Fifty Thousand Only
Two and half years have passed in the meantime since my book "Virasat" was published. It had done whatever big or small it was capable of doing and I wistfully look back on the day I decided to self-publish it. It was my maiden work in Hindi and judging from the love of the readers, I can say it with confidence that Hindi is a really big platform. There is room for everyone there--even for a novice like me!
Bhattanam Gazetted Head Post Office is the largest postal unit in the city...and incidentally the busiest one too. Starting from early morning till it is late in the evening, there’s rush of people coming to transact their postal business. There are, of course, many post offices in the city, yet it is everybody’s conviction that business is transacted smoothly at Bhattannam Gazetted Head Post Office. Letters dropped in the letterbox in front of it reaches their destination quite fast; should you require your postal articles be insured before their dispatch, the clerks at the counter at Bhattannam Post Office never refuse unlike their counterparts at other post offices in the town; you would get almost all varieties of postage stamps including the ones issued by the department for philatelic purpose; as you approach here to withdraw some cash from your savings bank accounts, you are sure to get that and that too immediately, and so forth. Its reputation reigns unabated even to this day.
Despite all these, there was a time when the Superintendent of that postal division used to hesitate to take up the inspection of Bhattannam Gazzetted Head Post Office. Yes, there was a special reason behind such a fear of the divisional head. The treasury of the head post office had three bagfuls of changes and it was almost a permanent feature of the unit. The changes about which I just mentioned did not consist of any ten- or five-rupee coins, rather the sacks contained almost all varieties of them, say 2 paise, 3 paise, 5 paise, 10 paise, 20 paise, 4 annas, 8 annas—every denomination so far minted by the mints of the land. It was mandatory for an inspecting officer taking up an inspection of a post office to physically count all cash stored there, but in the case of Bhattannam Head Post Office the big question was how many people would be required accomplish that? There are only so many hours in a day! Again, even if the work was entrusted to a team of people, who could give the guarantee that the counting that was done in front of the inspecting officer was really accurate? Even if it was assumed that everybody engaged in the job would give a trustworthy performance, still there was no guarantee that the task would be completed in one go. Agreed, every inspecting officer had a nagging fear that the sacks contained amount less than what was shown in the book of accounts of the post office, yet for all practical purposes they used to take it for granted that altogether the amount was fifty thousand rupees only.
It is not that Bhattannam Head Post Office was not being inspected every year, rather as per rule there were four inspections spread over a period of twelve months. The inspecting officers used to count all the high-value currency bundles and then when it was time for counting the contents filled in those sacks, they would chant the name of god in all sincerity, “Glory to thou, oh Bajarangbali, let your kindness flow upon us unstinted.” Then they would almost beg the head treasurer what they should write in their report.
“Tell us Mr Treasurer, how much is there in these sacks?”
Then the Head Treasurer would consult his papers and tell, “Yes, Sir, when I took the charge I was told that these sacks contained forty-nine thousand. I’ve added another thousand to them. So you can write with all confidence that there is a sum of fifty thousand only. Fine?’
Post office has a time-honoured rule of mutual trust that is nothing if not unwritten. And it should manifest itself in whatever is done in its name. If one wants to thrive here, he or she has to trust others, almost unconditionally. No wonder the inspecting officers on the premises of Bhattannam Gazetted Head Post Office did not use to go any further just to produce their inspection reports. Whatever information was available was sufficient to fill up their reports and the officers used to merrily put their signatures in all confidence before submitting them. And it continued to happen years on end. Everybody was in the know of the practice and no one had ever raised any kind of objection to it. Years gone, nobody actually knew how much amount was there in the sack nor was it clear if they contained anything else. All of them used to leave it on lord Bajarangbali. Had a student of numismatics chosen to take up some research of modern Indian numismatics he or she would have located all the specimens of coins at Bhattannam Gazzetted Head Post Office. In fact the post office had all varieties of coins that dated back to the year when India was invaded by China or even to a period earlier, let’s say when decimal currency system was not in vogue. In this way Bhattannam Gazzetted Post Office had all that which would have attracted scholars, but sadly enough nothing was known to the outer world. Only people in the post office were privy to this information.
It is not a fact that nobody ever thought of solving the problem that seemed to have been persisting for twenty or maybe thirty years. One Divisional Superintendent even went to the extent of saying, “Take whatever blasted overtime you demand, but ensure that the entire accumulation of small changes is disposed of.” The work of clearing changes started in right earnest but as the work progressed, a doubt came upon the gazetted postmaster’s mind: ‘Now we’ll finish counting, overtime or no overtime—somehow we’ll do that, but what should we do to dispose them of? We know all these have come from smaller post offices and got accumulated here and now where should we send them?’
