A short story
*Consecutive Serial: How Much to Say?
Original in Kashmiri 'silsilûvàr- kyà kyà vanû? - *M.K.Raina
Translation: T.N.Dhar 'Kundan'
t was the onset of the spring. New leaves had sprouted forth on the tree branches and some trees were full of blossom. I had got ready rather early in the morning at about eight and was enjoying refreshing sip of the morning tea in the lawns outside my quarters. I thought that simultaneously with the cup of tea I better go through the official papers once again. I ran through the pages and committed to memory some important points. There is an adage that one should never go behind a horse and never pass in front of one’s officer. The horse strikes from behind and the officer begins scolding once he sees you before him. If there is nothing to scold for still he will assign you some task or the other. Today I was not to go in front of just one officer but I had also to meet the Chief itself. God alone knows which lapse he will point out and which one he will ignore. I was, therefore, preparing replies for every possible query of his. After all it is the junior most who has to bear the brunt in the end.
The problem was that there was a breakdown in the electric supply because of a fault in the turbine at Charivan. In spite of their best efforts the local engineering staff could not locate the fault. So an expert engineer had been called in from outside. He put up a plan to rectify the fault in the turbine. The plan had been sent to the Chief Engineer for approval. But he would not approve it without a thorough examination of the ground realities. He decided to visit the site at Charivan in order to assess the damage. After waiting for four days the Chief was expected to visit that day. His programme was to reach around nine. His first halt would be at Divisional Office at Tharigund where he would meet local officers on a cup of tea. Thereafter all would proceed to Charivan. There he will examine the situation and discuss the matter with the guest Engineer Mr. Tiwari. Then they were to return to Thargund where lunch was arranged for them. After the lunch there would be a session of discussions and mutual consultations.
The Chief arrived at Thargund at eleven. The Executive Engineer Magray along with Assistant Engineers Jalla and Tariq were waiting for him on the roadside itself. Mr. Tiwari also was with them. There was an exchange of pleasantries followed by tea and thereafter all started for Charivan. Since I happened to be the technical Assistant to Mr. Magray, I was also required to accompany the team. There was a cavalcade of jeeps following the car of the Chief Engineer. I also boarded one of them. It was twelve noon by the time the cavalcade reached Charivan. Pran Nath, the Junior Engineer and his Works Supervisors, Jamal Din and Gafar Dar were waiting there since morning without having anything to eat.
It was the first visit of the Chief to this area. Alighting from the jeep, he made a quick survey of the place. The powerhouse was situated down below near the river belt. Although the road up to that was tarred yet he thought it better to foot the distance. He addressed Magray and said, ‘what a sight to see! All around there is a thick forest, fresh air and clean water. You cannot get such a place in the city. If one walks a mile every morning here, he will add a pound of flesh to his health. You could say that this is God’s gift to us.’ Magray could not agree more. He nodded his head in affirmative although the fact was that he had visited this place only twice during the past three years and only once up to the powerhouse. That too he had travelled by jeep. We also supported his remarks and began walking briskly as if we were used to walking throughout our lives. All the rest were obliged to follow suit.
Hardly had we traversed half a mile when the Chief spotted something. A branch of a tree had fallen and he was watching that intensely. We all turned our eyes in that very direction but could observe nothing special. By then the chief was very near to the branch of the tree. All the officers and subordinates were just following him. I almost ran after them lest I should miss what they get. All the persons surrounded the Chief. I pushed Mr. Tariq a little and he made way for me. The Chief was looking intensely towards a leaf. We closed our ranks and saw that there were two fat caterpillars on a big leaf. One of them was green in colour and the other resembled a bright mulberry. Both were shining in the brightness of the Sun. The Chief almost shouted ‘Caterpillar’ and looked towards Magray. He in turn shook his head in such a way as if somebody had left some treasure on the ground there and the Chief had spotted it. With a smile Magray looked towards Jala Sahib, who was himself ready for the act. He too shook his head as if appreciating the sharp sight of the Chief. In the meantime every one of us stepped forward and had a glimpse of the caterpillar. Everyone looked to the chief with thankful eyes. I thought may be all of them get promoted and I only remain behind. I mustered courage enough to ask Mr. Magray in a loud voice, ‘Sir! Who was the first to spot these caterpillars?’ Magray tried to exhibit his elation and indicated towards the Chief who was still engrossed looking at these insects from all sides and declared, ‘The Chief and who else.’ I moved nearer to the Chief and remarked, ‘Sir, They are so colourful that one would like to put them in one’s heart.’ He raised his head, looked to me and said, ‘may I have your introduction?’ I was shaken to think that it might have been out of place for me to speak out of turn. I replied politely, ‘Sir, I am the Technical P.A. to Mr. Magray.’ He stood up and I was afraid he might not slap me. I withdrew a step or two. Rest of those present were bewildered. Chief held me by my hand and said, ‘will you please ask some one to fetch me my camera?’ I was elated. By asking me to do something for him the Chief had shown some nearness to me, which added to my prestige. I turned back and told him, ‘Sir, I shall go and get it myself.’ Magray looked to me with a queer look and whispered, ‘you need not go yourself, send Jamal.’ It was clear by his looks that this he spoke not out of any sympathy with me but he never wanted that I should develop any proximity to the Chief. I was sad and said to Jamal Din, ‘Go and get the camera from the jeep of the Chief.’ He rushed fast. The Chief was now standing in deep thought. All other officers pretended as if they too were in deep thought. No body knew what the other was thinking about. This state of affairs lasted nearly twenty minutes. Jamal was nowhere to be seen. Chief looked to his watch. It was about one O’clock. He addressed Mr. Magray thus, ‘we better go to the site in the meantime. It should not take us long there.’ Magray looked to Jalla Sahib who said, ‘Sir! It will take us hardly half an hour.’ All present proceeded to the Powerhouse led by the Chief and Mr. Magray. The Chief was still looking behind occasionally to see whether the caterpillars are still in position. Magray said to Gafar Dar, ‘you better wait here. Jamal Din will bring the camera. You bring him along.’ There was a park near the Powerhouse. The Chief took a fancy for it perhaps. He said, ‘what have we to do at the Powerhouse. Let us have some chairs and sit here itself.’ The order was executed. The Chief, Magray, Jalla and Tiwary all sat in chairs. The rest kept on standing. the local staff served tea and biscuits. Magray began writing something in his diary. Sipping the tea the chief looked towards Tiwary. He immediately took out his drawing and placed it before him.
There was a major fault in the turbine of the Powerhouse. This was Tiwary’s finding. The Chief glanced through the drawing. Tiwary was required to give the reasons for the fault and the proposed plan for its rectification. Mr. Jalla hinted to him and he started his statement. But the Chief was in no mood. He was perhaps still engrossed with the caterpillars. He told Magray, ‘Can’t we take it up later; what have we to do after the lunch?’ Magray indicated to Tiwary that this discussion can be had after meals. Presently Jamal Din was there with the camera. The Chief lost his temper. He shouted at Jamal, ‘You have taken so long to fetch the camera. What is your name?’ Jamal blushed. He was speechless. Magray asked, ‘why don’t you reply? Where were you so long?’ Jamal replied, ‘Sir, the vehicle was not there. The driver had gone to upper village to take tea and had taken the vehicle with him. I was waiting for him.’ Both the Chief and Magray had no reply to this revelation. Chief held the camera in his hand and told Magray, ‘let us move.’ Magray asked, ‘Sir, what about having a look at the turbine?’ The Chief replied, ‘what use is it to examine the turbine? You must have already seen it.’ Magray shook his head in affirmative although after it broke down, he had not seen it even once.
The Chief walked briskly and the rest followed him. Since it was an ascent everyone was out of breath. After sometime the group reached the spot where there were caterpillars on the branch of a tree. Alas! the branch was there but no insects. The Chief was looking here and there. Magray was behind him. Magray asked Jalla to look on one side. Jalla was looking on one side and Tariq on the other. With bated breath I was waiting for the Chief to issue some other orders for me but that was not to happen. I too began looking on all sides, less to locate the caterpillars and more to impress the boss. I was sure that every one else was indulging in the same game.
Suddenly I looked towards the Chief, his face was death-pale. I mustered courage enough to go near him. With a begging countenance I told him, ‘Sir, what were you going to do with these caterpillars?’ His face turned red. He hung his camera on his shoulder and then replied, ‘what do you think, had I to take them home?’ I was non-plus as I lost my face in presence of all these persons. Magray looked so fierce as if he was going to eat me up. Jalla Sahib spoke something inaudibly. Perhaps he was saying why the hell I should have opened my mouth. I concluded that whatever the Chief may say or do at least these officers are not going to spare me. I implored, ‘Sir, I did not mean that.’ The chief cut me short by saying, ‘Hell with this turbine which took our time. The caterpillars were here all right. God knows in a moment where these eloped.’ The chief blamed the turbine as if he had spent days locating its fault. However, his statement gave me some courage. I could see that he was not annoyed with me at all. Had he been angry, he would scold me. I told him, ‘Sir, if you so please I will find some other caterpillar tomorrow and take a snap of his. A lot of them are seen here scattered and I have a camera too.’ Factually I did not possess a camera at all but I said this with a purpose so that he does not think me to be a pauper. I thought should there be a need I could anytime borrow one from a friend. Even Magray has one. I could ask him to spare it for me. He will not refuse. After all it is not to oblige me but the Chief. He was still sad but my words gave him some solace, I thought. He placed his hand on my shoulder. I was elated. I looked towards Jalla and Tariq rather in a queer way. I exhibited to them that I had become special to the Chief. He asked my name, which I told him and then he said, ‘Manzoor studies zoology and I had to take this photograph for him only.’ Then he addressed Magray, ‘wherever I go I carry my camera with me so that should I come across some rare species of insects or animals I can take a snap. These photographs are very useful to Manzoor.’ I could figure out that Manzoor must be his son. Magray shook his head in appreciation and said, ‘Sir, He is not an ordinary boy. He is very studious. Which class he is in?’ The Chief was somewhat tense. He looked around and then replied him, ‘He is in the final year. But how do you know him?’ Magray was at his wit’s end. He had never seen the boy. He actually wanted to flatter the Chief. Now that he had made a statement he was obliged to reply. ‘Sir, I have seen him in some party accompanying you. Most probably last year at the marriage of Commissioner’s son.’ The Chief was not convinced. He said, ‘No, no, how could that be. It is now two years that he is in America.’ Magray was pale with embarrassment in our presence. He put up a stone face and said, ‘In that case I must be having some misunderstanding.’ The Chief did not respond. He was still looking around to spot the caterpillars. After a while Magray told him, ‘let us move now lest the food gets cold.’ The Chief looked in his watch. It was about to strike four. He said, ‘yes, let us move fast. The discussion also will take some time.’
