A short story by Saadat Hasan Manto
When he was admitted in the hospital, his health was in a pathetic condition. On the very first night he was put on oxygen. The nurse on call was afraid that the new patient wouldn't survive the night. His pulse rate was increasingly declining. It was fluctuating severely at all times.
His whole body was sweating and trembling. Not even for a single moment was he finding relief from the anxiety and unrest. While lying in the bed, he would turn his side every now and then. When his anxiety would reach at its peak, he would sit on the bed and breathe heavily. He was pale as death, and his eyes were looking lifeless.
He bore the acute agony all through the night and remained on oxygen. Only the next morning when he fell asleep did he feel a little better. Some of his relatives came to enquire after his health for a little time. The doctors informed that he was suffering from a heart disease called Coronary Thrombosis, which is one of the deadliest heart conditions.
He was injected with drugs after he got up. His shoulders were sore, and he couldn't sit easily because it hurt his back. He was sure that he wouldn't live for more than a day or two. He was hardly thirty-two-year-old. He had reached this age fighting his battle alone against the hardships of life. He had no pleasant memories pertinent to his past. Both of his parents had died in his early childhood, and he was raised by an unknown man. Working in a factory and living an impoverished life, his monthly income was twenty-five rupees.
He never enjoyed a healthy life, and was always prone to getting sick. Up until evening he had been injected four times, and the oxygen was removed. His cardiac pain had lessened; therefore he could look around him. He was in the main ward of the hospital where, like him, many other patients were lying on metallic cots. Nurses were carrying out their duties, and on a cot, next to him, was lying a boy who was hardly ten. Well wrapped in a blanket, the boy was staring at him.
"Assalam o Alaikum," boy greeted the new patient.
"Wa Alaikum us Salam," replied the new patient.
The boy changed his side and asked him, "Big brother how are you?"
"Thank God, I am okay."
"I am sure you'll get well soon. Big brother, may I know your name?"
"My name?", the new patient looked at the boy compassionately and said, "my name is Akhter." "My name is Manzoor," said the boy. And then after changing his side, he called out a passing by nurse, "Sister." When she stopped, Manzoor greeted her. Giving a sisterly pat on his head she went away. After a short while the Assistant House Surgeon came there. Manzoor greeted him too. The Assistant House Surgeon sat by him and started talking with him about the hospital, holding his hand. Manzoor used to take keen interest in every patient of his ward. He was well aware of each patient's health condition. He used to treat all nurses like his sisters. All of the doctors had become great friends with him. He was an ordinary looking boy, but on account of his innocence, he was extremely charming. He was very talkative and used to be cheerful all the time. Due to his great attributes, he was the apple of everyone's eye.
However, Akhter, whose irritability was on the rise due to his heart problem, wouldn't look at Manzoor's popularity among patients and hospital staff with a favorable eye. Since his bed was next to Manzoor's bed, Manzoor would converse with him whenever he would get a chance. His conversation would consist of small and cool sentences:
"Big brother, how many siblings do you have?"
"I am the only child of my parents."
"I hope you don't feel pain in your heart anymore."
"I am sure you will be okay soon."
"You should drink a lot of milk."
"Shall I ask the senior doctor to supply you butter in a large quantity?"
He was a blue-eyed boy of the senior doctor. Hence, whenever the senior doctor would visit his ward he would always spend more than sufficient time in conversing with him. His father who was a tailor master used to visit him at noon. Being always in a hurry he would bring fruits for him and wouldn't stay more than fifteen or twenty minutes in the hospital. During the evening, his mother would visit and spend a long time with him. Truth be told, Akhter had accepted his friendship ever since he had greeted him. "When you were laid on the bed by hospital staff your pulse had almost vanished. I had prayed to God for your health from all my heart. I am glad that God had answered my prayer," Manzoor informed Akhter once.
No doubt that Akhter was suffering from a deadly disease, but now he wanted to live a few more days so that he could enjoy Manzoor's company. Akhter's few days went by in enjoying lively conversation of Manzoor until he learned that Manzoor was suffering from Paraplegia which was a kind of paralysis due to which he couldn't stand and walk. All the same, Akhter was astonished at how could he behave so lively despite knowing that the lower portion of his body was no more than a lifeless piece of flesh. Akhter never asked Manzoor regarding his disease because he didn't want to hurt him. However, he came to know through someone that a cold bath which he took after playing for a long time had paralyzed lower half of his body. He was the only child of his parents. Naturally, it deeply grieved them. At first they put him under the treatment of hakims, but to no avail. At last, on someone's advice they admitted him to the hospital. The fact was that the doctors had no hope for a cure but in order to boost his parents' morale, they were giving him every possible treatment. It was a matter of great surprise for them how was he still alive because the kind of stroke he had never left any chance for the victim to survive. In fact, his foremost strength was his perseverance in the face of adversity. Doctors and the staff would feel pity for him and adore him due to his sympathetic nature. A few days later, Akhter had another heart attack which was much more severe than the previous one. But this time Akhter had Manzoor's strength and perseverance in his mind. The doctors were of the opinion that he would not survive this time. But Akhter surprised them, because the next morning when a new nurse took the charge, she found his pulse normal. After defeating death, when Akhter looked at Manzoor with his partially opened eyes, he found him dead to the world with his glowing face. Manzoor kissed his forehead in his thoughts and fell asleep. Just after Akhter woke up he found that the whole ward was filled with Manzoor's sweet-talk. He heard him saying to a nurse, "Sister, please awake Akhter sahib. It's time he had a dose of his medicine."
