The Third Computer
I had never thought it that one year down the line 'विरासत' would continue to be the talking point. Readers still give me their feedback. The other day, I received a letter from the समकालीन भारतीय साहित्य, a bi-monthly journal of Sahity Academy that they have chosen my book for review. Fine, विरासत has acted according to its brief: it has to prove its worth without anybody canvassing for it. I'm posting another story out of it, a translated version of one that was liked by many. Let me see if it can retain its appeal in its English avatar.
Thirty-long years had passed in the meanwhile since the day Ramulujee took up a job in post office. It was only a matter of five more years and the time would pass just like that. Then he would call it a day and go home with his pension. Whatever was so far due to him in the name of promotion had already come to him. In case another chance came his way during these five years, he was sure he would not accept it. Promotions were at the root of all hassles-he had learnt it the hard way. They meant trauma; they would come accompanied by transfer and displacement. In the name of pay hike what one would get was only a hundred-odd rupees. And that was all. What else would it mean if not ruining a settled life?
Ramulujee was the postmaster of Diamond Park Post Office. The post office was undoubtedly a small unit compared to many that were located elsewhere in the town, but nevertheless it was special. It was located in a posh locality. Not many employees were posted there-besides the postmaster, the other two fellows in the unit were a postal assistant and a peon. The workload was quite substantial, so much so that no one ever hoped to get a moment's respite from the time he entered the office in the morning till the end of the working hours in the evening. Ramulujee was a sincere fellow and it was owing to his sincerity that he could develop close contacts with the important fellows in the locality. In this way the job brought Ramulujee the satisfaction he valued the most.
Wasn't this sense of satisfaction an indication of complacency? Clearly, a postmaster could not afford that. The world was fast changing and the postmaster should not have been so blithely unaware of this.
The entire work of the post office was to be computerised and hence the necessary hardware had since been supplied there a year ago. There were two people in the establishment including the postmaster who had something to do with computers whereas as many as three sets of them were actually received there. The peon was not supposed to operate the system, so where was the necessity of a third one? Common sense matched the curiosity and it was resolved just like that-maybe one spare system was supplied with a view to meet the contingency of a system going out of order all of sudden. Besides the systems, the other components of the hardware that Diamond Park Post Office received consisted of a UPS that would ensure availability of power all the while, a generator and a couple of printers. The computers needed tables specially designed for the purpose, ergonomic chairs and the counters were to be converted into modular cubicles made of glass and aluminium. The main computer which was called the server needed a separate room and that was also raised inside the main hall. In a way, the whole look and feel of the post office was refurbished.
People of the locality saw the change in the post office and got pleasantly surprised. Their astonishment working in them, they concluded that India was changing. 'If a post office such as the one at Diamond Park could get metamorphosed overnight, then everything is possible in India,' somebody said this with banter.
Despite supply of hardware and the peripherals and even after completion of the site preparation, the work of the post office did not shift to the computers as expected. Reason: the employees there badly needed the training to operate the contraptions. People monitoring this at the headquarters brought this fact to the special notice of the divisional superintendent and so he had to pay a surprise visit to Diamond Park Post Office. Finding the state of affairs there, the divisional head acted promptly. He arranged to send both the postmaster Ramulujee and his assistant Veerbhadra to the training centre. It was a programme for a week, but at the end of it Ramulujee could not understand a word of what was taught. Yes, he learnt a few jargons with a lot of efforts and used one of them, 'Please wait, I'm shutdowning the computer.' He came back to his post office at Diamond Park, not empty-handed but with a certificate of attendance...and with a heart filled with uncertainties of the future.
Veerbhadra, on the other hand, could grasp whatever was imparted to him. He was a young fellow, quite able to fathom those technical intricacies. In fact, before joining this job in the post office two years ago, he had acquired some skill in computer operation. Now he was out of touch, yet by attending this training he got back the old skill. On his return Veerbhadra showed his interest to work in computers but it was the postmaster Ramulujee who ignored him.
Time was at a premium. And a month passed just like that. Every week reminders used to reach the postmaster urging him to put the computers into operation. For how many more days could Ramulujee have ignored the instructions from the divisional head? Finally, one fine morning, the ultimatum came: Put the computers into operation right away, and if the work does not start on them within three days, the entire staff of Diamond Park Post Office would be shifted.
