care of such patients. it is a sad commentary, and you were perceptive enough to notice this person.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thanks Ramani. Opened my eyes in Chhatisgarh, this last week.

km said...

Look forward to reading more posts in this series, Dilip.