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Inspector Matadeen On The Moon

satires by
Harishankar Parsai

Translated by C N Naim
Contents

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4

Inspector Matadeen on the Moon . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8

A Ten Day Fast . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18

Contesting an Election in Bihar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

Poor Trishanku . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34

The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

Family Planning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

The First Bridge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

Gentlemen, Conmen and Congressmen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 52

When the Soul Cries Out . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 61

Honouring the Sahab . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 67

The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 71

Iti Shri Researchayah . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75

A Journey with a Premi . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 79

Bholaram’s Soul . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84

2
Tiny Tales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
The Right Punishment . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
The Right Medicine . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89
A Boy of Destiny . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Caste . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
The effigy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
The sorrow . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91

A Fast Unto Death . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93

Pulled Down Lamp Posts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98

Shivering Republic . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101

Divine Lunatic Mission . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105

The Days of Gardish . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 108

Biographical Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 114


Introduction

Modern Hindi prose had its beginnings in the 1870s. Bharatendu Harishchan-
dra (d. 1885), the father of almost everything modern in Hindi, also devel-
oped the language as an effective vehicle for humour and satire. He directed
his barbs not merely at the hypocrisy of his fellow countrymen but also at
the English misrule, thus setting the path for all future satirists in Hindi.
Politics and society became the two most popular — and deserving — tar-
gets. Of course, these two topics also found favour with all serious writers in
Hindi, just as many of them found some form of humour to be not only ef-
fective but often inevitable in the course of their predominantly non-satirical
writings. Premchand, for example, had much success with his satirical series
Mote Ram and even had to face serious legal trouble on its account.
Post-Independence Hindi witnessed an explosion of satirical writing. Par
ninda sukh or schadenfreude being the staple in any beleaguered society,
satire flourished in Hindi as never before. Magazines and newspapers carried
regular satirical columns, and there was no dearth of satirical stories and
even novels. Writers like Shrilal Shukla, Sharad Joshi, Manohar Shyam Joshi,
Mudra Rakshas, Gopal Chaturvedi, Sudhish Pachauri, Prem Janamejaya and
Latif Ghonghi — led by Harishankar Parsai — helped Hindi satire attain its
full stature as a valid literary genre.
No writer is perhaps so inseparably identified with his chosen genre in
Hindi literature as is Harishankar Parsai with satire. But his earliest writings
were in that pathos-arousing idealistic mode that was so characteristic of
Hindi writers — mostly from the lower middle class — who took to writing
after 1947. His first book, Hanste Hain Rote Hain (We Laugh, We Cry),
published in the early fifties, was a collection of heart-wrenching short stories
based on the trials of his adolescent life. By then, he had come under the
influence of the so called “radical socialists” — led by Acharya Narendra
Devi, Jayaprakash Narayan, Ram Manohar Lohia, and others — who had
broken away from the Congress led by Nehru. Though he soon became
disenchanted with them due to their negativism after their abject electoral
defeats. That experience also cured him of his romantic idealism. He became
Harishankar Parsai Introduction

an ardent Marxist and continued to remain one, the dissolution of the Soviet
Union notwithstanding.
But Parsai was neither a demagogue nor a blinkered theoretician. The
roots of his commitment did not lie in Das Kapital but in his bitter experi-
ences in our caste and class ridden society. As the barely adolescent bread-
winner of his orphaned family and the surrogate father to his two unmarried
sisters, Parsai experienced first hand the hypocritical morass of contradic-
tions that Hinduism could degenerate into.
A significant but often overlooked fact in Parsai’s biography is that he
gave up his very first job in the forest department, thus refusing to make
a fortune by conniving with the rapists of India’s ecology, and chose in-
stead to become a humble school teacher. In the classroom he came face
to face with the overwhelmingly poverty ridden “future” of India. On the
larger national scene he saw the comparatively painlessly won freedom be-
ing gradually gnawed away by a more predatory class of native masters —
corrupt bureaucrats, avaricious politicians, amoral businessmen, rapacious
contractors, permit-brokers and middlemen, smugglers and mafia dons, and
the much worse purveyors of linguistic, regional and caste hatreds and the
fundamentalist fascists of various faiths.
It was this milieu that made Parsai opt for satire as his literary forte and
weapon. But he had little patience for literary niceties, even of the socialist-
realist kind. Whatever he wrote had to be direct, unambiguous and bold.
His friendship with the great poet and critic Gajanan Madhav Muktibodh
(d. 1964) further strengthened him in his socio-political commitment. By
the mid-fifties, Parsai had gained enough reputation and self-confidence to
launch — with considerable help from friends — a literary magazine, Va-
sudha, from Jabalpur. Though it attracted wide attention and significant
contributors, it had to be discontinued after three years for want of finan-
cial support. Meanwhile, the growing pungency — and popularity — of
Parsai’s writings were posing a serious problem to him, a teacher and a gov-
ernment servant venting his spleen at everything that was venerated in the
body politic. He then took a decision — undreamt of in those days of acute
unemployment and fraught with risks even in this era of an apparent media
boom. He resigned from his teaching job to become a freelance writer, and
remained one till his dying day.
It was only in 1985, when his scattered writings in books and newspapers
were collected in six volumes running into nearly two thousand and five
hundred pages of demi octavo size, that the astounding dimensions of Portal’s
oeuvre revealed themselves. Very few authors in Hindi have been so honoured
in their life and Parsai, characteristically, made some fun of himself and the
book’s editors in a prefatorial note to the Rachnavali. That collection, which

