Reciting ‘Duva’ and rubbing my face in the cup of my hands first thing in the morning when I get up from bed was my habit. But today, I could not feel my right hand. And, when I looked for it, it was lying cold and lifeless cut off from me in one corner of the bed. I could not make out how it happened. There wasn’t a trace of blood around. It was as cleanly sawn off as a log of Neem with a saw.
“O, you! My hand was cut off,” I shrieked in fright.
My wife came running into the bedroom.
“Oh, me! Is it was for the hand that you howled so loud? I was frightened like hell thinking it was something else. Good riddance! Put it safely in the almirah. We go to the doctor and get it attached when we can find time. Why are you scared for every such silly thing?” She left as fast as she came in.
Then I noticed. I was even more startled with fear. I noticed her left hand was missing. Yes, she was a southpaw. Whether to serve food, to take a glass of water, to scribble something in the notebook, or cleaning the room, and for that matter, even to beat our seven year old lad Chandu she employs only her left hand. Now, that all-important hand was missing.
“Forget about mine, when and how had she lost hers?”
I was really perplexed. I wanted to ask calling her back again, but refrained. For, she would snub me once more in her usual way calling me forgetful. That’s all. Other than that no worthwhile answer would I get.
So, I said my prayers with the left hand, and rubbing my face with it I got up from bed. I placed my right hand carefully next to my wife’s left hand in the almirah.
Finishing my ablutions quickly with the remaining hand, I dressed up, had my tiffin and with the lunch box hanging on to the arm stump, I darted off for office.
I saw my house owner coming from the other direction, with his two hands missing.
“Tut, the day! There was something terribly wrong somewhere today!” I cursed myself.
I wanted to ask him about his two hands. But, what if he had asked me in turn about my right hand? So, without uttering a word, I simply made a gesture that I was going to office and started the scooter.
Ha! Ha! I was able to drive the scooter with a single hand. Oh! How silly of me! In my hurry I did not notice it. It was not to my credit if I was driving with a single hand… the scooter itself was designed for a single hand drive. In fact, all the people on the road were driving their vehicles single-handed. The only difference being that if some of them were right-handed, others were left-handed. That’s all.
I was wondering how the world got crippled overnight.
There was a hospital on the way to my office. That was a very reputed hospital in the city. People were standing in long winding queue holding their amputated hands. Though there was a “No Parking” sign, I stopped my vehicle aside and asked them what the queue was for? Their answer blew me away. They were all people who lost their hands almost a year back. For the applications they filed then, they got appointment today.
“My goodness! At this rate, have I to wait for an year for my turn? What’s the alternative? So many people without hands in this country! I was under the impression that it was last night’s miracle. If one has to wait for one year for treatment, they get adapted to living with the lone hand by the time they get their turn. And if they get operated later, adopting to two hands poses a problem for them. That’s why most of them settle for living with one hand. It should not happen to me. Come what may, I must apply and get my turn as soon as possible,” I thought.
Leaving the vehicle in the ‘no parking’ zone, I hurried towards the application counter. There, the queue was even longer than the pilgrims’ in front of Lord of Tirupathi. There was at least a rumour that they were planning to reduce the waiting time for pilgrims starting few more queues. But here, there seemed no such planning. It was an unnerving spectacle. If I were to stand in that queue I would come out only after one week. People were attending to their personal care tasks there itself. Sensing the opportunity, hawkers and vendors were having a field day. They were demanding people to buy something or the other. They were swearing and calling them names if anybody did not agree. Sometimes, they were even thrusting goods in peoples’ hands and collecting money frisking the pockets. And if someone was still adamant, they were dragging him out of the queue.
“How come you don’t buy something once you stepped out of the house? Why did you, then, come on to the street?” They were shouting at the poor fellows in high pitch.
As of now, I was only missing one hand. If I were to stand here for some more time, I was not sure what other limbs I would be missing. It was already getting late to office. One would need enormous amount of vigour and pocketful of money besides one week leave to fight his way out in this queue. So I left the place and proceeded straight to office.
The security guard greeted me with his one hand. Greeting him back with a bow and parking the vehicle in the lot, I got into the lift and soon reached my floor. Everybody was seen working on their computers effortlessly with single hand. “Can I do as they do?” I doubted. Keeping the lunch-box aside, I switched on the computer easing in my chair. Hurrah! I did not feel any handicap working with single hand. My left hand was working like a seasoned hand with effortless ease. It was able to negotiate with the key-board and mouse simultaneously. Everything looked fine. The only matter of regret was nobody seemed to notice that I had lost one hand. That really hurt me.
I asked my colleague next to me.
“Till yesterday, every one of you had two hands each. What happened to one of those two all of a suddenly today?”
He laughed rather laconically.
“You are a fool! It was long since all of us had lost our hands. Because you were having your two, you never noticed it.”
He was right. That’s the way of the world. Only when we miss something, we notice if others have it. If we possess everything, we take little notice of others. For all these days, I took him lightly because he was my colleague. Such a great philosophy he said in so few words! Anyway, I was better disposed of compared to these people, for I could preserve my two hands intact this long. I felt a ripple of pride passing through my veins.
Suddenly remembering about the leave I had to take, I entered the chamber of my boss. He was operating the computer with his feet. I did not notice when he had lost them, but his both hands were missing!
After looking at him, for a second, I felt it was not meet for me to ask for leave. But then, realizing I had no other way, I asked,
“Sir! I need leave for one week. I have to submit application for getting my hand reattached.”
That I seemed worse than a ninny to him was clear from his looks.
“If I could find that time, I would jolly well have got my hands reattached long ago. Just for the lack of it, I could not even apply for that so far. If every one of you goes on leave for getting your hands reattached, I have to shut down my business. Tell me, what extra purpose that bloody hand is going to serve you? Get lost and get on with your business.” He said.
True. That was corporate culture. Employees should learn to working unruffled, even while their limbs fall off one after another. Because I lost my hand, I was noticing people missing their hands. If I were to lose my head, perhaps, I would be knowing how many headless people were there.
I sank into my seat after that dressing down from my boss. When I looked at my watch, it was already getting 1 O’clock. The wolf in my stomach was growling. I crazy thought passed across my mind … how nice it would be if hunger was also short of a hand and a leg; then, this struggle for appeasing hunger would have mitigated by half. I walked out to the canteen and searched for a corner spot and settled there. Before I could open my lunch box Sarayu, my friend from HR came running to me with a box of sweets.
She announced ‘good news’ and without waiting for my response, pushed a laddu into my mouth. Biting it into half and holding one half in my palm, I gestured ‘what news?’ with my eyes, still munching the other half in my mouth.
“Yesterday, my baby, my darling, apple of my eye… had forgiven me heartily,” she declared with palpable effervescent pleasure.
“Is it? Forgave you heartily? Come on, how could you be so sure about that?” I expressed my doubt.
Putting the sweet box on the adjacent table and flaunting her two hands to me she cooed…”taattadaaaam…”
They were so perfect. I was bored to death seeing handless people since morning. I examined keenly if they were not reattached. But, no. They were perfectly natural… like the plumes of a royal Swan. They were a treat to watch.
She excused herself to offer sweets to somebody else. Suddenly it struck me why I lost my hand the previous night. Unable to overcome my grief, I broke down and sobbed…
“Chandu, my darling! Can you forgive me for raising my hand against you?”
Arm Stump – Vempalle Sheriff in Indian Literature
Telugu Original: Omti Cheyyi
Author: Vempalli Shariff