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.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

What's Your Caste?


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 sociology. Her 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 way.

Taking right 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.

During training 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.

"Mandakini ji, I hope by now you must have come to know at least something about your subdivision. Yet 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.

Mandakini carefully 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.

Chhatragarh—that was the mysterious spot Mandakini was to visit before long.

Now, her destination clearly defined, Mandakini set about planning the details of her itinerary. Chhatragarh—the 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 Chhatragarh.

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.
   
"Madam, you 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.

Mandakini hardly 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 policeman. And no sooner did he utter these words than he revved his motorcycle, saying ''God bless you”.

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 Mandakini?

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 confused. Mandakini’s 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
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By
A N Nanda
Shimla
14-7-2013
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2 Comments:

Anonymous Internet Marketing Company In Pune said...

Nice Post.
Don't Know Why People Ask For The Caste For any Relation.

4:25 AM  
Blogger Anant Nanda said...

Fortunately nobody asks this question for the blood they receive!

10:01 AM  

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