Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Auditor's Note: This story is dedicated to my friend Dr. Gibson with whom I worked as International Monetary Fund's Senior Fiscal Management Advisor in Malawi (1998-2000)

John Gibson ran a pub, next to the small bridge that connected Washington DC to Georgetown. It was a shanty pub mostly visited by the blacks. In the evenings, when the pub lights were dimmed and the loud and garish music resounded against its low ceiling, the guests danced brashly, brushing against each other, most of them in drunken state, eyeing the gyrating voluptuous females.
The pub was just breaking even, in fact on couple of occasions John had to tap his savings to keep it running. John knew he was the culprit for he himself was found of drinking and more often than not, by the time the pub closed, he was quite tipsy.
“Look, I am not going to live for ever and for the remaining years that I live, I want to make most of it,” John often told his wife, Cynthia who was also the bar maid of the pub. In fact, it was Cynthia who ran the show. She was clever and garrulous. John trusted her simply because he knew he was hardly of any use. In fact, he hardly had any strength left in him.
“She is handling matters better than I would have. Moreover, I don’t want to wreck my peace of mind.” That was the explanation he gave to his friends who often cajoled him to take active interest in the pub matters.

One evening Cynthia jolted him beyond his imagination. She had severe headache and she fainted vomiting blood.
John rushed her to a hospital. The doctors carried out the tests and found that Cynthia had brain haemorrhage because of malignant tumour. For three days and nights John was with Cynthia. On the fourth day Cynthia died on his laps.
“Why the hell should you have left me alone? You spoiled me all my life me and now you leave me when I am totally useless,” John moaned at her funeral.
After Cynthia’s death John left the apartment he had shared with his wife and shifted to the attic on top of the pub. His life was now divided between the pub and the attic on top.

John had no clue how to run the pub. It had never occurred to him that a day might come when he may have to manage it. He was annoyed about him self and thought of selling it off.
“Please find a buyer for the Pub. You know I can hardly look after it,” he told his friends.

After couple of days, a woman approached John for the bar maid’s position.
“You said your name is Emily, sounds poetic, no?” John asked her with a wry smile.
The woman before him didn’t react. She was forth right.
“Mr. Gibson, I need a job and I have the experience. I have been working for the Blue Ace for five years.”
“Why are you leaving it? It’s a swell of a joint. People with lot of money go there.”
“The new manager wanted me to sleep with him,” Emily told him unabashedly.
That made John laugh.
“Oh God, you mean, you are leaving a good job simply because the manager asked you to sleep with him?”
Emily was uneasy at the question. “Look, I didn’t like the man. And you don’t go to bed with every bastard who asks you.”
“Oh, come on, I am as much a bastard. How about sleeping with me?”
“Bastard, yes, you may be but a harmless one. I don’t mind hopping in to your bed.”
John knew it was a dig at his age, he didn’t like it.
“I will pay you three hundred a week, tips are yours.”
“And the bed, you forgot that?”
John smiled but it was a subdued one.
“OK, you start from tomorrow.”
“Thank you John,” she said and kissed his hairy chin before leaving.

John was unsettled. His tomfoolery vanished as he saw Emily going out. He suddenly remembered Cynthia.
And then it occurred to him that Emily looked a little like Cynthia. The curls in the front and her gait were quite similar and she was un-inhibitive like Cynthia. John also remembered that Cynthia used to kiss him in the similar way.

Emily was regular and efficient in her job. She was sharp-witted and would relate funny jokes and stories to humour the men. She had a curvaceous figure and a charming smile, which attracted men.
John noticed the change in fortune after Emily had joined. His profits were going up. The pub was generally full and even the rowdies paid for their drinks.

“How much were you making in Blue Ace?” John asked Emily one evening as she was preparing to leave.
“Why do you ask?”
“Well, I want to know what you are losing working here.”
“Forget it. I accepted the job,” she said and then added with a mischievous smile, though I am still sleeping in the cold.”
John remained quiet, which surprised Emily. She looked at his grim face.
“John, any thing is wrong?”
“No, I was just thinking, I took an undue advantage, I mean I knew you were desperate for a job.”
“It’s OK.”
“I am thinking to give you a raise. Fifty a week, OK?”
“Well, well you seem to be in an expansive mood. I should have asked for a slice of moon.”
“Go to NASA for that and now buzz off,” he said and a shadow crossed his face as he saw Emily giving him a kiss and walking away.

