Here you are, this is another story from "Virasat". I've a plan to translate all thirty of them for my blog. Earlier I had posted here a few of them. There's a problem too: When translated, the size of a story turns out to be too big for a blog. I know readers would like smaller stuff, but then I'm taking a risk. If I'm lucky I'd get a few independent comments that would guide me to take a decision as regards the English rendering of the book.
The Postmaster Shaukatullahji did not take the remarks of Lachhman Pathak to heart. He knew Lachhman was a humour-loving person who would not stop short of calling a spade a spade, should the occasion so arise. Yet he was special, for he would not ever bear a grudge against anybody for such occasional squabbles in life. Indeed, his heart was only too clear, as limpid as a rivulet flowing down the hillock.
Responding to an inconvenient query of his special subordinate, the Postmaster posed a counter-question, ‘Lachhmanji, is it the same thing to leave work and go out frequently for smoking as taking off for a while to offer namaz?’
‘Why not Masterji? You people pray god as you offer the namaz, isn’t it? Likewise, I remember my god Lord Shiva before taking a smoke. Why only me, even people don’t forget to chant His name while smoking ganja, you know. And now please tell me if they’re the same thing or not.’
The Postmaster Shauktullahji didn’t want to get into an argument on this. He did not forget that it was a post office and so he was not in favour of raging a debate on an issue so delicate as religious belief. So he diverted it, saying, ‘Go, Lachhman go, finish your work. Should I have to remind you that a statement has to go to the audit office today? Yes, today, come what may.’
These days Shaukatullahji had before him an awkward question to respond to and it was a poser from Lachhman Pathak. None in the office was as argumentative as Lachhman. He had a nagging demand: he would leave his seat and go out for smoking as often as his colleague Maizuddin resorted to that that for his namaz's sake. He cogitated, if the Postmaster could relax rules for a fellow colleague hailing from his religion, well, he should do the same for him too. And he should have no business to discriminate Pathak just because he did not belong to the same community as that of his boss.
Maizuddin was an industrious fellow. Punctual and sedulous, he used to attend his office at 10 o’ clock sharp and work the entire day almost ceaselessly. Otherwise, he was a teetotaller who had no need to take an off in the middle of his work for taking tea and he did not treat office as a venue for socialization. He had only one need—he used to leave his seat four times a day for no other purpose than offering his namaz. That was unavoidable and Maizuddin could have done nothing about it. The Postmaster was only too happy to get an obedient and hard-working colleague in Maizuddin who used to offer his ungrudging help when there was a need for that. If anybody in the office failed to cope with the workload and trailed behind, it was Maizuddin who came to the rescue of such slacker and pulled up his arrears. And everything he did was to buttress the reputation of his office. With Maizuddin beside him, always ready and positive, the Postmaster was sure that his office work would always remain up-to-date.
Lachhman Pathak, on the other hand, was compelled to leave his seat off and on, for smoking inside the office had been banned these days. He was so addicted to the lady Nicotine that it was not possible for him to work continuously for more than two short hours. People around him advised him to quit smoking but then he lacked the mental strength to follow their advice. Yes, he did make some efforts, at best perfunctory in their earnestness, as he declared his intention to quit smoking, told his friends about it, took a few new-year resolutions, but success ever eluded him.
The Postmaster Shaukutullahji would not leave the matter at that, for he was a person who believed in reforming human nature. At long last, one day he took an unprecedented decision. And he called Maizuddin to seek his help. He knew he was going to ask Maizuddin for something that was not usually compliable, but then again, he had a great objective before him. And that was why he was confident before broaching the topic.
‘Brother Maizuddin, would you mind doing me a favour?’ enquired the Postmaster.
‘Masterji, do order me first and then see if I’m worthy of your trust,’ Maizuddin replied. In fact, what he meant to say was that he was more than willing to comply with the request of his boss.
‘It’s something simple...and for a day only. Don’t leave your seat while in office. And we’ll see how many cigarettes does Lachhman get to smoke,’ said the Postmaster.
Maizuddin understood what his boss was up to. He was hell bent on bringing back on rail an addict called Lachhman Pathak and that was why the request. He thought, ‘It’s a matter of one day only…not a very awkward request, after all. If I don’t comply with it, what else can I do to make my boss happy? Is it necessary that I follow the footsteps of Lachhman Pathak and set about arguing on every small issue, day in, day out?’
‘It’s ok, Masterji, tomorrow I’ll not budge an inch from my seat,’ Maizuddin assured his boss with an amiable smile on his lips.
The next day Lachhman Pathak came to office as usual. He had had his fifth cigarette of the day even before he reached the office. Came 11 o’ clock and Lachhman had depleted all his stamina to work. So he thought, rather thought aloud, ‘I’ve done enough of work for the morning…and now is the time for a smoke. After all, rewarding one self off and on won’t be a bad idea.’
