Saturday, May 21, 2016

(  After a long   gap  I am going to continue my blog “Scent of own Ink” with the stories of Jagadish mohanty .Jagadish Mohanty  considered as trend setter in Odia short stories. After his entry in Odia short story in 1970 it created a news and sensation. He entirely changed the diction and theme of post independent story pattern For last four decade an exceptional and unparallel story writer, who is a craze still among the young Odia writer. Most of Odia writers are influenced by Jagadish Mohanty language theme and Style. The Beast is of his selective stories. This story has been translated by Mr. Karunakar Mohapatra.Hope readers will enjoy it. )                                                         

                                    The   Beast                                               Jagadish Mohanty

Dear Readers, a helpless lamentation of a soundless distress is hidden in this story. Be interested. Advance slowly towards the story. Throw away the words, take away ornaments of poetry. Scratch away the thin layer of words, dig deep and uproot to reach the depth. Blow away the similes and metaphors. Then you will see a helpless distress lying supine, without a covering. That is our goal.

Come, it will take you to an unfamiliar world where your politics and election, hunger and exploitation do not exist. There is no love, no attachment, nor tears nor taste of a kiss. Yet all these are there – in different forms and different taste. There you will meet raw nature in every atom, every molecule. You will meet the whole universe. It will take you beyond millions of light years to another universe.

Many think of him as uneducated and uncultured. Without any experience and sensibility. An inert piece of clods – Jada Bharat. He has no politics, no sense of discrimination between good and bad. He does not know love and affection, has no attachment to anything. He has not benefited by dish antenna, nor does he understand the language of star T.V. So he does not know what love is. From time immemorial he is not even a man for the Odia readers of stories. He is animal of flesh and blood, of arteries and veins, of bones and bone marrows, of hairs on skin and head, of nails and teeth, of eyes and ears and a nose. He has only a stomach, no brain. Such ideas are wrapped round him that his real appearance is not visible to Odia readers.

Yet, beneath all these layers is hidden his real character; like Valmiki, like Ratnakara, merciless in killing, soft in death, cool in judgment, hot in love. Come he will take you to such a man. Come he is sitting on the bond of the pond. The chameleon has appeared by shaking its head thrice. The forgetful dragonfly will be dragged away to its depth by the tongue of the frog. Come, come quickly.

Where lies hidden so much of hunger? Only hunger makes him restless. He had eaten a few date palm fruits – mixed with sand, more skin and seed than kernel. Had eaten three guavas – no not three, only two and half because a part of it was shared by a bat. Before he could eat another, an urchin saw him and shouted. That urchin was as faithful as Hanuman. While eating guava, did he not remember his hungry son or his starving wife or his old mother suffering from an unknown disease? No, not at all. It is not that all human sensibility was wasted away. It is not that when he takes his son on his lap, he does not feel any attachment. It is not that philosophers have made him tired and exhausted by throwing him like a tennis ball between existentialism and socialism. For what pleasure a self-banished man goes to the forest, picks up a rifle and lets blood flow from a heart? A status quoits becomes a terrorist? Discarding Lenin’s garment people take up Gorboyechov’s or Yelstin’s?

For his wife he has only raw passion of midnight. It is not that he does not turn to God and pray to be spared this dreadful fate, when he is carrying your mother to the cremation ground. But he cannot assuage his hunger. And this is also true that in this world there is no adulterated truth.
There he is, sitting hidden on the bond of the pond. The minister will come to the college. To erect a pandal he was requested to contribute his labour by some students of the college, by lecturers and by some gentlemen of the village. He had made up his mind not to go. He does not at all feel inclined to work neither free labour nor bonded labour at the village headman’s, nor even paid work in the field. He does not like to muck around in the watery mud, nor among paddy plants, insects and grass and creepers. Rather he likes to sit on the bond between fields and watch the struggles of life – how the bonds are being washed away by the current, how helpless are the insects during a storm or how a shoal of small fish against all odds marching in procession to declare their victory.

Come, come to him. Tear away the skin from his bare chest. See how he has kept himself imprisoned in the chamber of bones, with windows closed and screened. Is he sweating profusely? Is he feeling suffocated? Wait a second. Once you get acclimatized to the darkness everything will be visible. So clear in the mirror instead of your face will appear. Come, jump into the chamber of his heart.

Very irritating and very horrifying is the dream. A tiger is waiting in the courtyard. They are all behind closed doors, low thatched roof. They are four of them, very uncomfortable in the smoke and spider webs. The old mother is almost unconscious, covered with rags she is whimpering on the floor. He was trying to see the tiger through the chinks in the door of bamboo splints. Surunani and her son dragged him away. The tiger probably yawned, wagged its tail and growled loudly.

The same dream recurred through out the night. Surunani had stolen a fistful of rice from village headman’s house. Not enough for the old mother and the child. His share was watery gruel. Surunani had nothing but water. How can she assuage her hunger only by water? He saw only darkness in the bowl of watery gruel and the tiger in the dream throughout the night.

The man handed him a cup of tea and dragged him away from his dream. Take a cup of tea my Goodman. Do you know what the real problem is? The time is bad. Formerly a k.g of rice used to cost just Re.1. But now it is seven to eight rupees. So you see how difficult it is to manage. Then again, if it is the truckers on strike today, tomorrow Bharat Bandh. If today the terrorists created mayhem, tomorrow it is the Hindu-Muslim riot. Is the Malika wrong? Everybody will be equal, no differentiation among castes.

