“I don’t give a shit what happens. I want you all to stonewall it….”
—Richard M. Nixon on the Watergate investigation
1) The Phone Call—Work Interrupted
One cold, sunny November morning in Kathmandu, my phone rang around eleven o’ clock. I welcomed this interruption, since, as usual, I had been unsuccessful in getting any work done. It was Mira, what we Nepalis call my “cousin sister”, daughter of my mother’s sister. She was crying rather hysterically as she blurted out, “Father has been shot. He’s been taken to the
“Shot where?” I asked, startled out of my lethargy.
“In the leg, I think.”
Before I could ask any more questions, she hung up, still sobbing.
2) The Hospital(s)
I told my Mother what happened as I prepared to leave. She was busy performing a special puja with our pundit. She wanted to know more, but I told her I only knew what Mira had just told me and that I was on my way to the hospital to find out more.
It took me half an hour on my motorcycle to reach the King Birendra Military Hospital, which is located just below the hill crowned by the famous Swyambhu stupa on the western rim of Kathmandu city.
Given the “mau-mauing” of the Nepali Maoists, there was heavy security at the entrance of the military hospital. Affable, even respectful, military underlings carried guns with slim, sleek, sinister-looking barrels pointing at me; they signal me to stop.
“Your business, Sir?”
“My Uncle was brought here. He was shot in the leg, I believe.”
“Is he with the military?”
“No, a civilian…there was a shooting incident yesterday in the Godavari area, and he was perhaps caught in the crossfire…we received word that he was brought here…” I hesitate because I myself don’t know the details. “Please wait.” He confers with two-three other guards who are directing traffic of vehicles and humans in and out of the hospital perimeter. To those who appear poor and powerless, they are brusque and rude, ordering them to leave the area, or else…and the sleek snouts of the guns bob menacingly. But I am well-dressed and appear to be someone who may have powerful connections, so the underlings are cautious, unctuous.
The guard in command asks me a few more questions and informs me that only military people are brought to this hospital. He hesitates, and I say with all the authority I can muster, “As I said, I was informed by certain authorities that he was brought here.”
He waves me in.
In the dusty, airy, cold lobby, people are milling about trying to get information. I ask a man wearing an army-green jacket if he knows where a wounded man brought in last night would be kept.
“Emergency, right over there,” he says and raises his right eyebrow to indicate the direction, kitty-corner from where we are. But there is no patient in the emergency room, just a few medical types in white coats and smocks. When I ask about my Uncle, they direct me to the “Trauma Center.”
It takes me a while to find the Trauma Center as I navigate my way through the connecting gray-cement corridors and hallways, chilly and dark. But there is no patient at the Trauma Center either. A female nurse and a male assistant assure me that no one has been brought there in the past 24 hours, certainly not a civilian male and absolutely no one with a leg wound.
“Did you look in Emergency?” the nurse asks.
“Yes, in fact they told me to come here.”
“Well, as you can see, no one is here.”
“Perhaps he was taken to the [King] Birendra Police Hospital,” the male assistant offers casually. “Oh, you mean there is also a BPH?” I ask feeling foolish. This is what happens when one lives abroad for too long; one is a stranger in one’s home.
“Yes, in Maharajgunj. If the police were involved in the incident, that’s where he’d be taken.” I thank him and head north towards Maharajgung.
At the entrance of the BPH [BPH], the guns appear quite ancient, and thus less menacing; the guards more deferential and friendlier.
“Yes Sir?” a young guard inquires politely.
“My Uncle was brought here. He was shot in the leg during an incident last night in Godavari area.”
“Is he a member of the police force?”
“No, a civilian, but I was told that he may have had been an unintended victim.”
“Leg wound, is it? Yes, he was referred to the Teaching Hospital.”
“Oh, so he was brought here?”
“Yes, Sir, last night, but he was sent to the Teaching Hospital. Someone else came to ask about him just a few minutes earlier, a young lady, quite fair, with a round face.”
“That was my sister, my Uncle’s daughter.”
