Inspector Matadeen On The Moon

satires by Harishankar Parsai Translated by C N Naim

Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Inspector Matadeen on the Moon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4 8

A Ten Day Fast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18 Contesting an Election in Bihar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25 Poor Trishanku . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39 Family Planning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43 The First Bridge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 Gentlemen, Conmen and Congressmen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52 When the Soul Cries Out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61 Honouring the Sahab . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67 The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71 Iti Shri Researchayah . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75 A Journey with a Premi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79 Bholaram’s Soul . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84 2

Tiny Tales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Right Punishment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Right Medicine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . A Boy of Destiny . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Caste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The effigy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The sorrow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

89 89 89 90 90 91 91

A Fast Unto Death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93 Pulled Down Lamp Posts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98 Shivering Republic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101 Divine Lunatic Mission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 The Days of Gardish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108 Biographical Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114

Introduction
Modern Hindi prose had its beginnings in the 1870s. Bharatendu Harishchandra (d. 1885), the father of almost everything modern in Hindi, also developed the language as an effective vehicle for humour and satire. He directed his barbs not merely at the hypocrisy of his fellow countrymen but also at the English misrule, thus setting the path for all future satirists in Hindi. Politics and society became the two most popular — and deserving — targets. Of course, these two topics also found favour with all serious writers in Hindi, just as many of them found some form of humour to be not only effective but often inevitable in the course of their predominantly non-satirical writings. Premchand, for example, had much success with his satirical series Mote Ram and even had to face serious legal trouble on its account. Post-Independence Hindi witnessed an explosion of satirical writing. Par ninda sukh or schadenfreude being the staple in any beleaguered society, satire flourished in Hindi as never before. Magazines and newspapers carried regular satirical columns, and there was no dearth of satirical stories and even novels. Writers like Shrilal Shukla, Sharad Joshi, Manohar Shyam Joshi, Mudra Rakshas, Gopal Chaturvedi, Sudhish Pachauri, Prem Janamejaya and Latif Ghonghi — led by Harishankar Parsai — helped Hindi satire attain its full stature as a valid literary genre. No writer is perhaps so inseparably identified with his chosen genre in Hindi literature as is Harishankar Parsai with satire. But his earliest writings were in that pathos-arousing idealistic mode that was so characteristic of Hindi writers — mostly from the lower middle class — who took to writing after 1947. His first book, Hanste Hain Rote Hain (We Laugh, We Cry), published in the early fifties, was a collection of heart-wrenching short stories based on the trials of his adolescent life. By then, he had come under the influence of the so called “radical socialists” — led by Acharya Narendra Devi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, and others — who had broken away from the Congress led by Nehru. Though he soon became disenchanted with them due to their negativism after their abject electoral defeats. That experience also cured him of his romantic idealism. He became

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Introduction

an ardent Marxist and continued to remain one, the dissolution of the Soviet Union notwithstanding. But Parsai was neither a demagogue nor a blinkered theoretician. The roots of his commitment did not lie in Das Kapital but in his bitter experiences in our caste and class ridden society. As the barely adolescent breadwinner of his orphaned family and the surrogate father to his two unmarried sisters, Parsai experienced first hand the hypocritical morass of contradictions that Hinduism could degenerate into. A significant but often overlooked fact in Parsai’s biography is that he gave up his very first job in the forest department, thus refusing to make a fortune by conniving with the rapists of India’s ecology, and chose instead to become a humble school teacher. In the classroom he came face to face with the overwhelmingly poverty ridden “future” of India. On the larger national scene he saw the comparatively painlessly won freedom being gradually gnawed away by a more predatory class of native masters — corrupt bureaucrats, avaricious politicians, amoral businessmen, rapacious contractors, permit-brokers and middlemen, smugglers and mafia dons, and the much worse purveyors of linguistic, regional and caste hatreds and the fundamentalist fascists of various faiths. It was this milieu that made Parsai opt for satire as his literary forte and weapon. But he had little patience for literary niceties, even of the socialistrealist kind. Whatever he wrote had to be direct, unambiguous and bold. His friendship with the great poet and critic Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh (d. 1964) further strengthened him in his socio-political commitment. By the mid-fifties, Parsai had gained enough reputation and self-confidence to launch — with considerable help from friends — a literary magazine, Vasudha, from Jabalpur. Though it attracted wide attention and significant contributors, it had to be discontinued after three years for want of financial support. Meanwhile, the growing pungency — and popularity — of Parsai’s writings were posing a serious problem to him, a teacher and a government servant venting his spleen at everything that was venerated in the body politic. He then took a decision — undreamt of in those days of acute unemployment and fraught with risks even in this era of an apparent media boom. He resigned from his teaching job to become a freelance writer, and remained one till his dying day. It was only in 1985, when his scattered writings in books and newspapers were collected in six volumes running into nearly two thousand and five hundred pages of demi octavo size, that the astounding dimensions of Portal’s oeuvre revealed themselves. Very few authors in Hindi have been so honoured in their life and Parsai, characteristically, made some fun of himself and the book’s editors in a prefatorial note to the Rachnavali. That collection, which 5

Introduction

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was not definitive even then, was left far behind by Parsai’s prolific pen. Though illness and age took their toll, there was no stopping Parsai in his iconoclasm, boldness and subversion. The only concession he seemed to have made to age was to write memoirs of several of his friends and acquaintances and some autobiographical pieces published in two volumes. But in his later book, with its provocatively ambiguous title Aisa Bhi Socha Jata Hai (It is Thought This Way Too), he offers yet again an assortment of essays on politics, culture, society and even literature, but almost none without some homage to his muse of satire. What is the key to Parsai’s popular and critical success? First of all, he wrote mainly about the middle and the lower-middle classes of our urban society and their social and political vagaries. In this, he often did not spare even the so called common man. He wrote about concrete things ands events, with barely any theorizing, but abounding in pithy observations. No ideology but a solid human commonsense pervaded his writings. Almost single-handedly, Parsai rescued Hindi humour from the vulgarities of the basically male chauvinistic “domestic” situations, the cruel burlesque of physical deformities or failings, the not-so-subtle caste or community stereotypes, and the malicious caricature of linguistic or regional traits. On the other hand, he freely used fantasy, folk tale, a pseudo-puranic style, epistolary mode, Socratic interrogation, cliches, jargon and demagoguery, plain narrative, the hyperbolic and the absurd — all types of literary modes in various combinations and permutations. Most importantly, Parsai’s language was almost totally innocent of superfluity — each word, sentence and paragraph was honed to perfection for its desired effect. Though Parsai had in him elements of the divine jester mendicant Narada, he also combined in himself the much feared Durvasa and the systematic “realist” Chanakya. He had the compassion of the Buddha too, and revived in Hindi the great reform tradition as imitated by such saint poets as Kabir and Tukaram. I may also add that to my mind no writer before him brought to Hindi the element of a Socratic inquiry. If the Greek gurus addressed their acolytes in the open spaces of Athens, Parsai spoke to his millions of followers through newspaper columns — in the sixties and seventies, in the fiercely independent column Kahat Kabir (Says Kabir) in the Hindi daily Nai Duniya and later, in the daily Deshbandhu in his iconoclastic Answers to the Readers’ Questions. Since he missed no opportunity to lampoon and expose religious fanaticism and obscurantism, he often had to face threats of “dire consequences” and was at least once physically assaulted by fundamentalist goons. But undaunted, Parsai continued his crusade with the same vigour. Almost the entire community of Hindi writers was behind him, just as it was his fearless pen that had inspired and strengthened them. 6

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What is being offered here only fractionally represents Parsai, but it is a sampling that should whet the appetite for more. It is perhaps the first anthology from a major Hindi satirist in English. and its validity lies in the apt selections and enjoyable translations. It was an honour undeserved and inadequately vindicated for me to be asked to write an introduction. It did, however, give me an opportunity to repay, howsoever poorly, a debt to this indisputed master, a debt that many like me in Hindi feel we owe him. It is a painful paradox that Parsai’s writings have acquired more relevance in the recent years as communal, caste and other socio-political tensions have continued to get worse. But to most of his readers in Hindi, Parsai was the Indian Vulcan and his unflinching prose a roaring furnace, wherein he forged the conscience of our age. Vishnu Khare1

This book is a revised version of Inspector Matadeen on the Moon, published by Manas, an imprint of Affiliated East-West Press Private Limited, Chennai in 1994.

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Inspector Matadeen on the Moon
Scientists say there is no life on the moon. But the senior inspector, Matadeen, known in the department as MD Saab, says, “The scientists lie. There are men, just like us, on the other side of the moon.” Science has always lost out to Inspector Matadeen. Let experts argue till they are hoarse that the prints on the dagger do not match the fingerprints of the accused, Inspector Matadeen will still manage to put his man behind bars. Matadeen says, “These scientists, they never investigate a case thoroughly. Just because they can see only the bright side of the moon they’ve declared there’s no life on it. I’ve been to the dark side. There are men living there.” That has to be true. When it comes to dark sides, Inspector Matadeen is the recognized expert . . . But, you might ask, why did he go to the moon? As a tourist? To catch a fugitive? No. He went under the Cultural Exchange Scheme, to represent India. The Government of Moon wrote to the Government of India, “We are an advanced civilization, but our police force is still not good enough. They often fail to catch or punish criminals. We understand you have established Ram Rajya in your country. Please send one of your police officers to give our men proper training.” The home minister told the home secretary, “Send some IG.” He replied, “Sir, we cannot send an inspector general. It’s a matter of protocol. Moon is only a small satellite of Earth. We cannot send someone of too high a rank there. Let me depute some senior inspector.” And so they chose Inspector Matadeen, the investigating officer of a thousand and one cases, and the Moon Government was asked to send an earthship to fetch him. Meanwhile the home minister sent for Inspector Matadeen. “You’re going

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there.” he said. “to represent the glorious traditions of the Indian Police. Make sure you do a good job. Make the universe applaud our department, so that even the prime minister hears about us.” On the appointed day, an earth-ship arrived from Moon. Bidding everyone goodbye, Inspector Matadeen started walking towards the ship. He was chanting a chaupai under his breath — “Pravisi nagara kijai sab kajaa, hridaya rakhi kausalpur raja . . . ”1 On reaching the ship, Inspector Matadeen suddenly called out to his clerk Munshi Abdul Ghafoor. “Munshi!” Abdul Ghafoor clicked his heels, saluted, and said, “Yes, Pectsa,” “Did you remember to pack some FIR forms?” “Yes, Pectsa.” “And a blank copy of the Daily Record Register?” “Yes, Pectsa.” Inspector Matadeen then sent for Havaldar Balbhaddar and said to him, “When it’s time for delivery in our house, send your bed to lend a hand.2 ” Balbhaddar replied. “Yes. Pectsa” “You needn’t worry. Pectsa,” Abdul Ghafoor added. “I’ll send my house too.” Inspector Matadeen then turned to the pilot. “You have your driver’s licence?” “Yes sir.” “And your headlights work?” “Yes sir.” “They’d better,” growled Inspector Matadeen to his men, “otherwise I’ll challan the bastard mid-space.” The pilot overheard him and said, “In our country, we don’t talk to people in this manner.” “I know, I know,” Inspector Matadeen sneered, “no wonder your police is so weak-kneed. But I’ll kick them into shape soon enough.” He had placed one foot inside the earth ship’s door when Havaldar Ram Sanjivan came running. “Pectsa.” he said. “the house of SP Saab asks you to bring her a heel-polishing stone from the moon.” Inspector Matadeen was delighted. “Tell Bai Saab I’ll definitely get her one.”
1 Pravisi nagara . . . This line is from a verse from Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, recited by Lankini, the residing deity of Lanka, inviting Hanuman to enter Lanka reached there in quest of Sita. 2 The words “house” and “bed” in certain strata of soceity, were used loosely to refer to the wife.

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Finally he climbed in and took his seat and the earth-ship took off. It had barely crossed the earth’s atmosphere when Inspector Matadeen shouted to the pilot, “Ab´, why aren’t you honking?” e “There’s nothing for millions of miles!” the-pilot replied. “But a rule is a rule,” Inspector Matadeen snarled. “Keep, your thumb down on the horn.” The pilot pressed the horn, and kept it pressed all the way till they arrived on Moon. Senior officers of Moon Police had come to receive Inspector Matadeen. He swaggered out of the earth-ship and ran an eye over their shoulderpatches. None had a star on it, or even a ribbon. Inspector Matadeen decided it wasn’t necessary to click his heels or salute. He also thought, After all, I’m now a Special Advisor, not just an inspector. The welcome party took him to the local Police Lines and put him up in a fine bungalow. After a day’s rest, Inspector Matadeen decided to begin his work First he went out to inspect the Police Lines. In the evening he expressed his surprise to the host Inspector General. “There’s no Hanuman temple in your Police Lines! In our Ram Rajya, every Police Lines has its Hanumanji.” The IG asked, “Who is Hanuman? We’ve never heard of him.” Inspector Matadeen explained. “Every policeman must have a daily darshan of Hanumanji. You see, Hanumanji was in the Special Branch in Sugriv’s administration. It was he who discovered where Ma Sita was being held forcibly. It was a case of abduction — Section 362 IPC, you know. Hanumanji punished Ravan right on the spot — set fire to his entire property. The police must have that kind of right. They should be able to punish a criminal as soon as they catch him. No need to get bogged down in courts. But sad to say, we are yet to achieve that in our Ram Rajya. “Anyway, Bhagwan Ram was highly pleased with Hanumanji. He took him to Ayodhya and assigned him the city beat. That same Hanumanji is our patron god. Here, I brought his photograph along. Use this to get some figures cast, then have them set up in all the Police Lines.” A few days later, an idol of Hanumanji was enshrined in each and every Police Lines on the moon. In the meantime, Inspector Matadeen began to study how the local police worked. It seemed to him that the Moon Police was careless and lacked in enthusiasm, that it showed little concern for crime. But the reason for this attitude was not apparent. Suddenly, a thought occurred to Inspector Matadeen. He sent for the salary register. One glance at it and everything was clear. Now he knew why 10

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the Moon Police behaved the way it did. That evening he reported to the police minister. “Now I know why your men are so lackadaisical. You pay them large salaries, that’s why. Five hundred to a constable, seven hundred to a havaldar, and a thousand to a thanedar! What kind of foolishness is this? Why should your police try to catch any criminal? In our country, we give the constables just one hundred, and the inspectors two. That’s why you see them running around catching criminals. You must immediately reduce the salaries.” “But that would be highly unfair,” the police minister protested. “Why would they work at all if they are not given good salaries?” Inspector Matadeen replied, “There’s nothing unfair about it. In fact, as soon as the first reduced pay cheques are sent out, you’ll see a revolutionary change in your men’s attitude.” The police minister ordered a cut in the salaries. Sure enough, in a couple of months, a drastic change was evident. The policemen suddenly became most zealous in their performance. Aroused from sleep, they became doubly alert and kept an eye on everything. There was panic in the criminal world. When the police minister sent for the records kept at the police stations, he was amazed to see that the number of registered cases was several times higher than before. He said to Inspector Matadeen, “I must praise your keen insight. You have brought about a revolution! But do tell me, how it works.” “It’s very simple,” Inspector Matadeen explained. “If you pay an employee little money, he won’t be able to live on it. No constable can support a family on just one hundred rupees a month, nor can an inspector live with dignity on two hundred. Each will have to make some extra money. And he can do that only if he starts catching criminals. Immediately, he becomes concerned about crime, and turns into an alert and dutiful policeman. That’s why we have a most efficient police system in our Ram Rajya.” The news of this miracle spread all over the moon. People began to come to look at the man who could reduce salaries and yet create efficiency. The policemen were the most happy. They said to Inspector Matadeen, “Guru, if you hadn’t come we’d have continued living on our salaries alone.” The Moon Government was also delighted, for it could now have a surplus budget. Half the problem was taken care of thus. The police had started catching criminals. Now only the investigative process remained to be reformed — how to get a criminal sentenced after one had caught him. Inspector Matadeen decided to wait for some major incident so that he could use it as a model to display his special methods. One day, some people quarrelled and one of them got killed. When Inspector Matadeen heard of it, he marched to the police station, sat down at a desk, and declared, “I shall investigate this case to show you how it’s done. 11

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All of you just watch and learn. This is a murder case. And in a murder case one must have rock solid evidence against the accused.” The station officer said, “Before we start collecting evidence against anyone, shouldn’t we first try to discover who did the killing?” Inspector Matadeen replied, “No, why work backwards? First make sure of your evidence. Did you find any blood? On someone’s clothes or elsewhere?” One of the inspectors said, “The assailants ran away while the victim lay dying on the road. A man who lives near the spot picked him up and brought him to the hospital. His clothes did have some blood on them.” “Arrest the man immediately.” “But sir,” the station officer remonstrated, “he only tried to help the dying man!” “That may well be true,” explained Inspector Matadeen, “but where else would you now find blood spots? You must grab the evidence which is readily available.” The man was arrested and brought to the police station. He protested, “But I carried the dying man to the hospital! Is that a crime?” The local officers were visibly moved, but not Inspector Matadeen. Everyone waited to see how he would respond. “But why did you go where the fight occurred?” Inspector Matadeen asked the man. “I didn’t go there,” he replied. “I happen to live there. The fight took place right in front of my house.” It was clearly a test of Inspector Matadeen’s genius. He quietly responded, “True, your house is there, but why go where a fight is taking place?” There could be no answer to that question. The man could only repeat and go on repeating, “I didn’t go there. I live there.” And each time Inspector Matadeen responded, “That is true, but why go where a fight is taking place?” This line of questioning greatly impressed the local officers. Inspector Matadeen settled back and explained his investigative principles. “Look,” he said, “a man’s been killed. This means someone definitely killed him. Someone is the murderer. Someone has to be convicted and punished. You might ask, who is guilty? But, for the police, that’s not so important. What is important is who can be proven guilty or, better still, who should be proven guilty? “A murder has occurred. Eventually, someone will be convicted. It’s not for us to worry if it is the actual killer or someone innocent. All human beings are equal. In each of them is present a bit of the same god. We don’t discriminate. We’re humanists. 12

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“So the question actually is who ought to be proven guilty? That depends on two things. One, has the man been a nuisance to the police, and two, will his conviction please the men at the top?” Inspector Matadeen was told that though the arrested man was otherwise a decent person, he was given to criticizing whenever the police made a mistake. As for the question of pleasing the men at the top, the man belonged to the opposition party. “It’s a first-rate case,” Inspector Matadeen declared, thumping the table. “Rock solid evidence, plus support from the top!” One inspector tried to protest. “But we can’t let a decent man be convicted of a crime he didn’t commit!” Inspector Matadeen explained patiently, “Look. I’ve already told you that the same god resides in all of us. Whether you convict this man or the actual killer, it is god who will hang. Further, in this instance, you’re getting blood spattered clothes. Now where would you find bloodstains if you let him go? Go ahead, file the FIR as I tell you.” Inspector Matadeen dictated the First Information Report leaving a few spaces blank for future needs. Next day, the station officer came to Inspector Matadeen and said, “Gurudev, we’re in deep trouble. Numerous citizens have come to demand, Why are you trying to frame that poor innocent man? It has never been done before. What should we say? We feel so ashamed . . . ” “Don’t worry,” Inspector Matadeen consoled him. “In this job, one always feels some compunction in the beginning. But later you’ll feel ashamed for letting innocent people go free. Now understand this, every question has an answer. The next time someone comes to you to question, tell him, We know the man is innocent, but what can we do? Those at the top want it so.” “In that case they’ll go to the SP.” “Let him say, Those at the top want it so.” “Then they’ll complain to the IG.” “He too should say, It’s the men at the top who want it so.” “They’ll then go to the police minister.” “So what? He should say the same thing, Friends, what can I do? Those at the top want it so.” “But the people won’t give up. They’ll go to the PM.” “The PM should respond in the same way, I know he’s innocent but those at the top want it so.” “Then . . . ” “Then what?” Matadeen stopped him short. “Who can they go to next? To god? But has anyone ever come back after going to god?” 13

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The station officer remained silent. Such brilliant logic left him dumbfounded. Inspector Matadeen continued, “That one sentence — Those at the top want it so — has always come to the rescue of our government in the last twenty five years. You too should learn it well.” They began to get the case ready for trial. Matadeen ordered, “Bring me a few eyewitnesses.” “How can we do that?” the station officer asked. “How can there be eyewitnesses when no one saw him kill that man?” Matadeen smacked his head in despair. “God, what fools I have to deal with! They don’t even know the ABC of this business.” Then he added angrily, “Do you know who an eyewitness is? An eyewitness is not someone who actually sees, he’s one who claims that he saw.” “But why would someone make such a claim?” the station officer protested. “Why not?” thundered Inspector Matadeen. “I can’t see how you people manage to run your department at all. Arr´, the police must always have a e ready list of eyewitnesses. When one is needed, you just pick a name from that list and present the person in the court. In our country we have people who eyewitness hundreds of cases every year. Our courts have recognized that these men possess some divine power that lets them foresee the place where some incident is going to happen, allowing them to reach there beforehand. “I’ll get you eyewitnesses. Bring me some bad characters. You know the kind — petty thieves, gamblers, goondas, bootleggers.” Next day, half a dozen fine specimens showed up at the police station. Inspector Matadeen was delighted. It had been too long since he had last seen such men. He had been lonely. His voice melting with affection, he asked them, “You saw that man assault the deceased, didn’t you?” They replied, “No sir, we didn’t see a thing. We weren’t even there.” Inspector Matadeen knew it was the first time for them. He patiently continued, “I know you weren’t there. But you saw him attack with a lathi, didn’t you?” The men decided they were dealing with a lunatic. Who else would talk such nonsense? They began to laugh. “Don’t laugh!” said Inspector Matadeen sternly. “Answer my question.” They again replied, “How can we say we saw it when we weren’t even there?” Inspector Matadeen lost his temper. “I’ll tell you how,” he snarled. “I have here detailed reports on what you fellows have been up to. I can have each one of you locked up for at least ten years. Now tell me, you wish to stay in business or would you rather go to jail?” 14

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The men were scared out of their wits. “No sir, we don’t want to go to jail.” “In that case, you saw that fellow beat the victim with a lathi, didn’t you?” “Yes sir, we did. We saw him come out of his house and start hitting the man with a lathi until the poor fellow fell to the ground.” “Good. In future too, you’ll see more such incidents, won’t you?” Matadeen pressed on. “Yes sir. We’ll see what you tell us to.” The station officer was overwhelmed by this miracle. He couldn’t move for a few minutes. Then, getting up from his chair, he threw, himself at Inspector Matadeen’s feet. “Here now, let go. Let me do my work,” Inspector Matadeen remonstrated, but the station officer clung to him and kept repeating, “I want to spend the rest of my days at your feet.” In due course, Inspector Matadeen put together the entire dossier and, in the process, taught the local police everything he, knew — how to substitute FIRS, how to leave some pages blank for future use, how to change entries in the Daily Record, how to win over hostile witnesses . . . The man he had got arrested was sentenced to twenty years. The Moon Police was now fully trained. Case after case was brought before the courts and, in every instance, a conviction was won. The Moon Government was delighted. The Moon Parliament passed a resolution to thank the Government of India. It noted the remarkable efficiency the Moon Police had achieved under Inspector Matadeen’s guidance. Inspector Matadeen was given a civic reception. Covered with garlands, he was taken around in a procession in an open jeep. Thousands of people lined the road and shouted his praises. Inspector Matadeen responded in the style of his home minister with folded hands, lowered eyes, full of humility. But this was his first time and he felt somewhat ill at ease. He had never even dreamt, when he had entered the service some twenty six years ago, that one day he would be so honoured on Moon. He wished he had remembered to bring along a dhoti kurta and a Gandhi cap. On Earth, the Indian home minister watched the proceedings on television. “This may be the time for me to make a goodwill visit,” he mused. A few more months passed. Then, suddenly one day, the Moon Parliament met in an emergency session. It was a stormy but secret meeting, and so its report was not made public. We can only offer what was faintly heard by people outside the chamber. The members seemed enraged and could be heard shouting: 15

Inspector Matadeen on the Moon “No one takes care of sick parents!” “No one tries to rescue a drowning child!” “No one helps if a house catches fire” “Men have become worse than animals!” “The government should immediately resign!” “Resign! Resign!”

