A Story from "Virasat"-- Between Give and Take
It's hightime I told a story from my book "Virasat", translating it into English for the appreciation of those who'd like to read it in English. I've a plan to translate the book into English at some point, the inspiration being the popularity of the book. Some have even suggested me reading the translated version of the other two stories ["Dakmani", "Fever"] I posted in this blog. Let me see if and when it is possible!
Samvit got his first posting at Chennai and now he would rush there to assume the charge. He was a fellow from north India, from the city of New Delhi to be precise, and so he got really scared to manage the job of a Senior Superintendent of Post Offices at a far-off city like Chennai. With a bout of nervousness he thought, 'Well, I'll join my work there but how do I communicate-in which language? If it's about the office, English will do, but how do I deal with common people who have little knowledge of the language? To what extent can I manage just by relying on translators?'
Actually when Samvit reached Chennai and started working, he did not have to face so much of a difficulty. English was of great help while dealing with his subordinates. Even a lady peon working in his office was proficient in English, as if she were a student in a public school!
Samvit took his job seriously from day one. Disposing of files and paying visits to the post offices in his inspecting rounds, Samvit spent a couple of hectic months before the pangs of loneliness could even bother him. As a result, he gained a solid mastery of his works. Otherwise, the work of a divisional head of a postal unit was not so difficult that a well-qualified fellow like Samvit would have fumbled at them. After all, he had come to this position only after clearing the tests of a difficult competitive exam, hadn't he?
Indeed Samvit was abundantly qualified. After passing his M.A. exam, he had acquired management degrees too. Had he looked for some jobs in private companies he would have easily got a monthly package of a lakh and a half. But he actually chose the government service. A government job ensures prestige in society-that was his belief...and his parent's wish too!
Samvit had a happy knack of remembering the names and physical features of people he interacted with. He was confident that if he met a person once--say only once donkey's years ago--he would remember him feature by feature. And at a new place this ability of his was of great help to Samvit. Whoever he used to address, it was only in his or her name. And who would not like this kind of personal recognition? When it was the head of the office, the Superintendent of the division himself, addressing a fellow uttering his or her name, it was, indeed, no small thing for a subordinate employee.
The lady peon I referred to in the beginning was Shalini. She was not a permanent employee, yet she had been working in that office for a long time. Her husband was a peon in that office, who was now bed-ridden owing to a paralytic stroke. A wife working in place of her husband was not a strictly regular arrangement, yet it continued, for no one had any complaint as long as the arrangement worked fine.
Samvit had to choose Shalini as his peon since she was the only peon in the office with ability to speak English.
Thus Shalini became the peon allotted to the head of the division-it was no mean thing for a temporary fellow in the office. She used to help all such people as vied for getting their work done. And for that Shalini had not to go to Samvit; her role was only to promote all such important files on to the top of the stack!
Now-a-days Shalini was particularly happy. She was not getting the reprimands from the office supervisor. She was always on her heels, working to the best of her ability. Samvit was a smoker, but he had, of late, decided to buy his cigarettes not in packs but one by one. Maybe he was trying to control the consumption. And Shalini had no quibbles about it; gladly she used to rush out of the office and come back from the tobacconist in a jiffy.
Samvit was a bachelor and used to cook his food on his own. Shalini had thought it many a time to offer to help Samvit. In case he offered to remunerate her, she would not mind accepting it. She would rather spend that money on the medicines for her husband. But all these were only thoughts; Shalini had never ever come to volunteer.
A period of six months elapsed in the meanwhile. Samvit was deeply engrossed in his work. He paid frequent visits to the units, proactively solved the problems of his fellow employees and brought newness to the work environment in the post offices. Till yesterday, there were offices whose approaches were full of mud but the initiatives of Samvit fructified as concrete approach roads replaced those patches of bog. In the interest of the post office, he used to approach the officers of the municipal corporation, talk to his I. A. S. friends and try such other ideas as struck him right. In a way, he was thinking unconventionally to tackle the problems that had long daunted the superintentents. The result: Samvit became a popular figure overnight. Fellow employees were happy with Samvit and more than that the senior officers. Even newspapers carried news items in praise of this progressive young bureaucrat.
One day Samvit received his order of transfer. Now he would go to Delhi, his native place. He was really happy about it and he felt as though he were blessed collectively by all those people for whom he had been working whole-heartedly for last six months.
The entire staff of his office planned to throw a party to bid farewell to Samvit. And Samvit accorded his consent. It was decided that the party would be held in the afternoon of the forthcoming Friday, for Samvit had already planned to go back to Delhi on Saturday.
It was in the forenoon of the Friday that something unprecedented happened, an event that Samvit would not be able to forget the rest of his life.
Shalini came to the office as usual. True, the gloom of separation was hanging in the air, but nobody else was as unhappy as Shalini. Quietly she mused that she would not have even dreamt of such great respect if it was not for Samvit. Today that glorious phase was going to be over. And how would she console herself? Even the future of her service was uncertain; God only knew what the new superintendent would do with it!
Shalini only wished to enter the chamber of her boss and see him to her heart's content, take his orders. But how was that possible? She was not supposed to enter the chamber until the boss rang the call bell. Today was such a day as he had no time to call anybody inside. Was it that he left smoking once for all? He had not ordered her to buy even one cigarette since he came to the office. What could be the reason?
It was 12 noon when Samvit actually rang the bell. Shalini answered the call and entered the room immediately. She went closer to him and stood there.
'Do you know Shalini I left smoking today?' Samvit stated this very plainly, as if he were narrating before Shalini something he had achieved after a lot of efforts...as if he had finally acted upon the advice of Shalini after months of her persuasion!
Shalini was silent; she only kept waiting. Unlike the other days, there was no smile on her lips. As though she were waiting perfunctorily for an order to comply! Maybe, she was searching the real shape of a relationship between an officer of the rank of the Superintendent and a small time temporary employee!
Suddenly, Samvit remembered that he needed change for a thousand-rupee note. It was another odd job to be done as a part of his preparation for the long journey ahead. So he took his purse out. Both Shalini and Samvit were silent. Samvit opened a thousand rupee-note from his purse gently and proffered that to Shalini.
'No Sir, no. I'm not worthy of this,' said Shalini.
Samvit understood. He was about to order Shalini to fetch him change of that amount, but it was too late. Now it was well-nigh impossible to explain his intention by means of words. Samvit did not want to say a word, or a phrase, or something that would shock Shalini. He did not want to offend her.
'Shalini, this is from my side...take it, it will be of use to you,' Samvit insisted.
Shalini accepted the amount. In the afternoon when Samvit was there in the farewell get-together, he could find his entire staff present there...except Shalini.
A. N. Nanda