(Translated by Nivedita Bhaskar)
Some people win jackpots, some others bankrupt casinos. Yet some others bump into famous film directors whilst waiting for the bus, and are ordered to report for shooting the next new moon day. Individuals are thus selected from the multitudes now and then, and attain fame in some way or the other. I, too, am amongst the lucky few, whom fame favoured. For a horse bit me.
“A horse!?”. Your surprised tones (which sadly, are perhaps tinged with disbelief too ?) don’t surprise me much. To remove all doubts, let me tell all, first about me and then about the horse. My name is Krishnaswamy. Untastefully shortening it , as is common nowadays, to Kicchaami. Try to imagine, Dear Readers, an individual worthy of such a name. Yes, that’s me. My appearance is probably not what you might call ‘inspiring’, and my work, most certainly isn’t what I would call inspiring. Someone who daily, unfailingly, drinks his coffee, reads his paper, folds his clothes , catches his bus and crawls inch by inch, a human ant. I am it. A wife, a child, a father-in-law, rented house, bathroom singing, potted plants with a couple of flowers define my life and help me lead it as a lusterless citizen of this country. All this, till the horse bit me !
Moving on to the horse, it, too is not very noteworthy, being one of those unfortunate carriage horses, which ferry travelers mad enough to risk riding them. Enroute to Ahmad stores from our house lies a hospital. And in front of the hospital, is the invaluable store which you always find in front of hospitals, which usefully sells tender coconuts and empty bottles and tap water. And opposite it, is a horsestand. If you are a careful observer, you must have surely noticed that every hospital has a horse stand in front of it. And in the vicinity, more often than not, there’s a water tank which generally claims to have been built in 1938 or 1939 with the aid of some generous local. The entire area can be identified by the unique, wafting stink of wet grass and horse dung. Cart drivers can be seen sitting and dreamily gazing into space. Generally sedate small ponies with an unfortunate tendency towards unexpected frenzied enthusiasm, form a major part of the horse population here. It was under similar settings that I met the horse which bit me.
While crossing the horse stand, to avoid getting into the state, which lies between visibly wet and uncomfortably moist, by the gentle rain that was falling, I walked under the trees and hence nearer to the tied horses, than I would normally undertake to. You’ll be hard pressed to find a more dirty, sorry, thin to the bone, ragged set of horses than this bunch. Most of them paid no heed to me, being busy in examining the wounds gifted to them by the whips of their masters. Deep in thought, I paid no heed to them either, until I felt a searing pain in the back of my palm. Turning around, I looked into the eyes of the horse which had just finished biting my hand . The beast sneered mockingly with its flabby lips, while my own hissed involuntarily in pain, as I searched in vain for someone in charge of this beastly animal. The only other two legged creature in the vicinity that I could spot was a small boy who looked lost to the world. I prudently stepped away from the horses to avoid another bite and examined my wound in the morning sunlight. There was a gentle but perfect impression of the horse’s palate on my inner hand.
The horse had by this time lost all interest in me . After peering at me for one short moment, as one does at a complete stranger, it thoughtfully returned to chewing something other than my hand. No other horse or man took any notice of me. I did my best and wagged a finger feelingly in the air at no one in particular, expunged two or three pained snorts and staggered back home trying to think antiseptic thoughts of a cleansing ritual of Dettol et al. My wife, sitting on the doorstep, clearly had no clue that her husband had been bitten by a horse.
“What! You are back so early. Was the store closed ?”
“No, enroute ..”
“What happened ? What’s that on your hand ?”
Women have this tendency to start conversing at the doorstep and remain rooted there, so you have to get them inside before they become involved too deeply with the subject.
“Why don’t you come inside ? I’ll tell you”
“Did you fall down again ?”
“No! You know the horse stand opposite the hospital, well, while walking past it, a horse bit me”
“Appa, will a horse ever bite ?”, this question at my entering father-in-law.
“Bite what ?”, he asked back very sensibly.
“Cha-cha” , the all-knowing elder shook his head deprecatingly.
“Well, it has bitten your son-in-law”
“What! This is very surprising indeed. What mapillai, did you tease it unnecessarily ?”
“No saar,it just grabbed my hand and took a bite while I was walking past it”
“Why do you go to horse stands, mapillai ? Kalyani, did you tell him to get a carriage ?”