Harishankar Parsai

Next day the prime minister of Moon sent for Inspector Matadeen. Inspector Matadeen could see that the prime minister had visibly aged, that he seemed not to have slept for a few nights. He looked quite disconsolate as he said, “Matadeenji, we are extremely grateful to you and to the Government of India but you should go back tomorrow.” “No sir,” Matadeen replied, “I’ll return only after I’ve finished my term here.” “We’ll give you your full term’s salary,” the prime minister said. “Double the amount . . . triple, if you wish.” Inspector Matadeen was polite but firm. “No sir, I’m a man of principles. My work is more dear to me than money.” In the end, the prime minister of Moon sent a confidential letter to the prime minister of India. Four days later, Inspector Matadeen received orders from his IG to return immediately. Picking up a heel-polishing stone for the wife of his SP, Inspector Matadeen climbed aboard the earth-ship and bade farewell to the moon. The entire Moon Police burst in tears as the earth-ship lifted off. What happened on Moon that he had to leave so suddenly? What did the prime minister of Moon write to the prime minister of India? These questions remained unanswered for a long time. Then someone got hold of that confidential letter and made part of it public. Thank you for lending us the services of Inspector Matadeen, but now you must recall him immediately. We had thought India was our friend, but only an enemy could have done what you did to us. We were innocent and trusting, and you deceived us. Ever since Inspector Matadeen has trained our police, things have come to a terrible pass. No one comes to the help of an assault victim for fear he might himself be accused. Sons abandon their sick parents, less they be charged with murder. Houses catch fire and burn down, but neighbours don’t help for fear they might be accused of arson. Children drown before people’s eyes but no one comes to their rescue lest they be accused of drowning them. 16

Harishankar Parsai

Inspector Matadeen on the Moon

All human relations are breaking down. Your man has destroyed almost half of our civilized life. If he stays around longer he’ll destroy the remaining half. Please call him back immediately to your own Ram Rajya . . . 3

“Inspector Matadeen on the Moon” was first published in Hindi as “Inspector Matadeen Chand Par” in 1968.

3

17

A Ten Day Fast
10 January Today I said to Bannu, “Look here, Bannu, nothing works these days — the parliament, the judges, the bureaucracy, nothing. Today all major demands are gained only through threats of fasts and self-immolation. Our democracy is twenty years old now and is so finely tuned that the threat of just one man starving or killing himself can seal the fate of millions of people. Now’s the time you too went on an indefinite fast — for that woman.” Bannu remained silent. For sixteen years he has been after Radhika Babu’s wife, Savitri. Once he even got badly roughed up when he tried to drag her away. Bannu can’t get her to leave her husband and live with him because Savitri hates even the sight of his face. Finally, after some thought, Bannu said, “But can one go on a fast over such a matter?” “You can fast for anything these days,” I replied. “Just recently Baba Sankidas went on a fast and got a new law passed which requires people to grow long hair but never shampoo. Now everyone has a stinking head. Compared to it, your demand is a mere trifle. You only want that woman.” “What’re you talking about!” Surendra, who had been listening to us, spoke up. “Go on a fast to grab someone else’s wife? you should be ashamed of yourself. We’ll be the laughing stock of the neighbourhood.” “Look,” I tried to explain, “even great sadhus and saints didn’t feel ashamed when they went on a fast, so what’s the big fuss about us common folks? As for people laughing at us, they’ve laughed so much at the Cow Protection Movement that they can’t laugh any more. Even if they were to try, they’d only cry out in pain. In fact, for the next ten years, none will dare to laugh lest he kills himself. “But will it work?” Bannu asked. “That depends on how you set up the issue. If the issue is set up well you’ll get your woman.” I then added, “Let’s go to an expert and get his advice. Baba Sankidas is your man. He has quite a thing going these days. Right now he has four men fasting under his directions.”

Harishankar Parsai

A Ten Day Fast

We went to Baba Sankidas. After listening to us, he said, “Fine. I’ll take up your case, but do as I tell you.” Then, turning to Bannu, he asked, “Can you threaten to immolate yourself?” Bannu shook with fear. “I’m scared,” he whimpered. “You don’t actually have to burn yourself. Just threaten that you might.” “I can’t even think of it,” Bannu cried. “It scares me to death.” “In that case,” Baba said, “you should go on a fast. As for setting up the issue, leave it to me. I’ll take care of it.” Bannu was still very nervous. “I won’t have to die, will I?” he asked. Baba replied, “Smart people don’t die. They keep one eye on their medical chart, the other on the mediator. But don’t you worry, we won’t let you die. We’ll also get you the woman.” 11 January Bannu has settled down in a tent for his Fast Unto Death. Incense sticks burn near him, and a group is lustily singing Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite song, Sab ko Sanmati de bhagwan. The atmosphere is very holy, even on this first day. There is no doubt that Baba Sankidas is a master of his art. The Declaration of Principles that he wrote and distributed on Bannu’s behalf is simply brilliant. In it Bannu says, “My soul calls out to me saying, I’m as yet only one half. My other half is in Savitri. My soul says, Bring the two halves together and make them one. Or else set me free from this body. I’m starting this fast to bring the two halves of my soul together. I demand that Savitri should be given to me. If I don’t get her, I’ll fast unto death to let my half of the soul be rid of this transient body. I fear nothing, for I stand for Truth. May Truth be victorious!” Savitri came into the tent, boiling with rage. She said to Baba Sankidas, “The bastard is fasting to get me, isn’t he?” “Devi,” the Baba replied gently, “you shouldn’t abuse him. His fast is pure. He may have been a bastard earlier, but he isn’t one anymore. He’s now on a fast unto death.” “But he should’ve asked me first,” Savitri retorted. “I spit on him.” In his calmest voice the Baba said, “Devi. you’re merely the Issue, and no one asks the issue in such matters. Did the Cow Protection Movement people ask the cow before they launched their campaign? You should go home, devi. If you ask my advice, neither you nor your husband should come here any more. In a day or two, once the public opinion is fully formed, some people may not allow for your nasty comments.” Savitri went away, muttering under her breath. Bannu turned gloomy. Baba tried to console him, “Don’t worry. Victory will be yours. In the end, Truth always emerges victorious.” 19

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13 January It seems Bannu has little tolerance for hunger. Today’s only the third day, but he’s started to moan and groan. He asked me, “Has Jayaprakash Narayan come yet? “He comes only on the fifth day,” I explained, “or on the sixth. That’s his principle. We have, of course, informed him.” A few minutes later Bannu asked, “What did Vinoba say?” “He made some comments on the relative importance of means and ends,” Baba Sankidas replied. “But with a little word-twisting, we can use his remarks to support our position.” Bannu closed his eyes. He said, “Bhaiya, get Jayaprakash Babu here soon.” Today some journalists came to see us. They asked all sorts of questions. “What caused him to fast?” “Is it a public cause?” “One doesn’t ask about the cause at this stage,” Baba told them. “The problem right now is how do we save Bannu’s life. When someone goes on a fast he makes such a sacrifice that any cause becomes pure.” “There will be some public benefit too,” I added. “Many of us secretly wish to snatch others’ wives but don’t know what to do. If Bannu’s fast succeeds, it will show the public the right path to follow.” 14 January Bannu has become quite weak. He has been threatening to end the fast. That would be a disaster. Baba Sankidas had to spend a lot of time convincing him. Today the Baba did another amazing thing. He had a statement published in the papers by some Swami Rasanand. The swami has declared, “I have performed many ascetic acts. Those acts have given me the power to see both the past and the future. I have discovered that Bannu was a sage in his previous life, and that Savitri was his wife. In that life, Bannu’s name was Rishi Vanamanus. Now, after three thousand years, he has again taken the body of a man. He and Savitri had sacred marital ties in all their previous births. lt’s a terrible sin that a sage’s wife should now live in the house of an ordinary man like Radhika Prasad. I plead to all Dharma-loving people that they shouldn’t let this sinful state continue any further.” Swamiji’s statement has had good effect. Some people came to our camp, shouting, “Victory to Dharma!” Another large group went to Radhika Babu’s house and shouted, “Radhika Prasad is a sinner!” “May the sinner soon perish!” “Victory to Dharma!” Swamiji also arranged to have prayers said in several temples for saving Bannu’s life. 20

Harishankar Parsai

A Ten Day Fast

15 January Last night someone threw rocks at Radhika Babu’s house. Public opinion has crystallized. These are some of the remarks our spies heard around the city — “Poor Bannu! He’s been without food for five days!” “I really admire his determination.” “But that cruel woman hasn’t softened at all.” “Look at her husband, what a shameless man!” “I hear Bannu was a sage in his previous birth.” “Why, didn’t you read Swami Rasanand’s statement?” “They say it’s a great sin to keep a sage’s wife as your own.” Today eleven virtuous, married women came and performed aarti to honour Bannu. Bannu was delighted. Whenever he sees a virtuous, married woman, his heart leaps with joy. The newspapers are full of news of the fast. Today we sent a small crowd to the prime minister’s residence, to appeal to him to interfere in the matter and save Bannu’s life. The PM refused to meet them. (Well, we’ll see about that.) Jayaprakash Narayan arrived this evening. He was rather severe. “How many lives must I save?” he asked crossly. “Is that my profession now? Every other day someone starts a fast, then shouts Save me. If you want your life saved, why not eat something? You don’t need a mediator to save your life. Such nonsense! Now they’re using the virtuous means of a fast to grab another man’s wife!” We explained to him, “This is a different kind of issue. It’s Bannu’s soul that has cried out.” Jayaprakash Narayan calmed down and said, “If it’s a cry of his soul then I’ll willingly lend a hand.” “And the unanimous voice of millions of devout people has also joined it,” I added. Jayaprakash Babu agreed to mediate. He’ll first talk to Savitri and her husband, then he’ll go to see the PM. All the while, Bannu gazed at Jayaprakash Babu with abject, grateful eyes. Later we chided him “You bastard, don’t look so pathetic. If one our of the leaders catches on to you, he’ll immediately offer you a glass of orange juice. Don’t you see so many of them are hanging around your tent, their shoulder bags bulging with oranges?” 16 January Jayaprakash Babu has failed in his mission. No one is willing to agree. The PM said, “We sympathize with Bannu, but there’s nothing we can do. Get him to break his fast first, then we’ll have talks to find a solution.” We were disappointed. 21

A Ten Day Fast

Harishankar Parsai

But not Baba Sankidas. He said, “At first everyone rejects the demand. That’s the convention. We must now expand our struggle. We should put in the papers that there was much acetone in Bannu’s urine today, that his deteriorating condition is causing great anxiety. Other statements should also appear demanding that Bannu’s life must be saved at any cost. Why isn’t the government doing anything? It should immediately take steps to save Bannu’s precious life.” The Baba is simply amazing. Who knows what schemes are tucked away inside his head! He continued, “The time has come to inject the issue of caste in our campaign. Bannu is a brahmin, Radhika Prasad is a kayasth. Some people should work on the brahmins, others on the kayasths. I understand the head of the Brahmin Sabha plans to stand in the next general elections. Someone should explain to him that this might be his big chance to get all the brahmin votes.” A request came today from Radhika Babu. He wanted Bannu to let Savitri tie a rakhi on his wrist and thus make him her brother. We rejected the offer. 17 January The headlines today were — “Save Bannu’s life.” “Bannu’s condition causes anxiety.” “Prayers said in temples to save Bannu’s life.” In one paper we had the following advertisement put in. Millions of Virtuous People Demand Bannu’s Life Must be Saved Horrible Consequences if Bannu Dies The president of the Brahmin Sabha has issued a statement. He sees the situation as a challenge to the honour of all brahmins, and threatens to take Direct Action. We have hired four local goondas. Tonight they’ll throw rocks into kayasth homes. Afterwards, they’ll go to the brahmin neighbourhood and do the same there. Bannu had to pay them in advance. Baba thinks that by tomorrow or the day after we should make the authorities impose a curfew. Or at least make them impose Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code. Baba says that will make our case stronger. 18 January Last night stones were thrown into brahmin and kayasth homes. In the morning there was a pitched battle between several group of the two castes who freely threw stones at each other. 22

Harishankar Parsai

A Ten Day Fast

Section 144, restricting public assembly, has now been imposed on the entire city. The city is tense. A delegation of our representatives met the prime minister. He told them, “There are legal problems here. This may require some changes in our marriage laws.” “Then you should make the changes. Or, better still, issue ordinance,” we replied. “If Bannu dies the entire country will go up in flames.” He said, “First get him to end the fast.” “No, the government should first accept the principle of his demand and set up a committee,” we countered. “That committee could then find some way for this man to get his woman.” The government is watching the situation carefully. Bannu will have to suffer some more. The matter is at a standstill. The talks are at a deadlock. Small skirmishes continue. Last night we had some rocks thrown at the police station. That had satisfactory results. The slogan “Save the Life” is now being heard much louder. 19 January Bannu has become extremely weak. He’s scared he might die. He raves that we’ve led him into a trap. We’re worried. If he issues a statement we’ll all be exposed. We must do something soon. We have warned Bannu that if he were to break his fast now, when nothing’s been gained, the public will lynch him. Our delegation is to see the PM again. 20 January “Deadlock!” the headlines screamed. Only one bus could be burned today. Bannu is in a very bad shape. We issued a statement on his behalf, “I may die but I shall not retreat.” The government too seems rather worried. Today the All India Sadhu Sabha endorsed our demand. The Brahmin Sabha has issued an ultimatum — “If the demand is not met, ten brahmins will immolate themselves.” Savitri tried to commit suicide but was saved. There is a constant line of people outside who want to have Bannu’s darshan. A telegram has been sent to the secretary general of the United Nations. Prayer meetings are being held all over the country. 23

A Ten Day Fast

Harishankar Parsai

Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist leader, has issued a statement, “So long as the present government remains in power, no just demand of the people can be expected to be met. We suggest that instead of going after Savitri, Bannu ought to run away with the government itself.” 21 January The government has accepted Bannu’s demand in principle. A committee has been set up to resolve procedural problems. Amidst loud singing of bhajans and prayers, Baba Sankidas offered a glass of orange juice to Bannu. Baba declared, “In a democracy public opinion has to be respected. This issue involved the sentiment of millions of people. It’s good that it was resolved peacefully, otherwise, a violent revolution could have taken place.” The man from the Brahmin Sabha has made a deal with Bannu. Bannu will campaign on his behalf in the next general elections. He has also given Bannu plenty of money. Bannu’s price has gone up. To the hundreds of men and women who come to touch his feet in adoration, Bannu says, “What happened was god’s wish. I was merely his medium.” People are shouting — “Victory to Truth!” “Victory to Dharma!”1

1

“A Ten Day Fast” was originally published in Hindi as “Das Din ka Anshan” in 1966.

24

Contesting an Election in Bihar
Dear readers, I’m not the Harishankar who used to write satires. My name, residence, actions, have all changed. I have shifted to politics. As I tour through Bihar, I’m preparing to contest in the mid term elections. Now I call myself Babu Harishankar Narain Prasad Singh. You’ll remember that, won’t you? You won’t forget? And please don’t laugh at my new way of speaking. I’ve just started to learn the pure language. I speak the best I can. After all, I’m a new man1 . I’ve come to Bihar in response to the outcry raised by the people of Bihar. How the outcry of a people reaches the ears of politicians, I can’t tell you. It’s a trade secret. The people’s outcry can sometimes be like the bleating of a lamb. It calls for its mother but instead gets a wolf. In fact, even if the lamb stays quiet, the wolf comes anyway. It says, “You called for me?” The lamb says, “No, I didn’t even open my mouth.” The wolf replies, “Then I must have heard the silent cry of your heart.” The people of Bihar might say to me, “We didn’t call you. We don’t want you to be the agent of our salvation. Why are you so bent upon doing us a favour?” I’ll respond, “Even in faraway Madhya Pradesh, I heard the silent cries of your hearts. Since they are not having mid term elections there, I’m unable to serve the people of Madhya Pradesh. And I can’t live if I’m not serving the people. If you won’t accept my services, I shall force my services on you.” And it’s not just me. Bhagwan Sri Krishna himself has come to Bihar, to serve and save its people — the flood driven, drought stricken, disease ridden people of Bihar. A people also dying from famine. One day I ran into Bhagwan Krishna. I immediately recognized him. His peacock feathers, yellow garments and flute were unmistakable. I asked, “You’re Bhagwan Krishna, aren’t you?”
The author is referring to pure language here as the first few paragraphs of this story are set in a local dialect used in Bihar, and not in standard Hindi.
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Contesting an Election in Bihar

Harishankar Parsai

He replied, “Yes, the same. However, now my name is Bhagwan Babu Krishna Narain Prasad Singh. You can also call me Krishna Babu.” I said, “Bhagwan, have you come to lead the Cow Protection Movement? The elections are close, so the cows must be protected. I guess you’ll easily get into politics through the Protect the Cow agitation.” “No, I haven’t come for that,” Krishna replied. “The Cow Protection Movement is for the general elections. In a small, mid term election, one can manage fairly well with even a movement to protect mice. But that’s something that might interest Ganeshji. It doesn’t interest me.” I said, “Then you must have been invited by Ramsevak Yadav — to make sure of the Yadav vote.” That annoyed the bhagwan. He said, “Let me speak too. I came because the people of Bihar cried out to me.” “You must have misunderstood,” I said. “They were the supporters of Shri Krishnavallabh Sahai, and they were loudly shouting his name to make sure it was heard by the Congress High Command in Delhi. So he could get the ticket. You thought they were calling you.” “No,” Krishna retorted, “I heard with my own ears. The people were saying, Bhagwan, you’re our only recourse. Only you can save us now. It was this distressful cry that made me come here.” Well, that’s possible too. After the fourth general elections, only god’s power has remained firm. For in Bihar, by the time its afflicted people would appeal to the government in Patna, there would be a reshuffle and a new government would come into power. Perhaps in desperation the people appealed to the only stable government, that of bhagwan. I said, “It’s good that you came. What do you intend to do now?” He said, “My three point programme is well-known — Protect the sadhus2 , destroy the sinners, and establish dharma.” “Any economic programmes, et cetera?” I asked. “No, only the three point programme.” I asked, “Did you come across any sadhu among the local politicians?” “Not one.” “And non-sadhus?” “None. Here everyone calls himself sadhu, and others non-sadhu. I’m not sure whom I should destroy.” Just then I realized that he didn’t have with him his unique weapon, the sudarshan chakra. How was he to do any destruction then? When I asked, Sri Krishna replied, “It’s at home. I don’t have a licence for it. Anyway, they have already enforced Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code here.”
2

Sadhu here refers to honest and good men.

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Harishankar Parsai

Contesting an Election in Bihar

I explained to him, “Bhagwan, even if you had a licence for the chakra, you would still get convicted under Section 302 if you killed someone.” Krishna looked a bit perturbed. “In that case, how will I establish dharma?” “It’s being established through communal riots,” I explained. “You throw a bone into a temple and get a riot going in the name of the Hindu dharma. These days, dharma is used only to start riots. Your ideas are too old. What we’re doing now is for only one purpose — save the sinners.” I continued, “You can’t uplift the people without elbowing yourself into our parliamentary democracy. You should contest for a seat and become the chief minister of this state. Then send for Rukminiji too. That way, if you’d inaugurate a tournament she’d distribute the prizes. One pair of Lotus-feet will serve two purposes.” It was with great difficulty that I could push democracy down the throat of his feudal values. Compared to him, the maharaja of Darbhanga, Babu Kamakhya Narain Singh, had become a democrat in no time at all. I had something to gain in getting Krishna to contest the elections. I was myself a new entrant in politics. It was essential that I first become the chamcha of someone important. A dada needs a chamcha and a chamcha needs a dada3 . When the dada becomes the chief minister, the chamcha gets to be his home minister. I thought, since some people have got the Shankaracharya to side with them, I should link up with Bhagwan Krishna himself. We decided that we must first mould public opinion in our favour and only then start negotiations with the political parties. And so we set out to meet the public. I became his chamcha. I’d say a few words to introduce him, then stay silent the rest of the time. I was fully confident that someone who could, through arguments, make an unwilling Arjun plunge into a battle, will have no trouble reasoning with people and getting them to side with him. But gradually I began to feel anxious. Krishna didn’t seem to be getting anywhere. We talked to some people active in politics. Krishna told them that he was contesting an election. They said, “Of course. Why shouldn’t you? You are bhagwan. People sing bhajans to you, even worship you. They talk of you all the time. Your photos are sold everywhere. If you won’t contest the election, who will? After all, you’re a yadav, aren’t you?” Krishna said, “I’m god. I don’t have a caste.” They said, “Look, sir, being god won’t do you any good around here. No one will vote for you. How do you expect to win if you won’t maintain your
3

Dada, literally a hoodlum, here refers to a patron and chamcha is his yes-man.

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Contesting an Election in Bihar

Harishankar Parsai

caste?” This got us worried. Bhumihar, kayasth, kshatriya, yadav — one had to be one of these first, only then could one be a Congressite, a Socialist, or a Communist. Clearly, Krishna had to be a yadav first. After that, it didn’t matter even if he became a Marxist. Krishna was soon fed up with this casteism. He said, “They are all backward people. Let’s go to the universities. We should seek the support of the educated to remove this evil from its very roots.” In one university, we talked to a professor of Political Science. He was frank with us. “I’m a kayasth and so I’ll support only a kayasth.” Krishna asked, “You’re so learned and yet so parochial?” “Look,” the professor explained to him, “through learning man comes to recognize his true self. I obtained learning and discovered that I was a kayasth.” This disturbed Krishna so much that he walked out and lay down in the shade of a tree. He said to me, “I think I’ll go back. I can’t make any headway in politics where god can’t get a vote by being just god.” Meanwhile, the news of Krishna’s entry into politics had spread widely, and all regular political parties were showing some wariness. The Jansangh leaders thought that being a cowherd Krishna will naturally side with them. But they decided to be prepared, just in case. They set up a committee of storytellers and asked them to look into their books and find some dirt on Krishna. “If he causes any problem, well ruin his reputation.” In fact, character-assassination had started and some rumours were already circulating. As Krishna dozed in the cool shade and I sat near him, a man came to us. He asked me in a whisper, “He’s Bhagwan Krishna, isn’t he?” “Yes,” I replied. “Just look at his beauty.” The man said, “May I tell you something? Keep it to yourself, but I know all is not right with his Mrs. She’s a runaway. He seduced her. It caused a big fight. We have the evidence. It’s written in a book. Now tell me, if someone who made a young woman elope with him comes into power, what will happen to the honour of our daughters and wives?” When Krishna awoke, I said to him, “Bhagwan, they’ve started to assassinate your character. You should now either boldly plunge into the campaign or let me be on my own. I’ll hitch myself to someone else. For if I stay with you my own political future might be endangered.” The short nap had apparently refreshed Krishna’s mind. With great confidence, he said, “I just got an idea. I have several thousand devout supporters here. I’d forgotten that there are thousands of my temples in this land. Their pujaris must be devoted to me. With their help, I can easily win 28

Harishankar Parsai

Contesting an Election in Bihar

all the seats. Let’s go and talk to them.” We went to one temple. When the pujari saw Krishna, he went wild with joy. He started to dance. He said, “What blessed fate! My life-long devotion has finally borne fruit. I’m looking at god himself.” Krishna explained to the pujari that he was contesting the election and that the pujari will have to secure votes for him. The pujari said, “You are bhagwan, you won’t lack for votes.” Krishna said. “Even so, one has to make sure. You will vote for me, won’t you?” The pujari wistfully rubbed his hands and said, “I worship you. You’re my bhagwan. But as for my vote, it must go to someone from my own caste. Had there been no candidate of my own caste I’d certainly vote for you.” I don’t think Krishna could have felt as hurt when he had been hit by that hunter’s arrow as he felt just then. He said to me, “There’s nothing left for me now but to join the Bhoodan Movement. My own pujari has abandoned me! For such a loser in politics, there are only two choices — join the Bharat Sevak Samaj or enlist in the Bhoodan Movement. Let’s go to Baba.” I said, “That stage hasn’t come yet. We haven’t yet lost an election. There are people who, even after losing four or five elections, haven’t joined the Sarvodaya. Come, we’ll go and talk to some political parties.” First we went to the Congress office. There we were told that there was no Congress there. The secretary said, “Here there is Krishnavallabh Babu, there is Mahesh Babu, there are Ram Khilavan Babu and Mishra Babu — but there is no Congress here. In any case, why join the Congress? After all, whatever group comes into power becomes the Congress, and the losing group ceases to be it. Only after the elections are over shall we know who the Congress is. You see the Congress doesn’t any longer form governments, it only brings them down. You should first contest the elections. Then, if you get a few legislators to support you, come back to us. We’ll get you a majority and you may yourself form the government. We had helped Mandal Babu form the government, remember?” We then went to the Samyukta Socialist Party. They were first wary of us. But when we confided to them that the rose that Jawaharlal used to wear in the buttonhole of his sherwani was in fact made of paper, they were very happy. One of them said, “Your ideas are very revolutionary. Just see, how that Nehru fooled the country all that time.” I said, “We want to be Socialists.” He said, “Being a Socialist isn’t as important as being anti-Congress. Even a dacoit who is against the Congress is superior to any Socialist.” Krishna remarked, “But certainly you must have some ideology?” “Anti-Congressism is an ideology,” the SSP man replied. “Thanks to it 29

