The Boy in the Ward


In the latest PEN AMERICA journal, with this issue organized around the theme of “hauntings,” I have the following piece:

My elder sister was working as a doctor in a hospital in the small town of Darbhanga, in Bihar, in the mid-1990s. I met this boy there. He had fallen from a tree and broken his hip, and also his arm and leg. His parents sat beside him. Some days back, they had brought him to the hospital from their village, but it was already too late. The doctors had to amputate the boy’s right arm because the gangrene had begun to spread.

I think of that boy sometimes. What became of him? I was still young when I took this picture. I didn’t have a family. I have two children now. That boy I had met in the hospital’s general ward must now be a grown man. Does he, too, have a family now? I’m certain that despite his disability he is enormously skilled at what he does, perhaps farming or herding animals in a village in Bihar. One day the thought came that he could be driving a three-wheeled scooter, an auto-rickshaw, that are used to ferry passengers on the crowded Indian streets. I had actually seen a disabled man driving an auto-rickshaw in Delhi and I recalled the boy from two decades ago.

For the most part, I’m haunted by his smile.