5
Introduction Harishankar Parsai

was not definitive even then, was left far behind by Parsai’s prolific pen.
Though illness and age took their toll, there was no stopping Parsai in his
iconoclasm, boldness and subversion. The only concession he seemed to have
made to age was to write memoirs of several of his friends and acquaintances
and some autobiographical pieces published in two volumes. But in his later
book, with its provocatively ambiguous title Aisa Bhi Socha Jata Hai (It
is Thought This Way Too), he offers yet again an assortment of essays on
politics, culture, society and even literature, but almost none without some
homage to his muse of satire.
What is the key to Parsai’s popular and critical success? First of all, he
wrote mainly about the middle and the lower-middle classes of our urban soci-
ety and their social and political vagaries. In this, he often did not spare even
the so called common man. He wrote about concrete things ands events, with
barely any theorizing, but abounding in pithy observations. No ideology but
a solid human commonsense pervaded his writings. Almost single-handedly,
Parsai rescued Hindi humour from the vulgarities of the basically male chau-
vinistic “domestic” situations, the cruel burlesque of physical deformities or
failings, the not-so-subtle caste or community stereotypes, and the malicious
caricature of linguistic or regional traits. On the other hand, he freely used
fantasy, folk tale, a pseudo-puranic style, epistolary mode, Socratic interro-
gation, cliches, jargon and demagoguery, plain narrative, the hyperbolic and
the absurd — all types of literary modes in various combinations and per-
mutations. Most importantly, Parsai’s language was almost totally innocent
of superfluity — each word, sentence and paragraph was honed to perfection
for its desired effect.
Though Parsai had in him elements of the divine jester mendicant Narada,
he also combined in himself the much feared Durvasa and the systematic
“realist” Chanakya. He had the compassion of the Buddha too, and revived
in Hindi the great reform tradition as imitated by such saint poets as Kabir
and Tukaram. I may also add that to my mind no writer before him brought
to Hindi the element of a Socratic inquiry. If the Greek gurus addressed
their acolytes in the open spaces of Athens, Parsai spoke to his millions of
followers through newspaper columns — in the sixties and seventies, in the
fiercely independent column Kahat Kabir (Says Kabir) in the Hindi daily Nai
Duniya and later, in the daily Deshbandhu in his iconoclastic Answers to the
Readers’ Questions. Since he missed no opportunity to lampoon and expose
religious fanaticism and obscurantism, he often had to face threats of “dire
consequences” and was at least once physically assaulted by fundamentalist
goons. But undaunted, Parsai continued his crusade with the same vigour.
Almost the entire community of Hindi writers was behind him, just as it was
his fearless pen that had inspired and strengthened them.

6
Harishankar Parsai Introduction

What is being offered here only fractionally represents Parsai, but it is


a sampling that should whet the appetite for more. It is perhaps the first
anthology from a major Hindi satirist in English. and its validity lies in the
apt selections and enjoyable translations. It was an honour undeserved and
inadequately vindicated for me to be asked to write an introduction. It did,
however, give me an opportunity to repay, howsoever poorly, a debt to this
indisputed master, a debt that many like me in Hindi feel we owe him. It
is a painful paradox that Parsai’s writings have acquired more relevance in
the recent years as communal, caste and other socio-political tensions have
continued to get worse. But to most of his readers in Hindi, Parsai was the
Indian Vulcan and his unflinching prose a roaring furnace, wherein he forged
the conscience of our age.

Vishnu Khare1

1
This book is a revised version of Inspector Matadeen on the Moon, published by
Manas, an imprint of Affiliated East-West Press Private Limited, Chennai in 1994.

7
Inspector Matadeen on the
Moon

Scientists say there is no life on the moon. But the senior inspector, Mata-
deen, known in the department as MD Saab, says, “The scientists lie. There
are men, just like us, on the other side of the moon.”
Science has always lost out to Inspector Matadeen. Let experts argue till
they are hoarse that the prints on the dagger do not match the fingerprints
of the accused, Inspector Matadeen will still manage to put his man behind
bars.
Matadeen says, “These scientists, they never investigate a case thor-
oughly. Just because they can see only the bright side of the moon they’ve
declared there’s no life on it. I’ve been to the dark side. There are men living
there.”
That has to be true. When it comes to dark sides, Inspector Matadeen
is the recognized expert . . .
But, you might ask, why did he go to the moon? As a tourist? To catch
a fugitive?
No. He went under the Cultural Exchange Scheme, to represent India.
The Government of Moon wrote to the Government of India, “We are an
advanced civilization, but our police force is still not good enough. They
often fail to catch or punish criminals. We understand you have established
Ram Rajya in your country. Please send one of your police officers to give
our men proper training.”
The home minister told the home secretary, “Send some IG.”
He replied, “Sir, we cannot send an inspector general. It’s a matter of
protocol. Moon is only a small satellite of Earth. We cannot send someone
of too high a rank there. Let me depute some senior inspector.”
And so they chose Inspector Matadeen, the investigating officer of a thou-
sand and one cases, and the Moon Government was asked to send an earth-
ship to fetch him.
Meanwhile the home minister sent for Inspector Matadeen. “You’re going
Harishankar Parsai Inspector Matadeen on the Moon

there.” he said. “to represent the glorious traditions of the Indian Police.
Make sure you do a good job. Make the universe applaud our department,
so that even the prime minister hears about us.”

On the appointed day, an earth-ship arrived from Moon. Bidding ev-


eryone goodbye, Inspector Matadeen started walking towards the ship. He
was chanting a chaupai under his breath — “Pravisi nagara kijai sab kajaa,
hridaya rakhi kausalpur raja . . . ”1
On reaching the ship, Inspector Matadeen suddenly called out to his clerk
Munshi Abdul Ghafoor. “Munshi!”
Abdul Ghafoor clicked his heels, saluted, and said, “Yes, Pectsa,”
“Did you remember to pack some FIR forms?”
“Yes, Pectsa.”
“And a blank copy of the Daily Record Register?”
“Yes, Pectsa.”
Inspector Matadeen then sent for Havaldar Balbhaddar and said to him,
“When it’s time for delivery in our house, send your bed to lend a hand.2 ”
Balbhaddar replied. “Yes. Pectsa”
“You needn’t worry. Pectsa,” Abdul Ghafoor added. “I’ll send my house
too.”
Inspector Matadeen then turned to the pilot. “You have your driver’s
licence?”
“Yes sir.”
“And your headlights work?”
“Yes sir.”
“They’d better,” growled Inspector Matadeen to his men, “otherwise I’ll
challan the bastard mid-space.”
The pilot overheard him and said, “In our country, we don’t talk to people
in this manner.”
“I know, I know,” Inspector Matadeen sneered, “no wonder your police
is so weak-kneed. But I’ll kick them into shape soon enough.”
He had placed one foot inside the earth ship’s door when Havaldar Ram
Sanjivan came running. “Pectsa.” he said. “the house of SP Saab asks you
to bring her a heel-polishing stone from the moon.”
Inspector Matadeen was delighted. “Tell Bai Saab I’ll definitely get her
one.”
1
Pravisi nagara . . . This line is from a verse from Tulsidas’s Ramcharitmanas, recited
by Lankini, the residing deity of Lanka, inviting Hanuman to enter Lanka reached there
in quest of Sita.
2
The words “house” and “bed” in certain strata of soceity, were used loosely to refer
to the wife.

9
Inspector Matadeen on the Moon Harishankar Parsai

Finally he climbed in and took his seat and the earth-ship took off. It
had barely crossed the earth’s atmosphere when Inspector Matadeen shouted
to the pilot, “Abé, why aren’t you honking?”
“There’s nothing for millions of miles!” the-pilot replied.
“But a rule is a rule,” Inspector Matadeen snarled. “Keep, your thumb
down on the horn.”
The pilot pressed the horn, and kept it pressed all the way till they arrived
on Moon.

Senior officers of Moon Police had come to receive Inspector Matadeen.