Contesting an Election in Bihar

Harishankar Parsai

we can come to an agreement with any group — with the Jansangh, on the protection of cows, with the Swatantra Party, concerning the protection of capital, with the Praja Socialist Party, on democratic socialism and with the Communists, concerning people’s revolution.” I said, “I remember Dr Lohia had said that in order to gain the people’s confidence, any non-Congress government must perform some miracle within the first six months of its coming into power. Did it happen?” The man replied, “Yes, we performed not one miracle but many. Just recall the amazing somersault our own Mandal Babu performed when he came to power.” Next we went to the Communists. The CPI people said, “Well, Comrade Krishna, we know your history. You have often displayed leftist adventurism and radical confusion. You better go to the Marxists.” The Marxists were blunt. They said, “You are nothing but a reformist. Your class character has been entirely reactionary.” But the Jansangh man welcomed us with open arms. He said, “You have been a member of our party since the Dwapara Yuga. We need only to open your mind now.” He took a piece of paper and wrote on it, “Hindi Rashtra, Cow Protection, Indian Culture.” Then he folded it with a printed form. Next he took out a key and a lock from a cabinet. Finally, using a peculiar instrument, he started prying open Krishna’s skull. Krishna was startled. He tried to struggle away and asked angrily, “What are you doing?” The man said, “Your intellectual induction. I shall open your skull, put these ideas inside, then lock it up. The key will be sent to Nagpur, to Guruji. Then there won’t be any risk of some adulterous or anti-national thought sneaking into your mind.” Krishna was scared out of his wits. Freeing himself with a jerk, he fled. “Stop, please stop,” the Jansangh man called after him, “at least let our volunteers have some of your sudarshan chakras.” Hastening away, we went straight to the Backward Bloc. They said, “You can’t join us, you are not backward yet. You will become one when you get to be a legislator but fail to be a minister. Failing to become a minister, you may rightfully claim to be an exploited and backward person. Then come and join us.” We had planned to meet Mahamaya Babu of the Forward Bloc, but we were told that after withdrawing the two hundred and eighteen cases he had filed against Kamakhya Babu, he had gone into hiding in the latter’s coal mine. At the entrance of the mine we ran into Raja Kamakhya Narain Singh alias Kamakhya Babu. He said, “If you were to join me you’ll be asked to 30

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make a tour of the entire world of politics. That might be too much for you. Not everyone can be as agile as I am. See for yourself — first I broke away to form the Janata Party, then I moved to the Swatantra Party. From there I returned to the Congress. Later I shifted my allegiance to the Bharatiya Kranti Dal, only to leave it and revive the old Janata Party. To me, political parties are like underwear. I can’t wear any for long. It begins to stink. I have with me seventeen legislators, but no government can function without me. Let me give you some advice. Form a party of your own and get some of your own people elected to the assembly. Then you can sit majestically and have the Congressites, the Jansanghists, the Socialists, the Revolutionaries, the Communists, and what have you — all sit at your feet and serve you. But if you stick to Principles you’ll be wiped out. The most important principle is to bargain.” We too were by now convinced that we won’t quite get along in any party, that we better form a party of our own. That if we succeed in getting in a few legislators, then, through manipulations, defections and deals, we can always control the government itself. Now we have set up a new party. It will function for the time being only in Bihar. If it gets strong public support in the mid term elections, we’ll make it national. Herewith is a summary of our manifesto. The opportunism, lack of principles, and basic instability that prevail in contemporary Indian politics are enough to break the heart of any true servant of the masses. Corruption in higher politics has caused millions of people to starve, go without clothes, remain jobless. They are falling prey to famines, floods, droughts and epidemics. From countless throats rises only one cry — “Bhagwan, come, form a new party and take political power in your hands to save us.” Responding to this heart-rending plea of the people, Bhagwan Krishna has incarnated himself in Bihar and, joining hands with that world-renowned public servant, Babu Harishankar Narain Prasad Singh, has established a new political party. It is called Bharatiya Janmangal Congress. In contemporary politics, it has become quite a fashion to use the word Janata or Jan or Lok in party names. That’s why we too have included Jan in our party’s name. We, however, appeal to the people that they shouldn’t take it too seriously. It’s just a political joke. The word Bharatiya in our party’s name is also for a reason. It will facilitate if, in the future, it becomes necessary for us to merge with the Bharatiya Jansangh and share power with them. 31

Contesting an Election in Bihar

Harishankar Parsai

Likewise, we have the word Congress, so that if the Indira Congress finds it necessary to form a coalition government, it should first turn to us. No party has ever explained what the word Janata means. We are doing so for the first time. Janata are those men and women who are voters and whose votes elect legislators and ministers. In this world, the usefulness of the janata lies entirely in the fact that their votes elect ministries. If it were possible to form governments without votes, there would be absolutely no need for the janata. The people are raw material. From them one makes the more pukka stuff — the legislators and ministers. In order to make something more solid, one must do away with what is raw. We give our full assurance to the people that doing away with them we shall fashion a high quality government. Our minimal goal is to remain in power. Ideologically we believe in the maxim, As is the king, so are his subjects. If the king lives in luxury, his people too live in luxury. If the king is happy, so are his people. That’s why the ministers in our government shall live only lavishly. The people must understand that we’d be doing so under duress, in fact, only for their own sake. As is the king, so are his subjects. Our candidates shall nor enter the elections to become legislators. They shall seek votes to become ministers. When the people vote for us they will be voting for ministers. Every successful candididate of our party will be included in the cabinet. That will ensure that no one defects. But if any of them must do so, he should first talk to us — to make sure that we cannot possibly meet his demands. The government’s main job is to govern, nor to solve the problem of roti. That’s why our government will take no interest in food production. If any company is interested in producing more grain we will gladly give it all the land in Bihar. We shall create new administrative districts on the basis of caste. For example, no kshatriya will be allowed to live in a brahmin district. District commissioners will be appointed by the caste panchayats. Countless people die in epidemics and famines in Bihar every year. But Kashi is not a part of Bihar. We have only Gaya for the final rites of the dead. Our party will launch an agitation to get Kashi annexed to Bihar. Then the people of Bihar can die in 32

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Kashi and have their rites done right here. We give the people our solemn word that we shall topple any government that won’t include us. If we ourselves fail to get a majority, we shall provide the people the pleasure of having a government every month. This, of course, is just a summary draft of our manifesto. We shall give the details later. People should pray for our party’s victory. Industrialists, contractors and professional troublemakers should immediately contact us to negotiate terms. Our brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews, in-laws and other relatives — wherever they may be — should all come and settle in Bihar. They should also immediately send in applications for welfare funds, together with any proof of their relationship to us. Any delay would only benefit impersonators.4

“Contesting an Election in Bihar” was originally published in Hindi as “Ham Bihar Mein Chunao Lad Rahe Hain” in 1965.

4

33

Poor Trishanku
In a certain city, in a small house in a dirty neighbourhood, there lived a man called Trishanku.1 He was a teacher in a school. Trishanku was dissatisfied with nearly everything in his life, but most of all with his house. His biggest ambition was to move into a larger place in some decent neighbourhood someday. Consequently, he was exceptionally nice to those children whose fathers owned rental properties in the city. Come examination time, he would tell them the “important” questions they should prepare for. He would even give them better marks. Trishanku believed that some day some house-owning parent would be so pleased with him that he would ask. “Do you want anything?” Then he would have his chance to say, “Yes, a nice house.” The rent control officer in that town was a certain Vishwamitra. It was his job to keep an eye on the house rents in the city and allot vacant houses to the needy. It so happened that Vishwamitra’s son was a student in Trishanku’s class. Naturally, Trishanku was very loving towards him. But the boy was extremely poor in studies. In fact, his father had warned him not to lose any of his textbooks, for they were sure to be needed again next year. But Trishanku told him such important questions — and later gave him such good marks — that the boy passed. Vishwamitra was delighted. A few days later, when Trishanku was sitting near him eating laddus to celebrate, Vishwamitra said, “Trishanku Master, I’m very pleased with you. I would like to do something for you. Tell me, what do you want?” Trishanku had waited for years for this moment. Countless houses flashed before his eyes, but he didn’t display any eagerness. “Sir, what have I done that I might wish to be rewarded!” he humbly responded. “I only did what
Trishanku: A ruler of the Surya dynasty, who sought to enter heaven after his death encased in his mortal Chandal body, but was pushed down from the gates of heaven by Lord Indra. His guru, Sage Vishwamitra, halted the fall, and Trishanku hung upside down midway between earth and heaven.
1

Harishankar Parsai

Poor Trishanku

was my duty. You provide homes to the entire city. If your son had failed in his exams it would have been a disgrace to the city itself: I merely did what was required of me as a citizen of this city. I need nothing except that you continue to look upon me favourably.” These words only enhanced Vishwamitra’s genial mood. He felt a tremendous urge to do Trishanku some favour. “No, Trishanku Master, you must ask for something,” he persisted. “I’m obliged to you. Every child has two fathers. One gives him life, the other gives him knowledge. You taught my son not only reading and writing and all that, but you also taught him something invaluable. You taught him how to succeed despite being unworthy of success. Your rank, therefore, is even above me. So tell me, is there anything you want?” Trishanku could see the iron was hot. “All right, sir,” he meekly said, “if it really pleases you, please get me a nice house in some decent neighbourhood.” Vishwamitra was forced to think for a minute. Then he said, “Trishanku Master, that’s a tough one. Houses are very scarce. I’d have had no problem if you had instead asked for a country. Anyway, now that I have promised, I must find you a house.” Vishwamitra pulled open his desk drawer and took out a notebook. After flipping through several pages he stopped, and dialed a number — “Hello, Is Indraji there? . . . This is Vishwamitra speaking . . . Namaskar . . . Yes, all’s well, thanks to your blessings . . . Ha, ha, ha . . . I’m sorry to bother you but it’s something rather special . . . You don’t happen to have a vacant house, do you? You do! . . . He’s someone close to me. My own man, you might say. Yes, a very decent person . . . Should I send him to you? . . . This evening? . . . All right, I’ll do that . . . Thank you very much.” He put the receiver down and turned to Trishanku. “Well, Trishanku Master, that takes care of your need. I’ve found you a house in the best neighbourhood in the city” As the phone conversation had proceeded, Trishanku’s face had brightened little by little. Now it lit up fully. “Where is this house?” he asked eagerly. “In the most beautiful part of the city — in Swargapuri. They also call it the Civil Lines. There, a gentleman named Indradev owns a number of houses. Formerly he was an engineer in Public Works Department, but he served the country so well that when he retired he had some fifteen or sixteen houses of his own. These he rents out. I have asked him to let you have a portion of one of the houses.” Trishanku’s next question was, “What’s the rent?” Vishwamitra said, “Don’t worry. I’ll speak to him about it. All you have to do is to meet him this evening and take possession of the house he shows 35

Poor Trishanku

Harishankar Parsai

you. Today’s the last day of the month. Vacate your present house today, otherwise the owner will make you pay another month’s rent. In fact, when you go to see Indraji, take all your things with you.” Trishanku felt a bit unsure. Swargapuri, or the Civil Lines, was another world. The people who lived there were totally different. Trishanku always looked at them with envy and fear. No doubt, he had often fantasized about living there, but now that a chance had actually come up, he wasn’t so sure. How would I live there? he thought, And why would they ever let me? With much trepidation he said, “Sir, a very different kind of people live there. You might even say, a different species. How will they ever let me live among them?” “What nonsense is that, Trishanku Master,” Vishwamitra replied. “A house in that area is a matter of good fortune, and you are turning it down? Don’t be scared. Go there without fear. Now that I’ve myself spoken to Indraji, he’ll offer you the house only too eagerly.” But Trishanku’s heart was still unwilling. In his most abject manner he said, “Sir, I don’t know why but I’m scared. I feel we can live in Swargapuri only in our mind. If we go there physically, the local people won’t accept us.” Vishwamitra’s sense of pride was aroused. How could Trishanku doubt his powers? He leapt out of his chair, his face red with anger. “Trishanku, I’m Vishwamitra, the rent control officer,” he roared. “No landlord can say no to what I tell him to do. I’ve been in the service for the last twenty years. That’s nothing to laugh at. I’ll see to it that you live in Swargapuri. I have made you a promise. It can’t go waste. Now go and be sure to see Indraji this evening.” That evening, Trishanku hired a pushcart and loading it with all his possessions, set off for Swargapuri. When he arrived at Indradev’s bungalow, the latter was lolling in an armchair in his front garden, giving instructions to a gardener. Trishanku had the pushcart stop outside on the road and went and stood before Indradev. “Namaskar, sahab.” When he got only a Hunh in response to his namaskar, Trishanku was a bit upset. He felt as if he were a beggar at someone’s door and a voice from inside the house was telling him to move on. But he let it pass. After all, he was there for a purpose. Resolutely he said, “Sir, Mr Vishwamitra had called you about a house, that’s why . . . ” “Yes, yes, that’s fine,” Indradev interjected, “where is your sahab?’ Trishanku couldn’t follow the drift of his remark. “What sahab?’ he asked. “The sahab who will live in that house,” Indradev replied with some 36

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Poor Trishanku

annoyance. Trishanku was jolted. He stammered, “Ah . . . ah . . . I will live in that house.” Indradev sat up. He glared at Trishanku. “You! You’ll live in my house!” he shouted. “Has Vishwamitra taken to drinking during the day too?” Trishanku desperately tried to put up a bold front. “Why? Why do you say that? Has he done something crazy?” “I thought,” Indradev said, speaking as if to himself, “I thought he wanted the house for some gentleman.” Trishanku gave up any remaining hope of getting the house. That made him bold. In a strong voice he said, “Why can’t I live in that house? Am I not a man?” Indradev looked at him intently, then said, “No one who is just a man can live in this neighbourhood.” “What do you mean?” “Simply, that you’re not fit to live here. I need only look at a man to know all about him.” Now the school teacher in Trishanku was aroused. He wanted to understand the matter fully and also make sure that the other party understood him equally well. He asked, “So what are the prerequisites for living here?” Indradev looked at him with annoyance. “Beggars, for one, can’t live here,” he replied. “Do you have a car? A radiogram? A refrigerator? A sofa set?” Trishanku couldn’t move his eyes away from Indradev’s wrathful face. “Do your children go to a public school,” Indradev continued, “or do they go with the riffraff? How many varieties of cactus can you name? Which club do you go to in the evening?” After briefly pausing for some response, Indradev concluded, “In that case, how dare you come here?” “I was sent here by Vishwamitra,” Trishanku replied with some force. “He is the rent control officer. His order . . . ” Indradev stood up in rage. Poking a finger at Trishanku’s chest, he shouted, “You’re threatening me with Vishwamitra’s name! I’ve seen dozens of RCOs. Just wait, I’ll have him transferred tomorrow. Even Vishwamitra’s father can’t get you a house here. You think my houses are homes for the poor?” When Indradev began to swear at Vishwamitra, Trishanku saw no reason to linger any further. He walked out of the garden and, asking the pushcart man to follow him, went straight to Vishwamitra’s bungalow. He said to him, “Sir, Indraji turned me away. He said I wasn’t fit to live there. He also called you some bad names.” 37

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Harishankar Parsai

A scowl appeared on Vishwamitra’s face. His eyes flashed with anger. “How dare he!” he hissed, “I’ll take care of that fellow tomorrow. Find some place for yourself tonight. Tomorrow I’ll put you in his house.” With folded hands, Trishanku pleaded, “Sir, I won’t live there. They’re a wild lot. I don’t want to live among them.” Vishwamitra glared at him. “You’ll have to live there,” he thundered. “It’s no longer just a matter of your house. It’s now a question of my prestige.” “Sir, forget all that. I won’t go there. I’ll just stay on in my old house.” And Trishanku turned around to walk away. “But you can’t live there,” Vishwamitra shouted after him. “I’ve already allotted it to someone else.” For a moment everything blurred before Trishanku’s eyes. Somehow he managed to get on the road and, with the loaded pushcart following him, staggered off to look for a dharmashala. And ever since that day, Trishanku has been living in a dharmashala in the city.2

2

“Poor Trishanku” was originally published in Hindi as “Trishanku Bechara” in 1966.

38

The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal
Then the vetal said, “So, Vikram, you have again dragged me down from the tree? Your devotion to your task pleases me. I’ll now tell you another tale to entertain you. Listen . . . Once upon a time, in a certain city, there lived a cloth merchant whose name was Dharamchand. True to his name, Dharamchand was a man full of piety. He would go to the temple mornings and evenings and pray there for almost an hour. And every so often, while concentrating his mind on worship, he would come up with lucky numbers for the daily game. He also kept a charity box at the shop. Everyone considered him a gentle and friendly man. All eighteen hours of his waking day his face was lit up with a huge smile. This had caused his mouth to spread to his ears. His teeth stuck out, which only made it easier for him to show how humble a person he was. When Dharamchand would speak to someone, there would be such a sweet smile on his face and his protruding teeth would indicate such humility — and his eyes, such helplessness — that even if he were to ask that man for his head, the man would probably hesitate for a moment or two before saying no. Dharamchand was also a very honest man, for as he talked to customers he would constantly say, “Honestly . . . ” And he was a virtuous man too, for he would quote a price or tell a creditor his account only after saying, “I swear to god . . . ” O Vikram, god likes to test virtuous men again and again. Dharamchand had to suffer many litigations. Sometimes it was he who would file a case against someone, at others, someone else would sue him. Once, when just such a litigation was going on, the presiding judge was transferred to another city and a new judge arrived. Now it so happened that Dharamchand’s case, in that instance, was rather weak. He could have lost. But he didn’t give up hope. One day the new judge came to the market to buy some cloth, and by some sheer chance entered Dharamchand’s shop. Dharamchand immediately

The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal

Harishankar Parsai

recognized him. He dropped the bolt of cloth he was measuring from and greeted the judge with folded hands. After making certain that he was comfortably seated, he offered him some paan and said, “How very kind of you, sahab! What humble service may I do for you?” The judge replied, “Please show me some nice cloth for shirts.” Dharamchand started pulling down bolt after bolt from the shelves and spread them out before the judge. He did it with loving care as if he were a devotee serving food before a god. The sahab finally liked a pattern and asked the price. Dharamchand folded his hands abjectly and said, “Why must you embarrass me? This is your store, sahab. Just tell me how many yards.” The judge’s face became stern. He said, “No, I don’t buy things that way. I never have. Tell me the price.” O Vikram, the sahab also was very honest. It now became a contest between two honest men. Dharamchand remained silent for a few moments then, in a sad voice, said, “Four rupees seven annas per yard.” Suddenly the sahab’s face lost its sterness. Instead. it took on a pained look. He seemed rather worried. Dharamchand kept his eyes fixed on the sahab’s face. The sahab’s pained look could have broken his own tender heart. With difficulty the words came out of the sahab’s mouth, “No, I cannot afford to wear such expensive clothes.” He got up to leave. Dharamchand looked at the sahab’s face and almost broke into tears. Most abjectly he said, “Sahab, don’t worry about the price. Just take the cloth now.” But, for some reason, that only made sahab very angry. He pushed Dharamchand aside and stomped out of the store. Dharamchand remained standing at the door until the judge was out of sight, then with a heavy heart he returned to his usual tasks. O Vikram, in that encounter between two honest souls, Dharamchand was sorely defeated. That evening, when Dharamchand sat down to pray at the temple, a voice rose out of his gentle heart — “O Dharamchand, did you see the sahab’s dejected face? How helpless he looked. How disappointed he was. How eagerly he had chosen the pattern and then, when he heard the price, how his face fell. The sahab must have thought, We’re called officers and yet we can’t even wear the kind of clothes we want. O Dharamchand, you know well the life of these government officers. You call yourself a kind man. Don’t you feel pity for the sahab? Can’t you fulfil one small wish of his? Shame on you, Dharamchand! Shame on all your prayers! You fool, kindness is the essence of religion . . . ” Dharamchand listened to his soul. His heart filled up. The sahab’s despondent face appeared before his eyes and they flowed over with tears. He 40

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The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal

wiped the tears with his dhoti’s end and with folded hands addressed god, “God, I made a terrible mistake. O most generous one, I know how kind you are when it comes to clothes. You gave endless number of saris to Draupadi. Can’t I, your humble devotee, give just one shirt to the sahab? Lord these sahabs are the Draupadis of today. The Dusshasan of inflation has deprived them of their clothes. Give me some strength, lord, give me some power. Bless me, that I may remove the grief of that grief-stricken person. I swear to you, lord, I’ll have the sahab wearing that shirt within the month.” Once he had made his vow, Dharamchand felt a heavy burden lift from his heart. Eight days passed. Early on the ninth morning, Dharamchand bathed, then put a tilak on his forehead and went to his store. He pulled out the bolt of cloth that had struck the sahab’s fancy, and measured out enough cloth for four shirts. Carefully wrapping the piece in a newspaper, he tucked it under his arm, then, with his mind fixed on god’s true name, he walked to the sahab’s house. The sahab recognized him. “What brings you here, sethji?” he asked. With hesitant hands, Dharamchand unwrapped the cloth and placed it before the sahab. Then he said, “Sahab, I had gone to Bombay recently. There, in the cut-piece market, I found this piece of cloth. You wouldn’t believe me but it came to only seven annas a yard. I bought the whole piece, enough for six shirts. I kept enough for two shirts for myself, and brought the rest for you.” He placed the cloth in the sahab’s hands. The sahab looked at the cloth, looked at Dharamchand and then looked out of the window. Finally he looked at the ground and said, “That’s really cheap. It was very nice of you to get it for me.” Dharamchand said, “Sahab, we’re always ready to serve you in every way we can. You know, money doesn’t accompany a man when he dies. It’s only the service he does here that goes with him.” The sahab paid him for the cloth at seven annas a yard and Dharamchand happily took the money. As he was leaving, he said, “Sahab, the local tailors are all crooks. You’re new here. I’ll send you my own trustworthy man.” That evening Dharamchand’s own trustworthy tailor came to the sahab to get his measurements and the cloth. That same night, Dharamchand sat down before god and prayed, “Lord, I’ve done what I vowed to do. Now the sahab should he able to wear a shirt of that cloth. This came about only because you, in your kindness, wished it so. Now my honour is in your hands.” O Vikram, the shirts were made and neatly ironed. They were ready to be worn. On the morning of the day his case was to be heard in court, Dharamchand took the shirts to the sahab’s house. When the sahab saw the shirts he was most pleased. He once again thanked Dharamchand. 41

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Harishankar Parsai

O Vikram, can there be any sahab who would delay wearing such shirts? None, of course. And so the sahab put on one of the new shirts and went to the court. The case was called and the file was placed before the sahab. He examined the details, for and against. Just then Dharamchand happened to pass by the open door. The two looked at each other and smiled. O Vikram, not even the finest writer can describe that wonderful scene. The sahab picked up his pen to write the judgement. At that moment, some inner urge made him look at his shirt. Suddenly, a miracle happened. The piece of cloth became hard as steel. Its weight began to bend the sahab’s spine. Gradually the shirt grew tight on his body. The sleeves shrank and gripped his wrists. The collar began to choke his throat. The sahab groaned. The shirt became even more constricting. In desperation, the sahab quickly wrote the judgement in favour of Dharamchand. Behold, O Vikram, immediately another miracle occurred. The shirt became soft as silk again. The news of Dharamchand’s victory spread. All were amazed. One person remarked, “The sahab has lost his integrity.” Another responded, “What could the poor sahab do? It’s Dharamchand who lost his integrity.” Still others said, “No, both of them lost their integrity.” Having brought his tale to an end, the vetal fell silent for a few moments. Then he said, “O Vikram, now you know the whole story. Tell me, who lost his integrity — the sahab, Dharamchand, or both?” “Neither,” Vikram promptly replied, “neither of them lost any integrity. Dharamchand accepted money for his cloth and the sahab paid money for his shirt.” Upon hearing these words, the vetal flew up into the tree and once again suspended himself from a branch.1

“The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal” was originally published in Hindi as “Arthaiswin Katha” in 1966.

1

42

Family Planning
In one of the warehouses of the Creator’s Department of Souls, a clerk was going around with a list in one hand. He would look up a number on the list, then locate that particular soul on the shelves. Next, he would carefully wrap the soul in a piece of cloth and place it in a bag that he carried in his other hand. The bag was rather worn out, for he had also been using it to deliver fresh vegetables to the Creator’s house. He picked up soul No D–865372 and was about to put him in the bag, when the soul spoke up. “Where are you taking me?” The clerk replied, “You will be put into a body to be born again.” The soul asked, “In whose house? To whose wife?” The clerk felt a bit peeved. He said, “Look, I’m not supposed to talk to you. Last month someone went to the sahab and complained that I had taken bribes from souls and switched their parents. If you have any questions, you better come and ask the sahab.” The clerk took the soul to the sahab. The sahab was in a rage. No sooner he saw the clerk than he started shouting. “What a mess you have made! I received another complaint today, that you placed a wolf’s soul in some woman’s womb. Now the boy goes around pestering girls on the streets. You had done something similar earlier. I’d have fired you long ago, but my hands are tied since you deliver vegetables to His house!” The clerk remained silent. The sahab asked, “Why have you come now?” The clerk took the soul out of the bag, placed it on the sahab’s table and said, “Sahab, this soul talks too much.” The sahab said, “It must be due to his previous birth. Perhaps, he was a salesman for some third-rate company.” “No, I wasn’t a salesman,” the soul retorted. “I was a doctor, a specialist in family planning. And I don’t talk too much. I merely want to know whose house I’m going to be born in.” The sahab opened his record book. “What’s your number?” “D–865372.”

