Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat is a symbolic poem. Taufiq Rafat, as critics frequently assert, was a poet who captured life in Pakistan in the most realistic manner and detail. Particularly, life in rural Punjab of Pakistan finds its apt depiction in Rafat’s poetry. Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat presents another aspect of this life. A lack of education and awareness coupled with limited resources and health facilities forms the context of this poem. Gangrene, the poem, is a satire on two aspects of rural life in Pakistan. Rafat satirizes the careless mindset of the villagers and the government that fails to provide proper health services in villages. He tells us how negligence on the part of parents brings about the death of an innocent boy. This article offers a summary and analysis of the poem, Gangrene, for the students and instructors of Pakistani literature in English.
A Brief Biography of Taufiq Rafat
For a brief biography of Taufiq Rafat, visit Wedding in the Flood by Taufiq Rafat on this website.
What is Gangrene, the disease?
Gangrene is a serious medical condition. It occurs when the tissues of the body die because of either a lack or constant stoppage of blood supply. Among the general causes of gangrene are infections and injuries. It also occurs due to such medical conditions that restrict the flow of blood in the body. In diabetes and peripheral artery disease, the flow of blood in the body is affected. Therefore, patients with these diseases have to be very careful about even the slightest injuries. Its symptoms include a change in skin colour, swelling, pain, and ill-smelling discharge. Gangrene needs prompt attention and treatment. Its treatment includes the use of antibiotics and surgery to remove the affected tissue. In severe cases, it may also lead to the amputation of the infected limb of the body.
Text of the Poem Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat
They brought a boy to me, twelve years old,
his arm wrapped up in dirty bandages,
a quiet, well-mannered boy, who smiled
shyly when I tickled him under the chin.
He was from my ancestral village, the son
of a carpenter who was a cousin-by-marriage
of a tanner, I traded with. It was, therefore,
natural they should come to me for help.
The story was simply this: The boy had fallen
from the roof while flying a kite. The damage
was negligible, just a shattered elbow.
From that height, he could have very well
broken his neck. It was a miracle considering
he fell on a brick-pile. I looked at the boy.
He seemed quite modest about his achievement.
Or, perhaps, he was still thinking of the lost kite.
The only mender of bones in a village
is a local wrestler. They showed him the arm,
and without so much as a second glance,
he got busy with oil and lint. It is truly
a miracle, he said, the boy could have broken
his neck. This is nothing but a fracture.
After pocketing the money, he patted the boy
on the head and sent them away happy.
But the bone was stubborn, it refused to mend.
This is more serious than I thought, said the
wrestler. However, there is nothing to worry about.
In four or five days he will be running around
as good as new. So he set it again,
and scolded the boy for showing so much pain.
He pocketed the money. Satisfied, the relatives
went home. But the bone did not mend.
This much they told me. I guessed the rest.
The days of growing anxiety; the wrestler’s refusal
to admit his mistake; the unlimited optimism
of parents. But when the limb blackened and
to stink, they got frightened. They could sense
the fear in the wrestler too, though he insisted
it would be all right. The boy is in the power
of a djinn, he said. But he could not hide his fear.
So here they were, too late as usual, come at last
to their only contact in the city. I could not stand
the animal appeal in their eyes. My proximity
to the mission hospital was surely a passport
to personal attention. I changed quickly
and went with them. The mission surgeon, a greedy,
tactless butcher, took one perfunctory look.
Gangrene, he said in English, the arm must come out
In this case he was right, of course. I had
already guessed by the smell. Still, my heart
sank when I looked at the boy; he was watching
a flock of pigeons in the courtyard. How shall
I tell them? I thought, how shall I tell them?
In the end I did not have to. The tanner guessed
by my face. Tactfully, he took me aside.
I told him. He then went to the father.
I have never seen anybody so indignant.
Instead of grief, there was only anger, or
the anger was because of grief. Amputation,
he fumed, was out of question. What use
is a son with one arm only? I would rather
he died. Let us go, he said, we are wasting
our time. I am sure the wrestler can do it.
If we must stay, there is the other hospital
I argued and pleaded; it was no use.
There is no time, I said, the gangrene
is growing like a storm. But they would not listen.
I saw them go with a helpless rage
burning inside me. As I left the hospital
it was a lovely spring day, fresh after the rain,
and I felt ashamed of being so healthy.
I heard the boy died on the operating table.
Summary of the Poem Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat
Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat is a thought-provoking poem. The poem is the story of a twelve-year-old innocent young boy. This boy fell from the roof while flying a kite. He received a severe injury on his elbow. His parents got him treated by a local wrestler. The wrestler spoilt the case and the boy developed gangrene and died at last. The poet has related this story in this poem with the minutest possible detail. The description shows that the narrator of the poem is the poet himself. It must have been one of the many events in his life which form the background of his poems.
The Description of the Boy
Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat begins with the poet telling us about the boy. He was a shy, quiet, and well-mannered boy of twelve. There were dirty bandages wrapped around his arm. The boy came from the poet’s ancestral village. He was the son of a carpenter who was a cousin-by-marriage of a tanner with whom the poet traded. It was for this relationship that they had brought the boy to him. They needed the poet’s help to get the boy’s wounded arm examined by a doctor in the city.
