Shall I tell you about pain?

Let me tell you about this man, who knew all about it.

*

A sweaty palm in a loving clench. Legs spread wide open in full public view, unforgivable otherwise, understandable in the present circumstances.

A balmy public maternity ward. Broken blinds, a dirty floor and creepy stares.

One person, in too much pain to feel embarrassed.

Another, in enough pain to feel embarrassed.

He didn’t know it would hurt so much. This was not a physical pain, not the kind where a highly solid, highly alive mass of bone and flesh would eject itself from the innards of a person.

But it did hurt.

He had fooled around enough with writing stories; his in-laws had insisted. There was no money, no future, not even glory in it, they said. Go back to the bank, they said, you have a baby on the way.

He had dreamt of being a writer since he had aged six. While other children his age had flicked through square-leg like Azharuddin and imagined romancing women whilst topless like silver-screen heroes, he had dreamt of creating worlds with his words.

The dream grew with the child. His wife, such a blessing in his life, had been nothing but encouraging.

Alas, the harsher realities of life would come soon enough. The money wasn’t enough; it was never enough. The women in the mohalla would snigger at this unambitious man, and the in-laws would curse their luck.

She began her arduous labor, her breathing was strained, her skin glistened with perspiration, her teeth were gritted, and her eyes- large, lovable eyes-  were clenched shut, as if refusing to let the pain escape her.

She would suffer long and hard for this.

The bank would pay the bills, and would crush a boyhood dream.

But it would be okay, because he would soon have someone to lead.

*

A happy home in dreary Belgaum.

The father paced down the stairs nice and calm, an anxious mother in tow.

“It hurts! It hurts so much! Owwwwwww!”

The tears were completely justified. The gravel, sharp and free of compromise. The skin, brave but weak, unable to stop the invaders of the flesh.

“Daddy! Mommy! Ahhhhhh!”

There was a little blue bicycle on the ground, wheels slowing to a halt reluctantly. It lay there, defeated, a glove without a hand, a rebel without a cause. Was that it, for this wonder of gears and spray-paint?

An old-school dad, this father of ours. He would do as his father did.

The needle flashed. Those large, lovable, teary eyes now reflected pure terror.

“No! Daddy! No! Take that away!”

An old-school dad, this man with a plan. The needle was steady; the grip was firm.

“Please! Please stop! It hurts! Mommy stop him!”

The needle took a plunge. That weakling of a skin had no chance.

Wails filled the air, waking up the dogs, startling the neighbors, prompted worries from the mother.

“I’m not riding that bike again!”

“Oh, yes you will, tough guy. Gimme a minute…”

The steel twisted and turned, it jabbed and it poked, it fought the very flesh it had come to liberate.

The child squirmed, twisted, cursed, with a voice choked with agony, at his father, his mother, the neighbors, the dogs, the good God above as well.

“There!”

Old-school dad looked up triumphantly from the now-empty bleeding hole in his palm.

“Stone’s out. Let’s get that cleaned up now.”

The little blue bicycle lay quite dead.. But it would wake again: already, it had the attention of a pair of large, lovable eyes.

*

Every muscle on fire, every bone about to give.

One more round.

The older man was yelling. Behind him, the crowd was chanting with a passion.

“Let’s go Hero!” “Clap-clap-clapclapclap!”

Eight years of diets, workouts, throws, holds, suplexes, faces meeting grounds, backs meeting grounds, necks caught between sculpted shoulders and hard places, all converging at this juncture.

Speaking of necks caught against hard places…

The car accident had left little in the way of lasting damage. But the scars on the scans sure did.

The doctors had their “it’s cancer” faces on, to reflect the severity of the situation.

Immediate surgery. Plate insertion. Recovery time: a year.

Wrestling: a no-no, possibly forever.

The car accident had happened four months ago.

Our battered warrior had pulled on his headgear, stuffed in his mouthpiece, adjusted his singlet, all the while engulfed in heavy silence from his well-wishers.

The crowd outside was a different story though.

“Let’s go Hero!” “Clap-clap-clapclapclap!”

The initial rounds had already taken their toll. The opponent, a boy of lethal, even bestial intention, was in no mood to slow down or relent.

One more round now. All or nothing.

Our battered warrior felt the tingling in his fingers and toes. Keep wrestling, his doctors had warned, and risk paralysis. Even death.

A sharp blow of the whistle. The crowd became unglued. The atmosphere was electric. A new champion would soon rule.

The warriors approached each other, bodies red with inflamed muscles. Our hero was the worse one off, and he would feel it too.

