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SWOLLEN KNUCKLES - Shamik Dhar (India)



-         Shamik Dhar (India)


Dropsy faces thrust out of the windows. The buses were jam-packed. Crowds of people walked alongside the inching traffic towards the Howrah Station. The still tropical atmosphere added monotony to the inching traffic. Perspiration welled out and flowed down incessantly. Each motorist tried to out-manoeuvre each other in that narrow space. They only ended up adding to the chaotic confluence of unruly vehicles. Smoke emissions choked the traffic further and it choked and spitted its way through the bridge. Each man wanted to reach home a little quicker trying to escape the hassles of the snail-paced traffic and each made elementary mistakes leading to further delays. Many had trains to catch, so each hurried on impatiently.

Suddenly, a man in one of the buses seemed to crane his neck to have a better look through the window. He tried to have a sniff of the cool wind flowing from the Ganges. For quite a long time he seemed to stare at something.

Suddenly, breaking his reverie he excitedly pointed out and yelled, “Look! Look!”

Almost instantaneously, most of the passengers looked out trying to see what he was trying to show. Someone unable to follow his finger yelled out, “What? What is it?”

Then another passenger more perturbed shouted, “There, there it is!”

The man beside him enquired, “Where? Where?”

Just then, the traffic woke up with a jerk and made a sudden jolt forward as the driver slammed the accelerator. The jolt threw many of the passengers out of balance and added to the increasing tantrum. The man who first shouted added, “The truck! The truck!”

When the traffic again came to a jolting halt the truck had become the cynosure of all eyes. The scrutiny suddenly began. The light-brown coloured truck was nothing of interest except it carried soil and loam which was evident as loose lumps of loam tumbled out on occasional jerks.

Then someone said, “The hand! The hand!”

It was then that one noticed that a greased hand sticking out of the loose loam. Those swollen knuckles spoke for themselves. The thought of it would have sent shivers down many a spine.

 One of the passengers yelled out, “Stop it! Stop it!”

His actions caught the attention of the pedestrians who were separated from the traffic by steel railing. They caught up in a frenzy.  One suddenly jumped across the railing and stopped the car trailing the truck. 

The youth yelled, “Stop it! Stop it!”

The equally puzzled car driver slammed the brake as the traffic, which had just started forward came to a grinding halt, stopping all vehicles following it. The traffic behind the car expressed their anger by blaring the horns as loudly as they could.

The owner occupying the seat next to the driver of the car enquired, “Why? Why the hell?”

The youth countered, “Because I ordered you!”

By then someone else shouted, “Not the car! The Truck! Fool, the truck!”

Someone else added in the chorus yelling at the top of his voice, “Yes, the truck! The truck!”

The man who had gallantly stopped the car now fled towards the truck, leaving behind the cursing occupants of the car, as the focus changed.

More people jumped over the railing and joined the pursuit, as few passengers from the bus alighted and started for the truck too. Strangely, in the resulting mayhem, the truck driver sensing something was very wrong stopped the truck, jumped down and fled. After all, the public was chasing him. Getting caught would mean sure death or severe beating. Strangely, he too managed to drown himself in the sea of pedestrians who walked towards the Howrah station. Almost instantly, someone managed to reach the truck. The man who reached the truck asked the guy following him, “Now what?”

The later advised, “Let the others arrive!” not knowing why they had stopped the truck. Then someone who knew the exact purpose of the chase reached and pointed to the “Swollen Knuckles”. Then someone bravely climbed up and dropped on his knees and started digging with his bare hands. Others followed, still others watched curiously. A sea of humanity with their endless compassion surrounded the truck and the traffic was given the right dose of anaesthesia.

“What people! Murdering a man and transporting him under mud!” said a voice from the crowd. Another added, “Crime never pays!”

Someone said, “The stench is not there, may have been done within an hour or so!”

An old man who pushed his way through the crowd said, “What is the use of all this when brave and gallant youth of today couldn’t even catch a mere truck driver!”

One among the younger generation countered, “Grandpa, why didn’t you do it yourself?”

The toothless man glared and boomed out, “If I was a young man like you, I would have certainly done it!” Then he repeated, “What good for nothing are these dynamic youth of today? Couldn’t even catch the bastard!”

The swollen brownish fingers continued to gape out of the soil. By now the man who had made his astonishing discovery had reached and under his protégé a section of the crowd was getting a first-hand account of the action they had missed. Such occurrences rarely do happen and seldom should they be missed.

One individual in the crowd who happened to be a photographer was silently regretting the fact that he had left his camera in his studio and silently vowing never to go without it in the near future. Such a scoop would have the fourth estate henchmen eating out of his hands. A hand, protruding out of the truck, transporting loam! Men on their knees, desperately digging with their bare hands! A better angle could have been achieved, had he managed to stand at a higher elevation. The roof of the car following the truck would have been perfect. Yet, now all he could do was to watch it go.

 Suddenly, someone among the crowd whipped out a cell-phone and suggested, “Why should we not inform the police!”

Another voice from the crowd added, “What can the police do now?”

“Is it not your duty to report it?” he fired back.

Yet another added, “Let me speak,” as the other gentleman punched the numbers.

Suddenly one among the crowd spoke, “Look! Look!”

The attention again diverted back to the hand. It was strange but true that the hand seemed on longer swollen but it had shrivelled down suddenly. The more they removed the soil the more it got shrivelled. It didn’t take them long to realize that the swollen hand was nothing more than an old soiled workman’s glove made of buffalo leather with some loam, hay and air trapped in it !