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.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Why This Hassle, At All?

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English touched post office around the same time as the Englishmen showed them up in India. That does not mean all in this ancient institution are expert at handling that glorified language. Sometimes it is way too obvious that writing in English is just one of their very many compulsions. And the result? Well, work performed under compulsion has to end in chaos. And then, in time a funny story is born out of the chaos.

Now I'm going to tell a story in this connection, one that is based on a true incident. Here, to give an exact introduction of the characters and to remember the name of the place of occurrence of the incident is well-nigh impossible. So, whereever necessary, I plan to move on with the help of imagination. After all, what is there in a name?

Mr Prabhakar Jee was the Superintendent of Post Offices of a division, and as the head of the division he was quite concerned that his units were in a mess those days. A theft in a post office now and a snatching of a mail bag then—accidents like that used to occur almost every day. The Superintendent was very upset yet he did not lose heart. He was determined to overcome the phase and bring order to his division, even though it would entail a lot of stress. To start with, he worked upon an idea that if he paid more and more surprise visits to the post offices at different hours, then the situation would definitely take a turn for the better. He used to say, “It matters little whether cash is in chest or in drawers, it should ever be kept under lock”, “Do not allow any outsider to enter the post office, even if the visitor happens to be your relative,” and so on.

One day the Superintendent Mr Prabhakar Jee was returning to his headquarters after touring his area extensively. On his way he found a post office where everybody was frantically busy. It was time its front door was locked, yet it was ajar. Prabhakar Jee was surprised. He wondered, “Shouldn’t I go there and see for myself what detained them so long? No, I needn’t. Maybe, the guys are finishing their day’s work." 

A moment later he thought it over again, “How am I so sure that they’re not into some kind of trouble?”

No, let them do their work. Now I’m really tired,” Mr Prabhakar Jee tried to sit tight in his jeep resolving in his mind to pay a visit later.

Just two small minutes gone he thought it over again. He found it difficult to stick to his decision. There must be something here, he thought. Otherwise why should people keep slugging into the dark hours of the evening?

After all, Mr Prabhakar Jee was the Superintendent of the division. It was his own division, and the quality of its performance depended much on his own responsiveness. He could have looked the other way coming across an accident on the road, but now it was a different situation. He being a superintendent of post offices could not have gone away from the spot after sensing something fishy there. So he asked the driver to stop the jeep and reverse.

Mr Prabhakar Jee got down from his jeep. Taking a few quick strides he entered the post office. And as soon as he got in the staff there sprang to their feet out of respect. This was not only a mark of etiquette, rather something that was performed in accordance with the ethos of postal family. Ordinarily they have a lot of respect to show to their superiors. All of them working in different units of the department behave very much like a family. There are occasional quarrels too, but all the while the scale is just mild. Everybody wants to be heard, and none is ready to rest until he has made his point. There is a fierce approach to achieving all these but at no point anybody forgets the need for respecting the norm. Respect and respect and more of respect—it’s a kind of respectorate!

On arrival of Mr Prabakar Jee the postmaster was quick to narrate the episode.

Sir, the Postmaster of Maharajpur Branch Post Office has written in his slip that he has remitted 500 rupees in his cash bag, but the bag is absolutely empty. We’re quite upset. We really don’t know, Sir, if he has sent the amount, how the whole thing disappeared."

Agreed, the Postmaster was really in distress over the loss of money. But more than that he was foxed as to how the Superintendent could get a scent of everything happening there. Who could have reported the matter to him? And so quickly! There were no cell phones those days!

Addressing the Postmaster Mr Prabhakar Jee the Superintendent said, 'Balwantji, let me take a look. Just open the mail bag in front of me, once again." He had already started the investigation without making his intention clear in so many words.

He himself upended the mail bag, made it inside out but howsoever he tried, he could gather no clue about the loss. Then he examined the
slip but his reading of it was no different from what the Postmaster Balwantjii read: ‘Remitted Five Hundred Rupees’.

It took Mr Prabhakar Jee some time to go through the entire procedure of investigation. It was, without doubt, a time-consuming process. Even taking the written statements from the fellows concerned took two to three hours. Then he was also to take inventories of cash and stamps. And in the process it was ten o’clock by the time everything was over.

After finishing all these chores Mr Prabhakar Jee was about to leave the place. But suddenly it occurred to him that he should interrogate the Branch Postmaster of Maharajpur too. But the village was located at a distance of 15 kilometers from the spot where he was at present. The difficulty was that no jeep was in a position to reach Maharajpur. One should cross at least five kilometers distance by foot to reach the spot. Despite that Mr Prabhakar Jee the Superintendent decided to go there. In his heart of hearts he knew that if he concluded his investigation without proceeding to the venue of incident, it would just be a half-hearted action. And he ever hated to perform anything incomplete.

When the Superintendent reached the jeep, he found his driver fast asleep. Truth be told, he was even snoring. Nevertheless the fellow was so accustomed to the body odour of his Superintendent that he literally got a scent of the advent of his boss just in the nick of time. And finding him seated next to his seat the driver revved the engine.

As night wore on, darkness got mingled with the dampness of the countryside. Now it was half-past ten. Those days the roads leading to the remote villages used to get empty by eight in the evening. Otherwise, village roads were not the hot favourite of automobiles. On a lucky day the villagers used to get a glance of a jeep or a car on the road; and the kids used to rush near those speeding vehicles only to inhale the heady scent of burning petrol. But tonight it was bound to be a night of difference. A jeep was going to Maharajpur at this ungodly hour and there was none by the roadside to greet it.