He swaggered out of the earth-ship and ran an eye over their shoulder-
patches. None had a star on it, or even a ribbon. Inspector Matadeen
decided it wasn’t necessary to click his heels or salute. He also thought,
After all, I’m now a Special Advisor, not just an inspector.
The welcome party took him to the local Police Lines and put him up in
a fine bungalow.
After a day’s rest, Inspector Matadeen decided to begin his work First he
went out to inspect the Police Lines. In the evening he expressed his surprise
to the host Inspector General. “There’s no Hanuman temple in your Police
Lines! In our Ram Rajya, every Police Lines has its Hanumanji.”
The IG asked, “Who is Hanuman? We’ve never heard of him.”
Inspector Matadeen explained. “Every policeman must have a daily dar-
shan of Hanumanji. You see, Hanumanji was in the Special Branch in Sug-
riv’s administration. It was he who discovered where Ma Sita was being held
forcibly. It was a case of abduction — Section 362 IPC, you know. Hanu-
manji punished Ravan right on the spot — set fire to his entire property.
The police must have that kind of right. They should be able to punish a
criminal as soon as they catch him. No need to get bogged down in courts.
But sad to say, we are yet to achieve that in our Ram Rajya.
“Anyway, Bhagwan Ram was highly pleased with Hanumanji. He took
him to Ayodhya and assigned him the city beat. That same Hanumanji is
our patron god. Here, I brought his photograph along. Use this to get some
figures cast, then have them set up in all the Police Lines.”
A few days later, an idol of Hanumanji was enshrined in each and every
Police Lines on the moon.
In the meantime, Inspector Matadeen began to study how the local police
worked. It seemed to him that the Moon Police was careless and lacked in
enthusiasm, that it showed little concern for crime. But the reason for this
attitude was not apparent.
Suddenly, a thought occurred to Inspector Matadeen. He sent for the
salary register. One glance at it and everything was clear. Now he knew why

10
Harishankar Parsai Inspector Matadeen on the Moon

the Moon Police behaved the way it did.


That evening he reported to the police minister. “Now I know why your
men are so lackadaisical. You pay them large salaries, that’s why. Five
hundred to a constable, seven hundred to a havaldar, and a thousand to a
thanedar! What kind of foolishness is this? Why should your police try to
catch any criminal? In our country, we give the constables just one hundred,
and the inspectors two. That’s why you see them running around catching
criminals. You must immediately reduce the salaries.”
“But that would be highly unfair,” the police minister protested. “Why
would they work at all if they are not given good salaries?”
Inspector Matadeen replied, “There’s nothing unfair about it. In fact, as
soon as the first reduced pay cheques are sent out, you’ll see a revolutionary
change in your men’s attitude.”
The police minister ordered a cut in the salaries. Sure enough, in a couple
of months, a drastic change was evident. The policemen suddenly became
most zealous in their performance. Aroused from sleep, they became doubly
alert and kept an eye on everything. There was panic in the criminal world.
When the police minister sent for the records kept at the police stations,
he was amazed to see that the number of registered cases was several times
higher than before. He said to Inspector Matadeen, “I must praise your keen
insight. You have brought about a revolution! But do tell me, how it works.”
“It’s very simple,” Inspector Matadeen explained. “If you pay an em-
ployee little money, he won’t be able to live on it. No constable can support
a family on just one hundred rupees a month, nor can an inspector live with
dignity on two hundred. Each will have to make some extra money. And he
can do that only if he starts catching criminals. Immediately, he becomes
concerned about crime, and turns into an alert and dutiful policeman. That’s
why we have a most efficient police system in our Ram Rajya.”
The news of this miracle spread all over the moon. People began to come
to look at the man who could reduce salaries and yet create efficiency. The
policemen were the most happy. They said to Inspector Matadeen, “Guru,
if you hadn’t come we’d have continued living on our salaries alone.” The
Moon Government was also delighted, for it could now have a surplus budget.
Half the problem was taken care of thus. The police had started catching
criminals. Now only the investigative process remained to be reformed — how
to get a criminal sentenced after one had caught him. Inspector Matadeen
decided to wait for some major incident so that he could use it as a model
to display his special methods.
One day, some people quarrelled and one of them got killed. When In-
spector Matadeen heard of it, he marched to the police station, sat down at
a desk, and declared, “I shall investigate this case to show you how it’s done.

11
Inspector Matadeen on the Moon Harishankar Parsai

All of you just watch and learn. This is a murder case. And in a murder
case one must have rock solid evidence against the accused.”
The station officer said, “Before we start collecting evidence against any-
one, shouldn’t we first try to discover who did the killing?”
Inspector Matadeen replied, “No, why work backwards? First make sure
of your evidence. Did you find any blood? On someone’s clothes or else-
where?”
One of the inspectors said, “The assailants ran away while the victim lay
dying on the road. A man who lives near the spot picked him up and brought
him to the hospital. His clothes did have some blood on them.”
“Arrest the man immediately.”
“But sir,” the station officer remonstrated, “he only tried to help the
dying man!”
“That may well be true,” explained Inspector Matadeen, “but where else
would you now find blood spots? You must grab the evidence which is readily
available.”
The man was arrested and brought to the police station. He protested,
“But I carried the dying man to the hospital! Is that a crime?”
The local officers were visibly moved, but not Inspector Matadeen. Ev-
eryone waited to see how he would respond.
“But why did you go where the fight occurred?” Inspector Matadeen
asked the man.
“I didn’t go there,” he replied. “I happen to live there. The fight took
place right in front of my house.”
It was clearly a test of Inspector Matadeen’s genius. He quietly responded,
“True, your house is there, but why go where a fight is taking place?”
There could be no answer to that question. The man could only repeat
and go on repeating, “I didn’t go there. I live there.”
And each time Inspector Matadeen responded, “That is true, but why go
where a fight is taking place?”
This line of questioning greatly impressed the local officers.
Inspector Matadeen settled back and explained his investigative princi-
ples. “Look,” he said, “a man’s been killed. This means someone definitely
killed him. Someone is the murderer. Someone has to be convicted and
punished. You might ask, who is guilty? But, for the police, that’s not so
important. What is important is who can be proven guilty or, better still,
who should be proven guilty?
“A murder has occurred. Eventually, someone will be convicted. It’s not
for us to worry if it is the actual killer or someone innocent. All human
beings are equal. In each of them is present a bit of the same god. We don’t
discriminate. We’re humanists.

