The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

My Photo

I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fever--the Story They All Liked

Among the stories included in my recent book "Virast", this one has generouly been applauded by the readers. Often I have wondered as to what is there in the story that makes it so magically attractive to the readers. Some say it is the style which is unadorned yet crisp and convincing; some say it is the authenticity of the story itself that makes it endearing; and some say it is the settings that are so very enchanting. In fact, when I wrote this story, I was agog with the inspiration that my earlier book "The Remix of Orchid" had brought on its wake and the opus was entirely set in the Andamans. So this story, originally in Hindi, happens to be the continuation of the earlier inspirations.

Car Nicobar—it’s an island situated in the middle of the Bay of Bengal. Its geographical identity is only too tiny, so much so that a map cannot allot it a spot any larger than a point. Starting at any place on the beach and without turning around if one intends to go around the island and revert to the same spot, it will take him half a day only. Round and annular--well, the island can be likened to a dish. There are dense coconut groves all around—they are the jungles of the isle and they are its farms. That’s all for the Nicobari people to depend on for their living. And, what about fish from the sea? Think there’s none of it for them, for who can catch fish daring the swift and unpredictable current of the bay.

Agreed, the island is tiny but it’s not so sparsely populated as the rest of the islands that dot the bay. Nicobaris depend only on their post office for their letters. And what about the courier? Oh no, courier is something for the people of the cities to experience...and not for a place like this. The private courier fellows cannot simply think of carrying mails to and from such an inaccessible place as Car Nicobar. It goes without saying: Courier is a just a smalltime trading activity; it has nothing to do with public service!

Whereas the small letters reach the island riding piggyback on the flight schedules that are run twice a week by the Indian Air Force, the rest of the postal articles like parcels and the registered letters are sent across to the island through the shipping services. The jetty there, situated on the shore, is so small that not all boats can reach there. Then the boats have perforce to drop their anchor in the sea, somewhere around a kilometer off the shore. Passengers coming to the island alight on an iron pontoon. So is the case with the postal bags. A person is entrusted with the job of carrying the mail bags from the post office to the boat and collecting from it the ones meant for the island. Thus, once in a week or in ten days, the fellow has to give his back-breaking performance so that the inhabitants of the island get their letters.

My story begins with the arrival of the boat off the shores of Car Nicobar. It so happened that the mail carrier named Peter had a slight fever and the boat MV Chowra was also scheduled to touch the island on that very day. The postmaster was not in a position to entrust the work of exchanging the mail bags to anyone else. In fact, none was willing to help the post office for a paltry remuneration of forty or fifty bucks only, and that was the maximum the postmaster was authorized to incur for the job. The day had brought windfall to the lumpers, when earning a sum of a hundred rupees or even two hundred was so very easy. There was an acute shortage of workforce, for the entire workforce in the island was engaged in ferrying the consignments to and loading them onto the boat, besides unloading therefrom the stuffs meant for the place. It mattered a little whether it was fever that weakened Peter or the pounding headached that made him lurch for steps, only he was to go to the boat and ferry the mail bags up to the shore.

It was about the middle of November. The monsoon had brought plenty of rain to Car Nicobar on its return trip. Although the fury of the rain had waned that day, as if with the arrival of the MV Chowra, yet there were intermittent showers. The boat came and anchored, as usual, some one kilometer off the coast of Car Nicobar. Waking up in the wee hours, Peter slipped into a raincoat and started for the jetty right away. And he reached there even before the gathering of passengers had formed. He thought if he could reach the boat well before the unloading of consignments had started, he could receive the mail bags from the boat master. Then he would catch the earliest return trip of the pontoon and reach the post office by nine o’ clock. Thus, he would be able to avail himself of the rest he was badly in need of. A restful sleep under the quilt would drive his fever away in just a couple of days. Yes, fever was only a guest for two days and would itself run away just like that when there would neither be any food nor drinks for it!

