by Inder Krishen Koul (Talib
The sun beating relentlessly that June afternoon really made things boil in the sixty year old structure built by the British for their cavalry men in late thirties and now housing the police station in Ramnagar town, the one in whole district meant to cater to the security needs of over a million people. The building of yester years would, no doubt present a weird look, but for the obnoxious mixture of whistles and snoring sounds intermittently resonating from the semi-open mouth and pulsating nostrils of Havaldar Dhanpat Ram dozing in his chair under the influence of a sumptuous lunch beneath a fan whose old crumpled blades rattling around a worn out axle produced noise comparable only to a water mill of still older times. The dominating effect of the bouts of deep sleep on him could very easily be judged from the increasing degree of bends suffered by his flexible neck right or left and with each such bend reaching its climax his head would involuntarily straighten up only to bend again to a greater depth with the next stronger bout of sleep. The process could go on like that perhaps for hours without break had an uncontrollable bout of sleep not taken better of poor Dhanpat who tossed his forehead with the edge of the table below in front of him but miraculously escaped an injury.
Getting up so suddenly from his sleep it took him a few moments to recover from the shock of the dash in the same manner as a person profoundly enjoying a dream in deep slumber is abruptly forced to wake up by a strong kick on his shin or buttocks. Barely two minutes back the smiling impressions on his countenance waxing and waning every moment led one to believe in unmistakable terms that he too must’ve been seeing some lovely dream but having been made to get up so suddenly left behind absolutely nothing in his mind to recapitulate. He stood up, refreshed himself splashing a few handfuls of unexpectedly cold water from a rusted tap and after adjusting his cap straightway headed for the lone symbol of him being guardian of law……a five foot bamboo lying in a corner. This done he gave a few necessary instructions to his subordinates Constable Madan Lal and Mohd.Yunis, and left for his usual afternoon patrol but unusually without either of them accompanying him today. The only other difference in today’s patrol was that instead of going to the Sarafa street Dhanpat proceeded towards Chella Ram street and without looking right or left walked straight to “Sweet Corner” whose owner Labhu Halwai was stunned to see the Havaldar from a distance because only a day back he had shown up and departed with three Kgs. costly sweets free of cost.
“The unforeseen visit of Havaldar Dhanpat today at this hour couldn’t altogether be purposeless,” thought Labhu whose original name was Labh Chand and till the moment he could make some kind of guess about the untimely visit by this ‘persona non-grata’ in mufti, the Havaldar had already stepped into his shop subtly admonishing him with a certain degree of sarcasm accompanied by that usual cop-stick strike on the showcase which could be considered strong enough to break the glass panel, but for the good luck of Labhu that perhaps saved it from turning into pieces”
“O Labhu Seth! Have thou started selling flies instead of sweets in thy shop?” asked Havaldar Dhanpat with a pun that smelled more of boorish authority.
Labhu looking somewhat glad over the resistance shown by that fragile piece of glass to the Havaldar’s unexpected mighty tap still went on to say…… “O Mr. Havaldar, what’re you doing? Do take pity at least on this showcase or else it would take a full day’s earning to have it repaired, Sir.”
“O Labhu Seth! Why are thou worried?……..this showcase is made up of something harder than what thou are built and therefore totally unbreakable,” said Havaldar rather tauntingly evoking no reply from Labhu.” However, only a humble query displaying his curiosity about the actual purpose of his visit came from Labhu., “Leave the showcase aside and let me know, Sir what’s made thou show up unannounced today when thou had come up only yesterday and taken a two Kg. packet of sweets for thy boss,” deliberately choosing not to mention anything about the one Kg. packet of sweets taken by the Havaldar for his personal consumption.
Dhanpat Ram looking cautiously around came closer to Labhu saying, “Things are pretty bad…..I should say very bad…… The Inspector in charge Police station was very much annoyed…….I should say rather very furious…….asking from which wretched shop the sweets had been fetched that his lad fell ill by just touching the bloody infected thing,…….but thank God it was me who, without naming thou, saved the situation or else……!”
“Or else what?” asked a perplexed Labh Chand.