12
Harishankar Parsai Inspector Matadeen on the Moon

“So the question actually is who ought to be proven guilty? That depends
on two things. One, has the man been a nuisance to the police, and two, will
his conviction please the men at the top?”
Inspector Matadeen was told that though the arrested man was otherwise
a decent person, he was given to criticizing whenever the police made a
mistake. As for the question of pleasing the men at the top, the man belonged
to the opposition party.
“It’s a first-rate case,” Inspector Matadeen declared, thumping the table.
“Rock solid evidence, plus support from the top!”
One inspector tried to protest. “But we can’t let a decent man be con-
victed of a crime he didn’t commit!”
Inspector Matadeen explained patiently, “Look. I’ve already told you
that the same god resides in all of us. Whether you convict this man or the
actual killer, it is god who will hang. Further, in this instance, you’re getting
blood spattered clothes. Now where would you find bloodstains if you let
him go? Go ahead, file the FIR as I tell you.”
Inspector Matadeen dictated the First Information Report leaving a few
spaces blank for future needs.
Next day, the station officer came to Inspector Matadeen and said, “Gu-
rudev, we’re in deep trouble. Numerous citizens have come to demand, Why
are you trying to frame that poor innocent man? It has never been done
before. What should we say? We feel so ashamed . . . ”
“Don’t worry,” Inspector Matadeen consoled him. “In this job, one always
feels some compunction in the beginning. But later you’ll feel ashamed for
letting innocent people go free. Now understand this, every question has an
answer. The next time someone comes to you to question, tell him, We know
the man is innocent, but what can we do? Those at the top want it so.”
“In that case they’ll go to the SP.”
“Let him say, Those at the top want it so.”
“Then they’ll complain to the IG.”
“He too should say, It’s the men at the top who want it so.”
“They’ll then go to the police minister.”
“So what? He should say the same thing, Friends, what can I do? Those
at the top want it so.”
“But the people won’t give up. They’ll go to the PM.”
“The PM should respond in the same way, I know he’s innocent but those
at the top want it so.”
“Then . . . ”
“Then what?” Matadeen stopped him short. “Who can they go to next?
To god? But has anyone ever come back after going to god?”

13
Inspector Matadeen on the Moon Harishankar Parsai

The station officer remained silent. Such brilliant logic left him dumb-
founded.
Inspector Matadeen continued, “That one sentence — Those at the top
want it so — has always come to the rescue of our government in the last
twenty five years. You too should learn it well.”
They began to get the case ready for trial. Matadeen ordered, “Bring me
a few eyewitnesses.”
“How can we do that?” the station officer asked. “How can there be
eyewitnesses when no one saw him kill that man?”
Matadeen smacked his head in despair. “God, what fools I have to deal
with! They don’t even know the ABC of this business.” Then he added
angrily, “Do you know who an eyewitness is? An eyewitness is not someone
who actually sees, he’s one who claims that he saw.”
“But why would someone make such a claim?” the station officer pro-
tested.
“Why not?” thundered Inspector Matadeen. “I can’t see how you people
manage to run your department at all. Arré, the police must always have a
ready list of eyewitnesses. When one is needed, you just pick a name from
that list and present the person in the court. In our country we have people
who eyewitness hundreds of cases every year. Our courts have recognized that
these men possess some divine power that lets them foresee the place where
some incident is going to happen, allowing them to reach there beforehand.
“I’ll get you eyewitnesses. Bring me some bad characters. You know the
kind — petty thieves, gamblers, goondas, bootleggers.”
Next day, half a dozen fine specimens showed up at the police station.
Inspector Matadeen was delighted. It had been too long since he had last
seen such men. He had been lonely. His voice melting with affection, he
asked them, “You saw that man assault the deceased, didn’t you?”
They replied, “No sir, we didn’t see a thing. We weren’t even there.”
Inspector Matadeen knew it was the first time for them. He patiently
continued, “I know you weren’t there. But you saw him attack with a lathi,
didn’t you?”
The men decided they were dealing with a lunatic. Who else would talk
such nonsense? They began to laugh.
“Don’t laugh!” said Inspector Matadeen sternly. “Answer my question.”
They again replied, “How can we say we saw it when we weren’t even
there?”
Inspector Matadeen lost his temper. “I’ll tell you how,” he snarled. “I
have here detailed reports on what you fellows have been up to. I can have
each one of you locked up for at least ten years. Now tell me, you wish to
stay in business or would you rather go to jail?”

14
Harishankar Parsai Inspector Matadeen on the Moon

The men were scared out of their wits. “No sir, we don’t want to go to
jail.”
“In that case, you saw that fellow beat the victim with a lathi, didn’t
you?”
“Yes sir, we did. We saw him come out of his house and start hitting the
man with a lathi until the poor fellow fell to the ground.”
“Good. In future too, you’ll see more such incidents, won’t you?” Mata-
deen pressed on.
“Yes sir. We’ll see what you tell us to.”
The station officer was overwhelmed by this miracle. He couldn’t move
for a few minutes. Then, getting up from his chair, he threw, himself at
Inspector Matadeen’s feet.
“Here now, let go. Let me do my work,” Inspector Matadeen remon-
strated, but the station officer clung to him and kept repeating, “I want to
spend the rest of my days at your feet.”
In due course, Inspector Matadeen put together the entire dossier and, in
the process, taught the local police everything he, knew — how to substitute
FIRS, how to leave some pages blank for future use, how to change entries
in the Daily Record, how to win over hostile witnesses . . . The man he had
got arrested was sentenced to twenty years.

The Moon Police was now fully trained. Case after case was brought
before the courts and, in every instance, a conviction was won. The Moon
Government was delighted. The Moon Parliament passed a resolution to
thank the Government of India. It noted the remarkable efficiency the Moon
Police had achieved under Inspector Matadeen’s guidance. Inspector Ma-
tadeen was given a civic reception. Covered with garlands, he was taken
around in a procession in an open jeep. Thousands of people lined the road
and shouted his praises. Inspector Matadeen responded in the style of his
home minister with folded hands, lowered eyes, full of humility. But this was
his first time and he felt somewhat ill at ease. He had never even dreamt,
when he had entered the service some twenty six years ago, that one day
he would be so honoured on Moon. He wished he had remembered to bring
along a dhoti kurta and a Gandhi cap.
On Earth, the Indian home minister watched the proceedings on televi-
sion. “This may be the time for me to make a goodwill visit,” he mused.
A few more months passed.
Then, suddenly one day, the Moon Parliament met in an emergency ses-
sion. It was a stormy but secret meeting, and so its report was not made
public. We can only offer what was faintly heard by people outside the
chamber. The members seemed enraged and could be heard shouting:

15
Inspector Matadeen on the Moon Harishankar Parsai

“No one takes care of sick parents!”


“No one tries to rescue a drowning child!”
“No one helps if a house catches fire”
“Men have become worse than animals!”
“The government should immediately resign!”
“Resign! Resign!”

