Time turns a real-life incident into a fiction and then a fiction into a legend. Don't we hear so and so character is legendary? It means fiction is more believable than real-life incident and a legend is more endearingly believable than a fiction. Should I say Jatak are the stories whereas Budhha is real-life. Buddha, in some way, owes his fame to the popularity of jatak characters. I have not seen Gandhi in real life and yet his stories are so very endearing. Gandhi is now popular with younger generation thanks to Richard Attenborough and "Lage Raho Munnabhai". So, in a way, the stories of Gandhiji is more authentic than Gandhi himself. Stories, fiction, and legends are real in the long run whereas real life is only ephemeral. The character of the following story has transcended real-life and it is fiction now...and in time it will be a legend. I can only hope for that.
Not everybody is so lucky as
to get the willing support of one and all in his family for
the principle he lives for. It is just possible that a person so madly in love with
his ideology will have to go it alone. There are times he has to take his own
decision whether he should continue to go his way or to make some compromise to
accommodate the wishes of his family members. Once Manmohanji faced such a
situation, a catch-22 moment as people might call it idiomatically. But at the
end of the day, he remained unmoved. And in the process he left an example
for all of us to follow. Today, when we talk of big things like principle,
sacrifice, and wear white caps to exhibit our uprightness, we should, for once,
remember the story of Manmohanji.
This is an event that
happened some fifty years ago. Maybe it happened sixty years ago, but in any case
events like this used to happen only in past, the good olden days. Those days
Manmohanji was a mere postal inspector. He was transferred to a rural area and
with no grumbling he reached his new place of posting accompanied by his wife Mahamaya and two
sons Ramnarayan and Badrinarayan. The name of the place was some Manmohanpur or
Bagbrindavan or some sort of that. Be it at it may, its soil was extremely
fertile. The village was encircled by orchards of mango, guava and jackfruit,
thoroughly verdant and soothing.
Manhohanji had been
allotted government quarters, a tile-roofed building that had provision for
both the residence and the office. His office was just a room where he could hardly
sit for a whole day at a stretch. He used to remain outstation for twenty-five
days a month on official tours. His jurisdiction extended to distant locations,
even beyond the district boundaries. Those days the means of communication to
the rural areas was just rudimentary; it was almost nothing compared to the
frequency and reach of transport we get nowadays. Sometimes one used to bump
into wild animals on the road. Besides, it was really difficult to arrange
something to eat during the tour. In a word, his work was quite challenging.
On arrival at the new
place of posting as he entered the campus of his office-cum-residence, Manmohanji
felt happy. The feeling was not out of a sense of déjà vu and there was nothing
mysterious about it; rather the real reason was that inspector Manmohanji just
found a jack-fruit tree in his backyard. A tree would give shadow to keep the
surroundings cool—that was the what made him so happy about the place. What
else could be taken from a government tree? When he used to return home from his
tour, he was sure to go to his kitchen garden. There he used to hum his
choicest song, spend some time and then enter his residence, only after
inspecting the jack-fruit tree.
Time went on and with the
passage of time Manmohanji became more regular and more mindful of the tree. Even
Buddha would not have got such a liking for the peepal tree that gave him
Maybe others had no clue
to Manmohanji’s excessive attachment to that tree, but it was clear to one and
all in his family. Reason: there were four jack-fruits in that tree that year.
Otherwise, the tree had so many buds but when it came to fruition, only four of
them could survive. When Manmohanji used to return home from his official trips,
he was sure to count them, just to be sure that nobody had stolen them in his
absence. So, that was the reason behind his deep attachment to the tree.
The inspector had a plan
that he had already made public: When the jackfruits matured he would sell them
in the market. He estimated that the fruits would fetch him four rupees at the
least. Last year the income on account of this amounted to one rupee only but
this year Manmohanji would credit more to the government account and in the
process break the records of previous years.
But Mahamaya, the wife of
inspector Manmohanji, had a different scheme. If last year the income to the
government on this count was just one rupee, this year it could be two. Would
it be a sensible idea to deposit the entire sum in government account? Next year
if the tree grew only one fruit, what would government say: ‘Last year there
was an income of four rupees and this year it should be four, if not more.’ Then
what would Manmohanji do?
‘Can you hear me? What I was telling...we’ll
keep two jackfruits out of the four. You can dispose of the rest two and
deposit the sum in government account, right?’ Mahamaya disclosed her mind to
her husband when he was visibly happy.
Manmohanji listened to his
wife’s request very patiently. Then suddenly he went silent for a while.
Responding to his wife’s suggestion he said, ‘Are you planning to send me to
jail? Are you ready to see your husband vilified in the public just for the
sake of two jackfruits?
Since that day Mahamaya did
not mention a word about the jackfruits. Even she strictly warned her kids not
to jump around the tree so much.