Emily had been working with John for nearly a year. It was the month of December. There was festivity in the air as Christmas neared. Rich and poor, everyone cherished the hope of some thing good happening in their life.

One evening John told Emily, “I want to paint the pub and I want a live band for Christmas Eve. Entry will be only for the regular guests and it will be free, all on the house.”
“John, are you crazy? You sure have you gone nuts. You better get your self examined unless you want to go broke.”
“Don’t you worry for it. You issue invites to the regular customers and arrange a good band to play for us.”
And then pausing a little he added, “Emily, when Christmas comes, there is an expectation in every heart. I want to do a little bit for my clients who have stood by me all these years.”

Emily having failed to convince her employer got busy in making the arrangements.
The clients were elated. “John, have you got a jack pot or the treasure of Sinbad?” Someone asked.
“Hope, it is not one of your pranks?” The other asked.
“No, it is not, I promise,” John assured them.

It was the Christmas Eve. John called Emily and told her, “I have pain in the chest and I feel a little uneasy.”
“John, shall I call a doctor?”
“No need for that, I will be OK, I simply need some rest.”
“You sure you want the evening show to continue?”
“Yes and I want you to take care of the guests. Make it a memorable night for all of them.”
“Sure,” Emily said briefly and left to look after the arrangements. There were lot many things to be done and she had to do it single handed.

Emily was relieved that all was under control. She had been running like a hare from one end to another. She thought of seeing John before she took a bath and got dressed for the evening.

Emily knocked at the door but there was no response. Emily was nervous as she entered the room. John was lying on his bed, his both hands hanging outside. She touched his face and tried to shake him.
John was lying unconscious. Emily was nervous but lost no time in calling an ambulance and rushing him to a hospital.
The doctor told Emily that but for timely treatment, John would have been in serious trouble.

A little later John came to senses. He was weak and could hardly speak.
He gestured to Emily to come closer to him and then whispered, “Emily, a million thanks for saving my life. Emily, I wonder what would have happened to me if you were not there.”
Emily didn’t say anything.
John was still looking at Emily. Suddenly he told her, “You know, I have been fooling my self all my life. To be honest, I have been naïve and selfish.” Then after pausing a little, he added, “It never occurred to me to ask you about your family.”
Emily found it difficult to hold her tears. She didn’t know what to say and how to say it. There was a long pause as John looked at her intently.
“John, I am Cynthia’s younger sister. She had told me you needed some one to take care of you and I had promised her to do so.”
John was dumbstruck.
“Oh God! Cynthia wanted to look after me even when she was gone and here is this angel working for me with total dedication … and … what have I given them in return? How mean of me? … God forgive me… God.”
Emily pressed his hands softly. “Cool down now. Get well soon and then we will celebrate,” she said and then added with a smile, “We will go for honeymoon.”

John smiled.
“Emily, I am OK now. Please return to the pub and take care of the guests. I want the guests to have a good time.”
“You sure, John?”
“Yes, and please do as I say.” John sounded better.

Emily looked after the guests diligently who enjoyed the liberal hospitality. They sang and danced and made merry. It was the liveliest Christmas they ever had.
“Emily, it has been never so good. We never had such grand Christmas. So much of food and wine and whiskey … and lively music …… it was simply great,” one of the guests told Emily.
“And tell us where is that blighter John? He must be lying drunk somewhere. Tell him, we really enjoyed. Please say our thanks to him,” the other guest said gleefully.

“ I will,” Emily said continuing with her work.

“John I wish you were here to see these cheerful faces and share their happiness and I hope the evening was up to your expectations,” she whispered as the last guest left the pub.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Author's Note: I have always been scared of darkness and in fact, I still am. The origin of this story goes back to my short stay in my village and boarding in the village school. I dreaded going out alone even in day time. My teachers would redicule me and my school friends made fun of it.

My father was posted those days in the district of Tehri Garhwal, a small town on the bank of river Bhagirathi, which down steam takes the name of Ganges. He was a Forest Officer and since the clan of forest officers is no better than any nomadic tribe, rest of the family lived in the village.
I was nine and put in the boarding school. It is significant here to acquaint my readers with boarding school as it existed then in Garhwal.