Family Planning

Harishankar Parsai

The sahab checked the record, and said, “You’re to be the son of one Hariprasad Pandey, a schoolmaster.” “How much does he earn?” “One hundred and fifty rupees per month.” “How many children does he already have?” “Six. You’ll be the seventh.” The soul was enraged. “I’m not at all prepared to be his seventh child,” he fumed. “I won’t be born. I refuse to accept rebirth.” The sahab was not known for tolerating such scenes. “You think your rebirth depends on your wish?” he growled. “Even the greatest rishi must perform austerities all his life, only then may he expect release from the cycle of birth and death. And if some woman happens by as he does his austerities, his entire labour goes to waste. It’s like walking on the edge of a sword. Your rage means nothing to me.” The soul retorted, , “But I won’t let you get away with it. I shall speak to the Creator himself. Now what was that name? Hariprasad Pandey? Somehow, it sounds familiar to me. Where does the poor beggar live?” “In Khandwa,” the sahab replied. The soul bounced up and down on the table in excitement. “Khandwa!” he exclaimed. “That’s where I lived. I know the man. His house was close to my clinic. Now I remember, he’s that Do It-Master.” The sahab asked, “Do It-Master? What kind of a name is that? They don’t have such names in that part of the world.” The soul said, “That’s the name he’s known by. It was given to him by his students. When one of them would ask him a question he wouldn’t give an answer. Instead, he would pull the boy’s ears and scream, “Do it, you fool, just do it!” And so the boys began calling him “Do It-Master.” I know the fellow well. You think I’d agree to be his seventh son?” The sahab had had a long and frustrating life. These remarks provided him some amusement. He said, “I like you. But I can’t do anything for you. I have to go by the rules. Life and death are in the Creator’s hands. I can forward you to him, that’s the best I can do.” The soul was taken before the Creator. The Creator was in a good mood. He had been looking at a handsome new edition of stutis in his praise. Showing the soul the book, he asked, “Have you seen it? What do you think?” The soul said, “I read parts of it, then I was bored. It’s well-written, but it’s not very scientific — if you know what I mean.” The Creator decided not to argue. “What brings you here?” he asked. The soul replied, “You’ve placed me in a funny situation. In my previous birth I was a specialist in family planning. I must have done thousands of vasectomies and tubectomies on people who had had two children. But now 44

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you’re sending me as the seventh child of a schoolmaster! Just think about it for a moment.” “But what are you objecting to?” the Creator asked. The soul tried to explain, “Bhagwan, you don’t seem to see or understand anything. You just go on sending down one child after another. I know what the life of the seventh child of that poor schoolmaster will be like. He lives close to my former clinic. His children get neither a decent meal nor enough clothes. Hungry, skinny, filthy — that’s how his children are. Poor in health, poor in mind — without any education, without a future. And I’d be his seventh child. Just try to imagine what it would he like for me. His first son’s jacket was handed down to the second son, the third son got the second son’s jacket and the fourth son got the third’s. I won’t get even a worn-out rag, for his next children were all daughters. You know, for three or four years after his marriage that schoolmaster used to wear nice clothes. But later, I myself saw him use the edge of his jacket to wipe the running noses of his sons.” “But he does want children,” the Creator countered. “He does not!” the soul retorted. “In fact. he’s tired of children. He simply can’t help having them. He beats them, he swears at them, he says to them, Why don’t you all die? He constantly fights with his wife. He shouts at her, It’s all your fault. You just kept on producing children. His wife shouts back, Did I do it alone? Lost for argument, he then starts hitting her. His children see him beat their mother on their account. They hate him, and he hates them. And you want to send me into such a home?” The Creator was beginning to enjoy this conversation. He said, “But you were a family planning doctor. Why didn’t you get him to stop having children? Perhaps you were neglectful in your duties.” The soul’s pride was hurt. He said heatedly, “Everyone there knows how hard I worked. I can’t even begin to count the number of families I planned. If you had let me live another ten years I’d have had even dogs and cats sewed up after two deliveries — not to mention human beings. As for that stupid schoolmaster, I told him . . . ” “You should be more respectful,” the Creator interjected, “he’s going to be your father.” The soul shrugged off the reprimand. “That man won’t be my father,” he said. “If anything he would be an enemy. After he had his third child, I told the fool, “Now stop! You live in the atomic age. Science has provided us with many simple devices. Come to my clinic.” He even seemed to agree with me. But then he began to avoid me. I don’t know what fear or doubt came over him. Then his fourth child arrived and, just before I returned here, his fifth. Now they tell me he has had one more. You see, there are these men 45

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down there who wear modern clothes but are still like cavemen underneath. They belong to the Stone Age, so bound are they to their natural urges. The scientific gains of millions of years mean nothing to them. Even you can’t plan their families. You might stop giving them babies, but they’ll start producing dogs and cats.” “But why are you so against someone having many children?” the Creator asked. “Look, I have countless, millions of children. All believers call me Father.” The soul could barely suppress his smile. He said, “That’s another of your favourite delusions. It’s only within their temples and churches that they call you father. No one claims you outside. There, when asked about their fathers, they give other names. Yes, there was once a man who went around openly calling you his father but he was declared a criminal, and those other lying sons of yours crucified him.” That was a bit too much for the Creator. He didn’t feel like talking to that soul any more. He gave his final verdict, “My decision cannot be changed. You’ll have to be reborn as that schoolmaster’s child.” The soul, having lost all hope, now lost his temper too. “Do Justice and Injustice mean anything to you, he shouted angrily, or are they just empty words? Let’s take for example your actions as Vishnu. When you wished to be born you carefully chose a chakravarti king, Dasharath, for your father. Tell me, why didn’t you prefer to be born as the seventh child of some schoolmaster? No, you wanted to be a raja’s son. Then, even though in those days rajas always had hundreds of sons, your father had only four — and of them, you of course were the eldest. You had a palace, countless servants, heavenly food, and a private tutor, no less. Or take that other time, when you were born in a commoner’s family, Vasudev’s wife. Then you were number nine. But you had the previous eight sent back, using Kans as your instrument. You became the only child in the family. And yet you insist that I should go down as the seventh child of a poor man!” The soul had misjudged. You don’t say such frank and harsh words to someone who hears only stutis in praise day and night. The Creator went purple with rage. He thundered, “No one has the right to choose his father. Get out! Tomorrow you will be placed in the womb of the schoolmaster’s wife.” As he was dragged away, the soul burst into tears. “No, no!” he cried. “Not the seventh!” A few months later, the newspapers carried the following item. A strange boy has been born to the wife of Hariprasad Pandey, a local schoolmaster. He is old from birth. His hair is snow-white, 46

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his face is wrinkled, and his shoulders are bent low. He neither smiles nor cries. He remains withdrawn and silent, like an old man. There is another strange thing about this baby. Day or night, at the hour of seven, he suddenly lets out a cry, and on the seventh day of every month he cries all day long. Many devout people believe that the baby had been a great rishi in his previous birth and was sent to this transient world against his wish.1

1

“Family Planning” was originally published in Hindi as “Family Planning.”

47

The First Bridge
One day Babu Ram Sevak of the Public Works Department suddenly resigned from his job and began to devote his entire time to remembering Bhagwan Ram. People speculated. One offered, Babu Ram Sevak was caught in a bribery case and escaped by resigning. Another said, Babuji received a huge gift of money from his in-laws which he now planned to use to start a business. But whenever Babu Ram Sevak opened his lips, out came only the name of Ram. Consequently, the truth of the matter remained hidden from the public for a very long time. One day I went to Babuji. He was seated cross-legged on deerskin. Beside him was a pile of papers, and in front lay a pen and a bottle of ink. He appeared to be lost in some profound thought. When he heard my steps he opened his eyes, and recognizing me, gave me a slight smile. “What brings you here today?” he asked. I sat down. “Nothing special,” I replied. “I hadn’t seen you for some time. You don’t seem to go out at all.” He said, “Hahn bhai, my world has changed. Now my heart’s set on something else. All ties should be with Ram, so said Tulsidas. That’s exactly how I feel.” “But the people say something different,” I said, a bit hesitantly. He smiled and nodded his head. “Let them say what they want. I’ve transcended the dichotomies of praise and blame, honour and disgrace . . . virtue and vice.” Gathering a bit more courage, I persisted, “But only you know why you resigned. If you don’t mind, please . . . ” Babu Ram Sevak closed his eyes and remained silent for a few moments. When he opened his eyes again, he fixed them on my face and said gently, “Now that you have asked, I’ll tell you. I left my job because I was commanded to do so by Hanumanji.” I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Did Hanumanji actually honour you with a darshan?” I asked. “Hahn bhai,” Babu Ram Sevak said. “One night Hanumanji appeared to

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me in a dream and said, You wretch, you imbecile, why are you squandering your life? Cast away the maya of your office. Don’t waste your precious human life in writing memos, you fool. Write instead the story of Ram. I somehow stammered out, Maharaj, how can that be? I’m a foolish person. I possess no learning. I have no talent other than that of writing memos and filling forms and making entries in registers. ”Hanumanji said, Your true talent will soon shine forth — that’s my blessing upon you. All poets in their humility say similar things. Tulsi had similar feelings too — Kavya-viveka ek nahin mor´, satya kahaun likh e kagada kor´. You too should just get up and start writing. I folded my hands e submissively and said, Master, your command must be obeyed. But what will I write? So many great poets and saints, so many devotees of Ram have already written the blessed story. What is now left there for me to write? “Then Hanumanji gently explained to me, Every poet has his own perspective, his own insight. Every poet, influenced by his own age, gives the story of Ram a new shape. Don’t you find any difference between Valmiki and Bhavabhuti, between Bhavabhuti and Tulsi? You too should write using your own discretion and give the Ram story a shape that suits your times. Then he disappeared, but I was tranformed. In the morning I went to the office and quietly submitted my resignation, and on my way out picked up a handful of memo-pads from my desk to use for writing the story of Bhagwan Ram” “Have you written it?” I asked. Babuji replied, “Yes. As a matter of fact, it’s almost finished. Just this morning I completed the section dealing with the construction of the bridge to Lanka. Would you like to hear it?” I said, “Of course. Who wouldn’t like to hear the story of Ram!” Babu Ram Sevak opened the bundle in front him and pulled out a sheaf of papers. But before starting to read, he decided to explain a few things. He said, “Look here, bhai, you’ll find some new things in my story Don’t let that startle you or don’t let that make you disbelieve what I tell you. When Hanumanji appeared to me, he assured me that after I’ve completed the tale he would come to me again and sign Approved on it. Then no one will have any doubt. And I’ll tell you one more secret — the bridge that Ram eventually used to go to Lanka was a second bridge. There was another, an earlier bridge, and that’s what I have written about. Now listen.” He took off his glasses, wiped them clean and then began to read. When the bridge was finished, Nala and Nila came to Shri Ramchandra, prostrated themselves full length before him, and said, “Maharaj, the bridge is ready.” Ram looked towards them, amazed, and said, “What! The bridge 49

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is ready? Nothing like this has ever happened. Why, it was just the other day that I laid its foundation stone. Anything that has a proper Foundation ceremony never gets done so soon — in fact, it doesnt get done at all. You see, what must get done never has its foundation stone laid, and what gets its foundation stone laid is never done. Years ago, when I had gone out on a tour with Guru Vasisht, I had laid the foundation stones of so many buildings on people’s insistence. But when I set out more recently — to follow the command of my father and go into exile — and passed through those places again, I found that the foundation stones were still in the original condition. Not one bit of construction had begun. But you’re saying that your bridge is finished. How can it be? I had no expectation that it would ever be finished. In fact, I was trying to figure out some other way of reaching Lanka. Nala, Nila, you’ve done something truly amazing.” Nala and Nila stood with folded hands and submitted, “Maharaj, it’s the fruit of your blessings upon us. The bridge is ready. You may give orders to the army to move forward.” Then Ramchandra sent for Sugriv, and said to him, “Bhai, the bridge is ready. Nala and Nila have amazing powers, but even they couldn’t have achieved much if you hadn’t helped them with your wealth. Dear friend, I’m greatly indebted to you.” Sugriv replied, “Maharaj, such humility doesn’t become you. You’re the future king of this vast and ancient country. I’m merely the petty chief of a small piece of land. It can only be a matter of pride for me, maharaj, if my treasure has been of any use to you.” Ram said, “Bhai, tell the army to start for Lanka tomorrow.” When Sugriv heard that he was quite shocked. He said, “Maharaj, what are you saying! How can the army set out tomorrow? The bridge is yet to be inaugurated.” Ram gently said, “Look brother, we must remember that even a day’s delay might result in injury to Sita’s honour. It’s not incumbent at this time to perpetuate the tradition of a formal inauguration.” Sugriv was so astounded, he almost fell from his perch in the sky. “How can we step upon a bridge without first properly inaugurating it?” he exclaimed. “Has it ever happened before? Even now so many bridges lie completed here and there but no one can walk upon them because they haven’t yet been inaugurated. Maharaj, bridges are not made for crossing over, they’re made for inaugurations. If they are also used for crossing over — why that’s quite irrelevant.” When he saw Sugriv so insistent, Ram modified his position and said, “In that case, let’s get started. Whom should we ask to inaugurate the bridge?” Sugriv immediately said, “In my humble opinion, maharaj, the bridge 50

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should be inaugurated by your honoured father-in-law, Raja Janak.” Ram agreed, “Excellent idea. Please invite him right away. Sugriv immediately sent his most trusted monkeys to Raja Janak to invite him to come.” Raja Janak set out with his retinue from Mithila and in a few days arrived at the coast. The cost of his journey was paid by Sugriv, who calculated that the amount could have paid for two more bridges. An auspicious day and time were set for the inauguration. Janak performed the proper religious rituals, then with a pair of golden scissors cut the ribbon. All the monkeys shouted — “Raja Janak ki Jai! Raja Ramchandra ki Jai! Raja Sugriv ki Jai!” Then Raja Janak addressed the assembled monkeys. “Brothers, I’m deeply grateful to Ramchandra for the honour he bestowed on me by inviting me to inaugurate this bridge. But he did the right thing. Who else could he invite — after all he is my son-in-law. Brothers, everyone knows how important bridges are in the life of our nation. Today it’s our task to develop the country, and no country can develop unless it has a lot of bridges. Bridges are a nation’s true wealth. No nation can march towards progress without bridges. Consider the history of the world — only those nations have been able to progress which have plenty of bridges. That’s why I believe that we should make nothing but bridges in our country. Fill the entire land with bridges. Let there be bridges over land. Let there be bridges over rivers, seas and oceans. Let’s not stop there. Let’s make bridges in the air too — the way we make castles. This bridge here is just the first link in that great chain of bridges that we must construct. Once again, I congratulate you and thank all of you.” There was a great burst of applause as Raja Janak sat down. But just then, right there in front of everyone, the entire bridge collapsed. They say that a commission of enquiry was immediately set up, but even today, in the fourth quarter of the kaliyug, it has yet to submit its report.1

1

“The First Bridge” was originally published in Hindi as “Pahla Pul”

51

Gentlemen, Conmen and Congressmen
Leaning against a bolster, he was sprawled on a thick mattress. In front of him lay a plate of prepared paans. His cheeks bulged, and, with closed eyes, he was slowly chewing away. I quietly sat down in a chair near him. After some ten minutes he opened his eyes to reach for some more paans and, seeing me, smiled. After re-stuffing his mouth, he somehow asked, “Sir, why did you trouble yourself?”1 I replied, “Bhaiya Saab, I’ve come to interview you. I’d like to ask you some questions.” He slowly counted the paans on the plate, then said, “You’ll have to wait for about two hours. There are still twelve paans left. It’s a rule with me to lie down at noon and chew twenty paans. a meditative act. It’s also a creative act. It can’t be disturbed. I’ll finish the remaining twelve paans in two hours — for you I might even do it in less time. But you must sit here quietly till then.” He closed his eyes again. I sat and watched his slowly moving jaws. Every ten minutes or so, he would open his eyes just long enough to grab a couple of more paans. After nearly two hours he sat up and said, “Please do forgive me. you had to wait for long. But the fact is, I’m very firm when it comes to principles. I have a fixed schedule which I can’t give up at any cost. For example, every evening I sit on my terrace and engage in “mass-contact” as people go back and forth on their business on the street below. Similarly, I’ve made it a rule to worship Khadiji every day.” “Worship Khadiji? I don’t understand.”
1 Author’s note: There are three kinds of men — gentlemen, conmen and Congressmen. A gentleman, after he suffers a defeat at the hands of another person, looks only at himself, a conmen looks only at the other man, but a Congressman frequently does both. To remind him that a third person might also be looking at him, I publish this interview with a leader-type Congressman.

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He pointed to one corner of the room, “See there?” A miniature platform was set in a corner on which lay a bolt of khadi cloth marked with kumkum and decorated with fresh flowers. In front, on the floor, lay a tray with items for performing an aarti. Bhaiya Saab said, “You know, I’m an old Gandhian. I’ve not given up my dharma — unlike others. I still worship Khadiji. In fact, in my house you can still find both Takliji and Charkhaji.” I asked, “Bhaiya Saab, I’m sure you’ll concede that there is much difference of opinion within the Congress party, that there are many cliques. Which group do you belong to? In other words, whose principles do you acknowledge and accept?” “I don’t get involved in cliques,” he replied. “I follow Pandit Nehru. I act according to the principles he has set up.” I pursued the matter further, “What are those principles of Panditji’s that you are so devoted to?” Bhaiya Saab stood up. He put on the sherwani that was hanging from a hook, then inserted a bouquet of roses into one of its huge buttonholes. With a smile he said, “What better proof do you need? panditji likes roses. He always has a rosebud in his buttonhole. I have a whole bouquet. Bhai mer´, I have absolute faith in panditji’s policies.” e I changed the subject. “Bhaiya Saab, come election time and one always hears the demand that new blood should be given a chance — what’s your opinion regarding that?” He first gave a twirl to his white moustache, then said, “The young have no patience. Look, they have a whole life ahead of them to gain big positions. So why are they in such haste? We, on the other hand, have barely five to ten more years left.” Then he became sombre and thought for a while. Finally he continued, “Old rice tastes better. In fact, I want to see the day when there would be lines of ambulances in front of the assembly halls and ministers and MLAs would be carried in on stretchers. You see, the chief reason for the rebellion brewing in the Congress party is that some very old Congressites are unemployed. For example, Rajaji. Now you tell me, if Rajaji had a job today, do you think he’d be making so much noise? But the father-in-law of Mahatma Gandhi’s own son remains jobless. Isn’t that disgraceful?” He looked very sad. A kind of piety mixed with remorse showed on his face. Then, recovering himself, he said, “It will be a great loss to the public if all the old people were to retire. For example, if one day some members of the general public get arrested for gambling, do you think a new leader would be able to get them freed? Of course not. Only an older man can get that done. Only he would have the necessary connections with the officials.” 53

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My second question was, “What programme do you have to fight the communalism of the Jansangh?” His face brightened up. With total self-confidence, he replied, “Even Panditji lacks the grip I have on this problem. The antidote to communalism is casteism. I used this tactic in my area and deflated the Jansangh. If they come with Hinduvada, I counter with Brahminvada. As the saying goes, If you dance on every branch, I shall dance on every leaf. They can’t win against me.” And he guffawed with delight. I was very impressed by his confidence. He leaned forward conspiratorially and said, “You may say anything, but caste and religion are eternal. They can’t be erased. But if Panditji says all are one, that’s right too — I’ll go along with that.” Now that I had some grasp of Bhaiya Saab’s clear thinking, I thought of asking some more difficult questions. I began, “Bhaiya Saab, your detractors criticize the Congress party and its government on several issues. For example they say . . . ” His fist clenched as he interrupted me, “I can force them to eat their words, and I have often done that. What are they saying now?” “They claim, for example, that our foreign policy of non-alignment has been unsuccessful and that we ought to give it up. Please tell me why did we adopt that policy in the first place, and how has it benefited us?” Bhaiya Saab bowed his head, deep in thought. I looked towards him for an answer. “You didn’t answer my question.” He raised his head and said, “I will. Just wait.” Then suddenly he got up and standing on top of the bolster, raised both his arms upwards, and shouted, “Gandhiji ki Jai! Pandit Nehru ki Jai!” I was flabbergasted. But he sat down with a calm look on his face and said, “Next question, please.” I wasn’t sure, but he looked so satisfied with his previous answer that I continued for his sake. I asked, “Bhaiya Saab, the dissenters are always very critical of the public sector of our economy. Can you explain for the common man the importance of the public sector industries in the nation’s development — what are their achievements so far and what do they hope to accomplish in the future?” Again he fell into deep thought. Then, as suddenly, he jumped up and climbed on top of the table. Raising his arms high he shouted, “Pandit Nehru Zindabad!” Then he climbed down from the table, sprawled again on the mattress and said, “Next question, please.” I asked, “Will you throw some light on your policy towards China? Also, why do you think friendly ties with a Communist Russia are in our national 54

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interest despite the recent invasion by Communist China?” Once again Bhaiya Saab became lost in thought. This time when he jumped up, he climbed on a chair and, waving his arms, shouted, “Strengthen the hands of Pandit Nehru!” Then he settled down on the mattress again and very calmly said, “Yes, go on please. I’m deeply interested in matters of policy and principles. I tear apart dissenters’ arguments like a blade of grass.” I said, “Bhaiya Saab, your goal is to create a socialist framework — can you delineate its outline in the context of the past three economic plans?” This time he climbed up on the sofa’s back and shouted, “Chacha Nehru Zindabad! Chacha Jawahar Zindabad!” Then he again settled down on the mattress and said, “Go on.” I cast a glance around the room and lost my courage, but he continued to press me to ask him another question. Finally I said, “I’m afraid.” “Why, what are you afraid of?” he asked most gently. “Go ahead, ask. I don’t mind.” “The reason I’m scared,” I replied, “is that there are now only two things left in the room for you to climb upon — that huge almirah and I, your humble servant. But the almirah might be a bit too high for you. I’m afraid if I ask you one more question . . . ” Bhaiya Saab burst into laughter. I took advantage of his gaiety and quickly slipped out of the room.2

“Gentlemen, Conmen and Congressmen” was originally published as “Sajjan, Durjan. aur Kangressjan” in 1965.