It is not in the Malika but in the Bhagabat. But he did not feel like correcting the man. He yawned. The sole of his feet is torn. Difficult to walk. A pair of sandals made up of truck tyre will do good. How much it will cost. He looked at the man’s pocket. Why is he not bringing out the money? There is a bunch of papers in his pocket. He is wearing a dirty long shirt. The Dhoti is equally dirty, sponge chappal on his feet, spectacle on his nose. He has probably not shaved for seven or eight days. A small garland of Rudraksha around his neck. A cigarette between his fingers. How much the man will pay?

In these times, a man needs atleast a thousand rupees per month to eat enough and live comfortably. Am I right? Besides, you need clothes, you need to spend on doctors. Isn’t it so? So it will not be less than a thousand rupees.

When this scene is being enacted, Surunani will sing a prayer in Sanskrit and the children will repeat after her.

He became a bit worried. Won’t the man pay? He should say something. He did not feel like talking. Yet he spoke because if he keeps silent, he may lose in the bargain. He said, “You say rupees one thousand? He will have to work hard. You see at the rate of twenty-five rupees for eight hours daily, it comes to rupees seven hundred fifty per month. Then again the child will stay there for twenty-four hours. For twenty four hours a day should not he get rupees two thousand per month?”

The man now looked straight at him. Probably, he thought this man was not as foolish and simple minded as he looked. He smiled and said, “Is anyone made to work for twenty four hours? He will work in a hotel or in some household. How much work will be there you tell me. If it is a hotel, he will work for ten or twelve hours at the most. He will also get his food free. Fish curry, Aloo Chop, Badaa and many other things. Can we eat such things in our house everyday?”

“ A thousand rupees is a lot of money, my good man.”

“ I have to handle his mother. Let me go and tell her. If she knows, will she allow him to go?”

The man smiled crookedly and said, “Don’t you know women folk are like that. For a day or two she will weep. Then everything will be alright. She will make a compromise with herself”.
“It will not be less than a thousand”.
“A thousand rupees will be costly for me, my man. Do you think this is a business for me? Do you think I shall get a commission out of it? No, nothing. This is service for me. You can even say service of the country. Your child will work in a hotel in Raipur. In the beginning, he will wash plates. But gradually, within a few years he will become a cook. Then his demand will go up. Then one day he will open his own hotel. What shall I get out of it? Tell me”.

Is not it pleasant to dream? Dream. His son has opened a hotel and named it: Adarsh Hindu Hotel. He saw a hotel in his imagination. Chares, tables and even a counter. He even pasted some coloured blow ups of glamorous film actresses. He even imagined the cook and the hotel boys and washing boys. But at that instant the tiger of his dream too appeared. The tiger yawned. Its whiskers, its stripped body, its round eyes, its huge mouth and sharp teeth and tongue. He suppressed all his dreams and said, “It will be not less than a thousand rupees. Do not force me, Sir”.

The man kept quiet for some time. Then said, “Shall I tell you what I think? I cannot pay more than five hundred. Then it is up to you”.

“I cannot send him for five hundred. You see, a great goat will cost you five hundred. It is a human child”.

The man now whispered, “Quiet, quiet. What do you think of me? I am kidnapping your child? Do you want to send me to jail? See, my man, your child and goat are not the same. What sort of a father are you? People buy goat to make sacrifice of it. I will take your child to make man of him. A very big man. How can you compare your son with a goat?”

“Make it rupees seven hundred fifty. I need the money. This year I have to buy roof tiles. Nothing less than seven hundred fifty”.

“No, no. More than five hundred is not possible on my part. See, it is up to you”.

The man got up, paid for the tea and said, “I am going. I have to go Lakhanpur”. Saying this he brought out his cycle and put his foot on the pedal, when the man called him, “Sir, wait a bit”.

The man put his cycle on the stand and entering the hotel put his hand on the mqan’s shoulder.

“I fear for the worst”.

“Why fear? Are not people going daily to distant places for such work? Will your child die of hunger in the town?”

“Who will look after him if he falls ill? Who will bother if he ate or did not?”

“He will stay in a gentleman’s house. Won’t he get enough to eat? Does he eat delicacies in your house? He will surely get watered rice”.

Surunani remained quiet for some time. Eyes brimming with tears. Her hair was not oiled, nor combed. She was sitting with her head between her knees. Without lifting her head she said, “I won’t give up my child”.

He was surprised at the intensity in Sueunani’s voice. He could not find words to say anything. What shall he say? How can he explain the situation? Suddenly a pure lie rusted out of his mouth. No, his voice was not grinner even for once. He was not perturbed at all. Said in a steady voice, “Now the school has driven him away. The man has said that when he goes there the gentleman will get him admitted in a school again”.

Surunani became a little bit soft perhaps. She got lost in her dream. Her son is going to school in uniform. She is waving to him. How pedestrian is the dream! Yet how impossible for her. Why, she does not know. Inspite of all her desire to get her son educated in the school it has not been possible. It is a matter of great surprise for her.

In the middle of this rumination the tiger growls. He can see the tiger clearly in the dark. Its eyes are burning like Phorperous and he feels the harsh rough tongue of the tiger licking his hand. Very uncomfortable. The tiger comes forward and sits before him. His old mother’s dead body lies near. He tells the tiger, “Eat, eat my mother’s flesh. There are big bones inside. Nurtured and strengthened by experience. Come, munch it”.