As for Manmohanji, he
himself increased the vigilance on the tree. Up till now his orderly peon Nityanand
used to accompany him on tour but now he stopped taking him along. He just went
to village areas all alone. He was prepared to endure the inconvenience of
eating food from roadside eateries, yet he refused to take his orderly peon with
him to help him cooking his food. Now the orderly peon guarded the jackfruit
tree at Manmohanji’s residence in his absence.
Now I am going to disclose
something important concerning the plot, for it is difficult to go ahead
without stating that.
Mahamaya was pregnant
then. The baby in the womb fulfils all its needs through its mother’s
mouth—this is the provision of the Mother Nature. With the child growing in
womb Mahamaya craved to eat tasty food every now and then. In the list of tasty
food was a jackfruit: it was essentially to be a green jackfruit which could be
cooked as a delicacy. No other fruit could have managed the need of the
would-be mother, for the emphatic demand of the child in mother’s womb was that
particular jackfruit of the kitchen garden, the government-owned jackfruit.
Nityanand the orderly peon
was a person of abundant practical common sense. He was an old man of fifty-seven and he
was going to retire from service in just six months. He understood what was playing
in the mind of Mahamaya. So who could have stopped a practical fellow like him?
He felt as if his own daughter was in the family way and he was going to fulfil
her desire. At the worst, what would happen ultimately if he did so? At the
maximum inspector would be angry? So what? He would tolerate that; he would take
everything in his stride.
Nityanand took a sickle
and went near the tree. The jackfruits were hanging from the tree. He climbed
it and cut one of them. Then he brought it down carefully so that the
fruit could be presented to Mahamaya, eye-pleasing and without a scratch. But when
he entered home, Mahamaya was shocked and refused to even touch the fruits. But Ramnarayan
and Badrinarayan, the two children of the inspector couple were very happy. They
started gambolling around the fruit, singing and clapping. Surely there was
something special at home or else why should the jackfruits be brought home?
crestfallen. He thought he should persuade Mahamaya. He was sure he had not
committed any big crime on earth.
‘Aren’t you like a
daughter to me? Agreed, I’m an employee in the lower grade, yet I’m a father
too. Can I just ignore the wishes of a daughter?’ Nityananda said. Tears welled
up in his eyes.
Finally Mahamaya agreed.
Inspector Manmohanji was out of the station and would not return before two
days. So the jackfruit was cooked into a delicacy. Not one, nor two—the day’s
menu consisted of five dishes. Nityanand, Mahamaya and the two boys ate their
meal with great relish.
As scheduled, the inspector
returned home after two days. And as a matter of habit, he went near the
‘What! Is it true what I
see here? One fruit out of the four are missing. Who has taken that?’
Manmohanji was clearly shocked. Addressing his orderly peon he shouted, ‘Nityanand,
what has happened to my government jackfruit?’
In his mind Nityanand had
decided that he must tell the truth when he would be asked about the missing government
jackfruit. He was capable of telling a lie, but then there was no guarantee
that those two monkeys would keep silent. By monkey he meant the two children
of Mahamaya, Ramnarayan and Badrinarayan, and it was an adjective he had reserved
for them out of affection. He was sure they would vie for disclosing the truth
before their father.
‘Sir, I’ve plucked one of
them,’ Nityanand replied. He was almost cowed down by then.
‘But why? Don’t you know
that we’re supposed to deposit in the government account the sale proceed of
the jackfruits? It’s not sufficient that we deposit money in the government
account; we should have the authorisation for that. I’ve written to my
divisional office seeking permission to do that and it was a month back but no
permission has been accorded so far. Then, why did you pluck a jackfruit
without permission, Nityanand? What do I do now?’ Inspector Manmohanji was
really sad and he began to curse himself.
His agony eating him from
within, he remained silent and grumpy the whole of the day. He had nothing to
talk to anybody at home, not even to his pregnant wife Mahamya, craving for his attention.
Evening came. The shadow
of the dusk began to deepen into darkness of the night. Nityanand the orderly
and Inspector Manmohanji came out of the house with a spade and proceeded
towards the jackfruit tree. Nityanand dug a pit of three feet depth just at the
root of the tree. Then Manmohanji took out some change from his pocket and
counted them very minutely. The amount with him was one rupee and twenty-five
paise. Then he dropped the entire amount into the pit and filled it with soil.
Now the inspector felt
contended. He had no guilt feeling in his mind to bother him.
In fact he not only paid
the cost of the missing jackfruit which was one rupee only but also deposited
the penalty for an inadvertent irregularity committed by his mischievous family
members in his absence.
And the value of the penalty
was 4 annas, I mean twenty-five paise only.
A. N. Nanda