Next day the prime minister of Moon sent for Inspector Matadeen. In-
spector Matadeen could see that the prime minister had visibly aged, that he
seemed not to have slept for a few nights. He looked quite disconsolate as he
said, “Matadeenji, we are extremely grateful to you and to the Government
of India but you should go back tomorrow.”
“No sir,” Matadeen replied, “I’ll return only after I’ve finished my term
here.”
“We’ll give you your full term’s salary,” the prime minister said. “Double
the amount . . . triple, if you wish.”
Inspector Matadeen was polite but firm. “No sir, I’m a man of principles.
My work is more dear to me than money.”
In the end, the prime minister of Moon sent a confidential letter to the
prime minister of India.
Four days later, Inspector Matadeen received orders from his IG to re-
turn immediately. Picking up a heel-polishing stone for the wife of his SP,
Inspector Matadeen climbed aboard the earth-ship and bade farewell to the
moon. The entire Moon Police burst in tears as the earth-ship lifted off.
What happened on Moon that he had to leave so suddenly? What did
the prime minister of Moon write to the prime minister of India? These
questions remained unanswered for a long time.
Then someone got hold of that confidential letter and made part of it
public.

Thank you for lending us the services of Inspector Matadeen, but


now you must recall him immediately. We had thought India was
our friend, but only an enemy could have done what you did to
us. We were innocent and trusting, and you deceived us.
Ever since Inspector Matadeen has trained our police, things have
come to a terrible pass. No one comes to the help of an assault
victim for fear he might himself be accused. Sons abandon their
sick parents, less they be charged with murder. Houses catch fire
and burn down, but neighbours don’t help for fear they might
be accused of arson. Children drown before people’s eyes but no
one comes to their rescue lest they be accused of drowning them.

16
Harishankar Parsai Inspector Matadeen on the Moon

All human relations are breaking down. Your man has destroyed
almost half of our civilized life. If he stays around longer he’ll
destroy the remaining half. Please call him back immediately to
your own Ram Rajya . . . 3

3
“Inspector Matadeen on the Moon” was first published in Hindi as “Inspector Mata-
deen Chand Par” in 1968.

17
A Ten Day Fast

10 January
Today I said to Bannu, “Look here, Bannu, nothing works these days —
the parliament, the judges, the bureaucracy, nothing. Today all major de-
mands are gained only through threats of fasts and self-immolation. Our
democracy is twenty years old now and is so finely tuned that the threat of
just one man starving or killing himself can seal the fate of millions of people.
Now’s the time you too went on an indefinite fast — for that woman.”
Bannu remained silent. For sixteen years he has been after Radhika
Babu’s wife, Savitri. Once he even got badly roughed up when he tried to
drag her away. Bannu can’t get her to leave her husband and live with him
because Savitri hates even the sight of his face.
Finally, after some thought, Bannu said, “But can one go on a fast over
such a matter?”
“You can fast for anything these days,” I replied. “Just recently Baba
Sankidas went on a fast and got a new law passed which requires people
to grow long hair but never shampoo. Now everyone has a stinking head.
Compared to it, your demand is a mere trifle. You only want that woman.”
“What’re you talking about!” Surendra, who had been listening to us,
spoke up. “Go on a fast to grab someone else’s wife? you should be ashamed
of yourself. We’ll be the laughing stock of the neighbourhood.”
“Look,” I tried to explain, “even great sadhus and saints didn’t feel
ashamed when they went on a fast, so what’s the big fuss about us com-
mon folks? As for people laughing at us, they’ve laughed so much at the
Cow Protection Movement that they can’t laugh any more. Even if they
were to try, they’d only cry out in pain. In fact, for the next ten years, none
will dare to laugh lest he kills himself.
“But will it work?” Bannu asked.
“That depends on how you set up the issue. If the issue is set up well
you’ll get your woman.” I then added, “Let’s go to an expert and get his
advice. Baba Sankidas is your man. He has quite a thing going these days.
Right now he has four men fasting under his directions.”
Harishankar Parsai A Ten Day Fast

We went to Baba Sankidas. After listening to us, he said, “Fine. I’ll take
up your case, but do as I tell you.” Then, turning to Bannu, he asked, “Can
you threaten to immolate yourself?”
Bannu shook with fear. “I’m scared,” he whimpered.
“You don’t actually have to burn yourself. Just threaten that you might.”
“I can’t even think of it,” Bannu cried. “It scares me to death.”
“In that case,” Baba said, “you should go on a fast. As for setting up the
issue, leave it to me. I’ll take care of it.”
Bannu was still very nervous. “I won’t have to die, will I?” he asked.
Baba replied, “Smart people don’t die. They keep one eye on their med-
ical chart, the other on the mediator. But don’t you worry, we won’t let you
die. We’ll also get you the woman.”

11 January
Bannu has settled down in a tent for his Fast Unto Death. Incense sticks
burn near him, and a group is lustily singing Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite
song, Sab ko Sanmati de bhagwan. The atmosphere is very holy, even on this
first day. There is no doubt that Baba Sankidas is a master of his art. The
Declaration of Principles that he wrote and distributed on Bannu’s behalf is
simply brilliant. In it Bannu says, “My soul calls out to me saying, I’m as
yet only one half. My other half is in Savitri. My soul says, Bring the two
halves together and make them one. Or else set me free from this body. I’m
starting this fast to bring the two halves of my soul together. I demand that
Savitri should be given to me. If I don’t get her, I’ll fast unto death to let
my half of the soul be rid of this transient body. I fear nothing, for I stand
for Truth. May Truth be victorious!”
Savitri came into the tent, boiling with rage. She said to Baba Sankidas,
“The bastard is fasting to get me, isn’t he?”
“Devi,” the Baba replied gently, “you shouldn’t abuse him. His fast is
pure. He may have been a bastard earlier, but he isn’t one anymore. He’s
now on a fast unto death.”
“But he should’ve asked me first,” Savitri retorted. “I spit on him.”
In his calmest voice the Baba said, “Devi. you’re merely the Issue, and
no one asks the issue in such matters. Did the Cow Protection Movement
people ask the cow before they launched their campaign? You should go
home, devi. If you ask my advice, neither you nor your husband should come
here any more. In a day or two, once the public opinion is fully formed, some
people may not allow for your nasty comments.”
Savitri went away, muttering under her breath.
Bannu turned gloomy. Baba tried to console him, “Don’t worry. Victory
will be yours. In the end, Truth always emerges victorious.”

19
A Ten Day Fast Harishankar Parsai

13 January
It seems Bannu has little tolerance for hunger. Today’s only the third
day, but he’s started to moan and groan.
He asked me, “Has Jayaprakash Narayan come yet?
“He comes only on the fifth day,” I explained, “or on the sixth. That’s
his principle. We have, of course, informed him.”
A few minutes later Bannu asked, “What did Vinoba say?”
“He made some comments on the relative importance of means and ends,”
Baba Sankidas replied. “But with a little word-twisting, we can use his
remarks to support our position.”
Bannu closed his eyes. He said, “Bhaiya, get Jayaprakash Babu here
soon.”
Today some journalists came to see us. They asked all sorts of questions.
“What caused him to fast?” “Is it a public cause?”
“One doesn’t ask about the cause at this stage,” Baba told them. “The
problem right now is how do we save Bannu’s life. When someone goes on a
fast he makes such a sacrifice that any cause becomes pure.”
“There will be some public benefit too,” I added. “Many of us secretly
wish to snatch others’ wives but don’t know what to do. If Bannu’s fast
succeeds, it will show the public the right path to follow.”