Yes, the threat was as clear as that!
'Transfer? Oh no, we deserved better. Veerbhadra Babu, do something...and do it quickly,' Ramulujee was almost at the point of pleading with his junior.
'Why not Masterjee, I'll put them into operation by tomorrow…latest by nine o' clock in the morning. You needn't worry too much. I was only waiting for your orders.' Veerbhadra was bubbling with confidence.
The postmaster took the words of Veerbhadra as an expression of his ego, nay superiority complex. A feeling of inferiority came over him instantly as he realised his present inadequacies. Really, technological changes do appear this way; the old gives way to the new and the ones known for their dexterity till yesterday are discarded as useless today...just like that. Now what else was open for Ramulujee to choose? He just tried to prepare himself to accept everything that his junior colleague would suggest. He just wished the emergency to pass him by.
Veerbhadra was happy. Tomorrow he would do something useful. He would exhibit his superiority, the proof of his indispensability. Now onwards, he would not have to fill in those lengthy forms; he would not be harassed by those incorrigible arithmetic conundrums. He would not be required to redo his works every time they went wrong. Everything would be done by computer, the wonder machine, the friend of the white-collar worker.
The next day Veerbhadra reached the post office long before the starting of the business hours. No sooner did he reach there than he commenced his work. Even he had no time to wait for the sweeper to complete the cleaning.
In fact the vendor that supplied the computers had already configured the local network. Even the UPS had been connected to the computers. The rest in the to-do list was to load the application software that was developed for the post office and to enter the basic data that would initialise the operation. That was all. Then the computers would run and the work of the post office could be done on them.
Ramulujee had carefully stored in his cupboard the CDs containing the software but when it was the time to produce them, he just drew blank. Strangely, all other things that accompanied the consignment like invoice and user manual were available at hand but not the CDs. Then Ramulujee tried to recall. And he tried hard, really hard. After a while he succeeded...and happily at that. As Archimedes suddenly screamed Eureka-Eureka when his famous scientific discovery serendipitously dawned on him, Ramulujee, likewise, screeched.
'Oh, I see, you're looking for GB. Then why didn't you tell me earlier that you're searching GB. I've not one, but two GBs, all of them lying in tact in my cupboard.'
Veerbhadra stifled his desire to burst into laughter and politely said, 'Masterjee, I'm not searching GB, rather CDs, the ones that contain the software in them.'
'Yeah, I'm telling you exactly that. A CD or a GB-isn't it the same stuff?' the postmaster shot a rhetorical question. He was not a fellow to concede.
Now Ramulujee brought the CD out of his cupboard. 'Take your blessed GB, Veerbhadra Babu, Oh yes, what were you calling these thingummies...CD, ok, ok, take your blessed CD.'
The computers just waited for Veerbhadra to load them with the software. The entire work was to take him some two hours, yet he had reached the post office very early in the morning. He was a little cautious and liked to work with some time-margin at his disposal. He calculated that by nine-thirty he would make the systems ready for work.
It was nine-thirty when the postmaster came ready. He had taken his bath and dressed properly for the occasion. He had a cocoanut in his hand too.
'Masterjee, now the computers are ready. You can work on them,' Veerbhadra was beaming with self-satisfaction.
'Wait a minute, Veerbhadra Babu. Allow me to worship it...let's make it as auspicious as possible. I'm going to break this cocoanut,' the postmaster said. Like a patriarch he was for preserving the tradition of the house. It was never an auspicious way to begin any work without invoking Lord Ganapati. No computerisation in post office could be thought of without the blessings of Ganapati.
Then he went near door and banged the cocoanut there. It cracked and water began to drip. Ramulujee took it and poured on the keyboard and the delicate instrument instantly went out of order. Veerbhadra gawped at the postmaster helplessly. He was at his wit's end.
What was there for Veerbhadra to do now? A couple of minutes gone, he managed to recover from his uneasiness and said, 'there's nothing to worry, Masterjee. I'm bringing the keyboard of the third computer and attaching it here. Then your machine will be once again ready for work. Just give me two minutes....'
A. N. Nanda