“To His compassionate Excellency,
One Ram Buksh who is ready to die—
He in the light, and I in the dark,
He full sun and I but a spark—
Prayeth. I once like a wild goat ran,
Tigers right to their lair would trace,
Met the elephant face to face,
Smote the leopard, and slew the buck,
Strangled the cobra before he struck;
Pride of the village, beloved of my wife,
Now am I stricken and weary of life;
Under the whole community’s ban,
A lonely, loathsome, leprous man.
“I, the hunter, so strong, so fleet,
Now the hunted, scarce crawl on my feet,
No whole part of my body sound,
One huge festering, fearful wound.
Though my soul weep sore, no tear on my cheek,
Lidless eyes that shrink from the glare,
Ears decayed, where was hair, no hair,
Nose shrunk inwards so none can trace
The look of a man in my knotted face.
Toes! they have withered off one by one,
There falls my last forefinger’s bone!
So wizened my windpipe, lungs so weak,
Though my heart cry loud my lips scarce speak.
“Weary of being: Hear my cry!
I, Ram Buksh, for I fain would die.
My life is a plague-spot here on earth,
I am loathed by the mother that gave me birth:
The Pariah dogs when they scent me near
Growl and slink to their offal heap,
I am weary of waking, I fain would sleep
It is known to all, if a leper consent
To be buried alive, the gods are content:
And never afflict his village again
With the leper’s curse and the leper’s pain.
I am willing to die: yea, I have no fear;
Cherisher of the afflicted, hear!
“The sun is sweet in the heaven still,
May it shine for you! but the high gods’ will,
And the wish of the village I full well know,
Is that I, the leper, to death should go;
Dust in my mouth till my mouth cease breath,
For so the gods will alone give ease,
And save the village from sore disease:
So will this plague of my body’s rot
Pass from the people and be forgot;
So never more will the leper crawl
A carrion corpse in the shade of the wall!
Oh compassionate! hear what he saith,
Ram Buksh, the leper, and grant him death.
“Hear the prayer of a leper! Forgive
The wish of the living not to live;
For the will of my heart that still must beat
Is to lie beneath the dust of the street,
Out of sight of mine own wife’s eyes,
Out of sound of the hunter’s rout
When they bring the tiger home with a shout,
Where the heavy curse I shall no more hear,
The earth is a lighter load to bear!
But the law is good—you are law to the land—
Wherefore I beg this boon of your hand,
To lie beneath where no torment lies,
For the people’s sake and for Paradise.”
Thus, that his brothers escape the ban,
Prayed Ram Buksh, the leper man.
On Monday, January 13th, 1890, H.R.H. the Prince of Wales presided at a subscription dinner at the Hôtel Métropole, in aid of the National Leprosy Fund. Father Damien’s brother was of the company. Speaking of the lepers in India, the Prince stated that there were considerably over 200,000 of them, and that not more than one per cent. were in hospitals or asylums in 1887.
The vast majority of these roamed over the country as beggars—shunned, friendless, and uncared for, until they dropped down and died, or perhaps drowned themselves in some public well. Let me—continued the Prince—read to you one of the saddest and most pathetic petitions I have ever heard of, which was presented by a leper to the late Lord Lawrence when he was Viceroy.—
“Hail, Cherisher of the Afflicted,—Be it known to your enlightened mind that your devoted servant has been a leper for many years. My limbs have fallen off piece by piece; my whole body has become a mass of corruption. I am weary of life. I wish to die. My life is a plague and a disgust to the whole village, and my death is earnestly longed for. It is well known to all that for a leper to consent to die, to permit himself to be buried alive, is approved of by the gods, who will never afflict another individual of the same village with a similar malady. Therefore, I solicit your permission to be buried alive. The whole village wishes it, and I am happy and content to die. You are the ruler of the land, and without your leave it would be criminal. I hope that I may obtain my prayer. I pray that the sun of prosperity may shine on you.—(Signed) RAM BUKSH, Leper.”
This petition, it is hardly necessary to say, Lord Lawrence did not grant, but the unfortunate leper was nevertheless buried alive a day or two afterwards.
(Poems, Ballads, and Bucolics, p. 168)