“No! All I wanted was a matchbox for the stove from Ahmad stores. Why did you go to the horse stand !”
Fathers and daughters, I have noticed, say pretty much the same things.
“Aiyo! Teeth marks! Maybe it is poisonous, appa, take a look!”
My father-in-law obediently examined my hand and pronounced his wise opinion to the world, “Best to go to the doctor, Kalyani, why don’t you take him and go”.
He turned and looked at me.”Was it a carriage horse ?”
“Carriage horses don’t bite”, said the newly appointed veterinary doctor of the family thoughtfully.
“This one did, saar, what can I do ?” I have no excuses for my rising irritability except that the teeth marks were starting to look like an eyesore.
“Appa, anything can happen to him” my wife waved her hand dismissively.”Why, only a week ago, he almost drowned in the barely half full tank ..”
“Now, don’t start all that again”, I interrupted the flow testily.
And we started off to Dr Rao’s clinic, as I became engulfed in thought about the best way to convince him about the horse bite.
Narahari Rao is our family doctor, who, despite being sixty , still has a grand practice. For though it was in the morning, when we paid our visit to his clinic, the place was packed with bawling children, tired mothers, annoyed clerks and muffled up strangers whose faces I couldn’t see , all either tapping their feet impatiently or fanning themselves with a handkerchief. We could hear Rao saying “Say aaa” and see the shadowy patient’s jaw drop through the translucent glass door which separates the examining room and the waiting room. I had no place to sit and sorrily stood, clutching my hand. My wife pounced on the office boy when he next made his appearance.
“Look here paa, we need to see the doctor urgently”
“Madam, everyone wants to see the doctor urgently” The boy was clearly not as hapless as he looked.
“But you don’t understand. A horse bit him and he’s lost so much blood already. Look at how his hand is dripping” My wife could probably really see pools of blood on the floor.
“A horse , Kalyani ? I couldn’t hear properly”, an interested neighbour wanted to ascertain.
“Yes maami ! He’s gone and got himself bitten by, of all things, a horse! What can I do”, my wife sighed.
“Does he grow horses ?” My neighbour was a woman who wanted to get all the facts in.
“Then, why does he go near them at all”
The conversation was generating much needed excitement amongst the waiting people, who all looked me with keen interest. Even the babies were not bawling so much.
“Come in Kicchaami”. The doctor had come to my rescue. “Why are you going near horses and all, at this age, man!” he roared heartily.
My tale about the horse stand being between Ahmed stores and my house didn’t hold his attention for long. When asked it if was poisonous, he scratched his head and looked at my wife.
“Kalyani, to be honest, I don’t know maa. I have been practicing here in this clinic in the mill corner, for thirty years now. And this is the first time I have ever had a horse bite case”
“Oh, what can I do, Doctor ? He is born for accidents. Only last month, he said he will learn how to drive a scooter and bought one. And before even taking it out of the stand, he dropped it on himself and injured his leg. See, you can spot the bruises still!”
The doctor seemed more interested in my recent injury. “Does it hurt ? Well, let me at least cauterize the wound”
He lit the miniature spirit stove and rummaged through his cupboard of thick hardbound books .
“Horse.. Horse.. Horse” he muttered as he ran his finger up and down the index pages.
“Hm, there’s nothing here, even in the textbooks. Well, don’t worry. Go straight to the hospital and ask for Dr Gopi. He will know what to do. Here, let me cauterize first and then write you a letter to give to Gopi”
And for the remaining time, he chuckled gently to himself. “Horse bite. Hah”
While we were walking to the hospital, a cow ambled towards us, pleasantly munching a ragged baniyan.
“Don’t go near it! Maybe you’ll get yourself bitten by cows next” warned my wife. I decided to maintain a dignified silence.
In the hospital, we seated ourselves on the long bench and awaited the attention of Dr Gopinath. The bench was presumably for bites. On cautious enquiry, it turned out both my neighbours were bitten by dogs, as were their neighbours. Here and there, you could see a rat or a scorpion, but the dogs were a clear majority. The placid man at the desk who decided whom Dr Gopi would meet, greet and treat, was looking calmly at the list of bites, till he yelped out. “Horse! Who’s Kicchaami here, paa ?”
