Friday, October 05, 2007

Janki and Mansoor (Chapter 5)

(Suryakanth Tripathi)

When I went to Mr Agrawal's house the first time, the pretext was Satyanarayan Pooja. But I am a policeman and I take nothing at face value. It was true back then and it is true now. The twenty years have helped me to get better view of faces behind masks and masks behind faces. So when I accepted the invitation, I expected at least a thousand or two as "gift".

I was twenty-six then, and had been married for a year. My lugai, I mean wife, was lodged in Barabanki with my parents and three younger sisters. We had a small piece of land, and my father toiled on it for the fun of it. You see, unlike rest of the village, he wanted the land to grow wheat. How can you grow wheat on a land that is fit for weed? By weed I mean the Weed that sells like gold, ounce by ounce. The Weed could feed more people from one crop, one small holding of land, than the whole twenty years of my childhood wheat was able to.

I don't blame the man. He was an ex-armyman turned into a school teacher. Imagine my childhood: tyranny of school teachers combined with discipline of an armyman! When he was away, his father, my toothless grandpa, ruled with a nicely oiled lathi, a walking stick that was a constant enemy of my bones. When father returned, the walking stick battering was replaced by spanking by his footwear. The Rexona bathroom slippers, made from soft rubber, were considered unacceptable by him. My father's logic was a little cuckoo, I think. He used these leather chappals (floaters for you loafers who don't know colloquial Hindi) with soles made of discarded tire rubber. I loved the beating, for it always inspired my mother to cook delicacies for all of us. Ma was not allowed to speak in front of grandpa or my father, and her only weapon to encourage war or truce was her food.

Talking of my father; he was just idealist who grew up believing that India will turn into a land that Mahatma Gandhi aspired and toiled for. Such was his deception, that like many other in my nation, for decades they voted for Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, thinking somehow they were related to Gandhiji. Nehru's daughter and grandson, and yet related to Gandhi. "Only a Gandhi could realize the Gandhi's dream" was their logic. It was only when few of villagers were forced into getting their "manhood out", or "nasbandi" or vasectomy done, that they started investigating Sanjay and Indira Gandhi's claim to their votes and the Gandhi connection. To their horror, they found that the real grandsons were elsewhere. To their horror, they discovered that their decades of voting was siphoned to the wrong family. But Indira's timely death allowed her son Rajiv to come to power. I always blamed the Indira-Nehru-Rajiv-Sonia for taking away the sheen of Mahatma Gandhi. My father, the idealist, always blamed me in stead. I always wanted to tell him, that he thinks too highly of me, but the sound of approaching leather chappals always quietened my tongue.

I guess I did learn a few things from my father and grandfather, and one of them was watch your back. They had served in army, fought Pakistanis and survived many a battles. The key, my grandpa, would tell me was to stay out of the direct line of fire. "There is a little difference between foolhardiness and bravery. Bravery lies in triumphing over the enemy in spite of your shortcomings. Foolhardiness lies in standing up when someone has just loaded a gun, and wants a body for a target. Cover your tracks. Have a back-up escape route. Always keep your seniors happy, and obey them, at least make them believe that you are sticking to their orders." Anyway, their long drawn lectures bored me as much as the few lectures I attended at the Lucknow University did. I got a Bachelor in Arts in Hindi Literature. Like everyone, I suspended my idealism, and bought exam papers in advance. Each paper was available for hundred bucks, and being a teacher's son, I had a knack for memorizing the right information. So I passed my degree with distinction.

I worked quite hard for the Allied Services and State Services examinations. I am not the brightest, but I guess I was one of the few in Uttar Pradesh who actually knew what they had studied in school. See if you can pass year after year through cheating, copying from the books as the teachers look elsewhere while you do so, and if you can buy your way through to even Master degree, why would you know anything? When you knew that it is not the knowledge but buying power that determines your career in government service, why would you know anything? If your teachers were chosen by a method where fake degrees bought at Dehradoon or from Bundelkhand or Jharkand were considered acceptable, and hence they knew nothing themselves, why would you know anything?