14 January
Bannu has become quite weak. He has been threatening to end the fast.
That would be a disaster. Baba Sankidas had to spend a lot of time con-
vincing him.
Today the Baba did another amazing thing. He had a statement published
in the papers by some Swami Rasanand. The swami has declared, “I have
performed many ascetic acts. Those acts have given me the power to see
both the past and the future. I have discovered that Bannu was a sage in his
previous life, and that Savitri was his wife. In that life, Bannu’s name was
Rishi Vanamanus. Now, after three thousand years, he has again taken the
body of a man. He and Savitri had sacred marital ties in all their previous
births. lt’s a terrible sin that a sage’s wife should now live in the house of
an ordinary man like Radhika Prasad. I plead to all Dharma-loving people
that they shouldn’t let this sinful state continue any further.”
Swamiji’s statement has had good effect. Some people came to our camp,
shouting, “Victory to Dharma!” Another large group went to Radhika Babu’s
house and shouted, “Radhika Prasad is a sinner!” “May the sinner soon
perish!” “Victory to Dharma!”
Swamiji also arranged to have prayers said in several temples for saving
Bannu’s life.

20
Harishankar Parsai A Ten Day Fast

15 January
Last night someone threw rocks at Radhika Babu’s house. Public opinion
has crystallized. These are some of the remarks our spies heard around
the city — “Poor Bannu! He’s been without food for five days!” “I really
admire his determination.” “But that cruel woman hasn’t softened at all.”
“Look at her husband, what a shameless man!” “I hear Bannu was a sage in
his previous birth.” “Why, didn’t you read Swami Rasanand’s statement?”
“They say it’s a great sin to keep a sage’s wife as your own.”
Today eleven virtuous, married women came and performed aarti to hon-
our Bannu. Bannu was delighted. Whenever he sees a virtuous, married
woman, his heart leaps with joy.
The newspapers are full of news of the fast.
Today we sent a small crowd to the prime minister’s residence, to appeal
to him to interfere in the matter and save Bannu’s life. The PM refused to
meet them. (Well, we’ll see about that.)
Jayaprakash Narayan arrived this evening. He was rather severe. “How
many lives must I save?” he asked crossly. “Is that my profession now?
Every other day someone starts a fast, then shouts Save me. If you want
your life saved, why not eat something? You don’t need a mediator to save
your life. Such nonsense! Now they’re using the virtuous means of a fast to
grab another man’s wife!”
We explained to him, “This is a different kind of issue. It’s Bannu’s soul
that has cried out.”
Jayaprakash Narayan calmed down and said, “If it’s a cry of his soul then
I’ll willingly lend a hand.”
“And the unanimous voice of millions of devout people has also joined
it,” I added.
Jayaprakash Babu agreed to mediate. He’ll first talk to Savitri and her
husband, then he’ll go to see the PM.
All the while, Bannu gazed at Jayaprakash Babu with abject, grateful
eyes.
Later we chided him “You bastard, don’t look so pathetic. If one our of
the leaders catches on to you, he’ll immediately offer you a glass of orange
juice. Don’t you see so many of them are hanging around your tent, their
shoulder bags bulging with oranges?”

16 January
Jayaprakash Babu has failed in his mission. No one is willing to agree.
The PM said, “We sympathize with Bannu, but there’s nothing we can do.
Get him to break his fast first, then we’ll have talks to find a solution.”
We were disappointed.

21
A Ten Day Fast Harishankar Parsai

But not Baba Sankidas. He said, “At first everyone rejects the demand.
That’s the convention. We must now expand our struggle. We should put
in the papers that there was much acetone in Bannu’s urine today, that his
deteriorating condition is causing great anxiety. Other statements should
also appear demanding that Bannu’s life must be saved at any cost. Why
isn’t the government doing anything? It should immediately take steps to
save Bannu’s precious life.”
The Baba is simply amazing. Who knows what schemes are tucked away
inside his head!
He continued, “The time has come to inject the issue of caste in our
campaign. Bannu is a brahmin, Radhika Prasad is a kayasth. Some people
should work on the brahmins, others on the kayasths. I understand the head
of the Brahmin Sabha plans to stand in the next general elections. Someone
should explain to him that this might be his big chance to get all the brahmin
votes.”
A request came today from Radhika Babu. He wanted Bannu to let
Savitri tie a rakhi on his wrist and thus make him her brother.
We rejected the offer.

17 January
The headlines today were — “Save Bannu’s life.” “Bannu’s condition
causes anxiety.” “Prayers said in temples to save Bannu’s life.”
In one paper we had the following advertisement put in.

Millions of Virtuous People Demand Bannu’s Life Must be


Saved
Horrible Consequences if Bannu Dies

The president of the Brahmin Sabha has issued a statement. He sees the
situation as a challenge to the honour of all brahmins, and threatens to take
Direct Action.
We have hired four local goondas. Tonight they’ll throw rocks into
kayasth homes. Afterwards, they’ll go to the brahmin neighbourhood and do
the same there. Bannu had to pay them in advance.
Baba thinks that by tomorrow or the day after we should make the au-
thorities impose a curfew. Or at least make them impose Section 144 of the
Indian Penal Code. Baba says that will make our case stronger.

18 January
Last night stones were thrown into brahmin and kayasth homes.
In the morning there was a pitched battle between several group of the
two castes who freely threw stones at each other.

22
Harishankar Parsai A Ten Day Fast

Section 144, restricting public assembly, has now been imposed on the
entire city.
The city is tense.
A delegation of our representatives met the prime minister. He told them,
“There are legal problems here. This may require some changes in our mar-
riage laws.”
“Then you should make the changes. Or, better still, issue ordinance,”
we replied. “If Bannu dies the entire country will go up in flames.”
He said, “First get him to end the fast.”
“No, the government should first accept the principle of his demand and
set up a committee,” we countered. “That committee could then find some
way for this man to get his woman.”
The government is watching the situation carefully. Bannu will have to
suffer some more. The matter is at a standstill. The talks are at a deadlock.
Small skirmishes continue.
Last night we had some rocks thrown at the police station. That had
satisfactory results.
The slogan “Save the Life” is now being heard much louder.

19 January
Bannu has become extremely weak. He’s scared he might die. He raves
that we’ve led him into a trap. We’re worried. If he issues a statement we’ll
all be exposed.
We must do something soon. We have warned Bannu that if he were to
break his fast now, when nothing’s been gained, the public will lynch him.
Our delegation is to see the PM again.

