There was a good chance that Kedu's broken leg would be mended and his broken life put together again if he could be persuaded to leave the village for a while. The hospital was in town, only a day's journey away. But instead of responding to this idea with the enthusiasm I expected, he said glumly that he would have to consult his wife. Then began to avoid me.
Once I saw him at the village temple, and another day limping up the hill. But each time he had disappeared before I managed to catch up with him. After a couple of weeks I spotted him in the field beside his hut. He was clearing it of stones. The more fertile land which he used to till in the valley before the accident now lay fallow. With his lame leg, it would take him the better part of the day to reach the distant field and return home, leaving little time for work. It would be many months before he cleared the land by the hut, but once done it would save him a lot of walking.
Kedu wedged the crowbar under the stone and tried to lever it up, but it wouldn't budge. His face glistened with sweat in the burning sun. Slowly he dug the ground away at the side of the stone to find a better point of leverage. The baked earth was as hard as rock. Then he inserted the crowbar underneath, put his weight on his healthy leg, and pushed. He wiped the sweat from his eyes with the shirt sleeve which hung, torn, from his shoulder. Only then did he notice me scrambling down the hill. He let the crowbar fall to the ground and began to limp away. Then he turned back, embarrassed, to await me with a sheepish grin. With his limp, he couldn't have gotten very far before I caught up.
He couldn't afford to go to the hospital, he explained guiltily, avoiding my eyes. Now it was my turn to feel embarrassed and guilty. I ought to have made it clear from the start that there would be nothing to pay, and then he would not have needed to play this ridiculous game of hide and seek. No, he persisted, it wasn't just the money for the hospital. First, he would have to drag himself over the hills to the road. Then the bus fare alone would be 30 rupees ($4). All that would be taken care of, I assured him. He could be carried down on a stretcher.
But the hospital would only treat his injury, he objected. Who would cook his food, keep him clean, do all the other chores? My sympathy was rapidly evaporating. His wife, I said, perhaps too curtly. It is generally accepted that patients are accompanied to the hospital by relatives who look after them.
But who would take care of their five children? He looked up triumphantly, as if he had won an argument. No, he said, his wife must stay at home, So must he, to clear the patch of ground by the hut, or they would have no food at all.
We would find someone in town to look after him, I promised. A stranger? He glanced up, the fear plain in his eyes. City people were either important officials or rich shopkeepers who always cheated the villagers. He would be lost in the city, among all the big houses that looked exactly alike, and he wouldn't dare to cross a street for fear of being knocked down by a car. And all the time, he would be alone among strangers.
It may take a long time to rid Kedu of his fear of the city, but if he cannot be persuaded to go to the hospital, he will remain a cripple for life.
He had broken his leg while fishing. Wading along the rapid stream, he had slipped on a slimy stone. He is now in his forties, a tall, gaunt figure with sunken eyes and hollow cheeks. At the time of the accident he was just beginning to grow enough food for his family on land recently given to him by the government. Before that he had been a landless laborer, virtually a serf.
Now that he is a cripple, the fish with which he used to supplement his family's diet are beyond his reach. The land he is clearing at the moment, unlike his field in the valley, has no irrigation channel. The crop will be too meager to feed them all. Kedu knows all this. He tells me repeatedly how much harder life has become, but he won't even discuss going to the hospital any more.