Every move was punctuated with a sharp stab down the spine. Every tussle for footing, a nightmare for safe posture. Every grounding was akin to being slammed to the ground by an elephant.

Through all the physical torment and the sound of the baying crowd, though, he just shone through.

Like the perfect diamond, created though centuries of unimaginable pressure.

The shine of a warrior refusing to give up even in the face of unsurmountable odds.

In the red haze of torturous pain, he made one final move.

*

A trembling, scorched earth.

A shrill ringing in his ears.

Ash, black ash, painting a clear morning dark.

If there were screams, they were inaudible.

If there were flailing bodies, they were invisible.

The young major had left a doting family behind, and now, it looked like… forever.

Just a scouting party, the suits had insisted. You get right in, and then you get right out.

Thursday-night-bombs for the suits: John Daniels and Pina Coladas.

Thursday-night-bombs for the scouts: grenades, land mines and napalm.

Our major kissed his one photograph, said he would return home.

Our major was also a man with a plan, just like his old-school dad.

With a furrowed brow, he explained what he would do.

“No. That’s insane.”

Insanity had brought him here, that much seemed true.

“It’s a suicide mission. There has to be a better way!”

There was no better way.

“Do you know what you are going to do? Do you?”

Invite a whole world of pain and destruction. Could he handle it?

In that frigid warzone, the major made up his mind.

The enemy was approaching fast, and he would respond in kind.

He tore out the pin with a clenched fist, and flung the grenade in the air.

The blast did its job, it did: but it did it not claim a life.

The enemies were to head on north, they went south instead.

South was where our scouts had stood, now bracing for bloody death.

Our major, that insane country man, cared not for loss of limb.

Which is precisely what happened, right then, right there.

This blast was a deadly cousin of the major’s decoy. It took one single life, and left its mark on one forever.

The scouts made to sneak away, on their shoulders was propped the major.

His face, contorted with torturous pain, still gave of the shine of a warrior.

“The outpost won’t fall. Not today. We’ve bought ourselves a night.

Tomorrow we will rise again, we’ll take over this fight.”

*

She’d had a headful of hair, beautiful thick black curls, that were the object of praise and jealousy at every family get-together.

Now, the scalp was getting bare, and only pale skin showed: a reminder, then, that good times are not always forever.

The cancer began as a lump. It took away one breast, then it took the other.

Now it would take away a devoted wife, and a loving mother of two.

A family is a well of memories, created through years of living the simple things together.

Together.

One, two, three, she counted. A wall, where she pointed the fourth time.

The wall was the one every middle-class family has: the wall that showcased the children. Gigantic wrestling trophies, and admirable college diplomas.

She had nurtured and created a beautiful child, who grew to be a great man.

She refused to die, not without seeing that man again.

The hours became days, the days became weeks, weeks became months. But for her eldest son, that gallant warrior, the war rolled on and on.

A family is a spray-jet of pain, yes, and a reservoir of happiness too.

The father never left her side, always ready to pass a warm hand of comfort.

Every time she thought of giving in, her husband would help her fight it.

And this he did for weeks and months, until finally, he couldn’t. And on that fateful day, he had also decided that she couldn’t.

He would get a hold of that morphine drip, and he would turn it all the way. He would send his soulmate home, to the angels from where she had come.

But then he was interrupted, by the sound of pained footsteps.

Mother heard them too, a shaky shuffle up the steps.

Was he missing a leg? The footsteps were halting.

But Mother understood the one thing that mattered: that bad times are not forever.

*

Agony, anguish, hurt, torture, torment, suffering. Life.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though.

A child will fall again, hurt, but this time he’ll know it won’t last forever.

For the hundreds in the school gymnasium, the will to fight was inspiration for life.

A thousand more brave soldiers will face the shrapnel tomorrow, will fight honoring a sacrifice.

A mother is born, and with her, the hero of a million stories, a billion dreams.

A man gave up on a few of his own, true, but he just took one for the team.

Pain is what we all feel, and that is why we unite when we face it.

You have found the author of your pain sometimes, possibly many times, maybe all the time.

Sometimes you meet him for no reason, sometimes you invite him yourself.

Sometimes you go looking for him, sometimes he comes looking for you.

Either way, there is no escape, but it’ll end, and it won’t end you.

Pain is cruel, and pain is real.

But pain is impartial, and pain is a teacher.

Pain is the story of life, but remember, pain has a happy ending.

Ode to Pain, by P. Shenvi

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