“She’s gone to the Teaching Hospital.”
“Not at all, Sir. It’s our duty.”
Fortunately, the Teaching Hospital is just a few minutes from the Police Hospital. Having had been here before, I head directly for the Emergency ward. An old man in a green military-style uniform is guarding the entrance. I tell him I’m here to see my Uncle who was brought here with a bullet wound in the leg last night. I stride past him and into the busy, crowded room. There is a tiny reception area where doctors and nurses are busy doing paperwork, picking up and discarding medical materials, and patients in various stages of medical distress on beds, some whose faces are distorted with pain. Some of the patients are fed intravenously, while others suck on plastic masks attached to ancient, rusty oxygen tanks by their bedside.
“I’m here to see my Uncle. He was brought here from the BPH last night. He was shot in the leg, I believe,” I say to a white-coated, bespectacled man behind the reception center. He is examining a chart and barely looks at me as he says, “We have no one here with a bullet wound in the leg.”
“That’s what the police told me at the hospital, that he was referred to this hospital last night.”
“Did you say bullet wound? Is that him?” a nurse inquires and points to a man all hunched up fetus-like on a bed nearby. He has tiny red blood sores all over his face, but he’s not my Uncle. I catch his gaze briefly, and I wince inwardly. I feel as if he’s in terrible pain, but he’s bearing it silently. The rough, meager clothes on his body indicate his poverty.
“That’s not him.”
“He’s the only case of a bullet wound we have. Take a look around and see if you can find your man,” the doctor offers, barely taking his eyes off his paperwork.
“But there is no other case of the kind you just described,” the nurse interjects.
I ignore her and look around the dozen beds, most of them occupied, crowded with family members and cluttered with the medical paraphernalia. He’s not here either.
“What’s his name?” the nurse asks, as I stand there, uncertain what to do next. “Badri Basnet.”
She scans the admission register. “No one by that name has been admitted here in the past twenty-four hours. In fact, there is no patient with the last name of ‘Basnet’ at all.”
I thank her and walk out into the sunny parking lot, where I run into a young female doctor. I think she’s the sister of one of my acquaintances, but I’m not sure. She however smiles and greets me and asks what I’m doing here. Have I brought a patient, perhaps?
I give her the “bullet wound” story and tell her that my check of the emergency ward has come up empty. She’s free at the moment and will help me, she says. I gratefully accept her offer. Her name is Durga.
Another check of the Emergency ward, even as Durga converses with her colleagues, one of them thrusts the admission register and tells me to look at it myself. There is no “Basnet” listed. Durga then takes me to the hospital’s Central Admissions and Records department. Once more, we go behind the counter and check the names of all the patients who have been admitted into the hospital in the past 24 hours—but his name is not there.
“I’m sorry, but it seems he was not brought here. Perhaps he was taken to another hospital,” the Doctor says.
“It’s possible, except that the guard at BPH told me very confidently that he was brought here, to the Teaching Hospital, and this is the only one I know.”
“Well, there is a teaching hospital also in the Godavari area, I believe. Perhaps he was taken there, since it would be much closer to take him there than bring him to Kathmandu.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right.”
We walk out once more into the warm sunshine, where I run into my sister Mira.
Her make-up is streaked with tears, her face slightly bloated.
“Have you found him?” I ask.
“Yes and no. He’s at the Police hospital, only they’re not admitting that he’s there. It’s a police case, so they’re not saying anything.”
“I’ve been all over…”
“So have I,” Mira says. “The military hospital, then the police one, and then here, and then I went back there, and one of the guards sort of admitted that my father had been brought there last night. I’m certain he’s there. I came here to make a final check…I’m going to call my husband now. We’re going to have to use his connections.” Her husband’s uncle was until recently the Inspector General of Police (IGP). She goes to a nearby pharmacy to call her husband. We’ve done what we can. Now it’s time to use what we Nepalis call “source-force,” i.e., asking favors from the right people in the right places at the right time.