Events began to unfold as Peter had imagined. He managed a space for himself in the maiden trip of the pontoon. It was hardly seven o’ clock in the morning when Peter reached the boat. There he met the boat master and informed him about his fever. In his heart of hearts Peter had reckoned that the boat master would accord him the priority in consideration of his ill-health and hand him over the postal bags immediately. But it did not happen that way.

The boat master said, ‘Peter, the sick room is all empty for you. Go and relax there and consult the doctor. We’ll give priority to the passengers and only after they all have disembarked, you’ll get your bags. So, it’ll be eleven o’ clock at the earliest.’

Who would dare talking back to the boat master? It was his boat and not for nothing he was the boat master! So Peter accepted his dispensation. Standing on the deck he now kept watching the hustle at the point of disembarkation. Everybody was happy to be back—the old and the young, the ladies and their infants, even the pigs perched on human shoulders were squealing aloud in jubilation. A few even missed their steps while hopping onto the pontoon waiting beside the boat but simply endured their pain. They were even ready to console themselves, ‘Thank god, after all, we didn’t fall into the sea!’

By nine o’ clock, Peter’s temperature started to shoot up. He decided to remind the boat master about his bags.

‘Captain Saheb, look, my fever is on the increase. Now you’ve to do me the favour…please,’ this time Peter laid stress on whatever he had to utter.

And the boat master acceded to his request. Then he opened the door of an anteroom and handed him over three mail bags. On receiving them Peter rushed to the ladder. There he waited for the pontoon to return and ferry him back to the jetty.

All the passengers who were to disembark here had already disembarked. Only Peter and a trader were left. So the pontoon was not in a hurry to come back.

But this time god responded to the fervent prayers of Peter and sent the pontoon in time. Peter got up and headed for the ladder to climb down. Likewise, the trader fellow stood up and quickly heaved his baggage onto his shoulder.

Peter was first to set foot on the ladder and descend. Now his fever had really shot up and his entire body was aching. To add to this, his head was reeling, making him pathetically totter for foothold. Groaning as he was with excruciating pain, he was conscious of the mail bags, taking all possible care not to leave them unprotected. And step by step and with meticulous care, he descended the stairs.

The trader fellow was following Peter. It appeared as though he were unable to bear the load of his sacks. Maybe that was why he had chosen to leave the boat only when the crowd cleared up.

The ladder was shaking on and on. Its sway was way too unusual. Peter thought as if his fever, having left his body, had seized the ladder!

‘Bang!’ In no moment, the trader threw himself on Peter. How could the poor little mail carrier mange the weight of both—the weight of the plumpish trader and of his unwieldy sack? So he lost his balance and plunged headlong into the sea whereas the trader had the time to save himself holding on to the rails.

Now all that remained for Peter to do was to deal with the undercurrent of the sea to save his life…and his mail bags.

Peter began to swim. He had been swimming since his childhood and now he came face to face with a challenge that dared his ability. Today he was not physically fit yet it was of no concern to the sea. What he was left to face now was the force of the nature, a demonic force, a force that was heightened by the mid-sea treachery. The undercurrent pulled him into the sea and Peter decided to swim in favour of it. He knew swimming against the current was not a choice before him; it was rather like inviting a sure death.

Peter went on swimming the way he decided, and as he had thought instinctively, the undercurrent changed its course after a few meters. Now it was no longer a strain for him to keep afloat. In the meantime the rescue team from the boat consisting of two swimmers had arrived there. They had the equipment necessary for carrying out the rescue operation.

Back on the pontoon Peter demanded, ‘Where’re my mail bags? Tell me where they're.’

‘Here you are. Take your mail bags. You should be happy they didn’t fall into the sea. How would they? Before you plunged into the sea, you yourself had thrown them onto the pontoon, right?’ said the trader.

Peter could not recall as to when he could decide on the emergency plan and act upon that, yet he was happy that he could save the mail bags with his nimbleness. More than that, he was happy to have performed his duty in all earnest.

By that time, Peter’s fever had finally disappeared.



A. N. Nanda




Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home