The students stayed in the school, away from the parents. Every Saturday, they were let off to bring dry ration from their homes, which included adequate quantity for the teachers, also living in the school. The rations were duly displayed by each boarder on Monday morning before the headmaster. Special attention was given to items such as edible oil, spices, sugar and kerosene for those days, there was no electricity in the villages of Garhwal. A vigilant headmaster knew exactly, who could bring fresh milk or vegetables. In fact, he would know whose cow was expecting and when the calf would come.
Duties in the school boarding included fetching water, collecting firewood, cooking meals, washing utensils and then studying in the spare time.

Preparing ‘hookah’ for teachers was assigned to only few since it required a very special skill which you acquired only after having occasional drag on it.

The picture may look very depressing to present boarders. Believe me, it wasn’t so. It was hard life but very enjoyable. Even today, when I remember the blisters in my palms after the canning by the headmaster, I feel the pain. It is not physical, it is nostalgic.

The school hall was a multipurpose arena. It was the class room during the day time, play room in the afternoon since we didn’t have any play field in the school; it was the dining hall of the boarders and sleeping room during the night.
I concede I was timid and scared of darkness. To be honest, I am still scared to go out in darkness and I am damn scared of ghosts and spirits. I used to bribe my friends to accompany me everywhere or else I would follow them if I were to stay alone.

It was the month of March. Winter was very severe that year. We were studying seriously since the examinations were only three weeks away. Those days, there used to be a centralized examination system for the fifth class under the supervision of an Inspector of Schools. Six to seven schools from an area were grouped for this purpose.
Those days the teachers took the examination more seriously than the students since they were judged by the performance of their students. As the examinations were nearing, the teachers were canning us more vigorously and more frequently.
"You will ruin my prestige. For last three years, this school has been getting the first place. This year it will be the last, I am sure," the headmaster would shout at us, often using choicest expletives for us as well as for our parents. We accepted all of it without demur for we believed that the headmaster and our teachers wished us well. Even our parents approved of the measures taken by the faculty members.
More often than not, the parent would say, "Please beat hell out of this idiot till he comes to his senses."
Those were the blissful days.

As the examination days neared, we were getting more and more nervous. There was urgency in all our actions. We were to move to the examination center on coming Saturday.
It was Saturday morning. The headmaster took all of us to the village temple to pray for our success. The village deity was propitiated with jaggery balls, later on given to us as prasaad. The juniors had collected to bid farewell to us. Parents were there to wish us success. The headmaster had hired two mules to carry mattresses and blankets and kitchen items. The juniors carried our loads for some distance. Till then it was all joy and excitement for all of us.

But then journey to the examination center was long and tiresome on the goat track we were following. Climbing a hill and then descending and then climbing again; it seemed my miseries would never end. The only force that propelled was the fear of the headmaster who was leading the caravan.

It was customary that we carry our books on our heads. Legend was that even when resting, the books should not be placed on the ground lest the goddess of learning got annoyed. It was an ordeal for me. I was being encouraged by my classmates and coaxed by the teachers accompanying us in turn.
The headmaster and all teachers had a love hate relation with me. They hated me for my sloppiness and they loved me for I was their best bet in the examination.
I was totally exhausted when we reached the examination center late in the afternoon. A hall was assigned to us to house ourselves and in the small room attached to the hall, we were told to set up our kitchen.

I was lying down on the floor of the hall when I was called by one of my friends. The duties were being allocated by the headmaster to the boys.

"You, lazy bum, go with Satya and bring water from the spring,” it was the headmaster ordered giving me a hard look. A boy from the host school was given to us as a guide on this errand.

"And hurry up. The cooking can only start after you bring water. After meals we will have a revision class before you owls go to sleep," the head master growled before retiring to his room, puffing his hookah.

If anything I hated at that moment, it was to walk even a yard. I had never expected this. I had tears in my eyes and I hated the headmaster for it as much as I could.
I selected the banthee which I thought was the smaller of the two and followed Satya. Three of us proceeded on our mission.

The sun had set. Soon, we knew it would be dark as generally happens in the hills immediately after the sun set. Our guide told us that the spring was just "two steps" away. For my readers it is vital to forewarn them that "two steps" in the hills even today may mean walking a mile or two or even more.
I was getting nervous for it was becoming darker every second. The trees and the bushes were acquiring shapes. The night hiss was prominently audible. Twice I had lost my heart beat on listening the squealing of owls. My legs were unsteady even with empty banthee. When we reached the spring which was more than two miles by any standards, it was dark altogether.

