Against the Odds
Walking the Path of Dreams
A Al Mamun
After a long time, I was surprised by my first year journalism class. The subject was the history of the printing industry. Every now and then I would ask questions -- day one, day two, day three. My experience of the last few years has really robbed me of hope. The new generation has just completely given up on education. I ask, have you read the Mahabharata? I get the reply, no sir I haven't. Sometimes, someone will say, sir, but I saw the serial on TV. Even though I have stopped hoping, I still ask these questions during a lecture. Out of habit, almost mechanical, without really waiting for an answer.
But this year I was stunned, there was one boy who did know the answers. All the answers. I asked, where was paper invented, he replied, China. I asked who invented modern printing and where is he from -- I got the reply, Johannes Gutenberg, from Germany's Mainz. Have you read Tagore's novels? Yes sir, I have. Have you read Manik? Yes sir, I have read some of it. My eyes go back repeatedly to this one bright student.
I become curious about this sudden light. I start paying attention to him. His name is Saswoto Satya. With lively, bright eyes. He walks around with a crutch in his left hand. he frequently comes to talk to me after class, I give him advice, recommend some essential books, lay out the ABC's of journalism. It feels good to be doing this again. An eager student becomes an asset and inspiration for the teacher. I start thinking, this student has a future, I need to give him more books to read, inspire him through discussion. I need to build up his potential -- make him aware of state infrastructure, society and media theory. In this way the days passed and we became closer.
After the first in-course exam, I ask him how he did. “Not good sir,” came the reply. I became quite upset, “Why not?” He looked at me and replied, “I can't write for very long at a stretch. My hand becomes numb, Sir.”
Until now, I had focused on the expansion of his mental universe. Now the cruel logic of his body forced itself into our conversations.
The history of Saswoto's battle with his own body is rather long and tragic. From 1998 to 2008. His condition has regularly deteriorated, one by one his limbs have rebelled and become inert. With tremendous willpower Saswoto has continued to advance, even though defeat has always seemed certain. The doctors had said that the joints in his hands, legs and hips would slowly become non-functional, his backbone would become useless, and his body would turn into a blob of flesh. Then death would be inevitable. But science still has not solved all the mysteries of the human mind. Science does not know how powerful a person's willpower can be, what fruits this willpower can bear. Sometimes the power of a person's will can make the impossible possible.
From 2004 to 2006, he was completely bed-ridden, his entire back became covered with infection. Everyone had already accepted him as lifelong cripple, only Saswoto refused to give in. With all the strength of his body and mind, in 2006 he started crawling, dragging himself out of bed. Then at one point he started walking tentative steps on two crutches, his entire back bent over from the effort. Ignoring the tremendous pain of his own body, he somehow gave the HSC examination in 2007. This year he got admitted into our department, walking on one crutch. I have never seen him absent in a single class. Always battling against death, against fate. Making the grim reaper's task that much more difficult.
One day I went to his house with some other students to listen to this story of his battle with his own body. In 1998 he used to feel a slight pain in his left leg. The pain became intense at one point. The local doctor gave him a pain-relieving injection, Chlofenak. The next day the pain came back. For the next 12 days the same injection was applied daily to relieve pain. The pain took over his entire left leg and travelled to his right leg. A doctor in Rajshahi was consulted. He gave some more pain-relieving injections and suppositories. Not only did the pain not go away, it became impossible for him to walk around at all. The pain travelled to his hips. He could not even sit up on his bed at one point. This boy with a great love for reading became imprisoned to his bed.
After three months a doctor from a clinic in Rajshahi advised that he immediately be taken to India for treatment. Not wanting to see their son become crippled, his parents took him to Kolkata's Peerless Hospital. There they learnt that Saswoto was suffering from Sero-negative Rheumatoid Arthritis, a disease they had never heard of. The doctor extracted a yellowish fluid from his knee, and the pain went down. He would have to come for treatment every three months, the doctor there said. The treatment continued for seven days. “Every time there was pain, they gave me an injection. The pain went down. But I felt sluggish all day,” said Saswoto. Sometimes the pain came back in two months and he had to be rushed back to the hospital in Kolkata without waiting for the three-month period advised by the doctors there.
He gave his SSC exams in 2001 in this condition without doing any classes. His result -- GPA 3.5. Although his condition was slightly better from 2001 to May 2003 it deteriorated again after that and it became impossible for him to appear for his HSC exams. He could not eat more than a few spoons of barley every day. Even that would come out in the form of blue vomit. This time his parents instead of taking him to Kolkata took him to a private hospital. The doctors there said that his intestines had dried up. His father Arun Satya took him to Christian Medical College in Velore. The doctors there informed him that his gall bladder had stones. The Sero-negative Rheumatoid Arthritis was of course still there. When he came back home with the medicines he did not have the strength to stand up by himself anymore. Weakened by all these medicines, Saswoto now started having chest pains. At night he regularly had fever. He was always bed-ridden. His parents gave up all hope.
“While in Kolkata I read a book about Pranayam. After doing that, I got back my willpower and started to stand up slowly in 2006, even with a hump.” He went to Velore in June. Now the doctors said the disease had degenerated further into Enciloging Spondinalaitis. They also informed him that his left hip joint had been destroyed and other body joints were going to gradually degenerate as well. If he was not given four injections as quickly as possible, his other body joints would be damaged beyond repair.
Each of the injections cost two lakh rupees. His father is unable to cover this cost, so his treatment has stopped for last two years. His left leg and spine had already acquired a curve. His right hip joint was now under attack.
Looking at this lively, energetic boy, who would guess his whole body was being eaten away from inside, by an invisible enemy? Who would know that each night he was going to sleep only after taking thousand-power painkillers?
Sometimes while talking to me, he would lean over in his chair and say, “Sir, my charge is almost finished. When I go home, I have to take painkillers to go to sleep. Only then can I come to class the next day. Those medicines are my battery charger.”
We walk him to a rickshaw at the end of class. We can't talk about our own able bodies with each other. The memories of Saswoto float in the hot April air and occupy our waking moments.
Saswoto's mother is a housewife. His father is a retired schoolteacher. The family is already bankrupt from twenty trips to Kolkata, three trips to Velore, and purchasing powerful painkillers for a little bit of peace at night. From their written records, they have already spent eleven lakh Taka, and many other expenses are unrecorded.
At the very end of their financial means, Saswoto's parents cannot imagine how they will save their son. But we know. We know how to save him from becoming a cripple and then dying a painful death. What Saswoto's father can never manage, a million joined hands can accomplish. We know that people will, indeed they must, step forward to help this promising young man.
This is why our department's students, professors and employees have created a committee to help Saswoto with his medical treatment. We are currently fundraising via two bank accounts:
1. “Saswoto Medical Treatment Assistance”
Rajshahi University Branch
Account No. 34260498
2. “Saswoto Chikitsa Sohayota”
Dutch-Bangla Bank Ltd
Account No. 135-101-33705
SWIFT CODE: DBBL BD DH 100
We deeply desire that, even with a body full of pain, Saswoto bring his lively, positive, productive presence back to our university campus. Even with a body full of poison, we want him to walk across the map of his dreams.
I look at him every day and think of Abul Hasan's poem:
“Oyster, take the pain inside, bear it silently
Close your mouth around poison sand, and birth a pearl.”
Let us give him the chance to at least try.
The author is Assistant Professor in the department of Mass Communication and Journalism, Rajshahi University
The article was translated from the Bangla by The Star.
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