On their way to Maharajpur the team came near a stream. The villagers used to call it “The Broken River”. The water in it was only nominal and stagnant, and it was full of mud too. So the driver did not venture ahead. Actually his cautiousness was justified, for had he moved a little he would have got literally bogged down in the quagmire.

It was not in the list of priorities of Mr Prabhakar Jee to motivate his driver to handle the challenge professionally. He rather hopped out of the jeep and marched ahead. It was already eleven o'clock at night and he refused to be bothered about that. Balwantji the Postmaster giving him company, he was heading for his destination agog to discover the truth. Both the Superintendent and the Postmaster were of the same age, say around fifty, yet watching them moving with long strides, nobody would feel that they were the two frail middle-aged fellows. In fact, the task of investigation was so demanding…so engrossing was the call that the two were brimming with extra enthusiasm. At least once on his way, the Superintendent nearly lost his balance and somehow managed to regain it.

When both the investigators reached the Maharajpur it was two o'clock in the morning. The house of the Branch Postmaster Malia Manjhi was in the middle of the village. He was fast asleep. As Balwantji knocked at his door, Malia woke up immediately, and with him woke up his neighbours.

Thoroughly worked up in anger, Balwantji was thinking what he should do to teach the Branch Postmaster a lesson, but with his Superintendent standing nearby, he was not in a position to unleash his anger.

Maliaji, won’t you tell me the truth? How much money did you send today to the accounting office?” Superintendent Prabhakar Jee started questioning the Branch Postmaster without giving him the benefit of knowing the background. According to him any background information was not necessary here, for he was confident that, teased a little, a member of the tribal community would not hesitate to speak his heart out. He would not bother to know the detail background of the question. But the only condition was the question to be asked should be straight.

"Money…No sir, I haven’t sent any money today," replied promptly the Branch Postmaster. He had no counter-question to pose, nor did he show any eagerness to defend himself.

Balwantji had a sigh of relief.  "If you’ve sent no cash, then why did you write, ‘Remitted Five Hundred Rupees’?”

"It was only my request to send five hundred rupees. Two depositors have given me their requisition for withdrawing money from their accounts. Please see it for yourself, I can produce those two forms they have filled in,’ saying that Malia went inside and brought in a trice the two withdrawal forms duly filled in by the depositors.

Prabhakar Jee examined what Malia gave him. Both the forms were genuine. This implied that the Branch Postmaster had rightfully requisitioned cash from its accounts office in order to meet the liability and his action was well within the standard procedure of operation.

"Then where's the issue?"

The Superintendent produced forthwith the accounts paper as Malia had sent to his accounting office. It was the one Balwantji gave him. Now Malia Manjhi began to examine the same.

The Branch postmaster Malia was no illiterate. Long ago, he had passed his matriculation examination. His entire education was in vernacular, yet this had not diminished his fascination for English in any way. He was not exactly proficient in English, nevertheless knew how to impress people by speaking his half-cooked and half-crammed sentences. So while writing a cash requisition slip to his accounts office why should he have refrained himself from using his brand of English?

While he decided to write his requisition slip, Malia was sure of what he should write to get the cash he required. And had he written it as correctly as he thought his sentence would have been, ‘Remit Five Hundred Rupees.’ But then, as it inevitably happens, there remained a gap in what was thought and what flowed out of pen. It is not characteristic of a Branch Postmaster like Malia only; sometimes the gap makes even the celebrated writers look just ordinary. Don’t they defensively say, ‘Ah! It’s only a slip of pen’?

It’s no wonder Malia wrote: 'Remitted Five Hundred Rupees'.

Finally the Superintendent Mr Prabhakar Jee and the Postmaster Balwantji happily returned after a satisfying round of investigation. As they were biding Malia goodbye, the Postmaster Balwantji gave his sanctimonious piece of advice to his friend Malia, "Hey, for god’s sake, please take care of your English, won’t you?"

____________________
By
A N Nanda
Bhubaneswar
17-02-2013
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4 Comments:

Blogger NS said...

Dear Sir,
The pen slip narrated in the article "Why this hassle, at all" is very interesting.Small things can create some times major issues. Thanks to cellphone now a days, as there is no need to travel to such extent. Apart from poor english there is message of sincerity prevailed those days is the main crux of the story/ article.
Nice presentation . I have shared the story with my colleagues.
--- N.Subramanian Tirupur

10:25 AM  
Blogger A_N_Nanda said...

Thank you, NS, finding time to visit my blog and offering your valuable feedback on this story. Incidentally, this is my first story in Hindi and an auspicious one at that! It set the tone for the book "Virasat" that sought to picturise a larger-than-life profile of the post office and the actors around it.

7:13 PM  
Anonymous Elvin Abraham,Coimbatore said...

"Respect and respect and more of respect—it’s a kind of respectorate! " . Sir, i couldn't stop laughing .. The entire tone of the story felt so real .. Thank You Sir!


11:38 AM  
Blogger Anant Nanda said...

I'm happy, Elvin, to know that you liked the story and, more specifically, to find that you've understood it the way I thought people at large would understand it. Great!

A comment from you people makes me feel irrepressibly nostalgic about Coimbatore and the people I left there.

10:25 PM  

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