And then the work that started with right earnest got a halt...and stopped then and there. What more should they have expected from a doubting Thomas?
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
The city where Bhattannam Gazetted Post Office was situated was a unique one in the sense that its political atmosphere remained ever charged. Whether it was a small eatery of the railway station, be it an office or a school, one was sure to come across some political discussion, hot and high decibel. Politics for the inhabitants of the place was not a medium of argument only; rather the politicians showed an exceptional flair for uttering jokes in the middle of their orations. Like all politicians they were good at doling out assurances to their electorate; additionally their speeches were interspersed with jokes and high-pitched guffaws. Naturally, the audiences had nothing to feel bored about. For example, once a leader in course of his speech uttered, “Look, if you make me the chief minister, the trains of our state will not run on rails,” and then gave ten seconds of dramatic pause before uttering further, “look, they will only fly in the sky, very much like buffaloes...haha...ha...haha....” What is more, once somebody said, “If you make me head of the municipality, do you know what will I give you in return? I will turn all the roads of this town from black to fair...like the cheeks of film heroines!”
Even in the legislative assembly similar high-sounding speeches used to be delivered and no one had even kept any count of such brags. But amidst instances of such leg-pulling, there were occasions when leaders did not hesitate to quarrel among themselves. Honourable Speaker used to give strict instructions and then the situation could be kept under control. But once it so happened that one innocuous-sounding argument quickly degenerated into an awful quarrel between the ruling party and the opposition members. Especially some members of the opposition went hyper and uttered all sorts of unparliamentary language. Not only that, they even engaged themselves in acts of vandalism by breaking chairs and tables inside the assembly. Before long, one unthinking member, fresher as he was, just rose from his seat and went on assaulting his counterparts from the ruling party.
Initially the speaker of the assembly tried to maintain peace and harmony through appeal but this time it was without a success. Then finding nothing effective he imposed an exemplary fine on the opposition party. Yes, the amount fined was fifty thousand. It appeared, in the history of the legislative assembly, this was the largest amount ever fined. The fine was not on any single violator of discipline; rather it was for the party to bear it for its failure to rein in its members!
The ruling of the speaker was inviolable but the opposition was not ready to comply it so tamely, for it would mean that the party was utterly weak. The stalwarts of the party pondered over the matter and weighed the pros and con of every option that dawned on them. Finally the leader of opposition Mr Necktwister Singh felt that the fine imposed must be paid. However, the amount would not be paid either in currency note or by a cheque; rather the entire amount would consist of small changes. The smaller the denomination the more innovative would the compliance appear. In this way the orders of honourable speaker would be complied and simultaneously it would create an unprecedented humour for everybody to relish. When press would come up with the news, people would forget the stigma of fine imposed on the opposition and marvel at the innovativeness of the compliance. They would even cry “Bravo”, “Well done boys, Bravo”.
The plan was easier contemplated than acted upon. Where would one get changes these days, and that too in such a big scale? Bhattannam had an association of beggars, and so messengers were sent to the chairperson of the association Mrs Rukmini Sawant. In fact one of the messengers was none other than Mr Necktwister Singh himself, the leader of the opposition!
“What? You mean you need a bagful of coins from us? Strange! You’re out to beg from a beggar!” commented Rukmini. Then modulating her tone she resumed, “Oh no, joking apart, the fact is that we people have long since stopped taking change as alms. Only yesterday in our general body meeting a resolution was unanimously accepted to impose restriction on us that we would not take anything less than five rupees. So, how do you expect that we have a lot of change, bagfuls of coins?”
Mr Necktwister Singh, the experienced leader of opposition sighed and repeated mutatis mutandis whatever he heard from Rukmini, “Yes Sister, why should you possess so much change? But then tell me who on earth can help me now?”
A modern beggar woman is a know-all person, isn’t she? She has a colour TV and that too connected to all channels. So she quipped, “Look, Mr Leader, what a bundle of confusion you are! Go to the post office and enquire...and I’m sure your work will be done, Right?’
The next day all the newspapers in the city had this interesting news to flash, only headlines differed. The most cryptic of them read, “Demand a piddling and get a whopping!”
And there was no end to surprises. Bhattannam Head Post Office was chosen as the best public utility institution in the city and it was further announced that His Excellency the Governor of the State would personally hand over the honour.
A. N. Nanda