Budhu Mahato – Part 2

Budhu wrung his hands nervously under water at the hand pump as he washed himself. The spot on his side was barely noticeable, but it was still there. The treatment at the Purulia Leprosy Mission had not run its full course.

How could he go back? He’d crept away in the middle of the night, each crunch of dried leaves a fresh opportunity for someone to stop him.

The girl who cut grass in the courtyard had been so pretty, so charming, so forward. He could have stayed there after the hospital discharged him. In the shelter of that small forest they would have fostered a relationship to carry them through life’s delights and challenges together, with Joiram nearby.

But it was so far from home. There was no one else there who he knew besides Joiram, and now his friend Lalu. He had chosen between two separate lives: One was alluring, but the other provided the comfort and love of his remaining family, his hometown, and small things like the mango tree he’d planted as a child. The tree had grown tall under his paternal care. Here, at least, he was with family. His other brother could still raise children and Budhu could be present: Bear witness to it all, and give his love.

Except for that white spot. Anxiety rose again as he finished washing and dressed in his most presentable clothes.

That evening Budhu joined Bisri’s musicians under a large tree. As his hands bounced off the taught skin of the drum, his beat matched up with the other Kirtan drummers and Budhu thought he sounded pretty good. In fact, he was playing as well as he ever had. He felt great, working in sync with the other musicians, creating a complex, structured frame for the song to drape over. If he felt this good, was it possible the doctor had been wrong? A white dot didn’t confirm leprosy. They must have made a wrong diagnosis. As he drummed, and later danced, his footwork out of practice but full of potential, Budhu made up his mind to get a second diagnosis. He was sure he would be fine.

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Budhu (left) stands with Lalu (right) as they joke about the plays they used to act in. Lalu is wearing the wig from the Monasa – snake goddess – costume. She is an important deity in Purulia.

Several months after the village doctor’s penicillin injection it became clear that Budhu needed help. His spot had doubled in size, and his hands had become noticeably weaker. He could hardly move his index finger. A drop of blood on the ground was the only indication that he’d stepped on a sharp pebble; he hadn’t felt a thing.

It was a miracle when Joiram arrived one day with the proposition. Through Lalu he’d come to know the Prodhan, or head man, of Nabakustashrum. This was the Leprosy asylum 10 km outside of Purulia town. The Prodhan had come to Uffmanpur in search of a good musician to join their ranks at Nabakustashrum, where Lalu stayed. Joiram knew just the man, and he planned his trip home to Bisri to ask his brother.

No way,  Budhu had thought. I can’t go back to Purulia after escaping like that in the middle of the night. His face flushed with embarrassment. Joiram assured him that this would be different. Nabakustashrum was well out of town, and while people there sometimes went to the mission, residents of Uffmanpur and Simonpur never went all the way to Nabakustashrum. Budhu would already have a friend there in Lalu, and Joiram was close by. Budhu had no desire to leave Bisri, but he needed treatment; it was no secret the havoc Leprosy wreaks on a body. The Prodhan would provide an instrument for him, as well as housing and food.

Rife with hesitation, Budhu reluctantly agreed to come for one month.

He stayed for 40 years.

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Budhu (pictured in yellow) grins as he joins his visiting friend (right) in a Baul song.
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