The tiger sniffs and turns away in disgust. He opens his mouth wide and yawns soundlessly. Now the tiger looks at him closely, comes near, sniffs him and goes to Surunani waving its tail. Licks her feet, tastes the dirt on her feet and comes away. Now the tiger is in their midst inside the room. Like a domesticated animal, such as cats, dogs, goats or donkeys he falls asleep comfortably.

“Where are you?” he asks himself, because it seems to him that he is nowhere. In his life village politics of the Panchayat has no place, nor the corruption of embezzling the college fund. He is not concerned with the latest hot news of the eldest daughter of Mr. Mishra running away with a tribal boy. He is nowhere and in nothing. Even not in his dream. Now the tiger behind him is walking behind him like a faithful dog. He is walking with his son, holding his hand in his. Surunani has bathed their son with a lot of care, after massaging him thoroughly with mustard oil. Combed his hair, dressed him in clean pant and shirt. And wondered if the gentleman would give him a pair of new pant and shirt. Surunani had controlled herself with great difficulty. While feeding him she thought that their child had not yet learnt to eat by himself, how he shall eat in a stranger’s house and tears came to her eyes. Before they came out, Surunani had given the child some parting wisdom: to obey the master of the house, listen to what the mistress says. Won’t play any mischief. Study regularly and do household work.

The child was grave and agreed to everything by nodding his head. The man had thought that the child would cry bitterly. But nothing of that sort happened. The man stopped on the road and said, “My child, I have to tell you something.”
“What is it?”
“I have not told the truth to your mother.”
“What truth?”
“I do not know where you are going. You may get a job in some gentleman’s house, or in some hotel. I am sending you with a man to Raipur.”

The child remained silent for sometime. Then suddenly said, “Are you selling me off?” the man could tell pure lies to his wife. But he could not tell that to the child. His voice quivered. The child’s eye filled up with tears. “Are you selling me because I asked fir food? No father, I won’t ask for food again.” The man could not control his tears. When they came out of the house, Surunani had come running after them, to tell the child that one of his milk-tooth was lose and he should uproot it. Otherwise, he will have ugly double tooth. Now he realized, how intensely she loved the child.

He began to think that he was probably that inhuman as he thought of himself. He felt that same affection and looked at the child. Before the child’s birth Surunani had to wait for eight years. At the time of the ceremony of the child’s long life she used to be upset.

“Every mother will observe the ceremony but I cannot.” She used to lament and made everybody upset. After worshiping many Gods, after many fasting, after many rituals, she got son. At that time inspite of their poverty, she refused to work in the field in the fear of miscarriage. And for that she was scolded by his mother.

Our honourable Govt. selected twenty-two writers to see India, feted them and took them in an aeroplane where beautiful ladies served them cold drinks and foreign chocolates. They were shown from the sky the greenery of India, the India full of mosques and temples from the Himalayas to the southern tip of Kanyakumari. Only they could not see the small black people bent with heavy physical work and their hunger, their tear and their sweat. The writers wrote long essays about their experience. The Govt. spent thirty-five lacs for the project.

The child is still afraid of the dark. Does not go out at night for pee. Still sleeps holding the mother tightly. Surunani gets all worked up when the child returns home after a fight with his friends.

The man became very agitated after hearing the question, “Are you selling me because I asked for food?” His whole heart shivered and he wanted to hold the child tight in his bosom. He can manage without that five hundred rupees. He would go back with the child. His face is naturally child like and without guile. Holding him to his bosom will make his heart light. When he was a baby he loved to sleep with his head on his chest. Won’t the house look empty without the child?

He wanted to return immediately and imagined Surunani becoming very happy of their return. He surreptitiously took hold of the palms of the child. Well, the man may be a broker. He said he was headman of the village Katapalli. He does not know him at all. Will it be right to handover the child to him? Will not the man break his hands and legs and make him beg on the streets of Raipur?

His heart began to shake violently and caught hold of his legs. Should he go back? Yes, he should go back. At this moment he saw the cycle and the rider who came to him and said, “This is the child you were talking about?”

The man seated the child on the back carrier of the cycle and paddled away. When he came he was holding the hand of the child. While returning he was holding five hundred rupees rustling in his hand. The man looked at himself absent-mindedly. He has turned yellow, black stripes here and there. He looked at himself very carefully. No, it is not a dream. He has really become a tiger. Exactly like the tiger of his dreams, a real true tiger.

Exactly like the dream tiger he yawned loudly and sat in the courtyard guarding his mother and wife. He imagined Surunani and his mother had bolted the door from inside and were shivering in fear and shock.

N.B: I have taken the liability to change the title from ‘Tiger’ to ‘Beast’, because I feel that the tiger has lost some of its ferocity, thanks to Animal Planet and National Geographic. It has almost been humanized. However, it remains the tiger in the story.

Friday, April 4, 2014

                           My story series 17

                                     Title: Smoke

Odia Title: Dhuan
Author:  Sarojini Sahoo
Oria to English Translation: Ipsita Sarangi
English Editing: Paul J. McKenna
Words: about 5,900
This story originally written in Odia in 2001.This story  explains something about our Judicial system.