After Mira’s husband arrives, we return to the BPH. Once again we are stopped at the main gate. The same young guard greets us. He appears quite friendly and helpful, and we slyly slip inside the parted iron gates and enter the compound of the hospital.
I say, “He’s not there at the Teaching Hospital. We checked everywhere, including the admission registers. We’d like to go in and—”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but you can’t go in. You must receive permission. Besides, I assure you that he’s at Teaching. You see, this is only for police personnel.”
Mira suddenly explodes, “But I saw my father’s name in your guest register, right there inside the guard house.” She points to a single cell-like room attached to the entrance.
“Oh, you saw your father’s name?” I ask, surprised, and slightly annoyed that she didn’t tell me before.
“Yes, I looked at it the first time I came.”
“What’s going on here?” a stern-looking older police guard asks of us, as we have managed to enter the compound. He appears to be the head of the guards.
“These people claim that their man, a civilian, is in our hospital and want to see him.”
“Do they have permission?”
“Well, then, they can’t go in.”
I ask the head guard, “Who will give me permission to go inside?”
“The duty officer.”
“And where is he?”
“Well, then, I’ll go in, meet him and get his permission.”
“No, you can’t go in. We’ll call him.” The head guard turns to the younger underling and barks, “Phone the duty officer and tell him about the people here.”
The underling goes inside the guard house and calls, and, of course, the line is busy. We tell him to try again. Meanwhile, the head guard wants details. We give him my Uncle’s name, occupation (Officer of His Majesty’s Government, Department of Cottage Industry, Godavari, etc.) and the leg-wound story all over again. He nods his head perfunctorily and mutters, “He’s not here. Only police personnel can use this hospital.”
“Duty office on the line, Sir,” the underling says and hands the phone to the head guard, who mutters and nods his head and hangs up. “Duty officer will be here soon.”
We wait ten minutes, twenty, forty minutes—but no duty officer. “Where’s the duty officer?” I finally ask, trying to contain my exasperation. The head guard nods to the underling, who picks up the phone. The line is busy. “I’m sure he’ll be here soon, Sir. He’s very busy inside, you know… These days…” The underling is trying to he helpful, and I feel sorry for him.
He’ll forever remain an underling, I feel, because he has a sympathetic, compassionate streak in him, a liability in a profession that demands a readiness to intimidate and oppress those below you and fawn upon those above.
Suddenly, connection has been made again, and before the phone is passed to the head guard, I intercept. “If you don’t mind, I’ll talk to him,” I say this as politely as possible. I cannot alienate the head guard, since he’s the authority figure at the entrance; however, if his superior, the duty officer, asks me to come in, then he too will become submissive. So far, he’s been abrupt with us. The head guard shrugs as I answer the phone.
“Is this the duty officer speaking?” I ask
“Who are you?” the voice is demanding, no-nonsense, assured.
“I’m here to see my Uncle who was brought here last night.”
“What did you say his name was?”
“Mr. Badri Basnet.”
“And what happened to him?”
“Well, Officer, as far as I know he was shot in the leg last night; he was probably caught in a crossfire…”
“And where did this incident take place?” he interrupts, and I’m beginning to feel irritated, but I tell myself not to become rude to him. If he doesn’t give us permission, then we won’t be able to go in.
“As far as I know, Officer, somewhere in the Godavari area.”
“And your name?” he asks impatiently.
“My name?” I ask, puzzled, and for the first time, I tell myself to be wary.
The focus has shifted from my Uncle toward me, and this is not a good sign.
I tell him.
I can’t contain my caution anymore. I demand, “And may I know your name, Officer?”
“That is not important. Besides, this man you are looking for is not here.”
“But he is! His name is recorded in your register, here at the gate. So how can you say he’s not inside?”
“Please hand the phone over to the guard.”
“May we come in then?” I persist.
“Your patient is not here. Now, please, give the phone…” I hand the phone to the underling, and as he listens, his face began to wilt.
He is getting a dressing down. He hangs up and smiles ruefully at us and says, “Sorry, Sir, you can’t go in.”