“I am Kicchaami” said I.
“It says Horse on your ticket mistakenly, saar. Can you please go and get it corrected?”
“No, t’was a horse that bit me”.
The man looked properly stunned, and several others on the long bench gaped at me, astonished. Coming to his senses, but still with his mouth open, the placid man, no longer so, hurried inside to confer with Dr Gopinath.
“Horse! Send him inside, first!”
“Ah, sit down,saar.Sit down. So you’re the horse man. Dr Rao just called me. Now, where did the horse bite you?”
“Do you know the horse stand in front of the hospital ? That was where it bit me”
“Who wants to know that ? Where in your body, did it bite you, saar ?”
I showed him my hand.
“Ah, so Dr Rao has cauterized it, what ? Hmm” and turned towards his cupboard of thick hard bound books and turned towards the index pages of a particularly malevolent fat volume.
“Nothing about horse bites there, Doctor” said my wife promptly.
“How do you know ?” asked the astonished doctor.
“Dr Rao already looked”
“Hmm, well Mr Kicchaami, let us do one thing. Since I’ve never dealt with a horse bite before, I’ll start you on a course right away, subcutaneously. Why risk it ?”
“Doctor, ..is his life in danger ?” My wife felt she ought to know.
“Chacha. Nothing to worry about. In any case, Mr Kicchaami, keep an eye on the horse for three days..you know, in case it dies or something. You do remember which horse bit you, yes ?”
“Um ..” I said doubtfully.
“Best to keep a watch on all the horses there, then” said Dr Gopi cheerfully.
“Why three days ?” asked Kalyani.
“I mean, what will happen if we watch it for three days”, my wife was puzzled about the duration.
“Oh ahh.. nothing. Just to make sure the horse doesn’t die and all that” and the doctor waved his hand and us, out.
The old longbenchers whispered furiously to the newcomers behind their curved palms covering their mouths and discreetly pointed at me, as we walked out of the hospital. My back could feel their stares, even after we had passed them. My alter ego wanted to turn around, storm back and demand “So what, if a horse bit me”, but the horse bite had sapped the energy out of it.
“Let us check how the horse is doing, before going home” suggested Kalyani. I was not very much for the idea, but the suggestion had turned into a command, so there was nothing else to be done except go back to the crime scene once again.
The horse stand was empty, except for the small boy of the morning, who was intently listening to the radio which was hiccuping popular tunes.
“Oi, where are all the horses, paa ?”
“All engaged, saar. Wait a bit, they’ll be back soon”
He inspected us carefully.
“So, how many horses are there in this stand?”. I was wondering how many horses would be there in the line up, when I had to identify mine.
“Why, saar ? Is there an election coming up ? Are you standing for the Horse sign? Do you want to go on an election campaign ? How many horses you need ?”
“Only one. It has a white patch on its forehead I think”
“Ah, Creamboy. It will come now, saar. Please wait”
“So it is still alive then ?”
The boy seemed puzzled by this.
“Of course it is, why ?”
“Nothing, just curiosity”, and we came back home.
The next day I met the horse and its owner when I was going to the hospital for my daily injection.
“What saami, you were enquiring about my Sultaan ?”
“Ah, yes. Is this horse alright ? He’s alive and well ?”
The horseman seemed touched my my queries.”Of course! Good quality horse, saami. Race horse, very healthy. Kyon Sultaan ?”
The horse neighed in agreement, looking like a gentle sheep and nothing like the murderous animal the day before, when it had nearly made me one handed.
“Well, as long as it is fine”
It became a daily routine to look up the horse and get myself punctured at the hospital. The placid man at the desk would yell out “Kudhuraikaarar” as soon as I arrived, the regular dogbites would then introduce me to their friends, relatives whose existence I had forgotten long back would call up and console Kalyani about her accident prone husband. In a couple of weeks, the wound healed and there was no trace of the horse bite on my hand, but my name had changed forever. I was now and forever “Kudhirai Kicchaami”
There is a Kicchaami in practically every street in Tiruchi, but the fact that the one and only Kudhirai Kicchaami is yours truly, gives me a little satisfaction.
Translated by Nivedita Bhaskar from the Tamil short story, Kudhirai by ‘Sujatha’ Rangarajan