Maganlal left everybody awestruck as
he came first in the state, scoring a whooping aggregate of ninety-three
percent in his matriculation examination. All his teachers were overwhelmed and
they began to hurrah, ‘Look, what a stupendous achievement has been registered
by our student Maganlal! Agreed, students do score cent per cent in mathematics,
but then what to say of a score of ninety-five in English? Isn’t it a piece of
Madanlal blushed as people kept showering
lavish praise upon him. It was not possible to respond to one and all but
whenever he did that, he would try to thank everybody he could remember.
Sometimes he dedicated his success to his teachers and sometimes to his parents;
sometimes he remembered the grace of his family god and sometimes he gratefully
remembered the help received from his friends.
all such qualities that one would like to ascribe to an intelligent teenager. Such
a sharp boy he was, whatever he read once, he would remember that easily. If anybody
asked him to reproduce that even a month later, he used to do that effortlessly
and in exact sequence. Say, like a photocopier! There were topics which really
needed one’s skill to mug up and for Maganlal it needed just two or three
rounds of reading at the maximum to internalise the contents. Yet there were
many subjects that did not strictly demand skill of mugging up and Maganlal
devised his own mnemonics to reduce the lessons into bare minimum points to mug
them up. Science and mathematics did not need such cumbersome processes at all but
only the faculty to understand them. Maganlal was not deficient in it; he not
only understood them fully but also was instrumental in making his friends
understand them with ease. That was the reason why all his friends loved him so
His matriculation now over, the next
big thing to come in his career was his college education. Madanlal’s father said, ‘No
problem, he can study for a year more. Thereafter he’ll be eighteen and
eligible to take up a job. Then he can leave his studies and join it.’
In fact Maganlal’s father was desperately
waiting to see his son employed. His financial condition was simply deplorable.
Anybody could have marked that from the dress Maganlal wore to his school. The family
was in near starvation, so much so that sometimes they had barely enough for a
single meal. Maganlal’s parents had all their hopes concentrated on the employment of the boy which was yet to come and they were waiting for the day when the
family would be simply adequately fed.
It was true that Maganlal needed an
urgent employment for reason of his family’s destitution, but where was a job
to join? And that, too, so quickly? There was, of course, an organisation that
was so very easy to join if the applicant was as talented as Maganlal. And the
organisation was none other than the Department of Posts. It had no such long-drawn
recruitment processes of examination, interview and so on before giving appointment to a postal assistant. The only requirement was the score in
matriculation examination. Maganlal had more than enough score in his
matriculation exam to qualify for the employment. And he was selected. As soon
as he was selected, he proceeded on training for six months and then became a
full-fledged postal assistant. His entry in the department came to be a process
as simple as that!
At the outset, the work of a postal
assistant was to Maganlal’s liking. In a family where there was constant
shortage of food, a steady source of monthly income brought them a great
relief. It could be literally said that the family got a fresh lease of life. And
while Maganlal worked, his friends continued their studies. For a period of
four to five years, he could not realise that he was losing something in the
process, but as all his friends got jobs one by one as executives in different
organisations, he suddenly felt uncomfortable. He felt that he had been left
behind in the race and it was not possible in the present life to catch up with
his friends. Self-pity bothering him as such, whenever he got some free time,
he started brooding over the matter, ‘Now those of my friends who had scored marks
far less than me are now miles away from me. At the end of the day, it’s me alone
who is left behind, to endure the curse of a low-paid employment—as a mere postal
In a post
office everybody has to work to finish his or her daily workload and that is
the norm. So, who can dream of free time here? Nevertheless Maganlal thought of
improving his lot by exploring the possibility of promotions by writing departmental
examinations. But then, after doing the day’s work, where was the interest left
in him to do all that extra? Really he used to get tired, tired to the hilt,
like a tired buffalo chewing the cud.
There was another reason, though,
behind Maganlal’s diffidence. Now he was married and a father of two. If father
would apply himself to his own studies, who was there to take care of the
homework of his children? Maganlal’s wife used to pose the same question but in
a rhetorical fashion, ‘If a father with a score of ninety-three per cent will
not teach the children then would it make any sense for a mother with
thirty-five per cent score to do that job?’
Listening to her wife speaking like
this, Maganlal used to feel happy for a while. ‘It matters little if no one in
this world remembers my score as long as my wife Premamayi remembers this,’ he
used to draw satisfaction out of her statement. From the beginning, he used to
love her so much, and now when she had achieved the real glory of womanhood by giving
birth to two cute boys, how would he dare to go against her wishes?
Anyhow he wrote
the departmental examination for promotion to the cadre of inspectors, not once
but thrice, and as ill luck would have it, he failed all the three occasions. None
of his teenage talent blossomed at the time of his need. His lacklustre present
stood in contrast with his glorious past. He was not aware of the agony that was
to come in the wake of a failure in the examination. Now it was a blatant
reality and it was no wonder that he grew crestfallen and disorientated. He became
grumpy sometimes and went berserk at other. He was paranoid, schizophrenic and
it pathetically affected his normal life. If he did not have a wife as
dedicated as Premamayi, he would have committed unimaginable damage to himself.
Most probably he would have even ended his life!
To get control
over his disturbed mind the doctor prescribed powerful medication. He became dull
and tame on being weaned away from his extreme tendencies. Now he did whatever
his wife dictated. He helped his wife at home and sat teaching his children
every morning and evening, silently and without any murmur.