Mira begins to cry again as we turn our backs on the iron gate. Her husband sets his jaw and says with fervor, “I’m going to talk to my Uncle. I’m certain we’ll be able see your father after my Uncle talks to the right people. Let me handle this now.”
At home, my Aunt has arrived from the provincial town where she lives. I tell her that we were unable to see her husband, and so we don’t know about the exact nature of his condition. She too has been crying, but tries to put up a brave front, even as she remarks resignedly, “It’s up to God now, may His will be done.”
We have a brainstorm and think of all the people we know in the police, police, army, the bureaucracy, and all the doctors that we might remotely know. Meanwhile, the word seems to have spread that my Uncle has been wounded and is in the hospital. A friend calls and offers to help, especially since his cousin is a government undercover agent. I ask him to find out all he can about the incident and to call me back. My Mother herself declares that she knows the wife of the current Inspector General of the Police and perhaps we should call her if absolutely necessary. Calling him right away poses a small problem. The IGP himself had suffered from a heart attack very recently and had been admitted to the hospital, so we feel this may not be the appropriate moment to ask favor from the IGP’s wife. Suddenly my wife, KC, recalls that she works with the brother of the IGP’s wife and calls him to find out about the IGP’s state of health; the response is that the IGP’s been advised complete bed rest and is recuperating at home. We reluctantly conclude that the IGP’s wife should not be disturbed. But the IGP’s brother-in-law has a tip for us. He knows a doctor or two who are affiliated with the police hospital. And these two doctors are someone I myself know because we attended the same Jesuit school. I know one of them quite well. We get their phone numbers and call. One of them is out of town and the other I am unable to reach personally. I leave my number and ask his assistant to tell him to call me back.
5) Feedback and Phone Calls
Mira’s husband calls. There is confidence, if now a touch of swagger, in his voice. “I’ve found someone who will take me inside the hospital tomorrow. But don’t talk about this with anyone. By tomorrow, we’ll get him out. At least we will know what his condition is.” I inform him that my friend’s cousin, the Secret Agent, is also looking into this “Situation.” He is suddenly perturbed. “No, please, not a word of this to anyone anymore. The fewer people know about it, fewer the problems. So, please thank him, but tell the Secret Agent to stop snooping about. He could jeopardize our chances.”
Sure enough, a little later, my friend with the Secret Agent connection calls back with some “background” information regarding the Situation. He begins reluctantly, but bluntly: “Does your Uncle drink?”
I confess, yes, he has now been abusing alcohol for the past few years, which has been a source of tremendous “tension” (our word for the all-American “stress”) in his family.
“Well, your Uncle apparently is a well-known man in Godavari. From what my friend told me—and this is only for your information, so don’t talk about it to others—your Uncle likes to drink in the evening. After his dinner—and drinks—he had gone for a walk. There was an informal curfew in town; the armed police were patrolling. He was asked to stop, but instead he began to run, so they began to shoot…it’s very dangerous these days, you know. He shouldn’t have run. And even though he’s a government officer, he is now under suspicion as a Maoist or a sympathizer. It’s a political case now, so the police is not releasing any information. This is all I could find so far. I will call you back once I find out more.”
“No, no, don’t do that. Tell your secret agent cousin to stop. My Uncle’s son-in-law has found someone who will take him to the hospital tomorrow. His Uncle was a former IGP himself, so we’re using his source-force. Don’t do anything more, otherwise it could ruin things for us. Thanks for all your help, but for now, tell your cousin to not do anything, okay?”
“You sure? After all, he’s a government agent; he will know things that not even an ex- or current IGP knows…” My friend is a little deflated, perhaps peeved, that we’re turning down such a vital source of information, but we’re betting on the ex-IGP.