Satya was a dim-witted but good natured friendly person. He knew me well and wanted to help me sincerely. For me, he was the dependable friend. To retain his loyalty, I often gave him jaggery balls and roasted grams and helped him by letting him copy from my math’s note-book. I had promised him the same in the ensuing examination. He was my only hope in my hour of peril.

Both of them kept me encouraged by talking of the place and of the stories about the Inspector of Schools. Satya filled my banthee and we started the return journey. It was this part of the mission that I dreaded. Mere thought of being left behind in the jungle at that deathly hour sent creeps down my spine. Tears had already appeared at the corner of my eyes.

"Please keep me in the middle and take me along" I begged Satya and he obliged.
"Your pace is awfully slow. Your people must be cursing you" the guide said.

"I know, I know" Satya said who was aware of the impatience of the head master.

"Hurry up or there will be no food for anyone," Satya said coaxing me. My progress was too slow and in fact, I begged them to rest for a few seconds for I was finding it too difficult to move with the head load.
"No. Don't do that. We will be delayed awfully,” Satya said from behind.

I could not take even a step further and kept the banthee down. There was a mini conference. Our guide was getting restless. He loathed my incompetence and left us saying that we could return of our own.

Satya didn't want this to happen. He was equally keen to return quickly; thrashing by the head master was surely another prospect, he wanted to avoid.

"Come on, let's walk now," he said to me. We two walked for some time. I was again dragging my body, all my energy had sapped. Satya was getting irritated now.

"You should have asked your father to send a servant with you," he chided me. I was quiet for I didn't want to lose his company. But a few hundred yards had exhausted me and I wanted to rest again.

"Let's rest for a few seconds," I begged Satya.
The suggestion enraged Satya who was aware of the fact that meals could not be prepared until the water reached the camp.

"Go to devils and come when you can. I can't wait any more," he shouted and walked off with the banthee of water on his head.

I was in tears. I started crying. "Please don't leave me, please. I will give you sweets. I will give you a rupee, please...."

My words had no effect on Satya who thought any further delay would invoke the wrath of the headmaster. Though it was secondary consideration for me, but the fact remained that everyone else was hungry and famishing. Water was therefore urgently needed in the camp.

I was left alone in the jungle on that dark night. My nerves gave away. I wanted to lift the banthee but my hands wouldn't move. My legs were frozen, my mind had become inert.

"O mother! O mother!" I started wailing. There were night sounds and there were shadows moving all around me. Tears were rolling down my cheeks.
I left the banthee and started walking. I had no clue where I was going. I was staggering and stumbled down into a bush.

"Hey! Child, why are you crying?" I heard a voice.
My fear of ghosts surfaced. I felt as if something will soon overpower me. It was not the death that I was afraid of. It was the fear of unknown, which had overtaken me. I was trembling and I was drenched by cold sweat.
"Come! Come! I will help you," the voice again echoed in to my ears.
I felt a strong gust of air, a whistling sound and then someone clutching me and I felt as if I was floating in the air. I do not remember anything there after.

When I regained senses, I found myself sitting on the stone slab out side the school gate with the banthee full of water beside me. I was not sure what hour it was, whether all others were sleeping after the meals. I even did not fear the headmaster. I was in a state of trance. I lifted the banthee on my head and entered the school hall.

The headmaster rushed towards me. He was hurling choicest of abuses on our guide for his irresponsible behaviour.
"Thank God! You have come. And now, the rest of you, hurry up with the cooking. I would not leave you without revising some important lessons," he shouted regaining his bearings.

I was not in a position to react to anything. I could not explain anything even to my self. I wanted to fall asleep. I was in a state of trance.

Leaving the banthee in the kitchen, as I returned to the hall, I heard the familiar high pitched voice of the headmaster and I was shocked to see Satya entering the hall with a water banthee on his head.

"Why the hell you three couldn't come together?" And then advancing towards me with his familiar belligerent stance, he shouted, “You useless fellow, why the hell did you leave Satya behind?

