What’s Your Caste?
Youth is always like
that: It’s that phase in one’s life when mind is seized by inspiration and heart by spirit
indomitable: to wow everybody by doing something stupendous and climbing the arduous summit of success. With a craving
for recognition, with zeal to leave all the milestones behind, with
a desire to share experience among one’s nearest and dearest, with enchanting
impulses accelerating every step, life becomes a passion worth living for. Yet, despite everything
exciting and agreeable, there is at least one prerequisite for shaping a shining
youth: One must know how to take the right decisions at the right junctures.
Mandakini was a
young lady who had understood the joy and responsibilities of her youth
completely. And she used to take all her
life’s decisions right. For
example, when it was time to choose a subject in her undergraduate course, she chose
teachers and well-wishers would have liked her to elect economics, for that was
the most sought-after subject in humanities. But Mandakini was very clever—or rather
too clever to be swayed away by other’s expectations out of her own life. She aspired
to get a class I service under the central government and, in order to succeed
in the competitive examination, what else would have assured her of good scores
if it was not sociology? She proved her hunch exactly right as she passed the
competitive exam with flying colours. And then, when it was time to choose her
service, she chose the Department of Posts. She took this particular decision
because she knew it was such a service as would afford her opportunity to work
in every nook and cranny of India. She had a further ambition of showing her mettle
in creative writing and that was where her exposure to different cultures and
localities would help her. Only serving under the Department of Posts would
give her that exposure…and she was only too sure of that. Her well-wishers
pestered her to choose some other service but Mandakini just looked the other
decisions at right junctures was not her only strong point. Mandakini was
different even look-wise. She had actually a very special look that one could
hardly ignore. It was as if she had, behind her simple personality, something quite
charming about her. With a height that was five feet and nine inches, she was definitely
taller than the average. And, as such, she had never ever felt the need to wear
high-heeled sandals. Even without that she literally used to stand out from the
crowd. Her limpid eyes imparted a sense of intimacy and that alone empowered
Mandakini with a natural ability to discern good from bad just by a glance. Simply
by listening to her once anybody could tell that her voice was sweet and
contained all the best that feminine voice stood for. Besides, she was happy
with her complexion and she was not too frivolous to aspire for a complexion
makeover in a matter of weeks. She used to take care of herself, not for getting
herself transformed into a mannequin doll overnight but just to project a clean image, an
image of a self-assured lady. And that was all she cared for. Naturally,
Mandakini looked attractive and one could attribute that to her purity of heart
and basic sense of honesty.
A long period of initial
training was the prime requirement of Mandakini’s job. That an
officer on probation should gain familiarity with the tidbits of operation
performed at all levels, that she should be capable of removing on her own all
the obstacles that might come her way while maintaining the operations, that she
should be completely aware of the challenges faced by the department, that she
should have the first-hand information as to the prevailing reputation of the
department among the members of the public were the objectives of such a
long-drawn-out training. Mandakini understood what she was supposed to do to
live up to such objectives of the training. So, with a curiosity of a greenhorn
at heart, she devoted herself to her work right from the word go.
The law and order situation in the division
where Mandakini was sent for the field training was really very disturbed. A
group that did not have faith in the prevailing constitutional democracy had unleashed
violence against the establishment. They were striving hard for establishing an
egalitarian society and, in order to achieve that, they were ready to give any personal
sacrifices. The police was doing its best to maintain law and order but success
ever eluded it. Reason: the members of public just maintained a complete
silence. It appeared as though the public was in support of those that
believed in violence rather than the police that was trying hard to prevent
crime. Everybody there, as it were, was enamoured by the philosophy of
socio-economic equality that glorified stark bloodshed.
Mandakini had to work as a postal inspector. And
she landed herself in a subdivision where there were a sizable number of armed fellows
advocating that particular brand of alternative social order. The day Mandakini
joined, the head of the division called her and imparted her some useful advice.
I hope by now you must have come to know at least something about your
I thought I should emphasise that yours is an extremely dangerous area. So, may
I urge you to simply desist from going out for the sake of your safety," said
the divisional head.
"Well, I quite
understand what you intend to say, sir. But then again, an inspector has to go
out in the course of her work, isn’t it? 'Mandakini said.
"Yeah, it's true,
but ...." The divisional head did not want to make the atmosphere scarier.
Despite such early
warnings Mandakini did not care a damn about all those exaggerated threats. Before
starting any job it would behove ill of her to adopt such a negative attitude. She
knew all such warnings might come handy only to those that would love to shy
away from their responsibilities. But as for those that genuinely liked to work
and cared for their goals, these threats would mean nothing.
A fortnight passed just
like that since Mandakini assumed the charge of the inspector of post offices. By
now she had gone through all such files as were current and important, and had finalised
her tour programme. The place where she intended to go first was very unsafe. Yet
she decided to go there, because a blatant fraud had taken place there in the
payment of money orders. An
errant employee had embezzled the value of more than one hundred old-age
pension money orders. Even
though the event had taken place nearly a year and a half ago, it was still
pending for investigation. Everybody knew why such a delay was
allowed to happen. Yes, all concerned shivered at the idea of going up to the
venue of embezzlement. Moreover, the information that was doing rounds was that
the fraudulent employee was under the protection of all those renegades who
were striving for the establishment a different social order. And the police,
too, was not able to reach there.
considered the various aspects that had a bearing on her decision. Even she had
before her the choice of not going to the venue of fraud in deference to the
advice given to her by all her well-wishers. But that was utterly preposterous.
