The Setting Sun?


What is the temperature of burning petrol? And of petrol burning clothes? And of petrol and clothes burning with the skin – human skin? None of these questions crossed the human torch’s mind. All his sensory existence was being burnt with his epithelium. No, he could not see that a police party, forty sticks strong, was loosed upon the students. Neither did he smell his burning skin and the outer layers of muscle and fat, nor could he hear the rounds that Mr. Yadav had fired in the air. He could still taste petrol and the street dirt in his mouth, but his mind was not fully registering the taste. No, he was not trying to spit it out. He was sinking in the abyss. The last thing that he registered was the sensation of wetness in his groin region, and then came a hand – God’s hand, to save him.

There was no ambulance to take him to the hospital. The experienced police had cleverly come on foot and horseback. The rikshaw pullers had all fled to save their lives. Bhanu had started losing consciousness the moment Chandra Bhaal had started rolling him on the street and had gone into a shock like state by the time Dayal and Aquib had appeared with their pails of water. Bhaal ordered the two boys to pick Bhanu up and himself took the rikshaw puller’s seat. Thus did Bhanu reach the resident doctors of the Emergency. Some of them had never seen a fourth degree burn outside the textbooks. They got their chance to observe the seeping serum and the charred musculo-skeletal tissues firsthand. By the time Rudra Pratap had reached the hospital, Bhanu was shifted to the ICU.

The sun was setting at around 5:15. They had been waiting there for around five hours. They had been waiting for Bhanu to regain consciousness. Dr. Asthana had arrived at five, two hours earlier than his scheduled round at seven, at Bhaal’s special request. He had come out of the ICU a couple of minutes ago, and was talking to Bhaal and Rudra by the side of the ramp. Bhanu was in coma, he told them, and he had suffered severe burning of the fourth degree. He could not fully tell them the reason behind his slipping into coma, as Bhaal had acted promptly to extinguish the fire and they had used water to douse it. Neither could he tell them anything about the possibility of his re-gaining consciousness. It could happen within an hour or never at all. Even by the most optimistic estimates, the chances of Bhanu’s being normally functional were slim.

It felt like the sun shining over our family was about to set. My youngest son Bhanu, the apple of his grandmother’s eyes, his mother’s life-breath, was not breathing on his own. Dr. Asthana said that they had inserted a tube into him to supply oxygen to his body, as his lungs were not functioning on their own. This is not the first time my son was in that ward. He had been there once when he was only five days old, and on the same date too. They had said that the chances of the infant’s survival were thin. Bhaal had saved his life then. It was a miracle. Even he can’t do anything now. He’s gone to see the good doctor off. He’ll come back at night he’s said. The ladies must be sent home now. I’ll ask Shiv to take them home.

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