The Unadorned

My literary blog to keep track of my creative mood swings with poems n short stories, book reviews n humorous prose, travelogues n photography, reflections n translations, both in English n Hindi.

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I'm a peace-loving married Indian male on the right side of '50 with college-going children, and presently employed under government. Educationally I've a master's degree in History, and another in Computer Application. Besides, I've a post graduate diploma in Management. My published works are:- (1)"In Harness", ISBN 81-8157-183-5, a poetry collections and (2) "The Remix of Orchid", ISBN 978-81-7525-729-0, a short story collections with a foreword by Mr. Ruskin Bond, (3) "Virasat", ISBN 978-81-7525-982-9, again a short story collection but in Hindi, (4) "Ek Saal Baad," ISBN 978-81-906496-8-1, my second Story Collection in Hindi.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Penalty: A story from Virasat

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.
The Penalty
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 spiritual realisation.
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?
Nityananda felt 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 jackfruit tree.
‘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

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