The children of Hadipur village fell sick one by one. There had been a fair in the village recently and the sweetmeats were not fresh. After eating the mithai, the children suffered from stomach cramps, fever and diarrhoea.
Umar looked at his little sister who lay sick on the charpoy with concern. His mother was fanning the little girl’s face and tried to keep the flies away. Just then there was a knock at the door of their little mud house. Umar opened the door and Mai Sakina walked in.
Mai Sakina was the village sage. Everybody was afraid of her because she claimed to possess spiritual powers. She could talk to jinns and cure people by magic. Umar did not like the dirty woman. He knew that Mai Sakina was a big fraud but the poor, illiterate people of the village held the fat woman in great esteem and contacted her for help every time a calamity struck.
“Hai! Look at the poor girl,” said Mai Sakina, sitting on the charpoy which sagged under her weight. “She has been touched by black magic. Look how pale she is.”
“She has been vomiting all night and has fever too. She has diarrhoea….” Umar said.
Mai Sakina looked at him with dislike. “Your son’s brain has been addled because of books he reads,” she told Umar’s mother.
“Now Umar, be quiet and do not interfere.”
“Mother, if we take Guriya to Dr Ahmed, he will prescribe medicines and she will be alright but we must not waste time,” Umar argued.
“Ha! What can a doctor do in when faced with black magic! Now Razia, you must give me your silver bangles and six eggs if you wish Guriya to recover. I must work hard to drive the bad devils away,” the greedy woman said.
The poor woman took off her bangles and handed them to Mai Sakina who took off promising to send a cure later. Umar was enraged. He was a student of class nine and the first boy from their tiny village to go to high school. Almost all adults in Hadipur village were illiterate. His own father thought that his only son was wasting his time, health and money. The village did not have a secondary school so Umar rode for five kilometres everyday on his pet donkey to a nearby town.
The hard working boy worked in the fields after school and studied his books in the light of the lantern after dark. He was determined to go to college and become a doctor. He had witnessed too many unnecessary deaths in his village due to lack of knowledge and proper medical care.
Meanwhile, Mai Sakina visited several houses and by midday, she had collected quite a few items from the simple villagers… live chicken, eggs, half sack of rice, a pair of sandals, new clothes, some jewellery, money, a box of mithai and some mutton. Every household was promised a cure for the disease.
By nightfall, there was no word from her. Umar’s mother implored her to go to Mai Sakina’s house and get the medicine for his sister. Umar did not want to go but seeing his mother’s tears, he rode his bicycle and went out. Midway, he changed his mind. He rode quickly towards the village’s dispensary and went to Dr Ahmed for help.
Dr Ahmed thought of a plan. He knew village people preferred the help of Mai Sakina rather than a qualified doctor so he took sachets of ORS and put them in plain brown packets. He also too some tablets and crushed them. With Umar’s help, he soon had made medicines for children of entire village.
“Take these to every house. Tell your folks these are Mai Sakina’s magic potions. They must boil water and add these when the water cools. Make the children drink this water all night.”
Umar did exactly as he was told. By morning, the children were feeling much better. Everyone was very grateful to Mai Sakina.
They gathered under a bo-tree (peepal) and thought of ways to thank her. Umar could not bear it any longer. He told the villagers how he got the medicines from Dr Ahmed and how drinking boiled water with ORS had helped save the children. The villagers were amazed. Where did Mai Sakina go with all the things they had given her?
Suddenly everyone was angry. In a procession they went to Mai Sakina’s house. She was very sick. Umar looked at the half empty box of mithai and guessed what had happened.
“Help me, help me… urgh I am sick,” she said.
“Why don’t you call your powerful spirits? Surely they can cure you at once. And where’s your magic powder which cures all diseases?” asked Umar in a sarcastic voice.
Mai Sakina knew her game was up. She sat there silent. The angry villagers took back their hens, eggs, clothes and vegetables which they had given to the fraud woman. They found a lot of money in her hut too.
“What should we do with this money?” It belonged to the entire village but no one could remember their share.
“Let Umar decide. He has shown more sense than all of us put together,” said one of the village elders.
Umar thought for a while. “Why not give this to Dr Ahmad and ask him to stock the dispensary with necessary medicines. Then our children, womenfolk and elders can have proper treatment when they are ill and we will never have to depend upon bad rogues like Mai Sakina for our troubles,” he suggested.
Everybody agreed. They clasped Karim Deen’s hands in respect and told him what a fine son he had. Karim Deen’s eyes filled with tears of pride. He finally understood the worth of his son’s education.