 It seemed as if the whole city had become mad, obsessed with cannabis. No one ate rice anymore, only cannabis.  Anyone coming to this new city carried in their suitcase cannabis instead of clothes and papers.  The person going out of this city also secretly kept some cannabis in his/her suitcase along with his/her basic toiletries and other things.
And that was not all. Instead of growing cabbage, peas, spinach, or flower plants like rose or dahlia in the garden, people grew cannabis instead.  College-going guys took pen and pipe together to college.  While going to the market with vegetables, rice, egg, bread or milk in the morning, vendors would drop by at the Hanuman temple to seek blessings.  A bearded old man distributed prasad of sugar candy from a plate and then from under it, cannabis. 
Maybe women and children had been spared from the impact of cannabis as no woman had ever been arrested...yet.  But a few had been accused of secreting it under their burqas
While investigating a theft, the police would discover the reason; not money or riches, but cannabis.  If there was a murder in the city, the police would claim to the media the cause behind the murder was cannabis and they always were going to crack the racket soon. 
Once, sensational news spread from the marketplace to the nooks and crannies of every house.  Some politician or a reporter falsely spread a rumour that a cannabis plant the height of an average man was in the bungalow of the collector himself.  The police kept calling the bungalow to know the truth. Reporters of dailies and weeklies and television stations, vigilance officers, some tout politicians, and a few NGOs rushed to the spot to verify the incident as well, but all they were able to find was a cement platform instead of cannabis plant.
The matter did not end there.  A rustic reporter came panting on his cycle and reported hemp plant saplings had sprouted on the highway for about two kilometers where there previously had been absolutely nothing but grass. 
All this was a matter for police records and newspapers.   Going through the police records or media reports would never create a good impression of the city.   But a variety of news items about the city were previously published in the newspapers.  For example, police did not only record theft, criminal or looting cases.  They sometimes nabbed an absconding lover and would make him marry the lover from whom he had absconded right on the premises of the police station itself.  The papers also published items like a woman giving birth to three girls at a time or the demand of the farmers before the Chief Minister for the declaration of ‘drought affected areas.’  But no one really knew when and how cannabis had stealthily made its way into this city; it hadn’t been reported. 
Life seemed utterly insecure in the city.  There was ever-present fear -- fear if one had to go to the station to catch a mid-night train, if the patrolling police stopped someone on suspicion, it would be impossible to catch the train; fear to stop by a betel shop for an hour to read newspaper, the police might become suspicious; fear of going to second show cinema; fear of spending more time than normal at a friend’s house.  Fear had made life of the city dwellers intolerable. 
Let us suppose there was no other such city in the world and this one was only a fictitious city.  Let us further suppose in the court of the Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate (SDJM) of this fictitious city, a trial in the matter of a hawker was taking place.  Since the entire city was hazy with the smoke of cannabis, why would the case involve anything else other than cannabis? 
The case could have been settled much earlier if it had not been for a headstrong, obstinate, idealistic, and self-oblivious man by the name of Anurag Kumar.  He was of the village of Hakimpur from the district of Munger in the state of Bihar.  By profession he was a doctor.  His obsession was reading newspapers from their first to last page.  His dislike was a conjugal household.    His belief was good times would someday come.  His sorrow was no one understood him.   And his dreams?  Perhaps he never had any.  Our story is about this Anurag Kumar and how he single-handedly stopped the cogs of justice from proceeding.
As Anurag reached the court, the government lawyer took him into a corner and questioned him, “Do you remember, doctor, what you have to say in court when you testify?  You will say that the hawker was already intoxicated with cannabis when he was brought to the hospital.  Then you can speak all that you know about the injury.” 
Anurag remained silent for a while. He was thinking about the white shirt and the black overcoat the man had put on, like a cover on a book.  He thought the man who had selected such a uniform for the judiciary must have done so with noblest of intentions.  Black symbolized all evils like rape, murder, theft, abduction, cheating, injustice; white symbolized the dazzling truth that had to be elicited from all this.  But this government lawyer perhaps didn’t know anything about this.  He had taken it for granted he would look like a lawyer in a white shirt and black coat and had unhesitatingly been making Anurag’s mouth do his dirty work, much like a ventriloquist.   
Anurag protested, “No. As far as I remember, the man was never intoxicated. Why should I tell a lie?”
“What did you have for lunch yesterday,” questioned the advocate meaningfully.
“Whatever the cook of the Guest House had served.”
“Yes, of course, but what did you eat?”
“But what relation does that have with this case?”  Anurag countered with an obvious annoyance in his voice.  “I don’t remember.”
“That’s it!” The advocate beamed as if he had found the key to his problem.  “I want to say the same thing.  You cannot remember what you had taken for lunch yesterday so how can you remember an incident of a year ago, that you say so emphatically that the man had not taken cannabis?  Whether he took it or not is not the matter if you speak so where is the problem?”  
The two fell into an argument regarding the proposed testimony.  And then, the irritated lawyer said, “Okay, speak whatever you like.” 
When Anurag knew a few days earlier that the hearing date was approaching, he had once again looked through the file of this medico-legal case:
Roadside injury patient; Name: Purna Chandra Mallick; Father’s Name: Maheswar Mallick; Matia Sahi, Adarsh Nagar; Dist: Panagarh; Injury: below the left ear, left-side temple, right-hand wrist; Weapon:  Blunt Weapon, came with the police at 1840.   