Next morning, we anxiously wait for the report from the Son-in-law, but it’s nearly noon, and he hasn’t called. We attribute it to red-tape at the hospital and cultivate our patience. Meanwhile, we get a few calls from friends and relatives who live in my Uncle’s home province. Apparently local newspapers have flashed the news that he has been shot and incarcerated in the police hospital. They want to know what’s really going on and we tell them the truth—that we just don’t know, but are trying to find out the truth ourselves. And what did the papers say, we want to know? Nothing much, except that my Uncle had been named as one of the victims of police firing, and that he had been wounded in the back, etc.
“In the back?” I ask. This was news to us. We thought it was his leg. “What else?”
“Not much,” a caller says, “and, um…ahem…something about how he might have had a drink or two, you know…”
I hang up.
My Mother and her sister now worry whether the “whole world” knows if my Uncle is a “drunkard and a Maoist.” My Aunt begins to hiccup and sob at the same time. My Mother fumes about how relatives are the first ones to rub the family’s nose in the mud. Thankfully, the phone rings. It’s the Son-in-law. His voice has lost its swagger and sounds sheepish.
“We almost made it—but just as we were about enter his ward, we were stopped by a senior police officer who insisted that we must have clearance from higher authority before we could see him.”
“So you did manage to get inside the hospital building?” I inquire.
“Yes, my friend, who is a Sub-Inspector, took me. We almost got to Father’s [my Uncle] bed, but this police man, of higher rank than my friend stopped us…but I did find out that Father in not in danger. He was hit in the arm, not in the leg.”
“Oh, he was shot in the arm? So what next? Should I contact the Secret Agent again?”
“Yes, I suppose we should.”
6) Higher Source-Power Force
I inform Mother and Aunt of Son-in-law’s failure. Mother has had enough! She has a brilliant flash of inspiration. She had completely forgotten a cousin whose brother is now a member of the parliament (MP), if not a minister. It was time to forget the riff-raff and contact those who could make a real difference.
She dials the number and is relieved that she is instantly recognized by the, literally, distant cousin whom my Mother has not seen since the cousin was a blushing bride so many moons ago. Mother narrates the entire story of the Situation in a somber voice, adding that Uncle has been shot in “the leg, arm, back, and God knows where else. If your brother doesn’t help, dear, we may not even see his corpse. We’ve been everywhere, even the IGP himself. I’m a good friend of his wife’s you know,” Mother lies smoothly, “but, poor dear, her husband himself is recovering from a heart attack and it’s not the best time to disturb him, naturally. And with all Maoist and security stuff, not one tells us anything. We know for sure he’s in the police hospital, but they refuse to admit he’s in there. Can I count on you, dear?”
The Cousin says she’ll immediately call her brother, who turns out to be the assistant Home Minister, the very department that is concerned with internal security, and call us back.
Which she does—and the news is encouraging. The (assistant) Minister himself would call us back after making inquiries, and he was looking into this matter right now. So we should expect a call from the Minister soon. My Mother invites the cousin for lunch soon, and not to be such a “stranger. After all, “we are sisters, not just cousins, you know.” Mother triumphantly hangs up the phone. I haven’t the heart to contact the Secret Agent.
7) Light at the End of the Tunnel
We’re all surprised—and grateful—when the Minister himself does call back. Everything is in order, he states authoritatively. He has spoken to the IGP himself, the department chief of the Cottage Industry, as well as to all the other relevant (higher) authorities. Our Uncle will be released tomorrow. We were to go the hospital sometime around noon to process the paperwork, which will be brought by by Uncle’s boos in Godavari. The Minister adds apologetically that the current situation in the country has forced the government to be more strict. He also receives an open invitation to lunch or dinner.
“Well, I suppose it’s all settled then,” Mother says, facing us. Her sister has begun to cry with relief. My Mother trots out a Nepali saying to emphasize her effectiveness in dealing with this Situation: “The goldsmith taps a hundred times, the blacksmith just once. And in these violent times, one must dispense with the delicacy of a goldsmith but and court the brutal force of a blacksmith. We must fight fire with fire….”
8) Release & Relief
The next morning at eleven Mira and her husband depart for the hospital to meet my Uncle’s boss at the hospital with all the relevant official documents. I go off to work, after nearly 72 hours of being on the trail of the Situation.