[1] Banthee is a copper vessel, round in shape with a collar band like narrow mouth. It is used in hills for bringing and storing water.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I was bringing out a local daily those days। I was its publisher, chief editor, editor, sub editor, reporter, photographer, designer etc। and also the distributor. For convenience and appearance, I had put the names of my wife, my mother and my sons against these designations.
Early in the morning, I would take the news papers printed in the press below my bed room and tie them behind my motor cycle. I would give them to my deputies, a band of school drop outs who waited for me in the nearby tea shop. They in turn made door to door delivery. Not a difficult job in Paori, a small town in the foothills of the Himalayas.

I was getting news print at subsidized rate for eighteen thousand copies; we however printed around three hundred. Selling the unused news print was one of the sources of my income.
Whatever may have been the circulation, it had given me a place in the society. I was given due recognition by the district authorities. I would be called to the front row in public functions and invited to all the press conferences of the District Collector. In short, I was part of the town’s intelligentsia not withstanding the envy of few. I knew it and I had learnt the art of ignoring it. The truth was that I was enjoying the perks of my clout with all those who mattered.

My importance, call it market value in economic parlance, was at its peak during election days. Some party or the other would give me out of pocket expenses and a jeep, which I would use liberally for taking out my family on pleasure trips and excursions.
Thanks to our democratic system. There are parliament elections, assembly elections, legislative council elections, municipal elections, zila parishad elections and elections galore. And then there are defections and dissolution of elected bodies which adds to the number of elections. It thus meant that I had a jeep most of the time and unmindful as I am in such matters, I never bothered about changing party-flags atop my jeep or for that matter the people lending it to me.

Unfortunately, my social standing didn’t impress my wife who found it difficult to run the household and to be honest, I knew she had tough time in managing the house because of my scant, irregular and inadequate income.

One day I saw my nephew in the bazaar holding couple of brass utensils in his hand. I could recognize them. Those were from our house. My nephew was baffled to see me since he didn’t expect me in the bazaar at that time.
I was shocked to learn that he had come to sell the utensils at the bidding of my wife so as to pay the tuition fee of my two sons, which was over delayed.
Never had I felt so distressed and depressed in my life. I realized that it was my fault and that I needed perennial and respectable income.

I frankly admit, I couldn’t have qualified for any government job. Besides, I had crossed the age limit. Above all, it would have hurt my ego. It would have compromised my position in the society. The other possibility was to get a job for my wife. That was possible. Besides she was a post graduate with first division.
I then decided to get her a job and that became my mission.

A couple of days later, while writing filler for my paper, an idea flashed in my mind.
In Paori, everyone needed woolens during the major part of the year. One could see the ladies knitting during most part of the year. What if there were a formal training center in the district with modern knitting techniques and machines. My wife knew a little bit of knitting so I decided to explore the possibilities.
I met the District Collector - DC, the next day.

"Our district is backward and people here are quite poor. A Vocational Training Center should be opened to train young girls and boys. It will make them self reliant."
"Yes. I agree with you." The DC was quick to respond.
"To start with, I suggest we take up something that needs minimum infrastructure."
"You are absolutely right"
"I suggest we start with a Knitting Center – a KC."
"Perfect, perfect." echoed the DC.

I then told him of the publicity he would get in improving the lot of women in the district particularly in the ‘Year of Girl Child’ and I offered to give it a wide and extensive coverage in my paper.
“Call the Cottage Industry Development Minister –the CIDM who hails from this district. He will gain a mileage in his constituency.” I suggested.

The idea clicked and plans were drawn on war footing then and there. Before leaving his room, I also told the DC that I knew an excellent ‘Knitting Expert’.

In two months, a KC, first of its kind in the district, nay in the State came in to existence and the CIDM agreed to inaugurate it. For pragmatic reasons it was however decided that the inauguration ceremony should be arranged in the district parade ground.

The whole town was agog with excitement. After all it was the first visit of CIDM to the district after his appointment as a minister. It was but appropriate that he gave a good gift to his constituency on his first visit.
The entire party outfit was in action. It was a prestige issue for the district chief of the party. I had in any case whispered in to his ears that there were some rumours of his being replaced by his arch rival.
“It is the test of your organizational ability. Make sure, the function is a success.”
The District Chief assured me to put his best to make the function a grand success.
Every thing was going as per my plans.