2

55

When the Soul Cries Out
Sometimes the weather changes suddenly and thousands of moths appear out of nowhere. Sometimes the weather changes suddenly and honesty rears its head from where it lay hidden under a hundred covers. Honesty and moths, suddenly they begin to buzz around — it all depends on the weather. This March, for the first time in twenty years, our weather changed so much that where there had been nothing previously, honesty suddenly popped up and began to buzz — where there had been only clay, suddenly a soul was born and began to make noises. Those who know all about weather say that this change is due to the forthcoming elections, that not until the second general elections are over will the weather change, that until then honesty and soul will continue to be extremely active. The other day, Harcharan, a resident of my village, told me that his soul was also crying out. Harcharan is a second term Congress legislator from our constituency. Harcharan said, “Bhaiya, Please write a nice statement giving reasons for my resignation from the Congress.” “And why are you leaving the Congress?” I asked. He replied, “My soul is crying out to do so. The Congress is murdering the principles of our late, revered Bapu. The Congress can no longer protect our democracy. I’m a man of principles — you know that.” I was truly astounded. l had never even dreamt that I’d hear Harcharan talk of Soul, Principles and Democracy. Who knows what worse days might lie ahead for me! I asked,“Tell me, Harcharan, when did your soul start talking? It had been dumb so far. Did you go to some doctor?” He said, “Bhaiya, day before yesterday I went to see the chief minister. I told him, The principles for which the Congress stands are being killed. I cannot tolerate that. He replied, You tolerated it until now. Just go on doing

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the same. I said, I can’t tolerate any further. Six other legislators belonging to my caste also think that principles are now being killed on a larger scale. The chief minister said, If you alone had told me that principles were being killed I wouldn’t have believed you, but since you have six other legislators with you saying the same thing, I have to believe it. I too want to protect principles. Why don’t we join hands and do it together? I’ll appoint you a parliamentary secretary. Will that protect your principles sufficiently? I replied, No sir, how can one protect great principles with such a small post. You should at least make me a deputy minister — then I might be able to give the necessary protection. The chief minister said, No, that stage hasn’t come yet. Well, bhaiya, no sooner did I leave his bungalow than my soul began to cry out.” I asked, “Did it speak out loud and clear?” He replied, “Yes, bhaiya, very loudly. Those who happened to be nearby asked, Who is saying such nice things? I replied, It’s the soul of this most humble servant of Gandhiji.” “And what was your soul saying?” I asked. “It was saying, You fool, for five years you’ve been sitting in the legislature, but what have you accomplished? Look at Khuman Singh. He’s a deputy minister now. You’re beginning to get a bad name in your caste. The Congress is dead. It can no longer protect democracy. Today, all principles are being killed in the Congress. How can they who can’t even make you a deputy minister be expected to protect democracy? Get out of this Congress.” Then he added, “For two days now my soul has been telling me the same thing. I’m most upset. Please write a nice statement that I can use.” I said, “Harcharan, I hope you’re not being hasty. I hope you don’t lose this chance of becoming a parliamentary secretary.” He explained, “No, I have talked with people. The rebel group will form a new government in a fortnight or so. They have promised to make me a deputy minister. A pure soul is a smart soul. None can deceive it.” “Which rebel group do you plan to join?” I asked. “I’ll remain in the middle and thus protect democracy from both groups. You know, these days I get more respect than I ever received before. All sorts of big men come to see me and I get invited to many special parties.” I persisted, “But which party do you really like?” “All the parties are good, bhaiya,” he replied innocently. “They all serve the country. Members of all the parties speak nicely to me. Tikadamkarji of the Jansangh speaks nicely to me. Azad Sahab of the SamSoPa and Aandhi Behanji of the PraSoPa also treat me very nicely. To me they are all very nice. Anyway, this talk of parties and platforms is just needless pretension. 57

When the Soul Cries Out

Harishankar Parsai

I don’t believe in these distinctions. Except the Communists — I stay away from them. I hear they don’t get along even with god.” I prepared a statement for Harcharan, detailing his reasons for leaving the Congress party. He had it published in the papers. Some four or five days later Harcharan came to me again. He looked harried. He said, “Bhaiya, my soul was quiet for three or four days, but since yesterday my soul has again started to cry out.” “It’s a bad disease you’ve got, Harcharan,” I said. “What made your soul cry out this time?” He replied, “Bhaiya, the chief minister sent for me two days ago. He asked my why I had left the Congress. I was frank. I told him that I had some fundamental differences with the party and that I can’t tolerate it if principles are killed before my own eyes. He said, Principles can’t be protected on the other side either. The Opposition is a crazy mess of odds and ends — anything can happen there. All those parties will start fighting among themselves and their cabinet will soon disintegrate. You won’t remain a deputy minister for more than a month or two. The Congress, on the other hand, is a stable party. Come back to us. I’ll make you a minister of state.” And Harcharan fell silent. I asked, “Then what happened?” He said, “Well, bhaiya, my soul began to cry out. O Harcharan, principles are getting trampled on this side too. The killing of principles in Congress is known to you. At least you have already had that experience. But the rebels might start destroying principles in some new way. That would be intolerable for you. Think for a moment — who sticks more to priniciples — those who are making you just a deputy minister or those who want to make you a minister of state? You should go back to the congress. I listened to my soul and accepted what it told me. Please prepare a new statement explaining my reasons for returning to the Congress.” I protested, “But just a few days ago you sent a signed anti-Congress statement to the papers! How will you now contradict yourself? What can you possibly say?” Harcharan said, “You should write that the Opposition had threatened me and forced me to sign the statement through deception. They are in fact still trying to woo me. But I cherish the principles the Congress stands for, and only the Congress can benefit the masses. I’m returning to the Congress in order to preserve my principles.” I wrote his statement for him. I thought, now he would become a minister of state and that would silence his soul for good. But four days later he was back. He said, “My soul is in great distress.” “What happened now?” 58

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“Something terrible is about to happen. The rebels now have the majority and the Congress government is going to fall. The rebels are also willing to make me a minister of state. My soul repeatedly warns me that if I fail to join them, our democracy will be destroyed. I’m not worried about myself, but I cannot fail to protect democracy. Perhaps god desires that democracy should be preserved through me. How can I turn away from such a great responsibility. Bhaiya, you must prepare a new statement.” “And what reasons should we offer this time?” I asked resignedly. “Write the truth. After all, Truth always wins,” said Harcharan. “Write that the Congress people had threatened and deceived me and made me sign the previous statement under duress. That the Congress is destroying the country, and a patriotic and honest public servant like me cannot be a partner to such destruction. Also add at the end that I warn the Congress people not to try to woo me again.” Once again I prepared a statement. When only two days were left for the test of power in the legislative assembly, Harcharan came to see me again. His face was ashen. He said, “This time my soul is most persistent. It keeps saying, The Congress got the country its freedom, the Congress was nurtured by Gandhiji and Nehruji — so don’t leave the Congress. Only the Congress can benefit the country. Only the Congress can protect our democracy.” “What made your soul cry out this time?” “What can I tell you! It was the marijuana.” That startled me. I knew that marijuana had made the souls of the Western youth cry out, but Harcharan’s soul? “Have you started smoking marijuana?” I asked sharply. “No, bhaiya. The thing is that two days back someone threw a kilogramme of marijuana into my room, and when I returned to my room the police suddenly appeared . . . Yesterday the chief minister sent for me again. He said, You seem to have got involved in a serious case. What do you say now? What would you like to enter — the jail or the Congress? I’ll have the case withdrawn if you come back to us. Bhaiya, my innermost soul is piteously crying out, Harcharan, don’t leave the party of Gandhi and Nehru. Only the principles laid down by the Congress can bring good to the nation.” I asked “Have they promised to make you a minister?” He replied, “Why would they promise me anything, now that I’m in this marijuana mess. In any case. I’m not greedy for position. I want to serve the masses as just an ordinary soldier in the Congress. Today our country needs honest and faithful people to serve it well.” I prepared his final statement. Now Harcharan is serving the nation as 59

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an ordinary soldier, eternally vigilant due to his Marijuana case.1

1

“When the Soul Cries Out” was originally published in Hindi as “Dal Badalnewala”.

60

Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview
Our readers will remember that Mufat1 Lal had applied for the post of deputy collector. Recruitments for all government jobs in the country were done under two conditions, (i) when certain jobs had become vacant and candidates were needed to fill them, or (ii) when special candidates were lying vacant and jobs were needed to fill them. According to Article 2, section 11, subsection 3 of the Government Service Manual, a special candidate was “any job-seeking citizen whose qualifications are ordinary but whose connections are extraordinary — for example, he may be the recommendee of someone who either himself holds a high government post or has influence over such office holders.” As occasions would arise — to seek candidates for jobs, or jobs for candidates — the government would seek applications by advertising in the newspapers, under the heading — Needed. The country’s newspapers sold only because of these Needed advertisements. Any paper that didn’t have a single such notice could find no takers. Some didn’t hesitate to cheat in order to increase their sales. One newspaper frequently printed in bold letters on its front page, NEEDED . . . People would eagerly buy it, only to discover underneath the following in small print:
. . . a mountain, by the river; . . . some soil, by the tree; . . . a little grass, by the cow; . . . a mother, by the child; . . . some clothes, by the naked; . . . two eyes, by the blind; . . . a collar, by the dog; . . . two horns, by the bull; . . . a servant, by the master; . . . devotees, by god. Who is there without a need? We all need something or someone.

In retaliation, another paper published a warning.
1

Mufat is the colloquial form of “muft” meaning free, gratis.

Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview

Harishankar Parsai

Beware of Imitators! Envious of our large circulation, some newspapers have started deceiving our trusting public by publishing nonsensical statements in Needed columns. These spurious ads contain no reference to jobs. We alert the citizens to this fact and advise them to look for genuine advertisements and read entire texts before buying any newspaper.

Each job advertisement attracted several thousand applications, requiring two to three years for them to be sorted through. Then followed tests and interviews of the candidates. According to the rules, every candidate had to send in a note every three months, confirming that he was still alive. If any failed to do so, he was assumed to be dead and had his name deleted from the list. This made the selection process that much easier. And so, two years later, Mufat Lal received his copy of the letter from the secretary, Administrative Services Commission, sent to him through the Office of the Employment Officer. The secretary, ASC, at the time was a Shri Aspasht2 . Below, we reproduce that letter. Administrative Services Commission Copy Shri Mufat Lal, BA Ref: Application for the post of a deputy collector You are hereby informed that your application was received in our office in due time. Pursuant to Section 17 of the Administrative Services Code, you must inform this office within three months as to whose man you are and what his official rank is. Proper certificates must be attached. Yours, et cetera. Aspasht (Secretary) Mufat Lal sent in the necessary information within a week. We reproduce his letter below. To Shri Aspasht Secretary Administrative Services Commission.
2

Aspasht literally means unclear. Shri Aspasht here means “Mr Illegible.”

62

Harishankar Parsai Sir,

Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview

I am pleased to inform you that I am Kunwar Astabhan’s Man. I am just like a member of his family. As proof of this relationship, please find enclosed a photograph, in which I stand beside Kunwar Sahab. Yours, et cetera. Mufat Lal Obviously, every candidate tried to be the man of someone big. These big men came in three categories. Members of the royal family, ministers and deputy ministers were in Category A. Members of the legislative council and departmental secretaries were in Category B. And those who could have any influence over the aforementioned people were placed in Category C. The categorization was not simply on the basis of rank, actual influence also counted for a great deal. For example, the personal physician of the chief was obviously in a category by himself. Once all the responses had arrived, the applicants were placed in different categories according to their respective big men. To make clear how useful all this was, we reproduce below the entries concerning Mufat Lal. Administrative Services Commission Form B
Name Qualifications Age Whose Category Relationship Gifts To be man Taken Mufat Lal BA 28 Kunwar A Friend No Yes Astabhan’s

As the above makes it clear, anyone who was not someone’s man had no chance of being selected. Usually, he didn’t even get invited for an interview. But if any such person happened to have truly exceptional qualifications, he was summoned — in a show of fair play — only to be found unqualified in the interview. The interviews and selection were conducted by a commission of five sages, who received copies of all Form Bs, and accordingly set up two sets of questions — one for those who had to be taken, the other for those who had to be disqualified. The day for the interviews was announced and Mufat Lal received his notice. The commission met in a room in an imposing building. Outside, in the veranda, milled hundreds of candidates. Some stood around, others paced the floor, while still others sat down here and there, exhausted. Every candidate 63

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had dressed up as best as he could. Some looked as if they had just stepped out of a laundry, body and soul. Some wore such colourful clothes they looked like actors waiting to go on stage. Some had put on brand new suits, others wore old but freshly cleaned ones. Then, in a class by themselves, were those who were in borrowed clothes. Some of them wore trousers, but walked as if they were wearing a dhoti, while others seemed to have even retained their dhotis under the trousers. Each candidate carried a fat bundle of degrees and recommendations. A few had even brought their framed degrees. They were all perspiring profusely, and continuously patting their faces dry. Every so often, some candidate would lean over the edge of the veranda and wring out his handkerchief, then he’d resume dabbing at his perspiring brow. Mufat Lal was totally composed and confident as he arrived. As he took his position on the veranda, he encountered a smart, handsome and impressive-looking young man. Mufat Lal casually asked him, “What are your qualifications?” The man said, “MA (First Class), LLB (First Class).” Mufat Lal was not impressed. To find out what really mattered, he asked, “Whose man are you?” The young man was taken by surprise. Flushing with anger, he retorted, “Why should I be someone’s man? I’m not some domestic animal. It’s they who are described as Gopal’s cow or Kakkar’s dog. I don’t need an owner’s tag around my neck.” These sharp words didn’t faze Mufat at all. On the contrary, he felt pity for that unfortunate youth. Now the young man asked, “And whose man are you?” “Kunwar Astabhan’s,” Mufat Lal proudly replied. “And your qualifications?” “Do I need any other?” Mufat Lal rejoindered. The young man smiled. For the first time, Mufat Lal felt angry. He felt as if the young man’s MA (First Class) was chasing his own BA (Third Class) down a road. calling it all sorts of names. His voice dripped with poison as he said, “Listen, it’s I who’ll be a deputy collector — not you. You don’t have a chance. But when you start starving and find you can’t survive on your smart looks, come and see me. I’ll appoint you as a clerk in my office.” The young man wanted to make some suitable retort but just then his name was called by a chaprasi. He patted his face with his handkerchief and strode off for the interview. Five sages were seated at a table. One of them asked the young man his name. When they heard his reply, they looked at his Form B. Under the question, Whose Man?, it said, No one’s. 64

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The interview began. One sage asked, “What’s the difference between the concept of maya in the vedanta and the concept of prakriti in the sankhya?” The candidate had not studied philosophy so deeply. He didn’t know that one had to be a philosopher in order to be a deputy collector. He, however, gave the question some thought and tried to frame an answer. The chief sage scowled at the delay and said, “You’re taking too long. Very dull!” The second sage asked, “How has Kant defined Pure Reason?” The candidate was dumbfounded. He hadn’t been a student of philosophy. He stared at the faces before him, while perspiration ran down his face. The second sage said, “He doesn’t know a thing. Totally dull!” The chief sage turned to the remaining two sages, “Would you like to ask a question?” “There’s no need,” they replied. “We’ve seen enough.” The interview ended. The candidate walked out with a long face. Mufat Lal saw him and made the sound of a goat. A bit later, the chaprasi called Mufat Lal’s name. Mufat Lal went in and stood before the five sages. When he told them his name, they consulted his Form B. In the Whose man column, it said, Kunwar Astabhan’s. The five sages looked at him with great affection. The chief sage lovingly said, “Why are you standing, son? Take a seat.” Mufat Lal sat down, and the interview started. One sage asked, “How is Kunwar Sahab?” “He’s fine.” Another sage asked, “What did you have for lunch today?” “Roti, chawal, dal, sabji, and some achar,” Mufat Lal replied heartily. Everyone was impressed by his prompt responses. The chief sage remarked, “How quick he is! Very smart.” The third sage asked, “Which is the best film in town these days?” “Chaudawin ka Chand, starring Waheeda Rahman, Guru Dutt, Johnny Walker and Helen.” “Shabash!” the chief sage said. “What a well-informed boy!” The questions stopped. The chief sage turned to Mufat Lal. “Son, we are all very impressed to see how well-qualified you are. You’ve been selected. Now go and wait for your appointment letter. Remember, it can take anywhere from three months to three years — or even ten. Some people, in fact receive their letters when they’re close to their retirement age. But since, you’re Kunwar Sahab’s Man, you should get your letter very soon. Go, you have a bright future.” 65

Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview Mufat Lal saluted the sages and left the room.3

Harishankar Parsai

“Mufatlal Goes For an Interview” has been excerpted from Rani Nagphani ki Kahani originally published in Hindi in 1960–62.

3

66

Honouring the Sahab
What appeared in the papers Last night, in Shanti Bhawan located in the main market of our city a function was organized by the local cloth dealers to honour the income tax officer, Shri Devendra Kumar “Kamal,” for his contribution to Hindi literature. Paying homage to Shri Kamal, Seth Babulalji, president of the Cloth Dealers’ Association, said, “Shri Kamal is a great poet and litterateur. With his fine poems he has filled the lap of Mother India. Our city has indeed been blessed that a poet of the rank of Kalidas and Tagore has come here.” Responding to the felicitations, Shri Kamal said, “In honouring me, you have, in truth, honoured the Goddess of Art, Ma Saraswati herself. I’m endlessly grateful to you. I don’t know how I can ever return the great favour you have done to me.” Following his remarks, local poets recited their verses. Several dealers from the cloth market also read poems honouring Shri Kamal. Finally, Shri Kamal gratified the audience by reciting his poems for almost two hours. The meeting ended with a reception. What didn’t appear in the papers Shri Devendra Kumar came to the city as the income tax officer some eighteen months ago. He was fond of poetry and used Kamal as his pen name. Every evening his subordinate staff would gather at his house and listen to his poems. He wrote a poem on the occasion of Diwali last year. It became so popular that he recited it until the festival came around again. The poem opens — “Beloved, you’re far away from me, how then should I light my lamp?” It made his wife very angry. She asked, “Who’s the wretch that you’re pining for?” Shri Kamal gently explained, “It is you. As the poet has said — you are near yet far away . . . ” Shri Kamal had but one complaint. He felt that the city hadn’t sufficiently recognized his talents. Then one day, by the grace of god, a special circular arrived from the central Income Tax Office ordering that the records of every dealer should be examined most stringently, that taxes should be raised, and that severe action should be taken against anyone found hiding his true income. It caused great commotion among the dealers. Everyone started thinking of ways to

Honouring the Sahab

Harishankar Parsai

avoid taxes. Fortunately, it turned out that Rasiklal, son of Seth Surajmal, secretary of the Cloth Dealers’ Association, also had much interest in poetry. He also had close ties with Shri Kamal’s personal assistant, Shri Brajkishore “Brajendra.” Shri Brajendra too is a poet. He said to Rasiklal, “The sahab’s weakness is poetry. You should honour him as a poet. He’ll then be pleased with all the dealers and will go easy on them.” Subsequently, last week, a meeting of the Cloth Dealers’ Association unanimously decided that there was nothing wrong in honouring Shri Devendra Kumar “Kamal,” as a poet. That, in fact, it was important to let him know that they, the cloth dealers, viewed him as a very great poet. Consequently, last night, in Shanti Bhawan, a function was organized by the Cloth Dealers’ Association in honour of Shri Kamal. Hundreds of cloth dealers gathered in the hall, together with all the employees of the income tax department and a few local poets. Any dealer who was involved in some tax inquiry had received a special notice from the Association — Get someone to write a poem felicitating Shri Kamal, and read it at the meeting. The meeting started with Shri Brajendra introducing the audience to the literary greatness of Shri Kamal. Brajendra, still unconfirmed in his job, began, “I told the dealers that an extraordinary genius has arrived in the city, and yet, unfortunately, the city has failed to recognize its good fortune . . . ” Immediately he was interrupted by the president of the Cloth Dealers’ Association, who got up and said, “You’re wrong. You didn’t tell us. We recognized his greatness on our own. My son Rasiklal knows all about poetry and all that.” The two men started to argue. Seeing that the situation was getting out of hand, Shri Kamal himself calmed them down. Then the president of the association, Seth Babulal, felicitated Shri Kamal in the following manner. “As we honour Shri Kamal, our hearts are filled with joy, the same joy that fills the heart of an Indian woman when she sees a Banarasi sari. The colourful bunting and banners that you see here decorating the hall to welcome you, are made of calico, rayon silk, Madras jean, georgette and flannel. “Shri Kamal, for years the wish to honour you lay buried in our hearts like the actual details of our sales. This wonderful event kept getting pushed behind, the way a yardstick is when we measure a piece of cloth. It took us eighteen months to learn that you were a poet too. In fact, if the new order hadn’t come from the Central Office we might have never found this out. Everything happens at its proper time. For example. we always sell more silk during the wedding season. Likewise, when the right time comes we immediately recognize who is a decent person — just as we never fail to discover who his relatives are when some sales tax inspector confiscates our 68

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books. “There are other dealers too in the city — grain sellers, grocers, hardware merchants. But they all failed to recognize that you are a poet. We are different. After all, calico cloth is different from ordinary linen. Only cloth dealers know what art is. The previous sales tax officer used to paint pictures. He did a painting of Shiv and Parvati that looked just like the poster for the film Shankar Vivah. Our Seth kalumal had it reproduced on his calendar. Later the Sethji was tried for not paying sufficient sales tax, but the blessings of Bhagwan Shiv were upon him and the case was dismissed. “Sir, we have a proud tradition of honouring our artist officers. We are traders. Our ties with officers should be close — the way imitation silk is tied in with real silk. We don’t know what a poem is. The only poems we listen to are those on the radio — about toothpastes and vitamin pills. But when Rasiklal told us that you are a poet, we immediately understood. “The other traders in the city, they too will have their income tax increased. Their accounts too are in a mess. Some of them are even involved in cases. But not one of them paid any heed to the fact that you are a poet. They have dishonoured you, while we offer you our deepest respects. Please don’t ever forget that. We felicitate you with open hearts. Tonight, even those of us who are involved in cases will recite some sweet verses felicitating you. It is our good fortune that you have graced the occasion with your benign pretence. Please grace our stores too in the same manner — this is our humble prayer.” Responding to the address, Shri Kamal said, “Tonight, experiencing the love that you have showered upon me, I feel the same joy that an income tax officer feels when suddenly, in the dead of night, some trader appears at his door, bearing all his account books. Tonight I feel as if I have leaped over my senior officers and reached a very high position. Like the Urgent papers that lie forgotten under my blotting pad, there was a secret wish tucked away in my heart that I must someday appear before the traders in the guise of a poet. That such an occasion came after a very long time doesn’t bother me at all, for I was brought up on the precepts of Red-tapeism, whose first and foremost principle is — Delay. Tonight I feel as if the finance minister himself pulled me out from among thousands of income tax officers and asked me to make all the arrangements for paan on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding! “I know there is a big difference between you and the other traders. They only trade. You on the other hand are like a religious trust which is exempt from income tax. The address you have given me. I’ll have it framed. It shall hang in my drawing room and guide me in my life, just as an old clerk guides his new officer. How can I ever repay your kindness? But let me at 69

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least assure you that I’ll always look after you. You needn’t worry about the new orders from the ministry. “I offer you my heartfelt thanks. On this occasion, I shouldn’t forget Brajendra, my PA. It’s due to his efforts alone that I received recognition in this city as a poet. Just think what injustice could’ve occurred if Brajendra had not been my PA, but had instead worked under the sales tax officer. Then it would have been him standing here, being honoured by you! It’s nothing but a boon of Brajendra’s devotion that I’m being honoured tonight. I want to see him confirmed in his job. Once again I thank all of you. Have no fear. Do your business in peace.” After that some poets read their compositions. Finally Shri Kamal recited his poems for almost two hours. The entire assembly of cloth dealers was drenched in bliss. Unfortunately, an untoward incident happened at the conclusion of this most beautiful event. Seth Lapet´ Lal of Ram Gopal and Shri Gopal got e into an angry argument with the president of the association. Lapet´ Lal e was heard shouting, “I have to appear before the sahab tomorrow still you didn’t give me a chance to read my poem! You only let your relatives read. I paid ten rupees for this poem. Now they’re gone for nothing.” But the sahab intervened and saved the situation. Then everyone went home happy.1

1

“Honouring the Sahab” was originally published in Hindi as “Sahab ka Samman.”

70

The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College
May Goddess Lakshmi always bless us. We the present owners of Babulal, Chhotelal & Co are in the process of opening another new branch of our famous firm.1 It will be called Gobardhandas College. As the entire world knows, Shri Gobardhandas was our revered father. He has now departed from this world of illusion, and that has made everything meaningless — except the firm itself. We know there is not much profit in education as there is in cement or sugar. Our merchant brethren will consider it the height of folly for us to open an education store. They will ask, “Why are you opening a college? Why don’t you buy a stock of sugar with that money?” In a way, what they say is true. However, we have a somewhat philosophical attitude towards everything. One gets a human form after passing through eighty four lakh births — it has been said in religious discourses. That is why one ought to seek in life both what is selfish and what is eternal and spiritual. But what is eternal and spiritual? The answer is, any action that makes people consider you generous, self-sacrificing and a servant of the society. It brings you greater glory. And that greater glory is eternal and spiritual. In our life we must do at least one such act to immortalize our name. Our late father always had a great desire to become immortal, but during his own life he couldn’t arrange it. He was always too busy with the firm’s work. That responsibility has now fallen upon our shoulders. We wish to immortalize our father. Earlier, every summer, we used to set up a free water stand in his honour. We are sure people couldn’t have forgotten the
Author’s note: A certain party is establishing a new college. It has already published one prospectus in the papers. But like its account books, that party actually prepared two different prospectuses. The other, private prospectus was tucked away in the true account book. Here it is published for the first time.
1

The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College

Harishankar Parsai

Shri Gobardhandas Water Stand at the intersection near the railway station. But then we realized that the water stand keeps our late father’s good name alive only during the months of summer — the remaining ten months he is totally forgotten. Even those who survive through the summers by drinking water daily from our stand don’t, in the winter months, remember the great favour our father did them. People are so ungrateful! The water stand cannot immortalize our late father during all twelve months, or for hundreds of years — though it does cost so little. But has anyone ever become immortal through frugality? Then we thought we should have a dharmashala built in his name — not only will his name live as long as the building stands, but even if with the passage of time it sinks into the ground, some archaeologist in the future will dig it out and our fathers name will be enshrined in the annals of history forever. But then certain wise men advised us that there was much talk of socialism going on and there might be bad times ahead. If socialism arrives there would be no poor or needy — “Who would then seek shelter in your dharmashala,” they asked, “who would then remember your father’s name?” That’s why, after a great deal of thought, we have decided to open a college. The opening of a college will also remove a blot from our good name. Our late, revered father was not literate. Indeed, it is a matter of great shame that the man who carried the firm to such heights was illiterate. But when future generations see a college named after him, they will only conclude that Gobardhandas must have been a great scholar or educationist in the twentieth century. Why else would there be a college in his name? Certainly that kind of benefit cannot be gained from an orphanage or a dharmashala. We have contributed one lakh rupees for the establishment of the college. Of course, few people know that actually only forty thousand came out of our pockets — the other sixty would have gone to the taxman in any case. To buy the glory of a lakh by contributing only forty thousand, that was only befitting the memory of our revered father. We went to our brethren, the other traders, and asked them to help us immortalize our late father’s name. They gladly contributed. After all, if it was our father’s cause today, it could be their father’s tomorrow. In this manner we collected three lakhs. Then we called upon the education minister. The minister’s great grandfather had been the account keeper in our great grandfather’s shop. We always make sure to remind him of it — lest he starts to forget. Incidentally, in the last election we made sure that our entire caste group voted for him. We placed our scheme before the education minister, then told him that we were still short of funds. The education minister replied, “Your late father 72

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was like a father to me too. I have to fight my next election in that area. I need his blessings. I was myself thinking of immortalizing him by opening a university in his name. But if you’re satisfied with just a college, I’ll be happy to donate seven or eight lakhs on behalf of the government.” In this manner, at the cost of only forty thousand rupees, our father will gain an estate of some ten or twelve lakhs. The body may have died but, as the Gita says, the soul lives on. His soul is still functioning with the same professional acumen. It is our intention that the new institution should function in a professional manner. We want to make it an ideal institution. With that in mind we have set up certain principles and rules for its administration. These must be followed carefully. They are listed below. 1. The contract for the construction of the college will go to the husband of our father’s sister. That is a must for us in order to be true to the memory of our late father. When our father had organized the construction of the Shiv temple through public subscription, its contract was also given to our phuphaji. 2. If for some reason the government interferes and gives the construction contract to the education minister’s brother-in-law, the cement and bricks for the project should still be obtained only through us. 3. If, while the college is under construction, we have some building of our own going up, the supplies for the former may be utilized for the latter’s benefit. After all, the firm is one. 4. As long as our mamaji has his stationery store, all the stationery for the college must be bought from him. Our father had great love for him. In fact, it was he who had inaugurated the store. It would greatly pain our father’s soul if the stationery were bought elsewhere. 5. In the college yard mango, papaya and jackfruit trees should be planted. All the produce must always be sent to our house. If the principal fails to do so, he may be sued for breach of contract. 6. Whenever there is a wedding in our family, the college building will be vacated for the groom’s party to stay. The charges for electricity, et cetera, will be paid by the college. 7. We will be the secretaries of the managing committee of the college, and after us our sons will get the jobs. This convention will continue. Additionally, several members of the Management Committee will be from the clans of our parents. 73

The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College

Harishankar Parsai

8. Other members of the Management Committee should have only the remotest connection with education and learning. Learned men split hairs and cause trouble. Further, since this will be a vocational college, the merchant class should have a greater hand in running it. 9. As it has been declared at the very beginning, this college is a branch of our firm. Consequently, the principal of the college will have the same rank as that of the chief accountant of our firm. And the professors will be considered equal to ordinary accountants. 10. The principal will have to come daily to our store and greet us saying, “Jai Ramji ki.” He won’t get paid for any day that he fails to come. If he is absent for fifteen consecutive days he will be fired. 11. Every professor will have to come at least once every week to say “Jai Ramji ki” to us. Any professor who does so daily will have a better chance to be promoted as the principal. 12. All the chaprasis will work half the time at the college and the other half at the store. They shouldn’t object. After all, the firm is one. 13. The education of any boy or girl of our family will be the responsibility of the staff of the college. They will have to come to our house to tutor the children. Further, they must not only tell the children the test questions but also later make sure that they get good marks, even from outside examiners. 14. The main job of the professors will be to visit us frequently to flatter us and to report on their colleagues. We’ll always be ready to listen to their backbiting, even if it is past midnight. 15. If perchance any progeny of ours turns out to be a failure at business, the college must appoint him as a professor. We make these declarations in sound mind and in full control of our senses. We hope that everyone will cooperate in making the college an ideal institution. Iti. (Let any mistake be forgiven.)2

“The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College” was originally published in Hindi as “Private Kalij ka Ghoshnapatra” in 1965.