Leather chappals forced me to actually know what I read. Yet even though I did well to get an interview call, I never got the job. There were five committee members, and each expected a hundred thousand rupees. Another half a million was supposed to be shared by the Home Minister and the Home Secretary, for their final signatures sealed the deal. My father had his idealism and three daughters. I was quite frustrated for months and then an unexpected prospect sealed the deal. I got a marriage proposal, and my father-in-law got me a policeman's garb in Delhi as dowry. Of course, my father was made to believe that I married without any, and a policeman's job was not his idea of serving the nation. But he accepted. Likewise, the need to have enough money to marry three daughter's allowed him to accept all the money I earned from the likes of Mr. Agrawal.

Mr. Agrawal had a past which I had dug out before I went to the Pooja. He was suspended from the job of a Junior Engineer (JE) in Haryana. He was said to demand exorbitant sums for simple tasks. His idea was to do this as long as possible and pack bags and become a contractor once he had required sum. The police raid which led to his suspension was orchestrated by a powerful contractor who believed that greed is a friendly vice, as long as its manageable. Mr. Agrawal used all his connections to revoke his suspension, and be cleared of all charges. The contractor was a man of business, who had no intention of punishing Mr. Agrawal. As long as there was a JE who did his bidding, he cared not for who the JE was. Mr. Agrawal, though, resigned from his job with some fanfare; announcing that after the mistreatment given to him by his department, he could no longer serve without bitterness. Perhaps it was the lessons learnt as a JE, that really helped him to get government concessions and contracts to build a formidable fortune in a matter of few years.

We were seven Brahmins at the Pooja. Each chosen with a future blessing in mind. Each was given a white silk dhoti, a Kullu wool shawl and a thousand and one rupees at the Pooja. The extra one is considered shubh, i.e. makes the gift sacrosanct. This was done in the public view and we were told that there was a box of sweets for each one of us. We all knew what a box of sweets meant, and were grateful for the generosity shown by him. He knew how people disliked a fresh bundle of notes with a continuous series of numbers printed on them. If you want to trap someone, all you need to do is inform police in advance, note the number series in presence of a Vigilance officer, and later have that number series show up at the house of the guy you wish to be indicted for taking bribery. Mr. Agrawal had been indicted likewise. So he had made bundles from random series, and when we opened the boxes and checked, we all agreed that Mr. Agrawal had a bright future.

We all imagined the bundle to have hundred notes of hundred each, but I marvel at that businessman's brain. He stapled only ninety notes together, so that everyone got exactly ten-thousand and one rupees. What else should have I expected from an Agrawal?

(to be continued...)

Previous chapters found here

1 comment:

Vivek Sharma said...

From dudseascrawls

Mon, 2007-10-08 15:14 — Vivek New
Floaters need chappals...

Pradzie bhai, There are too many floaters these days, who need chappals, not necessarily on their feet, to pull them back to the ground;)

Last paragraph box has 9000 rupees and (second last paragraph) 1001 rupees were given during pooja in front of everyone. I am quite careless at times, but my subconscious keeps my math right.

I guess Bilbo and I are writing PhD thesis, and that has silenced me and her. If at all I get away from science, and usually not away from my desk, I type these blogs; otherwise life has whirlpooled me into its mundane responsibilities.

Perhaps kids, husbands who must be looked after like kids, wifes, girlfriends who dislike words and deceitful pseudonyms, business, education, cricket, movies, tea-parties, camping trips, marriages, disasters, Katrina, war in Iraq or imminent ones elsewhere, recent economic instability, human right violations, other blogger sites and groups, bad blood, lack of tantalizing, erotic or controversial blogs or plain laziness is the cause of apparent quietness here. Perhaps it is in the name: dud sea scrawls.

Thou who readth this, shall reply or curse, but do so in type

* edit
* reply

Sun, 2007-10-07 11:31 — Pradzie
Sharma, Firstly, it


Firstly, it wasn’t until the second year of my stay in US, did i realise what ‘floaters’ really were? I used think it was those fluffy animal shaped shoes lil girls (big girls too) used to wear when they came from school(college). :)Chappals it is! Smiling) reminds me of my trips to the cobbler during rainy seasons to get him to stitch the straps of Bata blue rubber chappals…

I havent read the earlier parts but somehow felt the need to read something…and i wasn’t dissapointed Smiling. But confused towards the end “ninety notes (of hundred?) stapled so that everyone got ten thousand and one ruppees?

commendable that you still continue to write here since this place has become so frigging dead with hardly any activity, but i guess there’s nobody to blame. I guess this is how groups eventually die out…
THanks for keeping it alive (of whatevers left i.e.)

Keep writing…