I call around two in the afternoon to find out if Uncle is home, but there is gloom at the other end of the line. Mother says Mira and her husband are waiting for my Uncle’s boss to show up, and that he is expected to be at the hospital by around 3 p.m. I say I will call back again around four. But at four, there has been no word, and neither at five. Mother sounds worried. Were the security authorities stonewalling the Minister too, she wonders? Or is the Minister himself just trying to soother us with sweet but empty words. “After all, he’s merely an assistant minister. He could be bluffing us too.” I mumble about red-tape and other bureaucratic obstructions, especially given that it is a police case, etc. When the silence persists until six in the evening, KC and I head for the hospital.
We are stopped at the entrance again by four armed guards. But that familiar face of that young, sympathetic guard is missing. It is now dark and cold. The new guards don’t know about our Situation. We go over the story again. They call the hospital—and the response from inside is that there is no one by that name at the hospital!
“But that is impossible!” I blurt out, more in surprise than anger. “We were told by the Minister of the Home Ministry himself that my Uncle is going to be released today. Do you know if anyone has been released in the recent hour, someone with bullet wounds in his body?” I persist.
“We don’t know, Sir. We just began our duty. At six, there was a change of guard.”
“Can you ask the duty officer inside if our Uncle, Mr. Basnet, has been released or if he is still inside? My Uncle’s daughter and her husband are inside, as well as the head of the Department of Cottage Industry. My Uncle is a government officer.”
“Please, just call the duty officer. He knows what I’m talking about.”
The guard calls again, and says impassively, “Sir, no one by that name is in the hospital.”
“We better go,” KC says, “they’re playing the same game again. We won’t get anything out of them.”
From a shop nearby, we call home.
“They just came home,” my Mother says.
“Oh, they did? When?”
“Just now. That stupid boss did not arrive until nearly five o’clock…anyway, he’s home.”
“Is he okay?”
“He seems to be. Come home and we’ll talk about it.”
He is lying in bed, pale, unshaven, fragile—and looking much older than the last time I saw him, which was perhaps six or seven years ago, at a time when he did not drink and was considered a model husband, father, son-in-law. Then, somehow and for reasons known only to himself or his wife and children (two daughters), he took to drink. And despite my Mom’s lament that now the “whole world” will know that her sister’s husband is a drunk, it’s actually been an open secret, certainly in his home province.
When I ask him how he’s doing, Uncle mumbles he’s “okay”. I haven’t the heart to ask him about the details of the Situation, for I’m certain he will lie. I believe what the Secret Agent told us, that he was shot when he began to run instead of stopping when ordered to do so by the armed police. And that he was drunk when it happened. I know he already feels humiliated that he has to seek refuge in his wife’s elder sister’s home. During the four months he was in Godavari, a mere 12 km. away from Kathmandu and well served by public transport, he never visited us; in fact, he never even called us. And here he is now, in our home, totally at our mercy, if you will—and I feel certain he resents it all, but there is nothing he can do.
I ask the Son-in-law if he was given any medical reports at BPH.
“No, they gave us nothing. In a police case, medical reports are not given to the patient’s family.”
“Have you looked at his wounds? Where was he hit?”
He squirms. I drop the subject. My Aunt says, “He’s been hit in the front and back, but he was hit by pellets, not actual bullets.”
My wife’s friend, Indira, calls. She’s a doctor. She inquires about my Uncle. We tell her what we sort of know. Indira is alarmed. She urges us to take him immediately to the Teaching Hospital’s emergency room for a check-up. After all, it’s not that late, only around eight at night. I ask Uncle if he wants to go to the hospital for a check-up. He says it’s not necessary. “We can go tomorrow.” The doctor hangs up, and calls back a few minutes later. She says she had spoken to the doctor in charge of the emergency ward and he too had urged that my Uncle be brought immediately to be checked. There had been previous cases where physically, the patient had looked fine, but the internal damage had not been detected until x-ray had been taken, but by then it was too late, and some of the patients had died.