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Iti Shri Researchayah
AD 1950 . . . Babu Gopalchand was a big leader. He had explained to the people — and the people had understood too — that if in the great freedom struggle he had not gone to the jail twice and served as an A Class prisoner, India couldn’t have become free. On the night of 3 December, 1950, in the seventh room of the third floor of his house, lying on a foot thick mattress on a three foot high bed, Babu Gopalchand was tossing and turning restlessly. No, he hadn’t become a victim of someone’s bewitching glances. He was suffering the pangs of planning. Recently he had raised some four lakh rupees from public subscription. That money was to be used to build a grand Martyrs’ Memorial, to commemorate those who lost their lives in the great freedom struggle. His plan was to have a poem full of patriotism and sacrifice engraved on the gate to the monument. And the problem besetting his mind was — whose poem should it be? There were any number of poets who had themselves gone to jail during the struggle and had written splendid poems on the subject — and could write new ones if needed — but Babu Gopalchand didn’t like their poems. “They don’t have power,” he would say. “They lack the power of the soul.” In desperation, he picked up the book of Akbar Birbal jokes that lay by his pillow and began to read. . . . Akbar said to Jaggu Dheemar, “Bring the most handsome boy in the city to the court tomorrow morning. If you fail to do so your head will be chopped off.” When he heard the king, Jaggu Dheemar was scared. How was he to find the most handsome boy in the city! He lay in despair on a cot in his veranda when his wife came by. “You look. gloomy today,” she said, “has something happened?” Jaggu explained his problem. His wife said, “So that’s what’s bothering you, such an easy matter? Just take our own Kallu to the king. There’s no boy more handsome in the city.” Jaggu liked her suggestion. He sat up, delighted, and said, “Look as that! What a simple matter and I didn’t think

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of it. Who can match our darling son in looks?” Next morning, Jaggu presented Kallu in the court. It so happened that Kallu was terribly dark and had a face that was pitted with pockmarks. He also had a bulging belly, two tiny eyes, and a flat nose . . . By now Babu Gopalchand was as ecstatic as Jaggu. He sat up and called to his son, “Gobardhan! Are you asleep? Come here for a minute.” Gobardhan had just then returned from a drinks party. He walked in on unsteady feet. Babu Gopalchand asked, “Arr´, you still write poems, don’t e you?” Gobardhan was dumbfounded. Dreading that he might again be reprimanded, he replied, “No Babuji, I gave up that bad habit.” “Listen, beta,” Babu Gopalchand said gently, “tell me the truth. There’s nothing wrong in writing poetry.” Gobardhan felt life coming back into his body. He said, “Babuji, I wrote a few poems, but people didn’t appreciate them. Once as a kavi sammelan they booed me off the stage. After that I stopped writing.” “Beta, the world does that to every genius,” Babu Gapalchand consoled him. “They laughed because they failed to understand your complex poems. Now go and write a few verses on sacrifice and patriotism and give them to me by tomorrow.” Gobardhan continued to stare at his feet. He said, “Babuji, I’ve never written on such light topics. I write love poems, One of them is on Jahuran Bai, the singer. Will it do?” Babu Gopalchand was ready to explode, but somehow controlled himself and said gently, “These days sacrifice, renunciation and patriotism are in fashion. One should write on them alone. It’s also becoming fashionable to write on poverty. You may write on any of these subjects. All I want from you is a few lines on sacrifice and the love of the land. I wish to use them for a national cause.” “Will they be published?” Gobardhan asked eagerly. “Engraved, not published. I’ll have them engraved on the gate of the Martyrs’ Memorial.” Now Gobardhan was truly inspired, By next evening he had composed four verses. On reading them. Gopalchand jumped up with joy. “Wah beta,” he exclaimed, “you have captured an epic in these four lines. It’s like . . . an ocean poured into a cup!” On 6 December, 1950, those four verses were engraved on the gate of the grand new Martyrs’ Memorial. Under the verses was the poet’s name — Gobardhandas. AD 2950 . . . 76

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In the research seminar in the Department of Hindi at the university, Dr Venus Nandan was talking to his favourite student, Robert Mohan. (Readers, by then such international names were fairly common.) Robert Mohan was doing research under Dr Venus Nandan. His subject was Twentieth Century Hindi Poetry. Mohan was very excited. “Sir,” he eagerly said to Dr Nandan, “thanks to the Department of Archaeology I have found a clue to the identity of the greatest national poet of that age. Until now we had been floundering in darkness. The written tradition has given us incorrect information. Nirala, Pant, Prasad, Makhanlal Chaturvedi, Dinkar — the written tradition gives only these five names. But, in fact, that ungrateful age let its greatest national poet fall into obscurity. I’m about to bring bring him to light.” “You are an idiot.” Dr Nandan said. “And you are a fool,” replied his student. (Readers, by then such cordial relations between a student and a teacher were fairly common.) Dr Nandan laughed, then said amiably. “Robert, you must tell me the whole story.” “Sir.” Robert Mohan began. “recently a magnificent Martyrs’ Memorial built in 1950 was excavated. The inscriptional evidence indicates that it was built to commemorate the martyrs of the great freedom struggle of India. On its main gate are four verses. Apparently it was the biggest memorial in the country. The entire nation, it appears, paid tribute to its heroes by building it. It must therefore follow that the poet whose verses adorn its gate must have been the greatest poet of that time.” “And the name of the poet?” Dr Nandan asked. “Gobardhandas,” Mohan replied, and pushed before his mentor the piece of paper on which he had copied the verses. Dr Nandan was very pleased. “Well done! Well done!” he exclaimed. “But now I need your help, sir,” Robert Mohan continued, “so far we know of only these four verses by this poet. What can I write about the rest of his work?” “That’s simple enough,” Dr Nandan replied. “Just say, the rest of his writings were lost in the tide of Time. In those days, poets were divided into small cliques. But Gobardhandas was by nature an extremely simple and gentle person. He ploughed his lonely furrow, and never joined any clique. Consequently, the critics of his time did him tremendous injustice. They neglected him completely. He couldn’t even find a publisher. And when a few of his books did get published, other poets got together and, buying all the copies from the publisher, burnt them.” Mohan’s face lit up. “Should I also say that Gobardhandas had written more than one hundred books?” he asked. 77

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“Of course you should. In fact, you should write that he authored two hundred books. Also, that in those days hordes of people filled with patriotic fervour used to sing Gobardhandas’s brilliant poems as they marched off to sacrifice themselves for the great cause.” “But sir,” Mohan said hesitantly, “these verses are rather poor. My conclusions might turn out to be wrong.” “Robert, don’t you know the first principle of research?” Dr Venus Nandan scolded him. “What is old is best. Only the present is not good enough. Further, the whole purpose of research is to find something that is not there. These verses don’t have any poetic beauty, and so you’ll have to find it in them. After all, Gobardhandas was a great poet. You can’t treat him lightly.” Poor Robert Mohan was scared. Dr Nandan continued, “But Robert, you mustn’t forget to praise the great man who recognized the genius of the great poet and preserved for posterity at least these four verses. Who was the founder of that memorial?” Mohan consulted his notes and said, “Some leader named Babu Gopalchand.” “He must have been a great man,” Dr Nandan said, his eyes, closed in thought. “In that clique-ridden age, he must have been a unique soul to recognize a neglected genius and give him his due honour. I wonder if it wasn’t Mahatma Gopalchand who gave shelter to that indigent but great poet and thus made him a target of his peers’ rage? They must have burnt with jealousy and said the nastiest things about him. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them even went on a fast outside his door — those were the great days of satyagraha, after all. There may be some reason to believe that Nirala wrote his poem ‘Kukurmutta’ only in response to that horrid situation. Dinkar, too, might have raised the same issue in that famous poem of his — ‘Kasmai Devaya Havisha Vidhema.’ You see, Robert, research moves forward on hypotheses.” And so Robert Mohan’s revolutionary research was finally published, and through it the world came to know of Gobardhandas, the greatest nationalist poet of the twentieth century.1

“Iti Shri Researchayah” was originally published in Hindi as “Iti Shri Researchayah” in 1962.

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A Journey with a Premi
Jagannath Kaka and I were coming back by train after attending a wedding. We had gone along with the groom’s party. At the station, our companions quickly took over an entire compartment. Kaka said to me, “If you know what’s good for you, better find another compartment. There is no wilder pack of animals than a marriage party. One must keep one’s distance from them, particularly when they’re coming back from a wedding. Then they have had their taste of blood at the bride’s house and are ready to pounce on anyone at sight. If a fight starts we might get thrashed along with this bunch.” We went and found seats for ourselves in the sleeper coach. On the opposite bench were three passengers — an old woman, a young woman, and a young man. Kaka fixed his eyes on them. To get a conversation going, I said, “Kaka, it looks like America won’t stop bombing North Vietnam.” He paid no attention. After a while I cried again, “Kaka, the anti-Hindi agitation in Madras is getting worse.” “Sssh!” He continued to give the three passengers an intense look. Then, a few minutes later, he turned to me and said, “Beta, you want to entangle me in national and international affairs, but you should first sort our what’s in front of us right here. Tell me, what’s the relationship between this young man and the old woman?” “Must be her son.” I replied. “He’s being so attentive to her, taking care of her needs.” “No. he can’t be her son,” said Kaka. “He attends upon the old woman, but seeks the record of his service in the girl’s eyes. He is the premi1 of the girl. Well, not quite yet a premi, but on the way to becoming one, for no one wastes time attending upon the mother after fully becoming a premi of the daughter. Then he merely asks, as he walks into the house, “How’re
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A Premi is a lover or one who is in love.

A Journey with a Premi

Harishankar Parsai

you. Amma?” and continues on into the girl’s room, saying, “How’s Sushma doing in her studies?” Kaka again fixed his eyes on the three. Suddenly he remarked, “How sad! In this land of ours, if one wishes to find a place in a girl’s heart one has to go through the hearts of her parents. That can make a wreck of any young lover. Remember how Shirin’s father told her lover to dig a channel through a mountain and how that stupid Farhad immediately got going?”2 “But Kaka,” I tried to argue, “here it seems to have been all worked out. Why else would they be travelling together like this? I think the boy has it all fixed.” “No,” Kaka said confidently, “as yet the boy only knows them well. Probably he’s been going to their house. The old woman might have asked him a few times to do some shopping for her. Perhaps, once in a while, even the girl gave him some sample of knitting wool and asked him to find out the price in the market. That’s about all. You see, the poor boy is still in the stage of making an impression. He probably thought he would get that taken care of during this journey. Travelling with the girl, one can accomplish on a train in ten hours what would otherwise take ten years. All the daily little tasks of life come up on a train journey too. A candidate can fully display his talents on such an occasion.” What Kaka said was true. The young man had certainly been putting on quite a show. He opened the windows, turned the ceiling fans towards the old lady, and opened two bedrolls and spread them on the berths. Then he went and filled a flask with cold drinking water. When he had paid the coolie, he had counted out an extra ten paisa, saying, “Here take another ten paisa. Poor man!” Perhaps he was telling the girl, I’m generous. Then he went and got some magazines. He gave the pile to the girl, but made sure to place a film magazine on top. The cover had the picture of a screen couple — the hero was holding the heroine’s hands. The girl took the magazines from him and began to flip through the pages. Kaka whispered in my ear, “Did you see that magazine? The cover? He’s saying to her, Wouldn’t it be nice if we too were holding hands like that?” I began to look at them more intently. “Beta,” Kaka continued, “you shouldn’t stare at them that way. It may cause offence. Let me do the staring. That’s the special privilege of old men. They may stare at any woman and no one can take offence. Behind the shield of our grey hair, we can do things that you young men can’t even dream of.” In the meantime, the premi had gone and got some paan. He offered the
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Shirin and Farhad are famous lovers of a Persian romance.

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packet to the old woman. She took two. Then he offered it to the girl. She took one. The premi’s face took on a hopeful look. But he had forgotten to get some tobacco for the old woman. Hastily, he got off the train, and rushed to the paanwala. By the time he got some tobacco and climbed back, the train had already started to move. When he gave the packet to the old lady, she expressed some concern, “You shouldn’t have. I was worried.” “There was no need to worry,” the boy replied. “Anyway, I couldn’t be sure about getting any at the next station.” The old lady said, “Yes, beta, I can’t do without tobacco. Without it, paan has no flavour for me. But you should be more careful and not jump on to moving trains.” The boy turned and looked at the girl. Kaka whispered to me, “See, he’s telling her, For you I can jump off and on even faster trains. I’m bold. I’m bold and brave and ready to lay down my life any time.” Just then the conductor in charge of the compartment came by. The boy jumped up and started arguing with him in English about his berth, “But I told you . . . ” Kaka explained to me, “Now he’s scolding the conductor in English. The youth of this land still believe that girls fall in love with those who speak English. Now, beta, let me ask you a question — What if he had fallen under the train at that time?” I replied, “What of it? Such sacrifices are common in love.” “How could it have been a sacrifice in love?” Kaka retorted. “He’d have lost his life for the sake of the old woman’s tobacco. The trouble is, the youth of this land don’t even know how to die for love. They die in love all right, but in a sickening way. Killing themselves for some other cause, they believe it’s for love. All right, what do you think he’ll do next?” “He’ll show off by pulling the alarm chain,” I suggested. “First he’ll throw the old lady’s shawl out of the window, then he’ll pull the chain to stop the train.” “No. Think harder.” “Probably he’ll hand out money to all the passengers.” “No. He’s already displayed compassion when he gave the extra ten paisa to the coolie.” I thought some more, then said, “I know. He’ll sing a song.” Kaka laughed. “No, he isn’t the singing kind,” he said. “I don’t think you know anything about premis. As for me, one look at a man’s face and I can tell you how long he’s been in love, what stage he’s at presently, and what he may be expected to do next.” 81

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“In that case,” I rejoindered, “you tell me what his next move will be.” Kaka said, “Next he’ll start a fight with someone. He has displayed his tender side, now he must show the brute in him. If a man hasn’t displayed to his woman that he’s a wild animal too, he believes his total personality hasn’t emerged. This boy will now look for someone who’s weaker than him, He’ll then find some excuse to start a fight and beat him up. We should be careful, beta, for we too can become his victims,” “If he gets nasty with us, I’ll . . . ” “No,” Kaka interjected, “if you beat him he’d fall low in the girl’s eyes. It’s a great sin to mess up love.” “But it’s all right to let a stranger beat us up?” I retorted. Kaka said, “Well, if that should happen we must at least appear to have been roughed up by him. We must make sure of that. If we’re made to suffer some pain or shame for the sake of this premi, so be it. Of course, we should also try at the same time to protect ourselves.” Kaka and I sat up, alert. The premi was rolling up his steeves and looking around the compartment. At the next station a handsome young man came on board, carrying a small suitcase. The premi looked him over. As the young man passed him by, the suitcase rubbed against the knees of the premi. The premi jumped up, boiling with rage. He grabbed the young man’s collar and swore at him, then slapping him hard across the face, he pushed him down. Kaka and I got up and stopped the fight. We commiserated with the new man and made him sit near another window across the aisle. His face was red with anger and shame. The premi turned triumphantly towards the girl, but she was staring out of the window. He began to boast to the old lady, “If they hadn’t stopped me I’d have beaten him to a pulp.” The girl turned around, looked with contempt at the premi, then cast a glance at the newcomer. “Beta, our drama is becoming quite complex,” Kaka whispered to me. “It’s now turning into a triangular affair.” The premi was beginning to look rather perturbed. By now the girl had looked towards that young man several times. The premi took out his packet of paan and offered it to the old lady, but she had dozed off. He then offered it to the girl. “No,” the girl said curtly and gave him a withering look. Now the girl would look out of her window for a few moments, then turn around to look at the newcomer. He too would alternate between gazing out of his window and looking at the girl. Eventually, the two started watching the outside scene through each other’s windows. 82

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“It’s happened!” Kaka exclaimed. “It’s happened!” “What has happened?” I asked. Kaka explained. “She has given herself to the weak. Women are strange. They give themselves to those who get thrashed. May god save us from their wiles. Now it’s all over.” The premi was in a bad state. He looked most rueful. He said loudly to no one in particular, “I myself feel very sorry that I hit him.” Kaka said to me, “Beta, this boy has lost out because of his manliness. Right now he wishes someone would rough him up. You’re always willing to help others. Why don’t you get up and slap him around a bit? He’d be eternally grateful to you.” “I can’t do that, Kaka,” I replied. “How can I hit him without any cause or anger?” “For his sake, beta, for his sake — the way a surgeon cuts up a body,” explained Kaka. “The poor boy is desperately looking for someone to give him a beating. Then he too might deservedly claim the girl’s compassion. He’s been forced into competing with the fellow he himself beat up.” “Why don’t you give him a beating?” “It won’t help him at all if an old man does that,” Kaka explained. “He wants to be beaten by someone young. Anyway, it’s you who is always championing the cause of others, not me.” Then Kaka got up from his seat and, stepping closer to the premi, said, “Bhai premi, if you think a good thrashing would help your lost cause, I can ask my friend here to help you out.” The girl burst out laughing. The premi too began to laugh. Kaka flopped back on his seat, looking sorely disappointed.3

“A Journey with a Premi” was originally published in Hindi as “Premi ke Sath Ek Safar.”

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83

Bholaram’s Soul
This had never happened. For millions of years, Dharmaraj had been allotting homes in hell or heaven to millions of people on the basis of their karma or some personal recommendation. But this sort of thing had never happened before. Seated in front of him was Chitragupt, repeatedly wiping his glasses clean, moistening a finger with his tongue and flipping through the pages of one register after another. But he just couldn’t pin down the mistake. In sheer exasperation, he banged the last register shut with such force that a poor fly got squashed between its pages. Chitragupt wiped the traces clean with a finger, then turned to Dharmaraj. “Maharaj,” he said, “our record is pretty clear. Bholaram’s soul left his body five days ago. It also set out for here with our emissary who had been sent to bring it. However, somehow it has failed to arrive.” “And where is the emissary?” asked Dharmaraj “He too has disappeared, maharaj.” Just then the doors were flung open and the emissary entered the hall. He seemed utterly distraught. His naturally ugly face looked much worse for all the toil and terror he seemed to have suffered. Chitragupt shouted, “Where were you all this time? And where is Bholaram’s soul?” The emissary folded his hands suppliantly before Dharmaraj, and said, “Merciful One, how can I tell you what happened. I’ve never been deceived before, but Bholaram’s soul has made a fool of me. Five days ago, when it left Bholaram’s body, I grabbed it and set out for this world. But after we came out of the city and just as I caught a fast upper current of air to come here, it managed to slip out of my fingers and disappeared. For these past five days I have turned the universe upside down but have failed to find any trace of it.” “Fool!” Dharmaraj growled. “For millions of years you’ve been fetching all kinds of souls, but now you claim that the soul of some decrepit old man managed to give you the slip?” The emissary bowed his head still lower and said, “Maharaj, I was ex-

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tremely careful. There’s no precaution that I didn’t take. As you know, even the most crafty lawyer can’t slip out of these skilled hands of mine. But in this instance, it seems as if Indra himself put one over me.” “Maharaj,” Chitragupt intervened, “lately such things seem to happen a lot on Earth. People send parcels to friends, but they vanish in transit. Entire wagons of goods trains disappear. Another strange thing that’s become common is that leaders of one political party kidnap leaders of another party and hold them confined. I wonder if that didn’t happen to Bholaram’s soul?” Dharmaraj gave him a scornful look, and said, “Looks like you too need retirement. What interest could anyone have in a worthless wretch like Bholaram?” Just then that eternally footloose sage, Narad, walked in. When he saw Dharmaraj so agitated, he asked, “What’s bothering you, maharaj? Is it that old problem of not having enough housing in Hell?” “No, that was resolved some time ago,” Dharmaraj replied. “Lately these most ingenious people have been coming to Hell. Many of them are building contractors who, when alive, always extracted full payments but left the buildings unfinished. Some are famous civil engineers who worked hand in glove with contractors on various five year plans. Then there are the overseers who supervised the work and collected wages of thousands of labourers who didn’t even exist. These men quickly put up any number of new buildings in Hell. I’m faced now with something more difficult. A man named Bholaram died five days ago. This emissary was bringing his soul here when somehow it gave him the slip and disappeared. He searched all over the universe but couldn’t find any trace of it. If such goings-on continue, there won’t be any distinction left between right and wrong.” Narad asked, “Did Bholaram have any arrears of income tax? Perhaps the Income Tax people caught hold of him.” Chitragupt said, “Why talk of tax when he had no income! Bholaram died starving.” “Hmm. That makes it very interesting,” said Narad. “Give me his full name and address. I’ll go down and look for him.” Chitragupt read aloud from his register, “Bholaram. He lived in Jabalpur, in a tiny house by the sewage drain, in the neighbourhood called Ghamapur. He had a wife, two sons and one daughter. His age was around sixty. He used to work in a government office but had retired some five years ago. His house rent hadn’t been paid for the previous twelve months and the landlord was ready to throw him out. Just then Bholaram passed away. That was five days ago. Probably the landlord, true to his trade, threw the family out on the road. You may have to look around a bit to find them.” 85

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Narad had no trouble finding the house. The loud wailing of the widow and the daughter made it easy. He stood at the door and loudly said, “Narayan, Narayan.” The daughter peeked out and said, “Maharaj, go somewhere else.” Narad said, “Beti, I’m not seeking alms. I want to ask some questions that concern Bholaram. Tell your mother to come to the door for a minute.” Bholaram’s widow came to the door. Narad said to her, “Mata, what did Bholaram die of?” “What can I say,” she replied, “he died of poverty. He retired five years ago, but never received any of his pension. He would post a reminder every week or so, but either he never received a reply or if a letter came it only said, “The matter is under consideration.” We first lived on the little jewellery I had, then we had to sell our pots and pans. Now we had nothing left. Some days we’d have nothing to eat. Desperate and starving, he suddenly passed away.” “You can’t change things, mata. They were all the years he was given to live,” Narad tried to console her. “Maharaj, don’t say that. He still had many years in him. If he had received his little pension every month, he could have supplemented it by working somewhere — that would have met our needs. We could have survived. But what could we do? He came home from work five years ago, but we’re yet to receive a single paisa in pension.” Narad didn’t have the time to listen to her woes. He turned to what was on his mind, “Tell me, mata, was he particularly fond of anyone — someone whom his soul would refuse to part from?” The widow replied, “One can be so fond of only one’s family, maharaj.” “No, it can be outside the family too. I mean, was there another woman . . . ?” Bholaram’s widow glared at Narad. “Don’t be so loose with your tongue, maharaj. You’re a sadhu, not a rogue,” she said heatedly. “In all his life he never ever raised his eyes to look at another woman.” “Yes, yes, you’re absolutely right to think that way. All good wives live by that precept,” said Narad, with a laugh. “Now, mata, I must take my leave.” The widow said, “Maharaj, you’re a sadhu. You’re gifted with special powers. Can’t you do something to get his pension released? It would feed these children a few days.” Narad was moved. He said, “Who listens to sadhus now? Also, I don’t have any followers here. But I’ll go to the office and give it a try.” When Narad arrived at the pension office, he went directly to the first 86