"Let him sleep. He needs rest."
"Oh no sister, he's alright now. Please wake him up and give him his dosage of medicine."
"Okay, I'll do that."
When Manzoor looked at Akhter, his eyes were opened. Manzoor greeted him excitedly, "Assalam o Alaikum."
"Wa Alaikum us Salam," Akhter replied in a frail voice.
"You slept for a very long time."
"Perhaps you're right."
"The nurse is bringing your medicine."
Soon, Akhter was also talking pleasantly like Manzoor, and asked him, "Did you pray for me this time too?"
"No. I didn't."
"I don't pray frequently. I already knew that you would get well soon." Conviction was evident in his tone. One day, Akhter asked Manzoor half-jokingly, "You always tell others that they would get well soon, but why don't you say that for yourself?" Manzoor thought for a while, and then replied, "I'll get well soon too. The senior doctor was saying that in a month’s time I would be able to walk around. You can see I can slide up and down now." Then he unsuccessfully tried to slide up and down. "Great Manzoor, just great! One month is by no means a long time. It will pass like this," Akhter said to Manzoor, snapping his fingers.
Another month went by. Akhter had three more heart attacks that were not severe. His condition was now better, his weakness was receding, and his heartbeat was getting normal. According to the doctors, he was now out of danger. But he was intensely curious to know how his health was getting restored when his chances for survival were exceptionally slim. However, deep down in his heart he knew that it was neither any medicine nor any injection, but Manzoor who saved him. Manzoor's lower half was completely devoid of movement and sensation, but his credulity was leading him to believe that he was getting better day by day.
The friendship between Akhter and Manzoor had become so strong that they were now more than friends. Manzoor was a sign of divine blessing for Akhter. It was Manzoor who had turned his pessimistic nature into an optimistic one. He was looking forward to start a meaningful and happy life after leaving the hospital. But it was a matter of great grief and confusion for Akhter that there was no sign of betterment in Manzoor's health, though the hospital staff was taking very good care of him. On the other hand, the pleasantness of his nature continued to bloom.
One day, the senior doctor instructed Manzoor's father to take him home because his disease was incurable. Manzoor could only know that his treatment would be resumed at home and that he would get well soon. However, it saddened him, because he didn't want to go home. When Akhter asked him why he wanted to stay at the hospital, his eyes welled up with tears and he replied, "My father is bound to go to his shop, and my mother is bound to go to our neighbor's house to sew clothes on a daily basis. With whom will I chat and play there?" "My dear Manzoor, it's a matter of only a few days. Soon, you will be able to play with your friends and go to school," Akhter tried to console him. "No... no...," covering his face with blanket, he started crying. That grieved Akhter. He comforted him as much as he could. Soon his cries died down and he changed his side.
It was evening when Akhter received his release documents from the House Surgeon explaining that he was fit to go home the next day. Manzoor welcomed this news with great excitement and he informed everyone that his big brother Akhter had been released from the hospital. He kept talking with Akhter till late at night. His conversation consisted mostly of small sentences about flowers, colors, and birds. At last he fell asleep. But Akhter lay awake almost the whole night thinking about Manzoor and his disease. He prayed for Manzoor with all his heart, but he was sure that God would not answer his prayers because his heart was not pure like Manzoor's.
He was not finding himself willing to leave Manzoor. He was saddened by the thought of leading a life in which there would be no Manzoor. ‘What if I had died before Manzoor greeted me for the first time,' thinking similar things over and over he finally fell asleep. Next day he woke up late. The nurses were walking around in an unusual way. Turning his side, he looked at Manzoor's bed. Manzoor was not there. Instead, a skeletal old man was lying there. Overcome by shock he kept silent for some time. Then he asked a passing by nurse about Manzoor. "The poor boy passed away at half past five," she replied after a pause. His heart started skipping beats. He thought it was going to be his last heart attack. But he was wrong. Soon, he was discharged from the hospital and a new patient occupied his bed.
The writer has translated Urdu satires in English. His noted works include the books Through the Wall Crack and Manto Revisited, English translation of the satirical work of acclaimed Urdu writers Atta ul Haq Qasmi and Saadat Hasan Manto, respectively.
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