Dayalbagh Ashram, Ujire, 6th December, 1992. I woke up from sleep hearing a feeble knock on my door. My wrist watch showed 12 minutes to midnight in the dim light of my room. I walked towards the door and opened it, expecting the usual person who dared to disturb my sleep. It was he, Br. Fabian, as usual in trouble. He was struggling to breathe. In whispers he said, "Brother, I don’t feel too well". Br. Fabian was suffering from asthma and his advanced age too was tormenting him. But that night, it was serious. He needed immediate medical attention. I woke up the superior Fr. Claver and briefed him on the situation. He immediately suggested me to take Br. Fabian to the doctor at Ujire. That was the only choice we had at that hour of the night. Meanwhile, our most helpful driver Felix was ready with the jeep. Literally carrying in my arms, I made Br.Fabian sit in the jeep. He seemed losing his consciousness.
It’s a couple of kilometers drive from Dayalbagh ashram to Ujire. It was useless to go to the doctor’s clinic at midnight. Hence we went to his house, a few meters away from the clinic. Dr. Chatra, was our most trusted doctor in Ujire, in fact our community doctor. At any time of the day or night he was ready for our service.
There were no lights in the house. Felix rang the door bell a couple of times, but no response came. I told him to knock the door bit harder. He did, but no sign of anyone inside. To our bad luck, we thought, the doctor was not in town. Br. Fabian needed immediate attention. The era of cell phone had not yet begun. We had to go back to Dayalbagh to inform Fr. Calver about the situation. There was no other choice but to take Br. Fabian to Mangalore. Fr. Calver gave me some cash and said: ‘Go with your religious habit (dress), it would simplify your work in the hospital’.
At 1 after midnight we started for Mangalore. Felix, who had been helping us for more than 15 years, was an experienced driver. He drove at a speed of 60km/hr even on the pothole filled road that led to Mangalore. Being a regular driver on that road, while we reached Guruvayanakere Felix told me "Brother, isn’t it strange that we didn’t come across even a single vehicle on the way?" I didn’t find it strange though, because at that hour of the night who dared to climb the Charmadi Ghats, miles away from Ujire.
When we reached Vogga, I sensed that there wasn’t everything right. In the middle of the road a wall was built with laterite stones, blocking the road totally. Felix stopped the vehicle, meters away from the laterite blockade. I failed to comprehend why the road was blocked. Felix, as though remembered something suddenly, said: ‘Brother, did you not hear in the radio news today, that a worshipping place of a community was demolished by a group of fundamentalists?’ Now it dawned to me, that it was 6th December and the Muslim worshipping place in Ayodhya was destroyed. The road blockade was a part of the reaction to the demolition of the worshipping place.
…There was a strange silence around and the cold breeze made me shiver…..
It also flashed to my mind, why there was no response in spite of repeated knocking on the door of Dr. Chatra. I had thought that he was not in town. But now, I did not rule out the possibility that on 6th December, at midnight, not only Dr. Chatra but anyone else would dare to open the door, even if he were at home.
For a couple of minutes we sat in the jeep silently without knowing what to do. Felix being a native of Vogga, was familiar to the place. Yet he shifted the responsibility on me and said: ‘Brother, since you are wearing a religious habit, you get down and move the stones from the road. I shall focus the jeep head lights’. He sounded unusual to me. I found fear in his eyes and his voice was trembling. Br. Fabian seemed asleep.
I got down from the jeep and walked towards the laterite stone blockade. There was a strange silence around and the cold breeze made me shiver. I folded my habit up, gathered courage and bent down to lift the first stone. Lo! The unexpected happened. A heavy object came down from the sky and in a fast reflex I lifted my head up. The object missing its target, landed a few inches in front of me on the road, in pieces. It was a laterite stone, weighing not less than 10 kgs!! My senses stopped functioning for a while. I turned back, Felix was sitting in the jeep as though he had seen a ghost. Without lifting my head, I sensed that the place was not without people. On the tree beside the road, that had a branch bent on the road there was someone. No logic was needed to conclude that the person (s) on the tree had the plan to smash the head of the one who tried to remove the laterite stone blockade. They had missed the target!!
There was no use in returning to the jeep. My target was to reach Br. Fabian to the hospital as early as possible. Gathering courage, I bent to pick up the first laterite stone and moved it away, nothing untoward happened. I moved the second, third….and made way for the jeep. Nothing more happened. I boarded the jeep with the tiredness of a hard day’s work and with the feeling of returning from the jaws of death.
Thereafter, along the way to Mangalore, we came across several other blockades of stones, burnt tyres etc., at Bantwal, B.C.Road, Farangipet, Valacchil, Adyar, Kannur, Padil, Pumpwell circle etc. But no one stopped us except a police van who sensing our situation advised us to return to Ujire before sunrise after we had admitted Br. Fabian at Fr.Muller’s Hospital. And we did. Before, 5.30 am we were back at Dayalbagh.
I thanked in my mind, Fr. Claver who had advised me to travel with my religious habit (dress). It not only simplified my work in the hospital, but IT SAVED MY LIFE!! I owe my life to my religious habit, why?
Felix, our driver who was a native of Vogga, while on his home visit the following Sunday, overheard someone saying: "Avu Father pandud budya, ijjanda kuda onji kallud aa janatta mande sarbat malduva.".(Since he was a priest, we didn’t proceed. Or else, the second stone would have smashed his head)
Today, Br.Fabian is not with us. But the midnight memories of 6th December, 1992 return to me, especially every year on 6th December.
–Fr. Chetan, Capuchin, Rome
Author: Fr. Chetan- Rome