Anurag would be happy whenever there was a hearing at the court because it meant he wouldn’t have to sit in the outpatient clinic that day and was free from his routine life.  As it was, there was such a heavy rush of patients in the outpatient in the rainy season, one hardly found time even to go for a cup of tea.  One had to bear the pallid complexion of the patients, their howls in pain, their apprehension of some incurable disease, and strange and hyperbolic description of the symptoms of their disease.  Sometimes Anurag felt amused when patients could not feel or tell where the pain was; whether it was in the feet, or in the knees, or in the belly, or in the chest.  Some female patients came so heavily dressed up Anurag would wonder whether they had come to a hospital or a cinema hall.  From bangles to nail polish, everything would be matching; they would present themselves with deep-coloured lipstick, shampooed hair, and eye makeup.  They spread such a smile as if they were some old acquaintance.  Anurag suspected, though, freedom for these poor ladies was only to this extent! The hospital was such a place, nobody would forbid them from visiting it, and they could enjoy their freedom to the core of their someone else’s expense.
Miss Kuisku, the schizophrenic lady doctor sitting by Anurag mostly dozed off in the chair under the influence of sleeping pills (or possibly cannabis) leaving Anurag to face these beautiful women by himself.  When asked about their problem, one would say sweet pain in the bosom; another would complain of lack of sound sleep at night. 
Pain, after all, was pain but what was this sweet pain about which they spoke?  No such pain is known in medical terminology! Mostly Anurag would refer such patients to his colleague Dr. Purhohit.  But when in the right mood, he would joke with them and then prescribe some Gelusil antacid tablets. 
Each day was the same: jugglery with names of the same medicines like playing with coins on a carom board.  You had to move through Sinarest, Paracetamol, Dysmen, Digene, or Chloroquin.
It appeared Dr. Butia, a quack, was happier than Anurag.  At least, he could provide some solace to people in exchange for their money.  People say his was a very good hand as he could cure all diseases from TB to Cancer.  Some people even went away from Anurag to the quack, Dr. Butia.  But he never felt sorry or humiliated.  His sorrow was somewhere else.  Who cares for MBBS these days?  He wanted to soar higher and higher and therefore read The Times of India in great detail.  He would even underline some of the vital points.  Sometimes he applied to go away to some very distant place.  But in these seven years he had not been able to rise beyond those Chloroquin and Paracetamols.  At least a court hearing gave him his much sought-after freedom from this killing monotony and disgust which he perceived as his job. 
Anurag had already decided on his way back from court, he would stop at the L’Oreal Bar.  It had been a long time since he visited there; the last time was when Paritosh Majumdar had left for Kolkata.  Normally, he always returned straight home from hospital.  And laying on the bed of his bare room, he again read the stale newspapers.  Switching over to different channels on TV, he heard the same news from different anchors.  Sometimes when he visited his neighbours, he either got bored or in turn, he bored them because the concept of happiness and misery for those family people was different. The routine of their lives was altogether different than Anurag’s.  After all, who had the leisure to sit in the drawing room for hours on end and bear such a fellow like Anurag? 
Anurag had also, at some time, tried to set up his household.  He bought utensils, rice, dal, turmeric, and ghee and shelved them in the kitchen.  Of course, he used to take his meals in the guest house, but he had to cook something for the boy. The boy was poor lad who Anarug had taken in to help him with the domestic chores and ease his loneliness.  Anurag really didn’t know how to cook so he would boil rice, dal, and vegetables all together and then pouring some ghee over the mixture, he would keep it for the boy, cautioning him to go to school on time.  Anurag had to go to hospital at eight in the morning and the boy had to be in school by ten.  The only work the boy had to do was sweep the house twice daily but he would often wash clothes for Anurag and buy him betel from a particular shop sometimes twice a day. 
But the boy couldn’t do even this much properly.  At first, Anurag freed him from washing clothes.  He did not know whether the boy swept the house or not and was not bothered about it either. He only wanted the boy to read, at least sit with the books.  But in a few months, the boy had tired of his duties to Anurag and vanished. 
Anurag had searched for the boy for some time but was not able to find him.  Once a police officer came to the hospital regarding a medico-legal case.  In the course of conversation Anurag brought up the subject of the boy.  The police officer was quite an experienced man and questioned Anurag, “Where had you brought the boy from?” 
“Where would I?  Dying of hunger the boy had run away from the Ganjam area to a relative uncle of his.  His uncle couldn’t provide him a square meal.  The cook of the guest house had brought the boy to me.  But there is no work to be done in my house and as such, the boy didn’t know anything.  I got him admitted in the sixth class in a school.”
The police officer then smiled at Anurag and asked, “But didn’t the boy steal anything from you?”
“No. Everything is Okay.  Besides, what is there in my house worth stealing?”
“At least, the boy could get something to eat.  What problem was there that he ran away?  Did you beat him?”
Yes, I had slapped him.  I was furious with him one day. I had come home early, canceling all other programmes to teach him English. I found him listening to his iPod.  When I asked how he was able to get an iPod, I discovered he had been cheating me. You see, I always buy costly betel from Shiva’s shop but he buys me cheaper betel from another shop and keep the rest of money for himself.  And from this money, he was able to buy the iPod.   So instead of reading like I had asked him to, he would listen to his iPod instead.  And he had also cheated me.  I became furious and boxed the boy’s ears heavily but I didn’t know the boy would run away because of this.”