“The Hell would’ve been let loose……Yes I say the Hell. Thou don’t know my boss’s mind…….Otherwise also one can never predict about the temperament of the officers and the women……..Thou never know when they blow hot and when they blow cold…….God alone save us from their unanticipated wraths,” said Dhanpat Ram putting in his words the entire experience of his twelve year service in Police department with a view to create a fear psychosis in Labh Chand. Perceiving that he had been succeeding in hitting the bull’s eye, Dhanpat sought to further mortify Labh Chand saying,“ The Inspector ordered to seal the shop immediately and send the sample of sweets to the Municipality’s Food Inspector for examination, since God alone should be knowing how many people might have died or been admitted in the hospital after eating such bloody infected sweets.”
Labhu was really tense and with his folded hands beseeched the Havaldar, “Don’t be so cruel please, Sir……..Why thou people want to deprive me of my bread and butter?…..How can a poor man like me feed my family? Please do something Sir; to save me from this ordeal…….. Everything is now up to thee, Sir…….”
“Then why do thou people breed flies in thy shops……..Do thou know that a bloody fly was seen in the packet of sweets given by thee yesterday. The Mistress lost her cool and flung the packet right into the bin. Now tell me who’s to blame for this,” said Dhanpat inserting his left index finger beneath his beret cap casually scratching the head.
“But just now thou said that the kid of Inspector fell sick and how come that thy mistress was enraged,” said Labhu rather innocently.
“Oh! Labhu, that is so foolish of thee…….I wasn’t talking of my mistress but that of the Inspector…….I mean Madam Inspector……Do thee understand…….?” said Dhanpat.
“O! Yes…Yes…I understand…Madam Inspector,” said Labhu.
“These days thou don’t seem in a mood to understand anything said in a language other than English……and now do let me know what reply should I carry to the Inspector?” asked the Havaldar.
“Truly speaking I’m in a fix what to tell thee, Mr. Havaldar. Now let me enquire from that lad,” said Labh Chand pointing to and calling a boy of very lean built rubbing his hands with a piece of dirty cloth who immediately responded…,“Did you call me , Lalaji ?(appellation commonly used with respect for an elderly employer).
“Yes…..O! Lad……Were it you who had given the packet of sweets for the Police Inspector yesterday?” enquired Labh Chand.
“Yes Sir…….It was me……..Has there been any mistake, Sir?” asked the boy looking at the Havaldar circumspectly upon which he rebuffed the boy, “O! You foolish lad…….you say ‘any mistake’……. Had there been any mistake I’d have let you off…….It’s an offence…….a grave offence…….what the hell it’s called……..Section ……. Section …….O! Yes……now I remember……..Section 420.”
At this point of time Labhu intervened, “Sir……so far as my knowledge goes this Section relates to the offences involving fraud and in the instant case even the cost of sweets hadn’t been charged from thee.”
Havaldar Dhanpat Ram felt somewhat embarrassed and with a view to camouflage his ignorance of knowledge about provisions of Criminal Procedure Code took recourse to anger,“Alright ……Alright ……To Hell with all these Sections whatever they may be…….but that doesn’t absolve this filthy lad of having committed a grave offence……..just ask him why he had packed the sweets contaminated with flies.”
The boy immediately retorted, “Sir, I hadn’t deliberately given the sweets containing flies…….just please see those stacks of sweets in the showcase with that light nylon covering……..It’s impossible for any fly to find its way through it……..However, it’s just possible that a lone fly might have inadvertently got into the cream at the time of preparing the sweets…... It’s very hot these days and sultry too and in these conditions you can never expect a sweetmeat shop without a single fly…….It’s after all a shop of sweets and not that of tamarind.”
On hearing the unexpected remarks from the boy the Havaldar really lost his temperament and raising his bamboo to alarming heights growled threateningly, “Is this lad of a bastard in his senses? God knows what nonsense he’s been speaking…….Either the Inspector told a lie or I’m telling a lie…….or else the son of the Inspector didn’t fall ill at all. Labhu Seth this bloody lad appears a skinny skeleton but he does possess a two yard tongue in his filthy mouth…….Why should he speak of tamarind…….. How the hell did he muster courage to speak so brainlessly before me?”
Labhu, realizing gravity of the situation started beseeching the Havaldar with folded hands, “Do please forgive this uncouth lad, Sir…….He’s immature and doesn’t fully understand nuances of speech……I’m myself fed up with this brutish chap and would fire him at the first available opportunity,” and then addressing the boy with scornful command said, “ Now what the Hell are you looking for after spewing filth from your dirty mouth……..Go and fetch some cold drink from Hari’s shop without wasting time.”
