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story, courage, love,

Lalaniket is a tiny village in Uttapredesh on the river Meghapriya.It is surrounded one side by huge hills with tall tress, on the other by undulating paddy fields. The railway line passes through the village divides the entire village into two blocks. Rich and poor. People who live far away from the rail live working on paddy field. They sow and harvest there. While on the other side of railway where rich people run big shops and they go by trains. The poor are still traveling by bullock cart.

A village on the way to Delhi, Lalaniket is a favorite destination for tourists from far off places. They come down there in their strange dress and manners. The farmer women in the village would smile coyly at them. Often they are photographed but they don’t know what that machine is for. There are however people who live on tourists too. Helping the tourists finding way to hillocks, taking them to the hide of animals, showing them rare birds---they are tourist guides. In fact they know little English, yet they manage to do things better. No foreigners have ever known to have made any complaints about them. When a train docks on the station these people will flock to AC compartments, crying out a few English words they picked from foreigners. “ Want to see lions, big birds, hills, nice food” Mostly those crazy foreigners would jump at this opportunity. Once they are ready, guides would take them to creepy hotels near the rail station. That is the beginning of guides’ good time; hotel would readily pay them some. Next day on guides will take foreigners to the deeper forests and habitats of forest-livers. They too use this opportunity for making money; publishing these photos and experiences in the natural magazines back home. They make money.

While people live on the paddy field do things more in traditional way. They work for hours earning small income, thus struggling to make both ends meet. Paddy they produce is sold to big merchants who come by trains. Now rail is making their lives a little easy. But their problems still remains the same. For they have no hospitals in the neighborhood, mostly they depend on village doctors. But they are not helpful during emergencies like nightly fevers or pains .They have no ways to turn except to these people. So deaths from such situations are not less. A hospital they can turn to during serious situation exist several miles away. To reach there they have to traverse a forest land crossing two rivers. And rivers are often a death trap when hill rain flood the area. Forests mostly do have sudden down pours. Again to make matters worse wild animals roam along the tracks. So people prefer staying home dying peacefully than being eaten away by wild animals and washed away by frothy rivers .They usually air their woes to the village meeting, that take place once a month. The bigwig village heads would nod when people unload their painful stories. Every time promises are made only to break soon.

Thus stands thing now in Lalaniket. Here lives Mr.Sangi and family.Mr.Sangi, a tourist guide who earns very small to the family. He says he lives his life but his wife supports their two children working on the farm. She is a weak woman with a bent for what with the constant bent-over work in the field. He comes home once a month after his staying long with tourists in the forest. So he has taken some foreign manners too. He has got a habit of thanking everything. It is like thanking somebody vacating him a seat at the coffee shop, or helping a hand at climbing a bridge. So the villagers are really getting irked so they began calling him, Sangi thanki. For they have no such habits. He loves to hear it .A honour he adores more than anything. His poor upbringing has deprived him of education and elite manners but guiding tourists he is being guided more by them. He is of no use to the family. But his wife a traditional woman pays every respect a woman is expected to.
Their two children are studying at the school in the neighborhood. They go there for the noon food. That keeps the family free from cooking at noon. So the mother is really happy with school; indeed, more with the chef.

One day when the elder son is at home from school he sees his younger brother crying with pain. Wallowing up in pain he does not say the reason. From his twisted body and also from his hands clutching at the stomach Sagmi, the elder boy makes out that Sanu, younger brother, has stomach ache. The more is the pain shriller is his cry.Sagmi is in panic, he wants to do something. He rushes to the kitchen and takes some left-over water from last night in a pot. He pours it onto the parched lip of Sanu who does not drink it but grows paler. A panicked Sagmi, runs to his mother who is at the paddy field across the passage way. Mother too is in a shock. She knows how difficult the situation is going to be. For her husband is away with tourists, and with nobody around to turn for help, Mrs.Sangi is in real worry. Leaving the work behind, she reaches home only to see Sanu still writhing with pain. She sends for the village physician who lives on the river. The old man in his mellowing years comes and examines Sanu reading his pulse. He makes a horrible statement that the child needs hospitalized lest he will die. Mother stands shocked unable to sinking these words in her mind. The old man leaves them to their woes giving the child an ayruvedic concoction. That proves helpless.