The police officer gave out a laugh at his words and said, “Don’t worry.   He wouldn’t have committed suicide.  Such children do not commit suicide.  That scoundrel would have reached somebody else’s house by now and be playing the same games.  If you lodge an F.I.R. complaint, you’ll be trapped in a child labour case for a long time to come.  Leave it.  Forget all about that.”
That police officer had left a long time ago; now there was someone new and Anurag was not that much acquainted with this new police person.  The incident regarding the hawker had happened during the watch of this new officer.  Anurag had completely forgotten the face of the hawker whom he had treated a year ago until he saw him in court; now he was able to recollect more details as to the appearance of the hawker. 
The government lawyer examined Anurag in front of the judge as to when he had seen this lanky, moderately tall, dark-skinned young man.  Anurag answered he was on emergency duty that day. After the OPD (outpatient clinic) had been closed, the police brought this young man in the evening.
Q      What was the exact time the defendant was brought into the clinic?
A      I don’t remember; maybe about 6:45 p.m.
Q      What did you see?
A      The young man had injuries below his left ear and on the left temple, and his right hand wrist had some scratches.  Someone might have hit him with a stick, not with a knife. The cut was not so deep, after all. 
Q      Did the young man appear intoxicated when he came to the hospital?
A      No, not at all.
Q      But the police record says that he had allegedly taken cannabis.
A      No. To the best of my recollection he was not intoxicated at all.
Q      How do you know that?
A      I am a doctor. Can’t I know if a man is intoxicated or not?
Anurag was a little irritated. He then resumed
A      His behavior was perfectly normal. There was no smell of cannabis either from his mouth or on his hands.  Besides, his eyes were also quite normal.
Q      How can you speak that with so much confidence? Do you have any record about it? 
A      Yes, it may be there in the hospital register.  I don’t have one with me right now.
The lawyer appeared agitated.  He already had apprehensions all his persuasion might be in vain!  Perhaps he did not want to drag the case any further.  Perhaps the hawker would have been proven guilty with Anurag’s statement and his punishment would have been pronounced the same day or within a few days.  But that never happened for the judge adjourned the trial until a later date and ordered Anurag to bring the register at the next hearing. 
While Anurag was looking for a rickshaw outside the court, a middle-aged man came up to him and bowed.  Anurag learnt he was the elder brother of the hawker who was on trial.  He told Anurag he had brought his unemployed, graduate brother from the village to this city to enable him eke out a living.  The older brother even arranged ten thousand rupees for the younger brother to invest in a business.  The hawker purchased a stock of attractive stationary items in Raipur and the younger brother would sell them from door to door.  He could mesmerize the ladies with his pleasing manners and was beginning to earn handsomely.  He said he even had plans to open his own shop in a year or two.
After narrating everything in detail, the elder brother pleaded quite helplessly with Anurag for mercy.  “Please, save my brother, sir.  You can save him if you please.  I am a poor man.  How much do I earn from working in the shop of Mani Seth that I can provide for my family and retain a lawyer as well?”
“Don’t worry.  I’ll see to it,” Anurag consoled him, got into the rickshaw, and sped off.  He had been feeling an acute headache for quite some time now.  The L’oreal Bar passed before his eyes but he didn’t feel a desire to pause there today.  ‘When will that Paritosh Majumdar return from Kolkata anyway?’ he wondered. He had thought of spending the day in luxury, but in fact, nothing of that sort happened; he returned home quietly. 
And a tussle had started in his ignorance since that day.  The police had not taken the case as lightly as Anurag had expected.  An elderly man told Anurag this was nothing.  The police had filed the case capriciously only to meet their target numbers for the month; they had to give explanations to their authority if they could not reach their target goals.   
The police officer sent for Anurag in the evening.  Anurag planned to go for a drink but when the officer contacted him, he put the bottle aside and went to the police station instead.
The officer smiled at him, welcoming him, “Please come in, doctor.  You look too exhausted,” and ordered the peon to bring tea which came almost immediately, as if it had already been prepared.  Then the officer continued, “Please don’t think that I have sent for you in connection with any official matter, doctor.  Mmm.  You cannot imagine how complicated the times are now. I wish to leave this job and go away but cannot because my living depends on it.  Whether day or night, you have always to be alert.  God has given me only two eyes but you have to work with ten.  Yet no one understands our problems.
Just look at our locality.  People say the place was quite peaceful at one time but I have observed many things that go on here secretively, although everything seems placid on the surface.  You will be surprised to know that the whole city has become a haven for cannabis.  It’s not easy to discern one’s motive.  Remember that report in the newspapers a few days ago about the murder of a U.P. school teacher in a cashew plantation?  Do you know the reason?  He was a master marijuana supplier.  I’m telling you about the report of a week ago.  You haven’t seen it perhaps?”
“No, I haven’t. I don’t speak Oriya,” replied Anurag.
“Oh yes, I had forgotten that.  But don’t take that hawker so lightly.  You may be feeling pity at his innocent appearance.  You are too young and therefore have an abundance of emotionality.   Besides young blood, it must be fun to argue with the lawyer.” 
Anurag could not understand whether the police officer was trying to persuade him or was ridiculing him or both.  Too young?  He was now almost thirty-five, already halfway through his life on this earth.
“Oh, your tea is getting cold, doctor.  You should drink it,” the police officer told him in a gentle manner. 
“Sorry, I don’t take tea.”
At that point, both men said nothing more; they both sat silently.  After some time had passed, Anurag got up to leave.  He asked the officer if he had anything more about which to talk.