And she shuddered at the very thought of it, for it would go against her
principles. She should not behave the same way her predecessors had done. Finally Mandakini
decided to listen to her inner voice.
the mysterious spot Mandakini was to visit before long.
destination clearly defined, Mandakini set about planning the details of her
mysterious place could be reached either by a bike or by walking, for there was
no public transport that could venture there. Even
before she actually set out her journey, Mandakini approached the sub-divisional
police officer for help but to no avail. Instead of helping her, the watchful police
officer began to persuade Mandakini not to go ahead. But then he
had to concede, finding Mandakini so very determined. Then as a gesture of
goodwill he assured her to make at least some help available. According to that, a
police fellow was asked to take her up to Chhatragarh in his motorcycle.
The next day Mandakini
got ready early in the morning. She
packed her backpack stuffing into it her belongings that would be sufficient to
manage the next two days and then squirmed herself into its straps. To make it
comfortable for walking, she wore a pair of jeans and a light-coloured T-shirt.
As for her shoes, she chose a pair of hunter shoes. And, what was more, she encouraged herself
to remain prepared for a ten-kilometer trek if it was so required.
As decided, by seven
in the morning, a policeman took Mandakini on his pillion and left for
After riding for
some one hour or so there came a field in front of them. By then the tarmac was
over and even the road made of shingles was left behind. The field where they finally
reached was full of uneven pebbles and boulders, and there were sparse plants
of flame of the forest (Butea Monosperma) to highlight the utter scantiness
of vegetation in the plateau. The April sun was somewhat mild and tingling and the
weather was just right for wandering about.
have to get off here," said the policeman, who was riding the bike.
“But why here? We’re
going to Chhatragarh, aren’t we?" asked Mandakini who was quite confused
at the behaviour of the policeman. She did not expect the fellow to stoop to
such a level of effrontery.
“Madam, we the police
fellows don’t move beyond this point, right? The area
after this belongs to the renegades fighting violently for what-d’you-call-it an
egalitarian social order,” explained the policeman.
liked such an irresponsible reply, but then she could do nothing better. She knew it—policemen ever behaved
like that. Yet, faced with the urgency to do something now, she had to ask him,
“Then, tell me, how do I go from this point?”
“Dear Madam, it’s for you to decide how to
proceed next. As
far as I know, at least some renegade will accost you here, and if he so decides
he might help you as well. Now
you just go ahead. It’ll
take two hours at maximum to reach the destination," said the
no sooner did he utter these words than he revved his motorcycle, saying ''God bless
Mandakini had no
other choice but to walk. So she did exactly
as the situation demanded. Deciding to take everything
in stride, she started to enjoy the scenery of the place as she trotted ahead. An
unknown bird sang in its melodious lilt, as if it were detailed to soothe Mandakini’s
flustered heart. She
was, as it were, the special guest in the sylvan domain and the forest geared
itself for according her a special welcome.
Now Mandakini saw
somebody approaching towards her from a distance. He was riding a bicycle. Just
in a few minutes the fellow presented him before her. As he asked his first
question, it appeared as though the query was the first of those essential
formalities a stranger must go through before entering the egalitarian domain. Nay,
it was like the immigration department was frisking before allowing somebody to
enter a foreign land. But what was that the stranger sought to know from
Aha! He asked
Mandakini, “What’s your caste?"
What? In an area
where everybody was imbued with the high spirit of equality and fraternity,
where all were ready to give personal sacrifices to establish an alternative egalitarian
social order, was it true that they still cared for their caste identities? Did
she hear that clearly? Mandakini wondered. Yet she chose to spare the man the botheration
of repeating what he asked just now. And then she went ahead to reply his query.
"My caste is
post office." Oh yes, that was Mandakini’s quick and cryptic reply.
The man got
reply appeared uber-absurd to him. True,
he came to intercept and block the advancement of the visitor, but he could do no
such thing as he had to face a woman whose caste was post office. Was she a living
post office straying into wilderness? He doubled back to report his boss.
The chief, too,
expressed his desire to see this woman whose caste was post office. Normally,
he considered it dangerous to appear before a stranger but today he must meet
the special visitor.
The result of meeting
was smooth. The powerful
arguments Mandakini put forth before the chief of the renegades convinced him
easily. Thereafter, what sort of punishment he awarded to the fraudster for the
crime of defrauding the beneficiaries of those old-age pension money orders was
not conveyed to Mandakini, but by sunset she had got the entire defrauded amount
back as well as the statements from all concerned.
By evening Mandakini
was back at her headquarters without losing either her life or her caste.
Bhubaneswar, dated 01-09-2007
A N Nanda