Sensing that his threat was effectively working on Labhu, the Havaldar became more serious and said with a fair degree of sarcasm, “No need to bother about drinks etc. Labhu Seth …….I’ve had already enough of insult at thy shop and I’m not going to have any more of it. Now that this vulgar chap has referred to tamarind, from tomorrow onwards thou would sell only tamarind at thy shop and nothing else ……..at least till the report from Municipality isn’t received. Now let me know if thou provide sample of sweets thyself or I shall bring police personnel from the Police station to do the job.”
The browbeaten Labhu thought that the Havaldar’s annoyance was real and in order to placate him gently drew him by his arm towards the backyard. Meanwhile the servant lad also appeared with a bottle of cold drink which was really so cold that countless droplets of water trickled down its outer surface in the same way as the droplets of saline sweat from Labhu’s forehead. After much of coaxing and cajoling, the Havaldar finally agreed for the cold beverage and he seemed to have cooled down to some extent, at least outwardly. But that didn’t relieve Labh Chand of the tension when the Havaldar addressed him, “It’s OK Labhu Seth……..I’m not collecting the samples right now……..but there are two conditions.”
“May I know please,” asked Labhu rather impatiently.
“The first one is that I don’t want to see the ugly face of this bloody urchin here anymore and the second one that from now onwards thou’ll sell only tamarind or tamarind related products on your shop and nothing else, because it’s not now within your capability to sell sweets…….Do thee understand or……,”the Havaldar stopped midway and thrusting his bamboo firmly into the ground stood up to go. At this point of time disappointed Labhu pleaded, “Sir, why are thou so eager to go……... we’ve got to discuss a lot many things…..,” and while saying so he reached for the wallet in the right side pocket of his pale white muslin kurta shirt and drawing some cash went on to say, “Sir, it’s a paltry gift for thy children………I mean to buy some fruit and nuts for them………It’s with thy blessings that this shop is being run or else who would care for the insignificant creatures like us……..But for your kindness we’ll be doomed. ” However, contrary to his expectations this time Dhanpat Ram controlling his appetite for green, crisp and crunchy currency notes cut him short saying, “ Nothing doing Labhu Seth……..let it be some other time,” and marched out stroking the ground with his bamboo. But while his departing bewildered Labhu still shouted, “Mr. Havaldar Sir, this gift of mine to thee would be a debt unto me………it would remain thy trust with me………I’ll myself come to thy office some day to return this trust of thine.”
Leaving Chella Ram Street Havaldar Dhanpat straightway headed towards the bungalow of Inspector Mohinder Singh Rajput where he saw his boss sitting leisurely on the couch in his air conditioned Drawing Room going through the newspaper. Approaching the Inspector the Havaldar thrust his bamboo under the armpit and formally saluted him,“ Good Morning, Sir,” in response to which his boss raising eyes from the newspaper said, “ O! Dhanpat……it’s already 5 in the afternoon and you still say it with ‘Good Morning’…….Anyway it’s OK.”
Dhanpat replied with a sheepish smile, “Sir, we people are ignorant about these salutations etc. in English language………It’s only that we’ve heard to say so while addressing our senior officers………So please forgive me, Sir.”
“Don’t mind, it’s alright………Tell me is there any significant information…….I mean about any kind of murder, rape, dacoity, burglary, law & order problem or the like……...? Was there any phone call of SP from the Headquarters………,”asked the Inspector in his usual commanding tone.
“No Sir……Absolutely not…….Everything is in control, Sir…. With thee at the helm of law & order affairs in this area how dare anyone can think of breaking law or taking it in his hands………Just let me know, Sir how the darling kid Ramesh is feeling now?……….I banged that bloody sweetmeat shop owner right and left today and told him to sell tamarind instead of sweets……….Yes, I’ve told that fellow in very clear terms,” bragged Dhanpat rather boorishly.
“Ramesh is now fine……..It was an ordinary kind of fever which in any case has now come to normal………Tell me which sweetmeat shop owner you’ve referred to,” asked the Inspector in routine.
“Sir, the same Labhu Seth whose shop is located in Chella Ram Street……..from whom the two Kg. packet of sweets had been fetched yesterday,” replied Dhanpat.