Mrs.Sangi now is more stubborn than ever knows that her child is in danger. It demands careful quick action. So she has nobody around to seek help except elder son Sagmi. He is a 14 year old boy of sturdy built, she hopes, can take Sanu to hospital. She tells Sagmi to prepare for a daring venture. Sagmi can not grasp the weight of the situation. But he knows from the way mother puts it that he has to ready himself. She takes a sari and makes sling that can carry Sanu. Both take Sanu into the sling. Sagmi bents forward to carry Sanu on his back. Mother puts the sling across his shoulder. The weight of Sanu sidles Sagmi sideways till he gets balance. Mother tells him to cross the forest before the sun sets. If so he will reach bridges by midnight, thus by the morning they will be safe out of the forest.

Thus starts their journey to hospital. Sanu often darts piercing cries when pain gets too hard for him to bear. But Sagmi moves ahead without even thinking about resting. Already the weight on his back is becoming unbearable. Every inch he keeps forward is after a labored attempt. Often his tender legs spam. The itching pain it gives is turning Sagmi dizzy. But he goes ahead for he wants to cross the forest by midnight. The way forward is getting darker as the sun sinks in the horizon. The ways are hardly visible as the brambles and creepers hamper. Every vine and brambles resembles snakes. But he does not stop until he sees a real thing lying on the way. He can not make out what species that belong to. No less than a poisonous mountain species it seems. He, flinches with fear, can not go ahead. So he hides under a bush till the snake uncoils itself to leave. The path ahead is hedged with bush and thickets. Taking a stick he beats here and there to make snakes to go. After a time he reaches a clearing. He does not know what time is it then. Away he can hear pouring noise of a river from the hillocks. Sagmi’s mind is thrilled with joy for he badly wants water. A clear moon climbs the sky which is puffy with clouds. If otherwise he would have spent hours to enjoy this sight. He now knows why those Englishmen come to the forest. They can enjoy everything around, no matter even dangers.

Reaching the river bank he shockingly comes to know that there is no bridge across the river, only rocks on the surface. The river is not deep but large and infest with wild crocodiles. So every step be kept carefully or else next will be onto the gaping mouth of a crouching crocodile. Now he keeps Sanu down on the bank and takes long leaf to scoop some water. Sanu begins moaning with pain when ever jerked or moved. After taking water they begin to wad out through the water. Reaching on the opposite bank they rest for some time. They know they can not while away time at all. The next leg of the journey is not that easy as the first part. The way ahead is horrible with wild animals. Being a boy lived on fringes of a forest Sagmi knows smell of animals, a skill everyone there comes by naturally. So that he can avoid coming on their path. From the thickets some where he can hear the rustle of some mighty legs. It could be of an elephant, he thinks. Along this comes the thick tang of it. If the animal gets the smell of human in the upwind, it could be the end of everything. He keeps Sanu down on the ground and waits it go. But it stands there as if it knows their presence. The wait is prolonged for a good thirty minutes; there is no sign of its going. Now Sagmi can not wait any longer. So he rises to his feet taking Sanu on his shoulder. He decides to skirt the way and gets past the elephant. On the sky the moon is atop. Walking hours on, he finally reaches the second river. His hopes about a bridge across the river break. The bridge is falling apart. The few railing and wooden handles there are falling. The water is overflowing its walk-way. It could be the real challenge before them. Summing up all his courage he moves forward with Sanu who still cries. Holding on the falling railing of the bridge he somehow reaches other side. He heaves a sigh of relief. But Sanu knows nothing about this perilous journey.

Walking along lanes that will take them to motor way they reach an open space. Now the moon is climbing down inviting dawn. Reaching on the motor way they sit waiting for a vehicle. Long wait brings success. A truck emerges from nowhere. Sagmi hitch hikes, the driver takes them. Several hours later in the morning they reach the hospital. Driver is shocked to hearing the journey boys just had through the forest.

At the hospital there is uproar as the people wondered at the courage of Sagmi. The doctors too come down to appreciate his steadfastness. People there decide to donate money for all the hospital expense. Sagmi has become the talk of the town. But he can not still grasp the import of things he has done. Finally, knowing the hardship the villagers face, hospital authority seeks permission from the ministry of health to start a nursing home there. It is readily granted, the dream of villagers finally materializes. During the inaugural ceremony one of the dignitaries spoke tells, “Courage is not the absence of fear but challenging it” People overwhelmed by it lifts Sagmi to the skies who still do not understand why they do so.
Published: 2009-01-28
Author: sreelesh vk

About the author or the publisher
Sreelesh is a freelance writer based in kerala, southern state of india.He writes articles, stories, and his first book about creativity is to be published soon.He writes mostly for local magazines and on internet he has already made a name for his writing contibuting to several web magazines.

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