The Story of the Boy’s Damaged Arm
The boy hurt himself when he fell from the roof while flying a kite. He fell on a pile of bricks and might have broken his neck. However, his folks considered it a miracle that it did not happen. He received, as they considered it, only a minor injury in the form of a dislocated elbow. His parents took him to a local wrestler who was famous as a mender of bones. The wrestler casually examined the boy’s shattered elbow, applied oil to it, and covered it with lint. He charged his fee and declared that it was a slight fracture that would heal soon. However, the wound continued to get infected till it became gangrene. The wrestler, who had miscalculated the damage, did not admit his fault. Instead, he attributed it to the influence of some supernatural presence that hampered the recovery of the bone.
The Decision to Consult a Doctor
The wrestler tried, again and again, to somehow treat the shattered elbow of the boy. Anyhow, with no actual knowledge of bone therapy, he failed miserably. When the boy began to develop gangrene, his parents decided to get him examined by a doctor in the city. The simple villagers thought it befitting to involve the poet who belonged to their village but lived in the city. They believed that he could get them to some specialist doctor. No sooner did the poet see the boy’s arm, he realized that the villagers had gone late. Still, he took them to a surgeon.
The poet lived near a mission hospital. He took the boy to this hospital where the doctor confirmed that it was gangrene. He added that the amputation had become inevitable. If delayed, the boy would die of it.
The Reaction of the Poet to the Diagnosis
The poet felt sorry for the little boy who was unaware of the severity of his wound. He was busy watching pigeons. The poet could not find words to break the news to the boy’s father. The tanner, however, realized the seriousness of the matter and tactfully took the poet aside. The poet disclosed the matter to the tanner who informed the boy’s father.
The Reaction of the Boy’s Father
As soon as the boy’s father came to know of the situation, he flared up in rage. The poet could not distinguish whether it was rage, grief, or a combination of both. The boy’s father declared that a son with only one arm was a shame. He could not stand amputation. He insisted that the doctor knew nothing. Once again, he asserted his faith in the village wrestler. Furthermore, he insisted on going to some other hospital for the treatment of the boy. The poet did his best to make the boy’s father understand the gravity of the situation. But he did not listen to anyone. He walked out of the hospital.
The stubbornness of the boy’s father brought about disastrous results. In a few days, the poet came to know that the boy had passed away on the operating table. The ignorance and adamancy of the boy’s father took the boy’s life.
Analysis of the Poem Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat
Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat is an issue-based poem. In this poem, Rafat raises questions on many social aspects and issues. He picks the story of a young boy who develops gangrene and dies of it. In this story, Rafat highlights a lack of awareness, excessive selfishness, gross mismanagement, and the baseless belief system of society. The poem is also a comment on the weak implementation of law and order in Pakistan.
A Lack of Awareness
Gangrene by Taugfiq Rafat presents a situation in which a boy fell from the roof while flying a kite. The fell on a brick pile and hurt his elbow. In a situation like this, the parents must have taken the boy to a hospital. Instead, they took the matter lightly. They considered the shattered elbow a slight injury and were satisfied that the boy did not break his neck. They took the boy to a local wrestler whom they considered an expert in mending bones. It is a clear sign of a lack of awareness. In rural Punjab where the literacy rate is quite low, such cases are common. Wrestlers and quacks take full advantage of illiterate and unaware people. Also, it raises a question about the health system in Pakistan where doctors have lost the faith of the people.
Selfishness in Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat reflects in the behaviour of the wrestler. His only concern is money. He is not a certified orthopaedic. But he claims to cure a critical case. The boy’s elbow is badly hurt. The wrestler should have advised his parents to take him to the hospital. However, he uses his misguided technique and spoils the case further. The most shocking aspect of the matter is that he does not admit his mistake. He continues to pocket money from the boy’s father. Rafat criticizes this unethical behaviour. The wrestler’s selfishness was one of the factors that killed the boy.
Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat presents a deplorable condition of a village where a basic health unit is not available. It is a criticism of the policymakers of the country. Health services should be provided to all at their doorsteps. But even today, there are many villages and small towns where you will not find even a dispensary. If something serious happens in such areas, people are at the mercy of quacks and wrestlers. The newspapers keep publishing news featuring the quacks and wrestlers who have killed so many people. In the end, all such cases are attributed to the will of God.
Baseless Belief System
The boy’s father in Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat is a stereotypical person with a mindset that follows baseless beliefs. He believes that the wrestler can mend his son’s broken elbow. This baseless belief aggravates the situation. It prolongs the agony of his son who develops gangrene because of the mistaken treatment of the wrestler. Again, when the doctor confirms the gangrene and suggests amputation, the boy’s father flares up. He should have shown interest in saving the life of his son. However, he considers it a matter of shame to have a son with only one arm. This again is reflective of an approach based on a baseless belief system.
Implementation of Law and Order
Kite-flying is a favourite sport in the Punjab province of Pakistan. Every year, it claims the lives of many people. There have always been rules and regulations about this sport. But no one follows them in letter and spirit. Law enforcement agencies do little to ward people off the hazards of this sport.
Gangrene by Taufiq Rafat strengthens the poet’s status as an accomplished storyteller. Rafat possesses the ability to use social events as the background of his poems. His poems are stories of common men whom we may encounter somewhere in society. This poem raises questions and inspires the readers and the public to look for solutions to their problems. Negligence in issues of social level may lead to a gangrene sort of situation. We will have to react quickly and positively before our social system begins to stink.
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