“But Labhu Seth’s shop is a renowned one throughout Ramnagar town not only for the high standard of sweets but also from the cleanliness point of view……….Anyhow, let the issue be over and tell me how much you had paid to the chemist yesterday for medicines purchased for Ramesh,” asked Mohinder Singh.
The Havaldar was stunned hearing for the first time in his life from the Inspector about making payment for anything purchased from anyone for his domestic consumption and quipped unbelievingly, “Sir, why do you bother about the payment…….These chemists, like other traders, aren’t as fair and honest in their dealings as anyone may think……....They aren’t even afraid of God for selling spurious drugs that too on exorbitant rates....A tablet costing something around three rupees is easily sold at five.”
But the Inspector cutting him short said, “O Dhanpat! My late father whose soul is resting in Heaven, used to say that one should never swindle a doctor’s or chemist’s money or else the disease would stick like a dog fly. You do one thing…….You go and make payment to him if not already made……..but don’t forget to bring bill or cash memo……..Do you understand?”
“OK Sir……,”said Dhanpat Ram disguising his absolute helplessness in a freakish smile because the Inspector didn’t care a bit to make payment to him and how could the poor Havaldar , an epitome of extreme discipline and subordination muster courage to demand any money, howsoever justified it might have been, from his boss. Instead, he promptly saluted the Inspector and left with his feet as heavy as his heart. But, only after about twenty minutes Dhanpat returned quite hopeful that the Inspector under the influence of his personal conscience and the advice of his late father might pay him the cost of medicines right upon seeing the cash memo. He as usual saluted the Inspector. “Good Morn…No, No ……. Good Evening, Sir,” who on seeing Dhanpat again asked rather irritatingly, “What is it now, Havaldar?”
“Nothing serious, Sir……..I’ve made payment to the Chemist, Sir and here’s the cash memo,” said he taking out the cash memo from his pocket and forwarding it towards the Inspector who lost no time in saying, “ Keep it with you, Dhanpat……..What’ve I got to do with this petty piece of paper,” thus not only dashing to ground Dhanpat’s all hopes of getting the payment but also dismantling the last brick of the castle he had built during the last half an hour about his boss’s honest dispositions. He was now fully convinced that his two hundred and eighty rupees had gone for ever. He was overtaken by a strong spell of remorse, not that he had lost money belonging to him from the safety of his well guarded pocket but because he had displayed unnecessary quickness in making the payment to the Chemist. However, he kept quiet thinking solely on his blunder and it was then that the wife of the Inspector entered the room and Havaldar said respectfully with his hands folded, “Good Evening, Madam.”
“Good Evening, Dhanpat……..How’re you?” she asked, while setting right her shoulder cut hair locks with long elegantly enameled fingertips to which he promptly replied, “I’m fine, Madam with the grace of God and thy blessings……..Bye the way, what are thou doing with that two Kg. packet of sweets……..I mean the same one which was the cause of dear Ramesh’s fever yesterday……..Do thou want it changed?”
“O! No……..there’s no need to do so. I had only casually guessed yesterday that Ramesh might’ve got fever due to those sweets but subsequent questioning revealed that he had eaten some third rate ice cream in the school followed by cold water. Anyway the fever has subsided and he is now alright playing with his friends in the lawn outside,” said Mrs. Mohinder Singh pointing her finger through the window towards her son where he was busy playing with two other kids.
“That’s fine Madam Inspector that thou did some investigation and in fact I feel that it’s the duty of the Mistresses of all the cops to make investigations of any kind,” said Dhanpat brushing his moustaches with ebony fingers only to retrace his words or to correct his statement with an apologetic “Sorry, Sir”, when the Inspector raised his eyes with a somewhat awesome smile towards him. But the smile it generated on Mrs. Rajput’s countenance appeared so real that Havaldar Dhanpat not only felt happy in the heart of his hearts but also filled him with enough courage to say something more.
“Just let me know Sir, whenever I approach some trader or shopkeeper for fetching anything from him for thou and refer to thy name on the occasion he willingly obliges but in case I ask for something for myself the bloody fellow hesitates at first……his bloody hands shiver in delivering the item to me……..What’s the reason for this dual dealing, Sir?” asked Dhanpat innocently.