“No, nothing,” the officer replied.  “Perhaps the next hearing date is the day after.  If you come here, we’ll go together.  What do you say?”
“I’ll try,” Anurag said noncommittally as he exited the room.  He went straight to the Guest House instead of his quarters.  It had been a long time since Paritosh Majumdar went to Kolkata.  When would he return? 
When Anurag was busy with some patients the next day, his supervisor called him into his chamber.  “The GM has sent for you. I know not for what.  Perhaps his driver has come with the jeep or else you can take an ambulance.” 
Anurag thought for a moment; was it an order or a request?  An unpleasant situation involving him had already happened earlier.  It had become a subject of discussion among his staff.  The incident had happened only a month ago.
When he was absorbed among patients one day, the driver of the GM had come and asked him to come along.
“Where?” Anurag questioned.
“Memsaab is ill.  Just see her.”
Without caring for the driver, he continued to examine patient after patient.   The driver became impatient and said, “Please come along now.”
“I cannot leave the OPD now.  Go and tell your Memsaab that if she is ill, she may come here,” Anurag stated.
God knows how much colour the driver had added when he reported this to the GM that he immediately threatened the higher officer.  And the higher officer’s threat to Anurag proved futile.  A stubbornness took over Anurag.  He wanted to rage before his authority and imagined saying, ‘You need promotion, posting in favourable places, need money from training and purchase - so you may fawn him but I need none of these.  I am prepared to go anywhere I am sent.  Am I in luxury here that I may lose elsewhere?  You may not sanction my leave, if you don’t want to.’
But instead, he only wondered why the GM had sent for him again now?  Hadn’t he forgotten the incident?  With such an attitude, Anurag left the crowd of patients.  The patients stared at each other seeing the doctor go away. 
When he came out of the GM’s office, Anurag was frowning.  The GM was an aged man.  His hair had turned white with experience.  He tried to persuade Anurag to change is approach towards the hawker incident and questioned Anurag, “That hawker is no relation of yours.  It should matter nothing to you whether he is punished or not.  Why do you unnecessarily get into this imbroglio?  Think of your career.  What will you get from such childishness?” 
Anurag felt annoyed at this suggestion but tried to control his emotions as he began to speak.  “Everything can’t be assessed in terms of gain or loss, sir.  Besides, that hawker is not an industry that his life should be looked upon with a concern for gain or loss.  Will it be all right if all of us turn traders?” 
“That’s not the point.”  The tone of the GM was getting harsh.  But what was it in the attitude of Anurag which made GM soften in his tone when his eyes met Anurag’s? 
“Look, it isn’t not wise to upset a crocodile while residing in the same water.  We always have to deal with the police.  There are several problems in the company at different times.  If we do not cooperate with the police today, they will not help us in our times of need.  The SP (Superintendent of Police) has telephoned today.  I have almost assured him…”  Then the GM gave a few instances from his experience to show that one gets crushed to pieces like glass unless one adopts himself to changing circumstances.   
Anurag could not understand why so many people were so much worried about such trivial a matter, as if the hawker was an Abhimanyu1 besieged by a hostile army and had no way to escape! 
Anurag attended court for the next the hearing.  He had borne these past days in much pain.  He could not sleep; could not reach the Guest House in time for his meals.
The most surprising thing was he didn’t betray any emotion at the sight of Nikita.  He showed no signs there had never been anything between them and to Anurag, there hadn’t been.  No sorrow, no regret; neither hatred nor love.  Nothing.  Nikita spoke of happiness now.  She had come with her husband.  As she caught sight of Anurag, she bowed.  Does a beloved bow to her lover?  Did he love her?  The girl used to visit his house with a variety of food items for him; they were neighbors.  People thought there was something going on between the two.  But Nikita was a Brahmin and he was a Harijan.  He himself did not know if he had any love for the girl.  Paritosh Majumdar had once smiled very mysteriously and asked, “How is it going?”  People would make up foul stories about them and gossip.  At one point, Anurag noticed a big lock hanging on her door.  It remained locked for almost fifteen days.  And when the house opened, he learnt the girl had already married a computer engineer working in the Middle East.  Then, he had felt an empty space in his bosom.  Sometimes it grew and then diminished.  And one day, he felt it no more.  Was this empty space he felt love? 
Many thought Anurag lived a haphazard life only because he had been jilted in love.  He considered everything in an eccentric manner; never practical.  And perhaps he did not marry because of this.  Waiting for him, his younger brother got married in the end.
And this Nikita, who people believe had inflicted an insufferably deep wound on Anurag, now asked him, “I heard, you have been trapped in some complication?   Papa was mentioning it to Joshi Uncle.” 
Anurag only smiled in reply.  He had, then, become such a marked personality in the meantime.  Then he thought, ‘why didn’t anyone think about that man who had borrowed money for the business of his brother?  And that young man’s dream of rising to become an industrialist from a hawker?’
The Government lawyer looked beaming in the court as if he had traced out a service error in the register.  The proper document having been produced, the exam continued.
Q      Please tell me one thing doctor. How come that the name, address, age and sex of this particular person has been recorded in the register when no such details about any other patient is mentioned?
A      Normally, detailed information about patients coming to OPD is not mentioned in the register.  But since this is a medico–legal case, the information had to be recorded.
Q      But there are two different handwritings in the register?  The names of all other patients are in one handwriting but the particulars of this man, it is clear, have been written by another, isn’t that true?
