by Pushpa Raghuram
A couple of months ago I met with an accident, which cut my left foot very badly. It happened within the blink of an eye. I saw my injured foot dripping blood. People who witnessed the accident wanted to take me to the nearest hospital. But I insisted on calling my family doctor, and going to his clinic. His expert eyes assessed the injury and I was allowed to go out of the clinic only after he had put sixteen stitches on the injured left foot. A stitch in time saves nine. I needed ‘sixteen’ on time to save my foot. Not only that. I was under house arrest, as per his advice, for the next six weeks. The forced home stay brought to my mind what I had undergone almost two decades ago and again a few years before.
“Like my sons, my daughters too, should stand on their own legs”, was my father’s mantra. As a young girl, I did not pay much attention to his mantras. He had many. My father also ensured that we stood on our own legs. As I grew a little older I understood what he meant, nevertheless I did not deem it important.
After a decade or so, I was doing my postgraduate Training in the field of Library Science. During my training period, I once visited the library of UTC (United Theological College), which was managed by an elderly German lady. I sought her in her office. It was very modest with just a chair and a table. As I introduced myself to her, she got up from her chair and offered me the seat. I was very embarrassed because, I thought she should sit, not me. When I told her that as a senior professional, she should continue to sit, she smiled and said, “I love to stand, as long as my legs allow me to stand.” I was at an impressionable age. I thought this was better than my father’s version. It sounded ‘cool’ to me and I was quick to adopt it as my mantra.
A few years later, one fine(?) morning, as I stepped out to go to work, I slipped and fell down, before passers-by. It was not a serious fall and I continued with my routine. After work, I visited the in-house doctor at my firm. He examined my right ankle and foot, which were swollen by then, and advised me to immediately consult an orthopedic doctor. Visit to a well-known specialist and the Radiology department followed. While chatting with me to convince me that it was not a career-threatening fall, the specialist plastered my right ankle effortlessly and sent me home. But the fractured ankle did not make it easy for me to stand on my own leg for a couple of weeks. At that moment, I remembered the German lady who had impressed me.
I realized that Aristotle’s statement, ‘Man is a social animal’ was painfully true. One day of being home without meeting people made me feel like a caged animal. I did not want to apply for any sick leave, just because my ankle was plastered. After two days of rest, I went back to work. I limped while walking. To cover the limp, I wore a smile on my face. Who ever asked me ‘What happened?’ had to listen to my tale of woe. Not only what, but also when and where, how and how long I needed to wear the plaster etcetera. I used to conclude my narration only after adding my cool mantra about wishing to be independent ASAP.
History repeated after a few more summers. I fell down the second time, while participating in a celebration before an august audience. It was my left ankle’s turn to get rest after suffering a fracture. Thankfully, this also was not a setback in my profession. My friends, who had earlier heard my tales and knew my gregarious nature, did not attempt asking me the second time ‘What happened?’ But of course other acquaintances,
did ask me. They had to hear then two tales in one. My narration used to be very enthusiastic. Even if one did not ask me about my ankle, I knew how to bring the conversation to that by saying ‘You know what happened to me last week end during the celebration of ..…. ?”
I had so gone on pouring out my tale incessantly to everybody whom I accosted, telling, how I could not walk for some time due to the heavy plaster and that I was glad, I did not have to undertake any walk on the ramp.
Time and again, my father and the German lady appeared before me from nowhere, as if they wished to reprimand me for not remembering their mantra. I soon saw next to them Mr. Drechsler, looking as if he was cross with me.
Mr. Drechsler was my role model. Mr. and Mrs. Drechsler had hosted my daughters and me twice in Germany. In Hannover, Mr. Drechsler had taken us to his former work space a TV studio – ZDF, walked us through a humongous Herren hausen Garden and several museums, old and modern, showing us many masterpieces of Germany’s art and technology. I had admired his energy and enthusiasm. On the day of our departure, I saw Mrs. Drechsler sitting alone in the drawing room. When I asked her about her vivacious husband, she said, ‘Whenever his legs do no cooperate with him, he would like to be left alone’. Her cryptic answer did not satisfy me. When I probed further, she said in a confiding tone that he was a soldier and had lost his limb in the II World War. Since then he had had a prosthetic leg fixed and attended to all his chores as before. He had not uttered a word to us about it, while walking tirelessly with us through all the sights. I sat motionless in front of her. My legs did not help me get up and go to her, to express the compassion I felt for her.
No wonder, Mr.Drechsler had joined my father’s league and had looked askance at me.
Did my mantra and role model change me at all for the better? Did I keep quiet, without talking to people about my silly falls and fractures? No chance! I made New Year resolutions, year after year!! Only to be broken!! I chanted mantras only to forget to recall at the most appropriate moments!!!
To drown my self pity and misery during my irrevocable house arrest, I started reading old magazines and newspapers. I came across a write up about a south Indian danseuse, who was dancing before and after. What happened during the hiatus? That was the theme. She loved dancing and was a very sought after artist. Her legs got injured in a terrible accident and she was unable to dance. But her determination and will power was so strong that she was back to dancing after a couple of months - with a Jaipur leg.
After reading the article, I sat stupefied for a while. My new role model, with a prosthetic leg danced before my eyes. My conscience pricked me for relaxing in the armchair in my room.
I wondered if I had that dancer’s will power. I looked at my bandaged foot. If I cannot stand and do my work, I can sit and work from home. This way I could ape the techies, with ‘flexi hours’ who ‘worked from home’. Hence, my contact with people continued. I watched the incredible achievements of Alumina Sinha, who climbed 21,000 feet with artificial limbs and Girisha who won a Silver medal at the London Paralympics on TV.
And I? What was I doing in my life? Why was I talking about my falls, fractures and sutures till I became unbearable and people started avoiding me? My heavy heart became light again, when I finally made a New Year (Ugadi) resolution not to talk about my falls and fractures, but to write about them. ******