But Maizuddin sat tight without even easing his shoulder for a split second. He was deeply engrossed in his work.
Lachhman Pathak felt as if something unusual was in the offing. He mumbled unto himself, ‘Lo! What happened to Maizuddin? What’s the matter with this fellow and why is he so glued to his seat? Definitely there should be something fishy, something really fishy.’ Despite his inkling, Pathak did not get anything for sure to enable him hazarding a guess. He thought that he should wait for a while to know the event as it unfolded. Maybe someone would soon discuss the matter on his own.
Hours passed. The flow of nicotine had long gone far below the critical level in the blood of Lachhman Pathak. Now he was unable to concentrate on his work. Despite that, he was unable to go out for a smoke as he was bound by a promise. It was something he had prescribed for himself and there was nothing compulsory about it. According to it, when it was time for Maizuddin to proceed for his namaz, Pathak would remember lord Shiva, the ganja-happy god with carefree attitude to the life. This would convey Lachhman that the time for another fag had arrived! A wonderful synchronization at that! In the past Lachhman had himself fought with his boss on this very issue. In god’s world everything has a parallel, even smoking and praying meant the same! So today Lachhman Pathak would not leave his seat for smoking; he would only follow the footsteps of Maizuddin. He would not even mind suffering for want of a smoke, but he would not be the first to leave his seat. Never.
Two hours of gruelling wait passed yet Lachhman had no respite. With no smoke entering his body, his restlessness turned into unbearable headache. Bouts of anger made him tremble helplessly. He was so worked up that he thought of lifting the chairs lying in front of him and throwing them one by one at somebody. But who should he throw them at? He knew he was not suffering on account of other’s fault. It was his resolve that made him suffer; it was his addiction that made him restless.
It was 3 o’ clock in the sultry afternoon. Lachhman Pathak was perspiring profusely. Now he decided he would break his resolve and take permission from the Postmaster to go out. Then he would smoke a dozen of cigarettes and return.
‘May I go out for a while, Masterji?’ Lachhman Pathak requested.
‘But then why, Lachhman? Today Maizuddin, you know, your friend Maizuddin hasn’t left his seat even for once,’ the Postmaster uttered these words with a smile.
Lachhman Pathak understood that his boss was referring to the same old unsolved matter as usual. But now he was not in a mood to argue with his boss. The need for a smoke had made him dispirited. He was undone. So he replied, ‘Yes Masterji, I admit, leaving one’s work to go for smoking isn’t the same thing as leaving one’s seat and going to offer prayer.’
At the tobacconist Lachhman Pathak was to purchase a pack of cigarettes, but he did not. Rather, he surprised the vendor by ordering a single fag. This was how he took the first attempt to rein himself in. He snuffed it deeply, pinched it, but did not light it so readily. He was acutely aware that he had conceded a defeat, the most humiliating one in his life. And all that was on account of a cigarette only!
With the fag in his hand, Lachhman Pathak went on brooding over the matter, over and over again. He was both crestfallen for his defeat and eager to summon the left-out strength in him. He wondered, ‘Is it true that I’ve not smoked for five long hours? Aha! If I could ignore the demand for five hours, I can as well do that for next five hours…and next five days…and…. Yes, I can!’
Presently, he came back to his seat but with another resolve. He was convinced that a defeat on one occasion would not constitute a defeat for an entire life. To achieve a victory in life he should take a new resolve. By now he had already chosen that. He deposited his cigarette inside the drawer of his table and persuaded himself to respect the resolve. He knew this would bring him the victory. Yes, he had finally resolved that he would not touch his cigarette for next five days…and five years…and….
The next day both Lachhman Pathak and Maizuddin came to attend the office. Whereas Lachhman did not go out of the office for the entire day, Maizuddin resumed his prayer as usual. As he stood up near his table preparing for his namaz, Pathak looked at him and gave him a friendly smile.
************ ************* *************
Take it that the story has ended. Now here is something more for a twist.
Lachhman has taken to another habit. He has a big register with him. After a few hours of hard work when he has the need for respite, he does not have to smoke a cigarette for that. Rather, he keeps writing something important in his register in a nice handwriting. However he keeps it secret from others. Yet Maizuddin is his friend and he knows what all Lachhman so meticulously writes in his register. Once he told the Postmaster just like that, ‘Masterji, Pathak isn’t writing anything weird in his register. He is writing the holy name of “Ram” in that. I know what’s there in his mind: When the register gets filled up, he’ll take it to Benaras and deposit the same in the Bank of Shri Ram.’
A. N. Nanda
Labels: short story, Translation, Virasat