Thursday, July 26, 2012

Electric Fish

Based on a folk 'medicine' story I heard a couple of years back from an uncle of my father.

The man was sick - sick unto death with an agony that would have him praying for death.  They laid him in a cot, he felt his senses leaving him. When he regained his senses again, he found himself floating in the air through the trees, through the green paddy fields and towards the black mountains. For a minute he rejoiced at the thought that he was dead and probably being driven to paradise. Up and down. Up and down. Like on a boat. He smiled. But just then a familiar terrible pain, like a needle pick into eyeballs, shot up through his belly and through his body, blasting his head to bits. His body again developed cracks and broke down. He knew he was alive and the thought peppered his pain with grief. He opened his eyes but just then the noon-time sun broke through the foliage and raptured his eyes. He closed his eyes. Frozen, unable to even wither in pain, he felt his irises turning to glass, cutting at his eyelids. Tears rolled down his cheeks but to him it felt like he was crying blood. He knew his days were numbered. But he was losing count. This maddening pain could not go on forever. He would die soon, it was certain. The thought consoled him and he again passed out on the cot, still tied to it with ropes and carried on shoulder of his two sons.

The sickness first came to him a few months ago one sudden afternoon. It arrived in the simple form of stomach ache. Then the fever arrived. Then the burning sensation. He slept over it. Next day he was fine, he went on with his daily business, worked, had Kehwa with extra milk in the afternoon as a precaution, thanked his gods and just felt fine.  But in the evening, once he reached home, a smell of rotting flesh filled his nostrils, engulfed him, he vomited violently till he felt like he would vomit out his intestines. Then he felt like someone had tied his bowels in a knot. He felt shivery and started sweating. It was at that moment that a pain took birth in his stomach and the countdown to his death began. His two young sons took him to all the Hakeems, Veds, priests, saints and peers but none in the city could cure this man's mystery illness. Then a man told them about a great Hakeem in a village who it was said could even breath life into the dead. The young men put him on a cot and carrying him over their shoulders, started their walk to the village of this miracle Hakeem.

'I can't help this man,' said the Hakeen while still listening to the ebbing pulse of a dying man who was expectantly hearing each word coming from the lips of this gentle old man of Shafa. 'I know the disease. I know the cure. But I can't administer it. What this man need can't be easily found. It is no use...instead...' 
On hearing this, the fire in his pits, that had momentarily subsided on the sight of an elderly angelic man with ice cool hand, again ignited and reclaimed his body, burning all his hopes and his body. A lightening struck somewhere. A thunder boomed in the sky. The man again passed out. A furious storm raged outside.

Hakeen Sahib, taking his hand off the man, continued instructing the two boys without loosing a single syllable, '...give him nothing to eat for next seven days. Only water. With sugar and rock salt. No, it won't cure him. But it will reduce the pain. When the time comes, it will make his death easier.' 

The boys shocked at this prophecy of death, forgot all about seeking a cure, disheartened, again picked up the cot on their shoulder and started to head back to the city. But it was now raining outside. So they put down the cot and waited for the bad weather to pass. 

It was evening when the man again came to senses, there was no pain, yet. Instead there was now only a slow burning sensation in his stomach. But he was in senses enough to recognize it was fire of hungry that now haunted him. He cursed himself, for even if he was close to death, he still felt the need to feed himself, to throw things into this unending pit. This pit of death. He called out to his sons. Not getting a response, driven by hunger, he willed himself up. At a distance near a river bank, he saw his two sons sitting down munching on something. He imagined it must be fish. His sons were eating fish while he lay here hungry, while he lay here dying. In his anger he could even smell roasted fish. In a weak feeble voice, infuriated, he again called out the names of his two sons and asked to be fed some food. The sons didn't even turn in response. Thinking that they must not have heard him, the man, a bit dejected, tired, his legs about to give up, turned back to his cot, mouthing curses for his two unworthy sons. Just then his eyes fell on a heavenly sight,  he saw on boulder next to his cot, a freshly roasted fish. Just lying there, waiting to be eaten. The sight of it filled his heart with shame and pride. As he began to dig into the fish like a mad man possessed, like a man hungry all his seven lives, he cried and praised his thoughtful sons, he blessed them and blessed them some more. And he blessed the fish which might well be his last meal and thanked the gods. When he finished eating, fear of impending pain put him into a deep sleep.

A week later, Hakeem Sahib walked from the village to the man's house in the city to witness the miracle. He came to see the man who defied malakul maut - angle of death. A man that he had openly proclaimed dead was walking again. Men were now questioning Hakeem's judgement. 

'Where did you find it?' was the first that Hakeem Sahib asked the two boys and the man who had been given up for dead only a week ago.

'Find what?' They all asked.

'There was only one cure for the disease that this man had. And that was a 'Trath-lej Gaad', a fish that's been thunderstruck.'

The sons were still at loss. But on hearing this everything became clear to the man who had been saved by a thunderstruck fish found on a roadside boulder. He began to laugh and told Hakeem Shahib the story of his Kismet. Kismet for having two dutiful sons and for finding the rarest of rare fish - a Trath-lej Gaad.

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