20 January
“Deadlock!” the headlines screamed.
Only one bus could be burned today. Bannu is in a very bad shape.
We issued a statement on his behalf, “I may die but I shall not retreat.”
The government too seems rather worried.
Today the All India Sadhu Sabha endorsed our demand.
The Brahmin Sabha has issued an ultimatum — “If the demand is not
met, ten brahmins will immolate themselves.”
Savitri tried to commit suicide but was saved.
There is a constant line of people outside who want to have Bannu’s
darshan.
A telegram has been sent to the secretary general of the United Nations.
Prayer meetings are being held all over the country.

23
A Ten Day Fast Harishankar Parsai

Dr Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist leader, has issued a statement, “So
long as the present government remains in power, no just demand of the
people can be expected to be met. We suggest that instead of going after
Savitri, Bannu ought to run away with the government itself.”

21 January
The government has accepted Bannu’s demand in principle. A committee
has been set up to resolve procedural problems.
Amidst loud singing of bhajans and prayers, Baba Sankidas offered a glass
of orange juice to Bannu. Baba declared, “In a democracy public opinion
has to be respected. This issue involved the sentiment of millions of people.
It’s good that it was resolved peacefully, otherwise, a violent revolution could
have taken place.”
The man from the Brahmin Sabha has made a deal with Bannu. Bannu
will campaign on his behalf in the next general elections. He has also given
Bannu plenty of money. Bannu’s price has gone up.
To the hundreds of men and women who come to touch his feet in ado-
ration, Bannu says, “What happened was god’s wish. I was merely his
medium.”
People are shouting — “Victory to Truth!” “Victory to Dharma!”1

1
“A Ten Day Fast” was originally published in Hindi as “Das Din ka Anshan” in 1966.

24
Contesting an Election in Bihar

Dear readers, I’m not the Harishankar who used to write satires. My name,
residence, actions, have all changed. I have shifted to politics. As I tour
through Bihar, I’m preparing to contest in the mid term elections.
Now I call myself Babu Harishankar Narain Prasad Singh.
You’ll remember that, won’t you? You won’t forget?
And please don’t laugh at my new way of speaking. I’ve just started to
learn the pure language. I speak the best I can. After all, I’m a new man1 .
I’ve come to Bihar in response to the outcry raised by the people of Bihar.
How the outcry of a people reaches the ears of politicians, I can’t tell you.
It’s a trade secret.
The people’s outcry can sometimes be like the bleating of a lamb. It calls
for its mother but instead gets a wolf. In fact, even if the lamb stays quiet,
the wolf comes anyway. It says, “You called for me?” The lamb says, “No,
I didn’t even open my mouth.” The wolf replies, “Then I must have heard
the silent cry of your heart.”
The people of Bihar might say to me, “We didn’t call you. We don’t want
you to be the agent of our salvation. Why are you so bent upon doing us a
favour?”
I’ll respond, “Even in faraway Madhya Pradesh, I heard the silent cries of
your hearts. Since they are not having mid term elections there, I’m unable
to serve the people of Madhya Pradesh. And I can’t live if I’m not serving
the people. If you won’t accept my services, I shall force my services on you.”
And it’s not just me. Bhagwan Sri Krishna himself has come to Bihar, to
serve and save its people — the flood driven, drought stricken, disease ridden
people of Bihar. A people also dying from famine.
One day I ran into Bhagwan Krishna. I immediately recognized him. His
peacock feathers, yellow garments and flute were unmistakable.
I asked, “You’re Bhagwan Krishna, aren’t you?”
1
The author is referring to pure language here as the first few paragraphs of this story
are set in a local dialect used in Bihar, and not in standard Hindi.
Contesting an Election in Bihar Harishankar Parsai

He replied, “Yes, the same. However, now my name is Bhagwan Babu


Krishna Narain Prasad Singh. You can also call me Krishna Babu.”
I said, “Bhagwan, have you come to lead the Cow Protection Movement?
The elections are close, so the cows must be protected. I guess you’ll easily
get into politics through the Protect the Cow agitation.”
“No, I haven’t come for that,” Krishna replied. “The Cow Protection
Movement is for the general elections. In a small, mid term election, one
can manage fairly well with even a movement to protect mice. But that’s
something that might interest Ganeshji. It doesn’t interest me.”
I said, “Then you must have been invited by Ramsevak Yadav — to make
sure of the Yadav vote.”
That annoyed the bhagwan. He said, “Let me speak too. I came because
the people of Bihar cried out to me.”
“You must have misunderstood,” I said. “They were the supporters of
Shri Krishnavallabh Sahai, and they were loudly shouting his name to make
sure it was heard by the Congress High Command in Delhi. So he could get
the ticket. You thought they were calling you.”
“No,” Krishna retorted, “I heard with my own ears. The people were
saying, Bhagwan, you’re our only recourse. Only you can save us now. It
was this distressful cry that made me come here.”
Well, that’s possible too. After the fourth general elections, only god’s
power has remained firm. For in Bihar, by the time its afflicted people
would appeal to the government in Patna, there would be a reshuffle and a
new government would come into power. Perhaps in desperation the people
appealed to the only stable government, that of bhagwan.
I said, “It’s good that you came. What do you intend to do now?”
He said, “My three point programme is well-known — Protect the sadhus2 ,
destroy the sinners, and establish dharma.”
“Any economic programmes, et cetera?” I asked.
“No, only the three point programme.”
I asked, “Did you come across any sadhu among the local politicians?”
“Not one.”
“And non-sadhus?”
“None. Here everyone calls himself sadhu, and others non-sadhu. I’m not
sure whom I should destroy.”
Just then I realized that he didn’t have with him his unique weapon, the
sudarshan chakra. How was he to do any destruction then? When I asked,
Sri Krishna replied, “It’s at home. I don’t have a licence for it. Anyway,
they have already enforced Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code here.”
2
Sadhu here refers to honest and good men.