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clerk he saw and asked about Bholaram’s case. The clerk looked at him carefully, then said, “Yes, Bholaram did send in many applications but he didn’t put any weight on them — they must have flown away.” Narad said, “Bhai, what about these paperweights on your table You could have used one of them.” The clerk laughed. “You’re a sadhu. You don’t know the ways of the world. Applications are not kept in place by paperweights. Anyway, you should talk to that babu over there.” Narad went to the other babu. He sent him to a third man, who directed him to a fourth person, who in turn asked him to see a fifth man, and so on. After Narad had been to see some thirty or so different clerks, a peon took pity on him. He said, “Maharaj why did you get yourself involved in this mess? You may go round and round like this for a whole year, but it won’t get you anywhere. You should see the chief sahab. If you manage to please him, your work will he done in an instant.” Narad strode over to the office of the chief sahab. The peon outside the door was dozing on his stool, so Narad had no trouble getting in. But the chief sahab was not pleased. “You take this for some temple of yours?” he asked with annoyance. “Why didn’t you first send in your card?” “How could I” Narad replied. “The peon was asleep.” “So what’s your problem?” the chief asked rather regally. Narad explained the case of Bholaram’s withheld pension. “You’re a sadhu,” the chief sahab replied, “you don’t understand how things are done in government offices. The fault lies with Bholaram. You see, this place, too is like a temple. Here too one must make offerings. You seem to be close to Bholaram. You should put some weight on his applications. Then they will stay in place and won’t fly away.” Narad thought, Here we go again, talking about weights! Seeing the perplexed look on Narad’s face, the chief sahab continued, “Look, this involves government money. A pension file must go to countless different offices. It takes a long time. Delays happen. Sometimes the same note must be copied and entered twenty different times. Only then can one be sure of the final decision. You might say, the amount of any pension equals the cost of the stationery required for the paperwork. Of course, things can be expedited. But . . . ” He stopped and gave Narad a meaningful look. “But what?” asked Narad. “It requires some weight,” the chief sahab replied, with a smile. “Let me explain. Take this fine veena of yours, it too can be used as a weight on Bholaram’s application. My daughter is taking music lessons. I can give it to her. It’s after all a sadhu’s veena. It should produce lovely music.” The sudden prospect of losing his veena made Narad nervous, but he 87

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quickly recovered his poise. “Here, take it,” he said, placing the veena on the table. “Now, please issue an order rightaway for the release of Bholaram’s pension.” The chief sahab was delighted. He offered Narad a chair, took the veena and put it in one corner of the room. He then pressed a bell. When the peon arrived, the chief sahab ordered, “Get the file on Bholaram’s pension from the head clerk.” A few minutes later, the peon came back with the file. It was bulging with the two hundred or so petitions that Bholaram had sent. It also contained all the necessary papers for the final approval. The chief sahab checked the name on the file, then to make sure that there was no mistake he asked Narad, “What was the name again?” Narad thought the chief sahab was perhaps short of hearing. He cleared his throat and said somewhat loudly, “Bholaram.” Suddenly a thin voice came out of the file, “Who is it? Is it the postman? Have the orders come?” Narad was startled, but the next instant he understood everything. “Bholaram?” he asked. “Are you Bholaram’s soul?” “Yes, I am,” came the reply. “I am Narad. I have come to take you to Dharmaraj. Come, they are waiting for you in Heaven.” “I can’t come,” the voice replied. “I’m caught up in my pension case. I can’t abandon my file and go off elsewhere.”1

1

“Bholaram’s Soul” was originally published in Hindi as “Bholaram ka Jeev” in 1954.

88

Tiny Tales
The Right Punishment
An artist committed a serious crime and was brought before the king. The king asked his minister. “Shall we send him to jail for three years?” “His is a serious crime, maharaj,” the minister replied. “Three years won’t be enough.” “Let it be ten years then,” the king said. “No, maharaj, ten years aren’t enough either.” “Well, should it be for life?” “Even that’s not enough, maharaj” “Should he be hanged?” “No, maharaj, that’s still not enough.” The king seas exasperated. “What can be worse than that?” he asked. “Let him be tied to a post,” the minister replied, “then have someone praise other artists before him.”

The Right Medicine
The great poet, Anangji, was on his death bed. His doctors had declared that he had, at the most, only an hour to live. His wife begged them to give her husband something that would keep him alive for a few more hours, just long enough for him to meet their son who was arriving by the evening train. The doctors regretfully told her that they had no such medicine. Just then a friend of Anangji came to see him. He said, “I can easily keep him alive for several hours.” The doctors laughed. “That’s impossible,” they said. The friend said, “Let me at least try. Please leave me alone with him.” They left the room.

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The friend sat down by Anangji’s bed and whispered to him, “Anangji, you’re about to leave us forever. We’ll never get to hear your sweet voice again. Please recite a few verses before you pass away.” No sooner had the friend spoken the words than Anangji sat up. He said, “I don’t quite feel up to it, but of course I can’t say no to you. Please get me my notebook from the shelf.” The friend brought him the notebook and Anangji started to read him his verses. Hour followed hour. The evening train arrived, and with it Anangji’s son. When the son entered the room he found his father sitting on the bed, reciting a poem, but the father’s friend had fallen to the floor, dead.

A Boy of Destiny
A woman took her young son to a fortune teller and said, “Panditji, please tell me the future of this boy. What will he become when he grows up?” The fortune teller replied, “Ma, tell me about his habits. Have you seen him do anything unusual?” The woman said, “Often at night he suddenly cries out — Awake! Move Forward!” “When he cries out these words.” the fortune teller asked, “does he do anything himself?” “No, he doesn’t,” the woman replied. “He stays sound asleep, doesn’t move a limb — he lies there like a rock” The fortune teller remained silent in thought for a few moments. Then he said, “Ma, your son’s future is very bright.” “What will he be, Panditji?” the woman asked eagerly. “The leader of a democracy.”

Caste
A factory was set up, and a housing colony was built for all the employees. From Thakurpura came Thakur Sahab. From Brahminpuri came Panditji. They joined the factory and lived in the colony in adjoining blocks. Thakur Sahab had a son. Panditji had a daughter. The two met and got to know each other. They decided they should get married. When Panditji heard their decision, he said, “No, that’s impossible. A brahmin’s daughter marrying a thakur? Never! We’ll lose our caste.” Thakur Sahab responded similarly, “Never. We’ll lose our caste if you marry outside it.” 90

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A third person tried to reason with them. He said, “Look, both the boy and the girl are mature, sensible and educated. Let them get married. Suppose they don’t marry, but continue to meet secretly and something happens — won’t that be fornication?” “So what!” Thakur Sahab and Panditji retorted. “Fornication doesn’t make you lose your caste, marriage does.”

The effigy
In a certain city in a certain raj, the police was so brutal with the people that they decided to burn the effigy of the police minister. The built his effigy. It was huge and had a horrible face. The administration imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code and the police confiscated the effigy. But now the police was faced with a dilemma — what should it do with the effigy? The constables went to their officers and asked, “Sir, this effigy takes up too much space. Should we burn it or should we take it apart? The officers said, “Are you crazy? It is the minister sahab’s effigy! We can’t burn it. You want to lose your jobs?” Then the festival of Dushehra came around, and with it the enactment of Ramlila. A senior police officer had a brainwave. He sent for the organizers and said, “You need an effigy of Ravana, don’t you? Take this one here. All it needs is nine more heads — you can easily provide those yourselves.”

The sorrow
The office workers were very gloomy that day. One of them had been transferred to another city. He was a very decent man. His colleagues organized a small function to bid him farewell. Some of them gave speeches. They said it seemed as if they were losing a brother. A man sitting by himself in a corner was crying bitterly. His tears seemed endless. Someone said to him, “His impending departure seems to have really hit you.” “Yes,” the man replied, between sobs. “You must have been very close to him?” “No.” “Then why are you crying so?” 91

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“The bastard’s going on a promotion, that’s why,” the man replied, almost choking on his words.1

“Tiny Tales” contains some “short” short stories from Laghu Kathayen originally published in Hindi. “The Right Punishment” was published as “Dand” in 1965, “The Right Medicine” as “Dava” in 1964, “A Boy of Destiny” as “Honhaar” in 1966, “Caste” as “Jaati”, “The Effigy” as “Pulis Mantri ka Putla” and “The Sorrow” as “Dukh” in 1965.

1

92

A Fast Unto Death
We present below a chapter from the book Our Glorious Ancestors, published in 3002 AD. To quote from it’s Preface — “. . . the glory of our ancestors is inscribed in silver letters on the pages of history. Their resoluteness, their sacrifice, the nobility of their character can be glimpsed in this book. Like lamp posts they light the road for our children.”

This happened in 1960. In a certain city, a certain Gobardhan Babu was the chairman of the municipal corporation. He was well known for his services to society. During his tenure only his kinsmen had been appointed to civic positions and his relatives alone handled all the contracts issued by the corporation. In the same city there also lived a Seth Kishori Lal, a wholesale dealer in textiles. He was a devoutly religious man, and thanks to Gobardhan Babu, all his goods could enter the city without paying any octroi duty. Naturally, the two were great friends. One day Gobardhan Babu was visiting Seth Kishori Lal. The Sethji complained to him that the new octroi inspector had caused him some trouble a few times. Gobardhan Babu said, “You’ve done the right thing in letting me know I like to hear all complaints personally. I shall reprimand that man right away!” After some more similar chit chat, Gobardhan Babu said, “Sethji, god has given you everything — wealth, prestige, children, a happy family. There’s just one thing that’s still missing,” “And what’s that?” Kishori Lal asked. “You’ve not yet been immortalized. You ought to get it done now.” “How can that be?” the Sethji spoke in philosophical tones. “Who has ever been immortalized in this world? One who has come in this world must also leave, whether he is a king or a pauper.” “What I meant was,” Gobardhan Babu said, “that your name should be immortalized. You, of course, may die, but your name must live on.” “Well, it shall live on,” the Sethji responded innocently. “My son will always write it in the paternity column on contract forms. I’ll also have it

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put on the signboard over the shop.” “That’s fine,” Gobardhan Babu persisted, “that’s fine. But what I mean is that you should be immortalized in the public’s eve. The people should remember you and sing your praises for centuries.” “Yes, I’d also like that,” Seth Kishori Lal responded. “But how can that be? I haven’t done anything . . . ” “You leave that to me,” Gobardhan Babu interrupted. “I have a plan that will immortalize you and also cost you very little. The corporation has decided to have a statue of Mahatma Gandhi set up in Azad Park. That should cost three to four thousand rupees. Now, if you donate the statue, your name gets engraved on its base. For centuries to come, those who’ll learn about Gandhiji will also come to know of you. Your name will be taken in the same breath with Gandhiji’s. People will bow their heads before it.” The Sethji fell into a reverie. “The statue,” Gobardhan Babu pressed on, “will be unveiled by Bhaiya Sahab. You know who he is. His word is supreme in the Congress party these days. He can make anyone an MLA, or even an MP. If he’s pleased with you he’ll get you elected as an MLA in the next elections. He may even make you a minister. As wise men have said, One should always do what benefits one in this birth and also the next.” Seth Kishori Lal could no longer hesitate, “As you wish, Gobardhan Babu,” he said humbly, “I accept. You get the statue made, I’ll pay for it.” The statue was made. Covered with a sheet of cloth, it was placed on a platform in Azad Park. Gobardhan Babu fixed a time with Bhaiya Sahab for the unveiling ceremony. He also had a fenced flower garden laid out around the statue. It had a small gate that faced the front of the statue. One day before the unveiling ceremony, Gobardhan Babu went to the park with a stone cutter and instructed him to carve into the base of the statue, on the side facing the gate, the following words, “Erected during the tenure and through the efforts of Babu Gobardhan Das.” The man had just started when seth Kishori Lal arrived. “What’s going on?” the sethji asked, and took the paper from the stone cutter’s hand. As he read, his face flushed with anger. “Why are you getting this carved?” he asked. “Is the statue mine, or yours?” “It’s yours, that’s true,” Gobardhan Babu replied. “And your name will also be engraved.” “Where?” the sethji asked. “There,” Gobardhan Babu pointed towards the back of the statue, “there . . . it will be carved there.” 94

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“Oh yes!” the sethji said, with some sarcasm. “The name of the one who paid for it will be on the back, but the name of the one who didn’t spend a paisa will be in the front! So when people come through the gate they see your name first. Hunh?” Gobardhan Babu tried to reason with him, “After all, sethji, I’m the chairman of the municipal corporation — the first citizen of the city. I too have some prestige, don’t I?” “That I understand very well,” the sethji responded, with some heat. “You can’t make a fool of me that easily. Now listen. Here, facing the gate, should be my name. If that’s not done, I’ll take the statue home.” Gobardhan Babu knew when he was defeated. He had Seth Kishori Lal’s name carved on the front and his own on the back. The carver had not yet finished when a man arrived with a letter from Bhaiya Sahab. Gobardhan Babu smiled as he read it, then he handed it to the sethji. Bhaiya Sahab had written, “It’s been my experience that often the name of the person who inaugurates gets carved together with the names of other people. That is patently wrong. The name of the inaugurator should be the most prominent and also all by itself. Anyone coming to the site should first see the name of the person who inaugurated it.” “Well?” There was a triumphant ring to Gobardhan Babu’s voice. But the sethji remained firm. “Well what?” he retorted. “Who paid for the statue, I or Bhaiya Sahab? Put his name there, on the left side of the base.” And he marched off. With a heavy heart, Gobardhan Babu had the names carved the way he had been instructed. The unveiling was to take place in the morning. All night long, Gobardhan Babu remained busy completing the arrangements. Tents were put up. Chairs were laid out. The space around the statue was gaily decorated. Seth Kishori Lal arrived a bit early and went straight to the statue. What he saw left him dumbfounded. During the night the gate in front of the statue had been closed. Instead, a new gate had been constructed facing the statue’s back. Once again, his name was not the first to be seen. “Gobardhan Babu!” the sethji shouted. “Please come here.” Gobardhan Babu came somewhat sheepishly. “You have again deceived me!” Seth Kishori Lal bellowed. “Is there no limit to your tricks? Why did you move the gate overnight to the other side?” Gobardhan Babu tried to soothe him. “You see, one shouldn’t come face to face with a great person suddenly. The visitors will now approach from the back, walk around one side and only then step before . . . ” “But they’ll see your name first!” Kishori Lal interrupted him vehemently. “Look here, Gobardhan Babu. I won’t let the ceremony take place until my 95

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name is in the front again. If you continue to persist, I’ll simply take the statue home.” People had started to arrive. Some of them had sauntered over and were now listening to the exchange. Just then Bhaiya Sahab’s car arrived. He walked over to the two luminaries and asked. “What is the problem, Gobardhan Babu?” Seth Kishori Lal said, “Bhaiya Sahab, if the gate isn’t moved to the front of the statue I won’t let the inauguration take place. I’ll start a fast unto death right here to get justice done.” Now Gobardhan Babu also became adamant, “No, the gate will remain where it is. I too will go on an indefinite fast for the sake of justice.” Bhaiya Sahab grasped the situation. “You’re wrong,” he declared, “both of you. The gate should face the side where my name is. It is I who have the most important task to perform here. These hundreds of people have come here because of me, not because of you. Please move the gate immediately so it faces my name.” The conflict became triangular. It was a test for both the sethji and Gobardhan Babu. But the two remained staunch in their resolve. They said, “No, that can’t be done.” When he heard that, Bhaiya Sahab quickly climbed up to the rostrum and began to address the crowd, “Friends, we’re suddenly faced with a serious ethical problem. This is the question — whose name should face the gate? Seth Kishori Lai, Babu Gobardhan Das and your humble servant — each of us believes that the gate ought to face his name. All three of us are on the path of Truth. Truth has many faces — this person looks at one face, that at another. But the question is, whose Truth is supreme? It’s a tough question. But no question is so difficult that it can’t be resolved through nonviolent means. And so, the three of us have vowed to go on a fast unto death right here. We’ll put moral pressure on each other and thus try to bring about a change of heart. The one who succeeds in changing the hearts of the other two will have the gate placed facing his name. ”Friends, it’s your duty to immediately set up a Peace Committee. It should first place marigold garlands around our necks, then arrange to have ghee lamps lit here. Next it should organize a chorus to sing continuously that great favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, the Ramdhun. It will also be the Peace Committee’s job to publicize our fast and keep a watch on us to make sure that we strictly follow the rules. Most importantly, it should find out rightaway from each of us the name of the person from whose hands he would eventually like to receive the orange juice to break his fast. As for me, I have gone on a fast seventy three times in the past. In no instance did I break my fast at the hands of anyone lower in rank than that of a chief minister. 96

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“Friends, we three are risking our lives for the sake of Truth and Justice. We hope that you too will do what is your duty.” The three fasters settled down under a tent. Garlands were put around their necks. Ghee lamps were lit. A chorus also started to sing — Sab ko sanmati de bhagwan . . . Telegrams were sent to spread the news. Newsmen and photographers began to arrive. Every morning the chairman of the Peace Committee would go to each of the fasting person and ask, “Sir, has there been a change of heart in you?” The answer was always the same, “No. Go, ask the others.” On the fourth day the condition of the three fasters became serious. Still no one had a change of heart. The chief minister arrived on the fifth day. He went directly to the sethji and whispered in his ear, “Look, if you don’t have a change of heart within the hour you won’t get the contract to supply uniforms to all the state chaprasis.” Then he went to Gobardhan Babu and whispered, “Listen, if you don’t have a change of heart within the hour I’ll suspend the municipal corporation.” Very shortly the public heard the news. Both Seth Kishori Lai and Babu Gobardhan Das had had a change of heart. The two had acknowledged that the gate should rightly face the side which carried Bhaiya Sahab’s name. The three stalwarts drank glasses of orange juice. Bhaiya Sahab’s neck was loaded with marigold garlands. Such, dear readers, were our brave ancestors. For the sake of Truth and Justice, they even risked their lives.1

1

“A Fast Unto Death” was originally published in Hindi as “Aamaran Anshan” in 1964.

97

Pulled Down Lamp Posts
One day the raja became so exasperated with all the profiteers that he announced that he would have every one of them hanged from the nearest lamp post.1 Next morning, people began to gather near lamp posts. Reverently they bowed before the posts, performed aarti and put tilak marks on them. They then waited till evening for the profiteers to be brought and hanged. But none was. The people went in a procession to the raja. They said, ”Maharaj, you had announced that you’ll have the profiteers hanged from the lamp posts, but the posts stand bare as ever while the profiteers are well and prospering.” The raja said, ”If I said so then it will happen — they will be hanged from the posts. But it will take a little time. We need nooses to hang them with. I have given the orders. As soon as the nooses arrive, I’ll have all the profiteers hanged from the posts.” A man stepped forward from the crowd. He said, ”But, maharaj, it’s one of the profiteers who got the contract to supply the nooses!” ”So what? He’ll be hanged from his own noose.” A second spoke up. “But he was saying he’s also got the contract to do the hangings.” “No, that can’t be,” said the raja. “Hanging is not yet in the private sector.” The people asked, “So when will they be hanged?” The raja replied, “Exactly sixteen days from today you’ll see them hanging from the lamp posts.” The people began to count the days. On the sixteenth morning, when the people came out they found all the lamp posts lying on the ground. They were astounded. There had been no storm the previous night, nor any earthquake. What caused them to topple over? They wondered.
Profiteers . . . hanged from the nearest lamp post: A famous announcement by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
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They found a man standing near one of the posts. He told them that the previous night someone had hired him and several other men to pull down the lamp posts. The people dragged him to the raja. “Maharaj,” they complained, “you were going to have the profiteers hanged from the lamp posts today, but last night all the posts were knocked down. We have brought this man to you. He says that someone ordered him to do so.” The raja turned to the man, “You there, who told you to knock down the lamp posts?” The man replied, “Maharaj, the overseer sahab gave the order.” The overseer was sent for. The raja asked him, “You know that I had announced to have the profiteers hanged from the lamp posts today, don’t you?” “Yes, maharaj.” “Then why did you tell this man to knock down all the lamp posts?” “Because the engineer sahab ordered me to have it done overnight,” replied the overseer. The engineer was summoned. He said. “I was ordered by the chief electric engineer to have all the lamp posts dug out.” When the CEE was asked for an explanation, he humbly admitted that he was so ordered by the secretary, Department of Electricity. The raja asked the secretary if he had ordered for the posts to be knocked down. The secretary acknowledged that he had. “How dare you!” the raja thundered. “Didn’t you know that I intended to use the posts today to hang the profiteers?” The secretary said, “Maharaj, it was a question of the safety of the city, If the posts had not been removed Iast night, the entire city would have been in ruins today.” “What made you believe that?” the raja asked. “Did anyone tell you something?” “Maharaj, an expert advised me to do so,” the secretary replied. “He said that if I wanted to save the city I should have all the posts dug up before dawn.” “And who’s that expert? Is he someone trustworthy?” the raja asked. “Absolutely trustworthy, maharaj.” said the secretary. “Someone, in fact, from my family. My brother-in-law. I’ll bring him to you.” The expert came. He said, “Maharaj, I’m an expert. I study the earth and its environment. Through tests I came to know that a huge electric storm was brewing underground. I also discovered that it must pass under our city today. You may not feel it, maharaj, but I know that right now 99

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monstrous electric currents are passing through the ground underneath us. If our lamp posts had remained in position, that electric surge would have come above ground through them. It would have then collided with the power generated by our own stations and caused a horrible explosion. It would have been as if thousands of lightning bolts had struck the city at once. Not one person could have escaped alive, not one building could have survived. I immediately informed Secretary Sahab, who then took the right action just in time and saved the city.” The people were dumbfounded. They completely forgot about the profiteers. They were overwhelmed by the terror whose barest image they had just been exposed to. They cowered with gratitude that their lives had been saved. Silently they turned around and left. That week, the following cash deposits were made at a local bank: In the account of Mrs Secretary — Rs 2 lakh. In the account of Mrs CEE — Rs 1 lakh. In the account of Mrs Engineer — Rs 1 lakh. In the account of Mrs Expert — Rs 25,000. In the account of Mrs Overseer — Rs 5,000. The same week, in the account book of the National Profiteers’ Association, the following amounts were entered under Charitable donations: To the Leprosy Hospital — Rs 2 lakh. To the Widows’ Ashram — Rs 1 lakh. To the TB Sanatorium — Rs 1 lakh. To the Mental Hospital — Rs 25,000. To the Orphanage — Rs 5,000.1

1

“Pulled down Lamp posts” was originally published in Hindi as “Ukhre Khambe.”

100

Shivering Republic
I have seen the Republic Day parade in Delhi four times. I don’t have the strength to see it a fifth time. Why is it that every time I go to attend the parade the weather turns awfully cruel? Just before 26 January, it snows in the hills and a cold wave sets in — clouds gather, it drizzles a few times, and the sun goes into hiding. Just as Delhi doesn’t have its own economic policy, it doesn’t have a weather of its own either. Delhi’s economic policy is established by the International Monetary Fund and the Aid India Consortium. Delhi’s weather is determined by Kashmir, Sikkim, Rajasthan, and what have you. I’m not so foolish that I believe it happens only the years I go to see the parade. Even they who go every year say that on Republic Day the sky is always sunless and the weather bitterly cold. Why? What’s the mystery? When there was just one Congress party, I had asked a Congress minister, “Why is it that the sun remains hidden on every Republic Day? Why can’t we celebrate the day under a bright sun?” His reply was, “Be patient. We’re trying to make it come out, but it’s not easy with such a big sun. It will take time. You should give us at least a hundred years in power.” All right, so we give you a hundred years to bring the sun out all the way. But in the meantime, shouldn’t we be able to see at least a bit of it on every Republic Day? You’d think the sun was a baby stuck in the horizon’s womb — one day they’d do a caesarian and suddenly pull it out! More recently, after the Congress had split, I asked an Indi-cate Congressite. He replied, “In the past, whenever we tried to get the sun out, the Syndicate people put up some obstacle. Now we promise you we’ll have the sun out on the next Republic Day.” A Syndicatewala was close by, eavesdropping. He said, “Their Madam is in the clutches of the Communists. It’s they who are pushing her to bring the sun out from behind the clouds. They hope it will be their beloved Red sun. But we ask, why is it necessary to bring the sun out? Shouldn’t it be enough just to remove the clouds?”