I declared my intentions to bring out a special edition of my daily to mark the occasion. I called for write ups from every Department. The result was that every Head of Department was running up to me requesting for favourable coverage.

The D day was just a week away. The DC had reminded me several times to produce the Knitting Expert before him and I had very deftly given him one story or the other. Time again I was getting phone calls from his office to bring the person to his office.

Three days before the D Day, I sent a message to DC’s office that I have not been able to ascertain the availability of the prospective candidate due to my busy schedule.
My message was like pressing a panic button. That very evening the DC called an emergency meeting to review the situation. All was going well other than physical presence of the Knitting Expert. At the peak of frenzy, I asked the District Industry Officer - the DIO to issue an appointment order in the name of Gauri Devi.
“Who is she? How can we issue the appointment order without interviewing the candidate?” The salvo was fired by the DIO.
I was prepared for it.
"Well, I am busy today so I can bring her before you only tomorrow afternoon,” I said giving a sardonic look at the DIO.
That rattled the DC. “The DIO should have looked in to this matter earlier. There is hardly any time left before the CIDM visit. You want me to look like a fool?” He said staring at the DIO.
The DIO was red in the face. Wanted to say some thing but it only remained an inaudible blabber.
“Take my orders and issue the appointment order immediately, right now.” The DC snapped and left the meeting.
"I will not let you down sir. The Knitting Expert will be here tomorrow,” I told the DC over his shoulders.
Next morning the DIO rang me to say that the order was ready and that I could collect it at any time.

The day of reckoning had come. Every thing was going as planned. I had invited several girls and ladies from my family and friends. The programme was to be followed by high tea. I thought it was good opportunity to oblige them by extending the hospitality.

The CIDM was very happy. The gathering was good and the arrangements near perfect. He was in expansive mood acknowledging the cheers from the crowd.

"Sir, much of the credit for this KC should go to Mohanji, a renowned journalist and a dedicated social worker," The DC said indicating towards me in his emotionally charged speech.
I was elated.
"Sir, we are lucky to have Gauriji as our Technical Officer, Knitting. She is a highly experienced and skilled knitting expert," the Collector said pointing towards a figure sitting at the far end of the dais.
All eyes turned to wards the lady. Clad in a khadi sari was the TO Knitting giving a naïve smile to all and sundry.
Some people thought they knew her. Perhaps they had seen her in the market or at some other common place.
"Gauriji is a devoted social worker and a dedicated teacher,” The DC told the CIDM whose eyes were roving along the contours of the lady in the khadi sari.

The CIDM praised the DC and other officers for their innovative idea of opening a KC in the district and he didn’t forget to say a few good words for me. "It is a good fortune that we have dedicated social workers like Mohanji amongst us. I am very happy for this collective effort," he said not turning his gaze from the TO, Knitting.
In short, the function was a grand success.

"I would like to discuss the future plans for the KC with Gauriji," he said to the DC before breaking for lunch.
"Please arrange a meeting in the evening at the Rest House and call Mohanji also."

Now it was my turn to be nonplus. I knew why the meetings were fixed with lady social workers and why in the Rest House and especially why in the evening.
Above all, I was squirming under the apprehension that the minister is going to use me as the negotiator. What a mess I had put my self and this simpleton wife of mine into? My wife could never conceive of such villainy from me. She would blow the top off minister's head and my head thereafter, the moment any amorous advances were made in her direction. I had to do some thing and do it fast. I had four hours to retrieve the situation.

Minister's home was in the adjoining village, about twenty miles away. His wife, children and his old parents were staying there. If alone I could bring them to the Rest House, it would save the situation.

I quietly slipped to the market place in the jeep that the DC had given me. I caught hold of one of my deputies and told the driver to take me to minister's village who looked quizzingly at me.
“There is a crisis and a serious one.”
“What crisis?” The jeep driver was inquisitive.
“Shut up and do what I say,” I snapped.
In an hour we arrived at the grocery shop in the minister’s village.

I gave the driver a twenty rupee note with a off the cuff statement.
"I am told this place is known for excellent country liquor; real stuff, gives you the kick of your life. But come back soon."