Magray had arranged choicest dishes for the Chief. There was special ‘Wazawan’ for him. Expenditure was doubled and it was sure to be shown redoubled in the accounts. This expenditure would be booked to some head of account for which the Chief would unquestionably give his sanction. He was very satisfied with the tasteful meals. The remaining officers and the staff too enjoyed the food. After the food a special Kehwa was served. Now the time was six in the afternoon.
The Chief looked to his watch and addressed Magray, ‘I think it is late now. Have you seen my driver? God knows whether he has eaten something. Tell him we are going to leave now.’ Magray replied, ‘Yes Sir, he had his food. Here Mr. Tiwary is waiting. Would you not like to talk to him? The Chief did not like the idea. He said non-challantly, ‘Why should we break our heads in discussing things with him. Let him do as he likes. His proposals will not be wrong.’ Tiwary was in a corner engrossed in writing something.
The Chief proceeded towards the city. I told Mr. Magray, ‘the day passed off well. May be the Chief has seen nothing but he did give his approval to the work. What else did we want?’ Magray agreed. He addressed Jalla Sahib, ‘Hell with these caterpillars. They came from out of nothingness. Otherwise I had to seek approval to some more items of expenditure. That remained pending. Let me share a secret with you. The camera belongs to the department. I thought he has brought it to take our photograph with the turbine at the background. He is using it to snap insects. Now what can one say?’
After the Chief left, Mr. Tiwary came forward. He was still holding the drawing of the turbine in his hands. Magray told him that there was no need for any discussion and the work could proceed as per his drawings. Tiwary was lost. He could not understand how the plans were approved without having a look at the drawings? He would sometimes look to Mr. Magray and sometimes to his drawings. It was no different from mine. I too was looking to his face sometimes and sometimes to my file, which I had no occasion to open even once during the whole period. Thanks to the caterpillars, which vanished as dramatically as they had appeared.
*M.K.Raina (MKR) is a civil engineer by profession and has been inclined to write short stories and poetry in Kashmiri since his college days. He is also fascinated by Kashmiri literature especially old classics, which he is trying to rew-write in Devanagari-Kashmiri for the net. In addition to his own works, MKR has put a plethora of Kashmiri literature of other authors on net (www.mkraina.com) after re-writing it in Devanagari-Kashmiri. MKR's self-authored and published material include 'Basic Reader for Kashmiri Language', 'tsok modur' - a collection of 6 short stories in Kashmiri, 'kenh non, kenh son' - a collection of 5 short stories in Kashmiri, and 'Pentachord' - a collection of 5 short stories in English. He has co-authored Information Digest Series of Project Zaan and has also developed a Work Book for reading & writing Kashmiri in Devanagari script.
MKR was till recently editor of 'aalav' published from Bangalore and 'Milchar' published from Mumbai. He is currently the editor of monthly 'här-van', the net-journal of Project Zaan. MKR was instrumental in development of Akruti-Kashmiri-Arinimal software for writing Kashmiri in Standardised Devanagari Script in association with Cyberscape Multimedia Ltd. MKR hails from Chhattabal, Srinagar, Kashmir. Post-exodus, he is settled in Mumbai.
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I thoroughly enjoyed this story, which seems much more to be an anecdote. Very interesting and made even more interesting by the writer's delivery. Thanks
Added By ARun Koul
a scathing satire on the way our public utility departments function - the cringing subordinates, the unscrupolous bosses, the misappropriation and corruption, the dereliction of duty - we have it all here in a racy narrative.
Added By K L Chowdhury