Teaching others is not the same thing
as reading oneself and remembering the lessons. Maganlal did not find those
qualities in his sons that he himself possessed in his childhood. Off and on he
remembered how he used to forget the pangs of hunger just by reading the
stories out of his course books of literature. Siddharth the boy became Gautam
Buddha the enlightened but in the process used to endure so much difficulty and
such a lot of resistance—he would remember the story and the magic it contained
that used to help him forget his hunger! But now what had gone wrong with his
two sons, Balu and Virat? They were the two ancient duffers with hardly any
interest to learn anything. Arithmetic was a far dream for them—howsoever Maganlal
tried to explain it, they continued to cast only blank looks. And what about
their handwriting? Oh god! Nobody could read it; even they themselves would
stammer if they were challenged to read what they wrote!
Finally a grim
realisation dawned on Maganlal that Balu and Virat would fail in their examinations.
But such realisation was of no use to him. He had no quick fix to prevent the
catastrophe. He arranged for private tuitions for them but no fruitful result
was there to greet him. The situation grew worse as days passed; it was only
open for despondency. Come to think of it, Maganlal had nurtured a wish that one
day his sons would surpass him. If he could score ninety-three per cent in a state
of perpetual hunger, his sons with all comforts available to them should do
better than his father. But, alas, nothing of that sort really happened.
His wife Premamayi was not a bright
student. When he would think about it, he was sure to be reminded of a proverb he was
familiar with: Beauty and academic achievements are inversely proportional! And
then his thought would wander but ultimately lead him to conclude that Balu and
Virat sadly inherited the qualities of their mother. Despite such a firm
conclusion, Maganlal was not in favour of perpetrating the torture on his
beloved wife by disclosing what he used to secretly cogitate so very often. He was
acutely aware of the fact that he had lost everything by now, except the love
of his dear wife Premamayi. And he would ill afford to lose that now. He would try
to veer his thinking the other way, one in which he would not have to find her fault at all.
The boys grew up. Lo! Both of them
failed miserably in their matriculation examination. Maganlal had accepted the
fact even before the misfortune befell him. Otherwise, what else could he have
done? Was it any use to lament that thing day in, day out and suffer in the
process? Would it have brought him any change to make the situation any better?
Before it was
too late, the unfortunate father arranged part-time jobs for his sons in small
shops and establishments. The boys had no inclination to work there. Otherwise,
they were the same boys as were totally averse to work in agriculture, not as
the two wage-earning labourers but in their own ancestral property. Then what other
option was left before them? They became the aimless wanderers in the street
with little inhibition that they continued to be burden on their father.
Nowadays nobody in the department
was as unhappy as Maganlal. All of them had seen to it that their children got
higher education, which brought them well-placed jobs as executives in various
organisations of repute. India was a happening country by then; it had long
become the IT hub, the outsourcing destination. Maganlal knew at least a dozen
such doctors as were the sons and daughters of postal assistants like him.
There were many who were quite vocal about the success of their sons and
daughters. They used to say, ‘Look, Magan, my son earns so much in a month as would
take our superintendent a year or even more than that to earn that amount.’ Maganlal used to
cock an ear at all such statements of those satisfied fathers and used to be
happy too. ‘Whoever may be successful here, it’s, after all, a matter of pride
for all of us. He or she’s the fellow employee of postal department. Like our
own people achieving success, we should celebrate all such news of success our
way.’ He used to persuade himself in his way.
So far Maganlal
used to think, ‘Post office is the burning pyre of all talents. There can be no
two opinions about this. When I entered this place, I was a fellow with a whooping
score of ninety-three per cent, but it took just a few years to turn me into a
forgetful nincompoop, a mere unsuccessful candidate. After all, who made me
such a worthless being?’ Such thought would lead him to a resolve, ‘Whatever
comes, I’m not going to allow my sons to work in this department.’ As for him,
it was not his private thought only; more often than not Maganlal used to think
aloud and swear to this effect before his friends.
But what of
Today Maganlal got news that a
vacancy of an extra-departmental mail carrier had cropped up in a nearby
office. The post was one of part-time engagement, whose status was even less
than a peon, the lowest paid government servant. And as for remuneration, it
would bring only twelve hundred rupees per month. Be that as it may, Maganlal
took leave for a day and headed for that office with Balu his son right away.
When father and son duo reached there, the inspector was available in his
office. The latter made them sit and listened to the purpose of their visit
quite patiently. He already knew everything, including the dream that Maganlal
had cherished about his sons. Especially he was aware that Maganlal was not in
favour of seeking an employment for his sons in the Department of Posts.
Despite everything what made him rush there?
your son going to work in postal department? This means you’ve finally changed
your mind, isn’t it?’ the inspector made an oblique statement that did not fail
to hurt Maganlal.
‘What else can
a boy who has failed in his matriculation exam do in life, inspector sahib?’
Maganlal replied with all humility at his command.
finally accepted what is your real worth, isn’t it?’ the inspector was yet to
change the tone. However he happened to view the boy from an angle of
compassion, nay of condescension. He observed that the boy had seen enough luxuries
in life yet could be shaped into an obedient hand. After all, there was postal
legacy behind him, and it was postal blood that mattered much in this case.
Turning his face towards Balu he
said, ‘Come to join your work from tomorrow. And listen to me carefully, you’ve
to come to my house every Sunday if you really wish to learn your work...and if you want to make
your job a permanent one.’