The unexpected question from Dhanpat surprised the Inspector who nevertheless replied, “O! Dhanpat…….You simpleton would always remain a simpleton……….It’s known as the power of status. It’s the miracle of this baton that we possess…....the one which is lying there on that table,” he pointed to his baton on a table in a corner of the Drawing Room.
“But I too have this bamboo stick with me, Sir……..In fact it’s longer than thine Sir……..Not less than five feet and thine must be only two feet……....But still those bloody guys they discriminate……. ,”complained Dhanpat.
Inspector Mohider Singh tried to explain, “You don’t understand, Dhanpat. The power within this baton isn’t measured from its length but from the fact who possesses it and how he uses it……..You may consider that the higher one goes in status the shorter is the size of this baton but simultaneously with each elevation it becomes more potent. Now you see when it assumes the size of an ordinary pen it accumulates within itself unlimited strength that can beat the combined power of hundreds of atomic and hydrogen bombs, defying human imagination. But I repeat the only condition is as to who possesses it and if he knows the ways and means of using it and it’s not within everybody’s capacity and capabilities to use it as per his wishes.”
On this occasion Madam Mohinder Singh who was till now interestingly listening to the conversation between her husband and Dhanpat Ram also spoke, “And I may tell you that the powers vested by the Government on officers and exercised by them while occupying chairs at senior positions isn’t their prerogative alone but also of their wives and other family members, may be not so directly. But remember that this kind of power sharing improves the efficiency of the officer invested with such Governmental powers and they are able to discharge their constitutional duties more effectively in the overall service of the people and the nation.”
“Oh! My God……..The Baton…..The Chair……The Power…….. The Pen…….What’s all this humbug.........It doesn’t find a place in my bloody skull. People say that the Chair carries with it the Power…..And how do the bloody Baton and Pen come in between…..It’s all beyond the realms of my understanding,” said the confused Dhanpat Ram on hearing the lecturing of the Inspector and his wife.
Words of Dhanpat irritated the Inspector who exasperatingly, fretted, “It’s useless to make you brute of a man understand these things ……..You must know that the Chair and the Pen have a very deep relationship. These two together make a person Powerful and Power has such a strong intoxication that once a person gets addicted to it he never wants to part with it even at the cost of his conscience, conviction or compassion till his last breath. When a person occupies a position of power, whether on lower or upper echelons of administration, forgetting everyone and everything except the interests of his own person or his family and arrogantly or craftily ignores the genuine demands of others trampling over their basic rights people say he is ‘Powerful’. In the heart of hearts those who’ve to deal with him may curse that fellow, but for the sake of courtesy or normal human behaviour they would try to avoid any open confrontation unless his arrogance transgresses all limits of decency or propriety. Thus, taking advantage of the situation such a person continues with his bullying tactics and employing all methods of cunningness manages to push through his plans of personal aggrandizement……….Do you understand something of what I said?”
“I’ve understood, Sir……Almost everything what thou related ………..Now it has trickled into my bloody skull where the malaise lies……From now onwards I too will move about with a pen in my hand instead of this bloody bamboo………We cops have unnecessarily attained notoriety for using the swishing stick when silent strokes of pen can serve our interests better,” declared the Havaldar. His words sent the Inspector and his wife into a roaring laughter whose sound rebounded from the walls of the spacious Drawing Room for several seconds and echoed still longer in the Havaldar’s ears.
After a few moments Dhanpat stood up to go and while saluting the Inspector said, “I would beg to take your leave, Sir……..Any more job for me to do………..Please let me know, Sir.”
“Nothing in particular, Havaldar……..Just do one thing……. You hand over the bill of medicine in your pocket to Labhu and keep the payment with you,” ordered the Inspector.
The Havaldar tried to ask in his utter bewilderment, “But….Sir ………What about thy late father’s advice that……..” The Inspector cutting him short said in his commanding voice, “You see, Havaldar …….That Labhu sweetmeat shop owner must also have his share of punishment…….Didn’t I tell you that you won’t understand these tricks of the trade……This is called use of ‘Power’ and he who knows how, where, when and with whom to use it, is known as ‘Powerful’………Now do you understand the thing or anything more remains to be told……”
“No more lessons Sir……..I’ve followed it fully well,.....Fully well,” saying so the Havaldar once again saluted his boss and departed.
(Disclaimer: All the incidents, characters, organisations etc. mentioned in this story are imaginary and their resemblance with any real person living or dead, can be a mere coincidence.)