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I questioned a bhai from the Samyukta Socialist Party. He replied, “The sun must act in an anti-Congress way. It has signed — at Dr Lohia’s instance — our party’s membership form. Certainly you don’t expect it to come out and watch some Congresswala review the parade? Put a nonCongress man on the reviewing stand, then you’ll see — you’ll have ten suns shining in the sky.” I then went to a Jansanghi bhai. He was quite frank. “Had the sun been secular, it would have shown itself for this party’s parade. You think these secular people can persuade Bhagwan Amshumali to come out? He shall shine forth when we come into power.” The Communists were still more blunt. “Its a CIA conspiracy — the Seventh Fleet sends these clouds to Delhi every year.” The Prajatantra Socialist Party bhai, on the other hand, was somewhat brusque. He said, “It’s a complex issue. Our National Council will come to a decision in its next meeting. I’ll let you know then.” I couldn’t get hold of Rajaji, but if I had he would have only said, “Why complain? At least the stars still come out at night in the Raj.” I’ll wait. Let the sun come out when it will. Likewise our Independence Day comes in the middle of heavy rains. The British were very clever. They gave us freedom in the middle of the rainy season, then walked away — like the wicked lover who walked off with the umbrella of his beloved. Now, when she walks to the bus stop in the rain, she is tortured not so much by the memory of her absent lover as by the thought of her stolen umbrella. Our Independence Day gets rained on, our Republic Day comes in shivering. I stand watching the parade. My hands are stuffed in the pockets of my overcoat. The prime minister goes by in an open car, some foreign dignitary riding with her. The commentator on the radio says, “People are clapping loudly.” I look around. No one around me is clapping. We all have our hands stuffed in our pockets. No one wants to expose his or her hands. They might freeze. But others do clap even if we don’t. The people seated on the bare ground clap. They don’t have coats to stuff their hands into. It seems our Republic Day depends on freezing hands, for only those hands clap in welcome whose owners don’t have coats to warm them. Some say, “Poverty should be removed.” Others respond, “They who make such demands are a threat to democracy.” 102

Harishankar Parsai

Shivering Republic

There are floats from every state in the Republic Day parade. They aren’t, however, truly representative. Our motto is “Satyameva Jayate,” but the floats tell only lies. They highlight development programmes, folk culture, history. But surely each state ought to display on its float only that which made it famous in the preceding twelve months. For example, the Gujarat float this year should depict the Ahmedabad riots — a burning house, a child thrown into the flames. Last year I had hoped that the Andhra float would show some Harijans being burned alive. But it didn’t happen. The state gained international fame for its riots, but its float displayed small scale industries! What mendacity! I ask you, is there a better Cottage Industry in our country than communal riots? Two years ago, my own Madhya Pradesh tried to come closer to the truth. On their float they displayed famine relief activities. But, again, that was only half the truth. That year Madhya Pradesh had gained a name not for its relief work, but for the malpractice in it. Had I had my way, our float would have had clerks falsifying muster rolls, paymasters putting their own thumbprints against thousands of names, and netas, officers and contractors passing on money to each other. The actual float didn’t come anywhere near the truth. Then last year our state gained fame on account of the “burlap incident.” I would have enjoyed a tableau of ministers and civil servants standing around, munching on pieces of burlap. As with the floats, so with the public announcements. Every year it is officially announced, “Socialism is coming.” Well, it has yet to arrive. Where did it get stuck? Just about every party has promised to bring Socialism, but it isn’t coming. I have a dream. Socialism has come — it stands on a hill outside the city. The people in the city stand ready with aarti trays to welcome it. But the hill has been surrounded by Socialists of every colour. Each has promised the people that he would personally lead Socialism by the hand into the city. Socialism shouts from the hilltop, “Take me to the people.” The Socialists encircling the hill shout back. “But we must first decide who will hold your hand and lead you into town.” Socialism has been gheraoed. There are the Democratic-Socialists of the PSP and the SSP, there are the Communists of both the People’s Democracy and the National Democracy, there are the Congressites of the two varieties, and there are several stalwarts from the Socialist Unity Forum. There are, of course, the Revolutionary Socialists too. And each of them wants to lead Socialism by the hand into the city and declare, “Here, I have brought you Socialism.” Socialism is bewildered. So are the people. Socialism stands ready to come, but the Socialists are engaged in fisticuffs. Socialism tries to sneak 103

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down but is showered with rocks and threats. “Stop right there! Not that way!” A Socialist grabs its right hand, another its left. They try to pull it in separate directions. Then other Socialists jump in and pull it free. Socialism rushes back to the hilltop, badly battered. In this country, those who champion something are always the ones who destroy it. Those who demand freedom of expression try to rob the writer of his freedom. Those who are charged with establishing cooperatives seek to demolish them. They say, cooperation is of the spirit. They cooperate with each other — in filling their pockets. Meanwhile the prime minister has announced. “Socialism is just around the corner.” I have another dream. A pronouncement has been made in Delhi, “Socialism will soon start on a tour of the country. It will go everywhere. Every effort should be made to welcome it.” One secretary remarks to another, “Here comes another VIP. Now we must make arrangements for it too. What a pain . . . !” Circulars go out to the collectors in all districts, who forward them to the senior district officers, and they in turn pass them on to the tehsildars. A secret memo reaches the police officers — Protect Socialism! In the head office, the Bad´ Babu asks the Chhot´ Babu, “Arr´, Tiwari e e e Babu, didn’t we get a Government Order about Socialism. You think you can find it?” Tiwari Babu looks for the Government Order and brings it over. The Bad´ Babu exclaims, “Arr´, that Socialism fellow passed through here two e e days ago! No one went to the station to meet it! Tiwari Babu, why must you always sit on files? It’s such a bad habit.” All the senior officials go to the chief secretary. “Sir, can’t this Socialism come a bit later? The fact is, we’re unable to make any sort of arrangement for its protection. Dushehra is not far off. There might be riots. Our entire force is busy.” The chief secretary writes to Delhi — “We are unable to provide full protection to Socialism. Its tour should be postponed for a while.” A government that misplaces files concerning Socialism’s tour, that can’t provide it proper protection — if you wish to bring in Socialism with the help of such a government, go ahead, bring it in. I have no particular objection. After all, if Socialism eventually comes, not through the efforts of the people but through the channels of the government, that in itself will be some historical event.1
“A Shivering Republic” was originally published in Hindi as “Thithurta hua Ganatantra.”
1

104

Divine Lunatic Mission
India is faced at present with a major question — what should it send to America next? The Americans have already read the Kamasutra. They have seen enough yogis, saints and ascetics. Young Americans have enjoyed marijuana. They have also watched cobras and tigers, and bought antiques on the Janpath. America has also imported plenty of spiritualism from here. In return, it continues to ship us wheat. And, of course, there has already been enough chanting of Har´ Rama, Har´ Krishna. e e Mahesh Yogi, Bal Yogeshwar. Bal Bhogeshwar. They’ve all been there. Who should it be next? I’m quite patriotic, but I also understand the American. I know he belongs to a Bored society — that is, he’s a bore. His stocks automatically bring in dollars. His den contains a television set and plenty of liquor. In the evening, he goes out and says Hi to a few people, but that doesn’t cure his boriyat1 . No matter how often it bombs Hanoi, America doesn’t feel exhilarated. America feels the need for something — something from India. I worry about America. I’m equally worried about my fellow Indians. They too need something. So what should we Indians take next to America, to get dollars there and bring rupees here? Ravi Shankar bores them. They have had enough of sadhus and saints. The Americans need something new to end their boriyat and re-ignite their enthusiasm. They’re, of course, ready to pay in dollars. I have a modest suggestion — let’s send them a Divine Lunatic Mission from India. Such a mission has never gone there. It will be something rare — a Divine Lunatic Mission from India, that is, a mission of spiritual lunatics. I know. I know. Every American would likely say, “We’ve already seen one, his name was Krishna Menon.” But our representatives should tell them, “He was neither divine, nor a lunatic. It’s only now that actual Divine Lunatics are coming to you from India.” Spiritual missions often engage in smuggling. But the Government of
Boriyat usually means “boredom” but here it is also being used to mean “being a bore.”
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Harishankar Parsai

India and ordinary Indians don’t know that. They don’t know that people are often smuggled into paradise too. It’s done through the Department of Spiritualism. India is indeed a great country. Here in a village in Gujarat, a man distributed “holy water” and turned the village into a ruin. You think we can’t smuggle America into paradise? Everyone knows about the smuggling of goods, but there is also a kind of spiritual smuggling. Suppose a man grows a long beard and goes off to America with a disciple and declares, “I’m one thousand years old. I lived as an ascetic in the Himalayas for centuries, and have talked to god three times.” The trusting, and yet doubtful American will ask the disciple, “Is your guru telling the truth? Is he really a thousand years old?” The disciple will respond, “I can’t say for sure. I’ve been with him only half that time.” In other words, the disciple smuggles in five hundred years for his own use. Now he can open shop independently. Anyway, I believe we have exported to America everything Indian. Only one more thing can still be sent. An Indian divine lunatic. That’s why I’m urging the immediate establishment of an Indian Divine Lunatic Mission. No doubt, there are far more important people in this country, but I too wish to serve India. I also wish to remove the boriyat of my American big brother. Of course, I’m fully aware that even after chanting “Har´ Rama, e Har´ Krishna” for a thousand years, we still must buy things in the black e market. So what can the Americans hope to obtain in just a few days? But every rich and pleasure loving society has its own ways of finding peace and comfort, and if it obtains them from India, why, that only adds to India’s glory. Bertrand Russell is said to have remarked that the American society went from barbarism to decadence, skipping the stage of civilization. But I’ve nothing to do with Russell. I’m only interested in starting a new international business. All over the world. lunatics are simply lunatics. In India, they are divine. I wish to create a Divine Lunatic Mission, restricted only to those who were never sent to an asylum. We need them. Only they can properly act as lunatics. It’s quite easy to act as a yogi. It’s easy even to act as god. But to act as a lunatic is extremely difficult. Only the really talented can do it. I already have my sights on a couple of academic friends, and have appealed to them to join my mission. The Mission will be formed, I’ve no doubt of it. Our publicity men in America will announce, See Genuine Indian Divine Lunatics. The news of our impending arrival in New York will be in the papers. Television cameras will whirr. Mrs Roberts will ask Mrs Simpson. “Honey, have you seen a genuine Indian lunatic?” 106

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“No,” Mrs Simpson will reply, “is there one in this country?” “Yes,” Mrs Roberts will tell her, “a mission of Divine Lunatics from India is arriving in New York. Let’s go and see them. It’ll be a truly spiritual experience.” Thousands of people will gather at the airport to have the Mission’s darshan, to be rid of the boriyat of their daily lives. They will heartily welcome us by putting garlands around our necks, and set us up in luxury hotels. We shall put on for them a show of divine lunacy. The members of our mission will have been fully trained to act as true lunatics. A ticket to the show will cost fifty dollars. Thousands of Americans will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to watch the Divine Lunatics from India. As the leader of the Mission, I’ll introduce the show, “We are real Indian Divine Lunatics. Our rishis and munis declared thousand of years ago that the way to real internal peace and salvation lies through lunacy.” Then my companions will perform their lunatic acts. They’ll be showered with dollars. Our business will flourish. Those who’d like to join the Mission will be urged to contact me. Our only condition will be that they shouldn’t really be lunatics. Actual lunatics will not be accepted — just as actual sadhus are never admitted to membership in the Sadhu Sabha. When we return from America, we’ll be felicitated on the Ramlila Grounds, or perhaps in front of Red Fort. I’ll try to get the prime minister to grace the occasion. But if she’s unable to find time, there are plenty of leaders, doing penance out in the political wilderness, who are always available. Of course, all the smugglers in Delhi will give us their full cooperation. We’re also having talks with the law enforcement agencies and the customs services. We hope they too will cooperate in spirit. There will be a speech at the reception, “This is yet one more grand victory for Indian spiritualism. Our Divine Lunatics have returned after giving the world the message of true internal peace and salvation. We are sure this tradition of Divine Lunacy will continue to flourish in our great land for ever and evermore.” Yes, the Divine Lunatic Mission must go to America. Now that the diplomatic relations between the two countries have significantly improved it is doubly imperative that we send them a mission of our lunatics.2

“Divine Lunatic Mission” was originally published in Hindi as “Divine Lunatic Mission.”

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107

The Days of Gardish
I have sat down to write, but I don’t know what the editor’s intentions are or what the readers want — why the two wish to peek into the days which are the writer’s very own and which he has long placed behind a cover. How should I return to those days of gardish1 which belonged to someone who had my name — as myself the writer, or in the capacity of that other person? But in reliving a gardish as a writer and making it manifest to others, there is release for both. Here I’m not repeating what is said about the separation between one who experiences and one who creates. But to recall a gardish or to relive it can also be most dangerous. Once, I had pushed aside the sharp horns of Time, should I now pull them back towards my breast and say, “Here, be my guest?” There was gardish once, long ago. There’s none now, and there won’t be any in the future — that’s utter nonsense. The continuum of gardish is still with me. I’m sensitive and extremely restless. I can never be at peace. For me, gardish is destiny. But I have plenty of memories. Perhaps the readers’ interest lies in finding out what the life has been like of this man who is called Harishankar Parsai — who laughs, is full of zest, and can be quite sharp and bitter. When did he meet a fall? When did he rise again? How did he break apart? What pieced him together again — this man who is so harsh and pitiless, so cantankerous. Typically, my sharpest memory of childhood is of plague. It was 1936 or 37 and I was probably in class eight. The plague raged in our small rural town, and most people had abandoned their homes and fled to live in huts in the jungle. Our family hadn’t. Ma was terribly sick. We couldn’t take her to the jungle. In our desolate, silence-struck neighbourhood, only our house showed any trace of life. Dark nights and their only light — a tiny candle in our home. And I was scared of candles. Even the town’s stray dogs
It is difficult to find an exact equivalent in English of Gardish. Gardish, literally “a circular movement.” means trouble or travail as brought about by the “turning” of the heavens. The word implies persistence and repetition as well as the transitoriness of any grief or pain. In other words, calling your troubles gardish is not bleak fatalism.
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The Days of Gardish

had disappeared. In the overwhelming stillness of those nights even our own voices frightened us. But every evening we’d sit near our dying mother and sing the aarti — Om jai jagadisha har´. Bhakt jano ke sankat pal mein dur e kar´ . . . In the middle of the song, Pitaji would start sobbing, Ma would e burst into tears and pull us children to her breast, and we too would start crying. This happened every day. Late at night, Pitaji, Chachaji, or some other relative, would pick up a spear or staff and walk the perimeter of the house to keep watch. Then, one such terrifying night, Ma passed away. We raised loud howls of pain and grief. Suddenly some stray dogs appeared outside to lend support. Among the five brothers and sisters, I alone understood what Ma’s death meant — I was the eldest. Those dark nights of plague have sunk deep into my heart. It would take too many pages to give a full measure of the terror and despair that filled our lives then. None of us was broken — except Pitaji. He was devastated. He lived on for a few more years but was continuously sick, despondent, scared of himself. Soon his business closed. Now we had only his meagre savings and our household goods to live on. Everyone was waiting for me to finish high school. I knew Pitaji too was about to go. Despite his ill health, he managed to get one of my sisters married. What a terrible occasion that was! I understood, of course, that he was only trying to lighten my burden. But there were still two sisters and one brother to be looked after. I began preparing myself. I was always a big reader, a big eater, and a big sportsman. In books and sports I’d forget everything. Then I finished high school and found a job in the forestry department. I even lived in the forest, in a little hut provided by the government. My bed was made of bricks and boards, but the ground underneath it was hollow with rat tunnels. The rats scurried around noisily all night long, but I always managed to get my sleep. I used to wake up if one of them ever climbed on top of me, but would immediately go back to sleep. I spent six months among those boisterous rats. Poor Parsai? No, no. I was enjoying myself too much. Hard work all day long. A long walk in the jungle at dusk. Then a hearty meal prepared with my own hands — pure ghee and fresh milk! But the rats did me a great favour. They taught me an excellent habit. In subsequent life I have had other rats — even a few snakes — scurrying around me, but I have always managed to lie down on my bricks and boards and get a good night’s sleep. I have been bitten all right, not just by rats — frequently some human-faced snake or scorpion has also made me its victim — but I have always had with me that perfect antidote I obtained long ago. No, I 109

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have never allowed any occasion for “Poor Parsai!” From that young age I have felt extreme disgust for false pity. Even now, when I encounter someone making a big display of sympathy I feel like slapping him in the face. I have to struggle to control myself. Next came a school job, followed by a training course at a teachers college. Pitaji was close to death. My younger brother had to drop out of school to look after him. The two younger sisters had been sent to stay with their married sister — and there I was, going myself to school to be a teacher! Then came a second job search. By now I had developed a new talent. I travelled on trains without a ticket. From Jabalpur to Itarsi, to Timarni and Khandwa, to Indore and Devas, and back to Jabalpur — innumberable trips in search of a job. I had no money. When my train would come I’d fearlessly climb aboard — ticketless. I had learned many ways of not getting caught and if ever some ticket-checker caught me I’d speak to him in proper English and tell him my woeful tale. The use of English never failed to have its effect. They always said, “Let’s help the poor boy.” The second skill I learned was to borrow money. Again without any fear, I could ask anyone for a loan. In fact, I’m good at it even now. The third thing I learned was to have no care — an attitude of whatever will be, will be. No matter what happens, it’ll always be for good. I had an aunt — desperately poor, life filled with gardish, but possessing immense energy to survive. Come cooking time, the daughter-in-law would say to Bua, “Bai, what shall I cook? We have neither dal nor vegetables.” Bua would reply. “Not to worry,” and march out of the house. Strolling around the neighbourhood she’d soon notice some vine spread over someone’s thatched shed and shout to the owner, usually a woman of her own age, “Arr´ Kaushalya, your turais look nice. How about a couple for me?” e Then, without even waiting for a reply, she’d herself pick a few. Returning home, she’d say to the daughter-in-law, “Here cook these — just be sure to add extra water.” I would often visit her, worn out from my futile wanderings, and she’d say to me, “Not to worry. Here, sit down and have something to eat.” That favourite phrase of hers became my strength — “Not to worry!” I went to Hoshangabad and asked the education officer for a job. As usual, I was disappointed, and had to trudge back to the railway station to wait for the train to Itarsi. My pockets were empty. The one rupee I had earlier, had fallen out somewhere. I could get to Itarsi ticketless, but how was I to feed my hunger? This was during the time of the Second World War and trains were running very late. My stomach was empty I repeatedly 110

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tried to fill it with water. Finally I lay down on a bench. Fourteen hours passed. Then a poor peasant family came and sat down nearby. They had some melons with them in a basket. By then I was ready to become a thief. The man started to slice a melon. I remarked, “The melons look good. Must be from your own field.” He said, “It’s all Ma Narmada’s blessings. They’re sweeter than sugar. Here, see for yourself,” and gave me two big slices. I devoured them, barely leaving any rind to throw away, then topped off with tap water. Just then my train arrived and I scrambled aboard through a window. Finally a job came through, at the government school in Jabalpur — but who had the train fare to get there? The newly appointed Master Sahab wrapped up his few clothes in a durrie and got on the train without a ticket. That bundle, however, made me feel more vulnerable. Then I discovered that a man sitting near me was the khansama of the collector at Jabalpur. We started talking. I found him quite likeable. When Jabalpur came near, I told him my problem. He said, “Don’t worry. Give me your bundle. I’ll wait for you outside. You just pretend to look for drinking water and get yourself near the fence where the hand pump is. Nearby there is a gap in the fence where some bars have been twisted. You can easily sneak through.” I did as he had told me. He was indeed waiting for me outside. I recovered my bundle and set off on foot for the city, confident that I’d find someone who’d give me shelter for a few days. By then I was well-versed in surviving amidst uncertainty. I found it delightful, that first day of being a proper “Mas’sahab.” But only a day or two after receiving my first salary I also got the news of Pitaji’s death. I sold Ma’s few remaining ornaments for his final rites, then, shouldering my responsibilities as best I could, set out on life’s long journey, secure only in the knowledge that I still had a job. Why did I describe in such detail the gardishes of that phase in my life? There were many gardishes later too. They occur even now. Surely there will be some in the future also. But the gardishes of young age have their own significance. They have a profound effect on the future development of any author’s thought and personality. As I have said, I’m emotional, sensitive and restless by nature. A normal person would have taken care of his responsibilities sedately and also worked out some way to get along with the world. He could even have found some satisfaction in spending his life as a faceless toiler. That didn’t happen with me. Responsibilities, a past full of pain and now, total exposure to the relentless attacks of the world. In the midst of all this, the biggest issue before me was how to preserve my individuality and 111

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thought. Then, I hadn’t even dreamt of becoming a writer one day. Even so, I wanted to protect my individual self. I told myself, Parsai, don’t be afraid of anyone. The moment you feel scared, you die. Harden yourself outside, no matter how you feel inside. Bear your responsibilities in an irresponsible manner. If you try to bear them responsibly you’ll surely destroy yourself. Also, you won’t lose your individuality if you were to step out of yourself and join others. You might even gain something. Come out of yourself. Look, understand, and laugh! I became fearless. Even when I was being dishonest I didn’t feel scared. And because I didn’t let any fear touch me, I lost jobs, benefits, positions, rewards. As for being irresponsible, this is how bad I was. On the way home to have one of my sisters married I managed to get my pocket picked on the train. So I got off at the next station, had a good meal, then sat down carefree on a bench, confident that something was bound to happen to get me out of my predicament. It did. Of course, I had to toil and suffer for it. That pitch dark night, in a heavy downpour, I walked with a pujari all the way to my married sister’s village and back. Then I had to run around some more. Eventually, help arrived and the wedding was performed. Now I wonder how did the author in me come forth in the midst of such happenings? At first, I was totally engrossed in my own troubles. Man can find happiness even in convincing himself — and making others believe it too — that he’s inflicted with troubles. A lot of people find satisfaction in hearing themselves described as pitiable. In the beginning, I too felt that way. But then I realized — how could I be pitiable when so many around me are much worse off? How could my struggle compare with the more formidable struggles going on all around me? I must have taken up writing as a way to fight the world. I saw in it a way to protect my individuality. In other words, I started writing in order to save myself from becoming faceless. That’s how it was, I think. That’s how it must have been then. But I soon freed myself from this fascination with the sorrows of just one individual, me. I expanded myself. There were others too besieged with trouble. Many others too had suffered injustice. Victims of exploitation were countless. I was only one of them. And I had a pen in my hand and was rich with ideas. That’s when the satirist must have been born. I must have thought — No tears. Fight back. Fight with whatever weapon you find in your hands. I then began a systematic study of history and society, politics and culture. Simultaneously, I shaped for myself an odd and difficult persona and, with utmost deliberateness, set about writing satires. But salvation doesn’t come to the solitary. One can’t separate oneself 112

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from the rest or find good for oneself alone. Man feels restless — to obtain salvation, to gain happiness, to find justice. But this enormous battle cannot be fought alone. Only that person, who has no battle to fight, feels happy in being solitary. His is a different tale. As for me, I see countless people who look happy and wonder, how come they’re happy? No question or doubt arises in their minds. They only make infrequent complaints. Complaining too gives them pleasure. They feel that much happier for it. Kabir has said, The world is happy, it eats and sleeps. Unhappy is Kabir, he’s awake and weeps. The crying of the one who is awake never ends. The gardish of the satirist doesn’t end either. My newest gardish — I recently tortured myself for a political seat. Someone had me believe that I’d be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. A month of gardish ensued. I’m not in the habit of conspiring. It feels like death to me if I have to send my chit in and then wait outside some door. More valiant men can sit like that for months and feel no mortal threat, but I can’t. So the last few months were of just such gardish. Of course, Profit doesn’t just walk over to your door and knock. One has to cajole and supplicate it. When Profit clears its throat you must extend your palm to receive the spit. I suffered a lot. I underwent much gardish. There is yet another gardish for any writer like me. If he fails to put into words the storm he feels raging inside him, he goes through a torture that is unending and remorseless. It becomes a time of extreme gardish, of the kind only another maker can understand. I have a long memory of gardishes. But the truth is that no day is free of gardish, nor does gardish have an end. It’s another matter that, for purely decorative purposes, we might select or highlight a few choicest gardishes, that we might put make-up on them, teach them a few beguiling tricks — the livelier a gardish the better it is — then tell the reader, “Here, brother, look at my gardish.”2

2

“The Days of Gardish” was originally published as “Gardish ke Din” in 1971–72.

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Biographical Notes
Harishankar Parsai, the noted satirist and humorist of modern Hindi literature, is known for his simple and direct style. His satires deal mostly with the absurdities and hypocrisies of socio-political life. Parsai was born at Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh in 1924. After completing his MA, he started his career as a teacher but gave that up to become a free lance writer. His writings include Hanste Hain Rote Hain, Tat Ki Khoj, Tab Ki Baat Aur Thi, Jwala Aur Jal, Bhut Ke Panv Piche, Rani Nagphani Ki Kahani, Jaise Unke Din Phire, Beimani Ki Partein, Sadachar Ka Taviz, Aur Ant Mein, Aisa Bhi Socha Jata Hai. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his satire Viklang Shradha Ka Daur in 1982. He died in 1985. C M Naim teaches at the University of Chicago in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations. He hails from Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh and received his education in India and the United States. He has published stories, poetry and criticism and has also translated numerous modern Urdu poets and short story writers. He is a former editor of the Journal of South Asian Literature, and the Annual of Urdu studies. His translation of Zikr-eMir, the autobiography of Mir, one of Urdu’s foremost poets, was published in 1999. Vishnu Khare is a Hindi poet, critic, translator and columnist. He has more than fourteen works to his credit.

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