We carefully place my Uncle in my beat-up VW beetle and pick up Indira on the way and drive to the Teaching Hospital. He has great difficulty walking. It appears to me that he must be in pain, but he doesn’t show it. The emergency ward is busy as ever. Since it is a cold winter night, caretakers and guardians who have accompanied the patients are already preparing to sleep in the halls and corridors in the vicinity of the emergency room. Since Indira personally knows all the doctors and nurses, my Uncle receives attention immediately. He is taken to a bed, curtained off from the viewers, and examined. I haven’t the heart to go in and check, but I’m called in anyway. It is not a pretty sight. As bandages are unwrapped and gauzes removed, bluish and reddish bruises and pellet holes in the body become distinct. The skin is loose around the holes where the pellets penetrated. He has been hit in several places all over the chest and back. The attending doctor concludes that least he had received proper medical care at BPH, but he can’t say anything more until he looks at x-rays. Four are recommended immediately. Meanwhile, he has to attend to an emergency surgery in a few minutes. Someone has been brought in with a ‘broken’ penis. Despite the gravity of our situation, we cannot help but laugh. According to the doctor, this ‘broken’ male member is a common occurrence, some requiring immediate attention. It ‘breaks’ when the man loses control during the peak of his excitement and thrusts just a touch too hard. He instructs our doctor friend to bring the x-rays in his surgery room once they are ready.
After the x-rays, an ultrasound is ordered, and then urine test “just to be sure.” We cannot enter the surgery room, so Indira takes the x-rays, the results of the urine test and the ultrasound to the surgeon who, all the while, is trying to mend a bent male member. It’s nearly three in the morning. We’ve been at the hospital for nearly six hours. And things have been hurried up and smoothed over because of Indira’s presence, otherwise, we’d perhaps still be waiting to have the x-rays done.
The emergency doctor/surgeon finally declares his verdict. Nothing life threatening, but he thinks a minor surgery may have to be performed to remove some pellets that appear to be close to some vital organs, which may cause problems if not removed. But to be absolutely sure, he suggests we bring my Uncle back a day later so a senior surgeon can examine him.
We drive back in the frigid, foggy night through the deserted streets of Kathmandu. There are no check-points anymore, not even by the Prime Minister’s residence, which earlier, when we were on our way to the hospital, had a truck-full of army men menacing drivers of vehicles with their sullen, inquisitive expressions and those sinister-looking guns. But at three a.m., not even a stray dog barks at our vehicle.
10) The End
My Uncle did not require any surgery after all. He was told that the pellets inside him would be “absorbed.” The senior surgeon who examined him a day later said that the pellets inside his body were “like mustard seeds hidden inside a lump of earth.” He was advised rest and to have his wounds dressed everyday, and if no infection set in, to dress the wounds every other day. The bruises on his body suggested that he had probably been beaten too, the surgeon whispered to me, and warned my Uncle that under no circumstances was he to drink, otherwise the wounds would not heal and would in fact complicate matters medically. Throughout the three weeks he recuperated at our home, my Uncle remained impassive; he would not even flinch when his wounds were dressed.
My Aunt and Uncle flew home when the doctor declared him fit for travel. I went to Godavari to pick up his paycheck from his boss, who told me my Uncle was a very nice man and a hard worker, but that his love of booze ruined everything. Half of his meager paycheck was spent on paying his landlord, who was owed two months’ rent, and a local restaurant where he took his meals, and where he had run up a month’s bill. The staff of the restaurant spoke fondly of him too. Even though he drank, they claimed he never caused trouble. His landlord and family, however, especially the women, were quite afraid of him. They said they seldom saw him. He woke up at five in the morning and went out, and returned late at night, and sometimes, when he perhaps had an extra glass or twoo, he sang, danced or shouted at no one in particularly from the balcony in front of his damp, one-room abode. But they wished him well.
And so do we all.
“Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.”
About Henry Ronin:
Henry Ronin is a Nepali writer who returned to Kathmandu after many years abroad.
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