It was seven in the evening.
As soon as the tear-gas shells began to burst at the top of the road Dr Das hastily closed the doors of his dispensary.
His compounder Nabin gave him a hand.
We shouldn’t have opened the dispensary at all in the evening, Nabin said, his voice trembling with regret.
It was you who said there not to worry, nothing will happen – else I would never have opened it.
I never said nothing will happen, Nabin protested. All I said was, not to worry. We needn’t have closed now either – even if there’s trouble up the street, why should we be afraid? After a glance at Nabin’s strong, young face, Dr Das gulped. Never mind, what’s the point, we won’t get patients this evening.
I’m not suggesting we keep it open. It was a good idea to close the dispensary.
Nabin appeared quite pleased. He was happy at having got the rest of the evening off because of the explosions of teargas shells and bullets. Who knows what they’re made of, wondered Dr Das, or what runs in their blood!
Nabin enquired, may I leave then doctor?
No one knew what terrible things were taking place just up the street, and here this youngster was desperate to abandon the safe haven of the dispensary! As though something very entertaining was in store, something he would miss if he were to be late.
Would a medical examination reveal the strange constituents of their blood?
Can you let them know at my home, Nabin? They shouldn’t worry if I’m late, or even if I don’t return. Tell them I’m here, going over the accounts.
If I’m late, or even if I don’t return! Nabin was dumbfounded. Imagine a doctor –who must have taken knives and needles and saws to people on hundreds of occasions, seen blood being shed all the time, watched countless people die, maybe even killed a few because of incorrect treatment – in such terror. He wouldn’t leave till the trouble had died down, even spend the night here if needs be.
Dr Das lived in the same neighbourhood, in a house inside a lane. After Nabin had left, he opened the thick accounts register in his locked dispensary and wondered when things would quieten down. He would go home as soon as it became clear that the rioting had ended.
Of course, his house was so near that he could even try slipping out and sneaking home. But why take a risk?
Less than half an hour had passed. Engrossed in the profit and loss accounts of his dispensary, Dr Das started in surprise at the pounding on his locked door.
He was partially reassured by Nabin’s voice: open the door, Dr Das.
Still his hands and legs trembled. Had the riots spread this way? Had Nabin returned to the protection of the dispensary because things were worsening? The situation must be very grim for Nabin to have run away.
Six of them had brought in the bleeding body.
Between the boys and men, six of them – all from the neighbourhood.
They were slightly injured too. Blood was oozing from wounds on three or four of them.
Nabin’s shirt had been sparkling white when he had left, now the left shoulder and sleeve were dripping crimson. Was the blood his own, or had it come from the victim whom he had helped carry?
The person who best knew the fourteen-year-old carried into the dispensary by familiar faces was Dr Das himself.
They were accompanied by old man Shibshankar, who said, since you’re a doctor yourself I thought it best not to send your son to the hospital with the others. He’s been injured badly, who knows what might happen if the officers catch sight of him on the way to the hospital.
They had laid him out on the bench. After a single glance and a quick examination of the boy’s pulse, Dr Das said, very clever. You incite the boy and get him injured, then hold me responsible for his death.
You mustn’t lose your head now, my boy, said Shibshankar. Do you think your son got injured on anyone’s advice? You cannot lose control as a doctor. At least try to save your son, of course there’s nothing to do if he doesn’t survive.
Come this way, let me examine each of you one by one, said Dr Das. Can you take off your shirt without help, Nabin?
Nabin shook his head.
No, I can’t move my arm.
Attend to your own son first, my boy, pleaded a distraught Shibshankar. Is this a time for anger? Everyone’s become involved – why blame him alone! I saw it all from my upstairs balcony – never seen anything like this in my life, I can tell you.
Dr Das neither paid any attention to Shibshankar, nor gave his son even a single glance.
Gathering cotton wool, medicine and other equipment quickly, he started with first-aid for Ganesh, the youngest of them all.
Aren’t you even going to examine him, Shibshankar practically howled. He’ll die if you leave it till too late.
Die? He’s dead already. Everyone looked bewildered.
Dead already, said an overwhelmed Shibshankar. He was alive when we were bringing him here, how can he dead?
He died on the way. Didn’t you see me examine him?
After a long silence, Shibshankar asked, then why is the blood still oozing from his body?
Swiftly bandaging Ganesh’s wound with great concentration, Dr Das replied, blood oozes for some time even after death.