A      I’ve said from the beginning that the case was brought after OPD had closed for the day.  So someone else might have written it at that time.
Q      But is there any proof that you haven’t written it?
A      What a strange thing! Would I be benefited by doing so?
Anurag was quite irritated at this point.
Q      That you only would know.  But there are two different handwritings in the register.  You cannot refute that, is that correct?
A      There are two clerks who handle OPD records.  They would be in a better position to testify about that. 
The case remained unresolved that day.  Anurag was in a quandary as to what to do.  Life now seemed embarrassing to Anurag.  He had never been to a court earlier in matters relating to his paternal property, or any youthful hassle, or for any personal reason.  But he had now been so entrapped in a maze out of which he could not find his way.  He was very tired and thought of returning home and sleeping the whole night undisturbed.  But when he arrived, he saw the motorcycle of Paritosh Majumdar in front of his house.  A surge of delight ran through his spine.  Had Paritosh actually returned from Kolkata?  Paritosh did not ask him anything about Anurag’s day.  Instead, he just kick-started the motorcycle, Anurag hopped on, and they vanished. 
By the time of the next court hearing, Anurag had learnt the rest of the story from the OPD clerks.  The clerk who had mentioned the particulars about the hawker in the register had become so entangled in the interrogation by the lawyer that he had no other way than to succumb to defeat.
An excerpt of the exam went like this: 
Q     Is this different handwriting yours?”
A     Yes.
Q     Then you had not left the OPD even after it was closed?
A     No. I just reached there at that time.
Q       Where were you the whole day? Why isn’t the name of any other patient of that day written in your handwriting?
Q      Where were you the whole day?
A      I was on leave that day. 
Q      You say that you were on leave. But how did you work when you were on leave?
A      As I was ill, I had come in the evening to take an injection and that case was brought in at that time.  Since the other clerk had already left, someone asked me to write his particulars in the register. 
How could the clerk answer anymore?  The lawyer convinced the judge the particulars had been written in later deliberately to save the hawker.  He also convinced the judge not only the hawker but many other people might be involved in this business of marijuana. 
Anurag’s turn came the day after the examination of the clerk.  As soon as Anurag reached court, the lawyer took him to a corner and tried to persuade him. “Why are you so obstinate, doctor?   This is surely not the only case in your life.  Hundreds of cases have come and hundreds more will come too.   Who will you fight for?   If the police want the hawker punished, he should be punished.  They have to make their numbers you know.  Do you know you’re a person of interest now too?  At any moment, the police may build a case against you, implicating you in the trading of cannabis because you didn’t help them out.  What will you do then?  What will happen to your career and life?  You should think about it.” 
Anurag thought about this and as he approached the witness box, he felt that all this was all so meaningless; all the chatter, all the questions, all the process, all the production.  Any hope of justice had been lost in the rush of dates and his efforts to do right and good were totally worthless.  A book wrapped in a piece of red cloth was put before him.  He did not know whether there was The Gita beneath the piece of cloth or not.  Still he took an oath, without believing, to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  But the oath was now meaningless.  Everything seemed meaningless to him – The Gita, his oath, and the farce of searching for the truth, whatever that was. 
‘Why have we really come here, my lord?’ he wanted to speak aloud but words would not come out.  He continued his inner testimony only he was the prosecutor asking questions of himself.  ‘Why such a farce with life, society and civilization?  We are all in a jungle, my lord, from the beginning of the Universe till our doom.  From the first day of sunrise to the last sunset, we are all in the darkness of the jungle.  Where is the light, My Lord?’
He remained on the stand, deep in his own examination and oblivious to the world around him.  He wanted to speak but could not.  Then he cast a look at the accused man sitting at the defendant’s table.  He continued his inner questioning: ‘Was this the same man the police had arrested a year ago?  Whom had the police really brought then?  Did anything really happen a year ago?’  Suddenly, he began to mistrust himself.  How is his memory getting so weak now?  What was happening to him? 
It seemed to Anurag the entire place around him had been suffused with smoke, smoke of sweet fragrance.  Suddenly he recognized the fragrance.  He was remotely familiar with this sweet fragrance.  It had once been a part of his earlier life.  It all came back now as did the effects.  But where did so much smoke come from now not of incense, but of a different fragrance?  “What is the name of this fragrance, My Lord?” he asked aloud. 
A misty figure emerged out of the smoke and asked him humbly: “Your name?  Your father’s name?  Your occupation?”  But no words came out of Anurag.  The smoke suffocated him!  He tried to speak but coughed instead and his throat burned.  The examination continued.
Q      Do you recognize the man at defendant’s table? (Smoke was spreading everywhere around.  Where was the lawyer?  Where was the accused? Where was the judge? Where was Paritosh? Why wasn’t Paritosh here?)
Words this time emanated from his throat but with much difficulty.
A      I can’t recall anything, my lord.  So many people come to the hospital.  Can one really remember what happened a year ago let alone last week? 
The entire room had been suffused with smoke; smoke of a pleasant fragrance.  Emerging out of that smoke someone patted his back and said, “Bravo! Well said, Anurag.   You’ve done your civic duty!”
At that point, Anurag awoke to find Paritosh standing beside him with his hand on Anurag’s back.  Paritosh was always beside him, always there for him.  “Let’s go to the pub, Paritosh,” Anurag suggested.  “I need to clear my head.”  And the two of them got on Paritosh’s motorcycle and sped away. 
1Abhimanyu: Son of Subhadra and Arjuna, deceitfully killed by Kaurava warriors in the Mahabharat war.
#     #     #     #