The driver was clever and like most of the government drivers liked to be looked after by the host. He was off the scene in no time.
Having set the stage, it was time for me to start the drama. I went to the tea shop adjacent to the grocer' shop.
"Kundan Singh", I said to my deputy in loud enough voice, "Is the minister very serious?"
"Oh yes. They must arrange an air-lift. In fact they should ring Delhi and get the military helicopter."
"Even if they take him in an ambulance to some good hospital, perhaps he may survive," I added plaintively.
"No, no. That will be too risky. It is a matter of a minister’s life. How can you take it so lightly?"
"The minister shouldn't have taken the risk knowing fully well that if he was still under treatment. These politicians are crazy when it comes to be seen in the public." I opined.
"Yes, but the administration should have been wiser and evacuated him at once. The function could have been postponed or the KC could have been inaugurated by the DC."
The shop keeper was aware of the minister's visit. He was alarmed.
"What happened? Who is seriously ill? Are you talking about the Industry Minister? Is he seriously ill? Have they informed his wife? Arrey! He is my first cousin,” he said with anxiety showing on his face.
I expressed helplessness with a parting shot.
"If you know his house, why don’t you inform his wife and parents? After all, any thing may happen and what’s the use crying afterwards. It is dangerous to leave the things at the mercy of bureaucrats."
"I am going immediately to his house to inform his wife and parents. What recklessness?" said the man with potion of fellow feeling over flowing.
The shop keeper was on his motor cycle before we could finish our tea.
The driver was thoroughly sozelled. I had wanted him that way. We dumped him on the rear seat and started back to the scene of action.

The minister asked Gauriji to take the seat next to him who by now was getting uneasy of her new status. The minister was cheerful, immaculately dressed with a beaming face. He often sought the opinion of Gauriji on issues, which were quite Greek to her.
The meeting was over. The CIDM looked at us and gave a smile to Gauriji. Everyone understood that it was a hint for others to disperse.

"What a beautiful place Gauriji?" The minister observed.
"Yes sir." Gauriji was brief.
"I wish I could stay here for ever," he continued.
"Difficult sir. You are a busy person."
"Yes, I know. I feel as if I am in heaven, perhaps it is because of you …… I…..mean your company …. I suppose you understand," the minister said giving Gauriji a meaningful look.
Gauriji was shrinking in her chair like a kitten at the sight of a blood hound closing in.
“You look very beautiful in this sari, very charming indeed,” the minister continued complimenting and then suddenly he held Gauriji’s hand and asked her, “why don’t you have dinner with me?”
Gauriji was flabbergasted and I was getting nervous.

"The idiot of the shop keeper might have fallen in to river or was the damn motorcycle punctured? Was minister’s father on death bed? May be, the scoundrel’s wife was in labour?" All sorts of depressing thoughts were tormenting me.
I was not breathing properly. My wife noticed that. I was stammering in my other wise fluent speech. I was about to faint when I heard the crackling noise of a motor cycle, I knew my saviors had come.

Next I heard the mouthful curses from minister’s wife who was told of total indifference, nay the deliberate carelessness of the administration in looking after her seriously ill husband.
I quietly went behind a cover lest any one of them recognized me.

"May the parents of the Collector die without water. May his wife become a widow." It was minister’s wife howling.
Every one was startled. I was not.
"Where have you kept my husband, you butchers? I will not spare any one of you. All of you will be hanged if anything happened to him."

Following the tirades of the devoted wife was the wailing father of the minister who was also transported by another devoted cousin. It was now minister’s father’s turn to seek the welfare report of his son.
"Have you called the military? Have you called the helicopter? Have you informed the Chief Minister? And have you informed the Prime Minister?" There were many issues causing concern to the old man.

The CIDM was visibly annoyed.
"What the hell is all this? Who the hell is sick here? "Why are you here in the first place? And who the hell gave you this information?" The minister shouted at his folks.
"Aren't you seriously ill? The lady wife wanted to know.
"Certainly not and now get lost. For how many times have I told you people not to interfere in my public life? You have spoiled my meeting. Now get out from here," he shouted exercising his lung power to the full.

I knew the battle was won. The minister’s wife was a determined fighter, she would not give in so easily. She would stay there for the night to ensure that her husband had a sound sleep.
The family of the CIDM retired to the inner rooms. We could listen to the animated discussion and clamour from inside.

I tiptoed quietly to Gauriji.
“Let’s go home. The CIDM had a hectic schedule and the ordeal is not yet over,” I told my wife, the newly appointed TO-Knitting and led her out of the Rest House.