26
Harishankar Parsai Contesting an Election in Bihar

I explained to him, “Bhagwan, even if you had a licence for the chakra,
you would still get convicted under Section 302 if you killed someone.”
Krishna looked a bit perturbed. “In that case, how will I establish
dharma?”
“It’s being established through communal riots,” I explained. “You throw
a bone into a temple and get a riot going in the name of the Hindu dharma.
These days, dharma is used only to start riots. Your ideas are too old. What
we’re doing now is for only one purpose — save the sinners.”
I continued, “You can’t uplift the people without elbowing yourself into
our parliamentary democracy. You should contest for a seat and become the
chief minister of this state. Then send for Rukminiji too. That way, if you’d
inaugurate a tournament she’d distribute the prizes. One pair of Lotus-feet
will serve two purposes.”
It was with great difficulty that I could push democracy down the throat
of his feudal values. Compared to him, the maharaja of Darbhanga, Babu
Kamakhya Narain Singh, had become a democrat in no time at all.
I had something to gain in getting Krishna to contest the elections. I
was myself a new entrant in politics. It was essential that I first become the
chamcha of someone important. A dada needs a chamcha and a chamcha
needs a dada3 . When the dada becomes the chief minister, the chamcha
gets to be his home minister. I thought, since some people have got the
Shankaracharya to side with them, I should link up with Bhagwan Krishna
himself.
We decided that we must first mould public opinion in our favour and
only then start negotiations with the political parties. And so we set out to
meet the public. I became his chamcha. I’d say a few words to introduce him,
then stay silent the rest of the time. I was fully confident that someone who
could, through arguments, make an unwilling Arjun plunge into a battle, will
have no trouble reasoning with people and getting them to side with him.
But gradually I began to feel anxious. Krishna didn’t seem to be getting
anywhere.
We talked to some people active in politics. Krishna told them that he
was contesting an election. They said, “Of course. Why shouldn’t you? You
are bhagwan. People sing bhajans to you, even worship you. They talk of
you all the time. Your photos are sold everywhere. If you won’t contest the
election, who will? After all, you’re a yadav, aren’t you?”
Krishna said, “I’m god. I don’t have a caste.”
They said, “Look, sir, being god won’t do you any good around here. No
one will vote for you. How do you expect to win if you won’t maintain your
3
Dada, literally a hoodlum, here refers to a patron and chamcha is his yes-man.

27
Contesting an Election in Bihar Harishankar Parsai

caste?”
This got us worried. Bhumihar, kayasth, kshatriya, yadav — one had to
be one of these first, only then could one be a Congressite, a Socialist, or a
Communist. Clearly, Krishna had to be a yadav first. After that, it didn’t
matter even if he became a Marxist.
Krishna was soon fed up with this casteism. He said, “They are all
backward people. Let’s go to the universities. We should seek the support
of the educated to remove this evil from its very roots.”
In one university, we talked to a professor of Political Science. He was
frank with us. “I’m a kayasth and so I’ll support only a kayasth.”
Krishna asked, “You’re so learned and yet so parochial?”
“Look,” the professor explained to him, “through learning man comes
to recognize his true self. I obtained learning and discovered that I was a
kayasth.”
This disturbed Krishna so much that he walked out and lay down in the
shade of a tree. He said to me, “I think I’ll go back. I can’t make any
headway in politics where god can’t get a vote by being just god.”
Meanwhile, the news of Krishna’s entry into politics had spread widely,
and all regular political parties were showing some wariness. The Jansangh
leaders thought that being a cowherd Krishna will naturally side with them.
But they decided to be prepared, just in case. They set up a committee of
storytellers and asked them to look into their books and find some dirt on
Krishna. “If he causes any problem, well ruin his reputation.”
In fact, character-assassination had started and some rumours were al-
ready circulating. As Krishna dozed in the cool shade and I sat near him, a
man came to us. He asked me in a whisper, “He’s Bhagwan Krishna, isn’t
he?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Just look at his beauty.”
The man said, “May I tell you something? Keep it to yourself, but I know
all is not right with his Mrs. She’s a runaway. He seduced her. It caused
a big fight. We have the evidence. It’s written in a book. Now tell me, if
someone who made a young woman elope with him comes into power, what
will happen to the honour of our daughters and wives?”
When Krishna awoke, I said to him, “Bhagwan, they’ve started to assassi-
nate your character. You should now either boldly plunge into the campaign
or let me be on my own. I’ll hitch myself to someone else. For if I stay with
you my own political future might be endangered.”
The short nap had apparently refreshed Krishna’s mind. With great
confidence, he said, “I just got an idea. I have several thousand devout
supporters here. I’d forgotten that there are thousands of my temples in this
land. Their pujaris must be devoted to me. With their help, I can easily win

28
Harishankar Parsai Contesting an Election in Bihar

all the seats. Let’s go and talk to them.”


We went to one temple. When the pujari saw Krishna, he went wild with
joy. He started to dance. He said, “What blessed fate! My life-long devotion
has finally borne fruit. I’m looking at god himself.”
Krishna explained to the pujari that he was contesting the election and
that the pujari will have to secure votes for him.
The pujari said, “You are bhagwan, you won’t lack for votes.”
Krishna said. “Even so, one has to make sure. You will vote for me,
won’t you?”
The pujari wistfully rubbed his hands and said, “I worship you. You’re
my bhagwan. But as for my vote, it must go to someone from my own caste.
Had there been no candidate of my own caste I’d certainly vote for you.”
I don’t think Krishna could have felt as hurt when he had been hit by that
hunter’s arrow as he felt just then. He said to me, “There’s nothing left for
me now but to join the Bhoodan Movement. My own pujari has abandoned
me! For such a loser in politics, there are only two choices — join the Bharat
Sevak Samaj or enlist in the Bhoodan Movement. Let’s go to Baba.”
I said, “That stage hasn’t come yet. We haven’t yet lost an election.
There are people who, even after losing four or five elections, haven’t joined
the Sarvodaya. Come, we’ll go and talk to some political parties.”
First we went to the Congress office. There we were told that there was
no Congress there. The secretary said, “Here there is Krishnavallabh Babu,
there is Mahesh Babu, there are Ram Khilavan Babu and Mishra Babu —
but there is no Congress here. In any case, why join the Congress? After
all, whatever group comes into power becomes the Congress, and the losing
group ceases to be it. Only after the elections are over shall we know who
the Congress is. You see the Congress doesn’t any longer form governments,
it only brings them down. You should first contest the elections. Then, if
you get a few legislators to support you, come back to us. We’ll get you a
majority and you may yourself form the government. We had helped Mandal
Babu form the government, remember?”
We then went to the Samyukta Socialist Party. They were first wary of
us. But when we confided to them that the rose that Jawaharlal used to
wear in the buttonhole of his sherwani was in fact made of paper, they were
very happy. One of them said, “Your ideas are very revolutionary. Just see,
how that Nehru fooled the country all that time.”
I said, “We want to be Socialists.”
He said, “Being a Socialist isn’t as important as being anti-Congress.
Even a dacoit who is against the Congress is superior to any Socialist.”
Krishna remarked, “But certainly you must have some ideology?”
“Anti-Congressism is an ideology,” the SSP man replied. “Thanks to it

29
Contesting an Election in Bihar Harishankar Parsai

we can come to an agreement with any group — with the Jansangh, on the
protection of cows, with the Swatantra Party, concerning the protection of
capital, with the Praja Socialist Party, on democratic socialism and with the
Communists, concerning people’s revolution.”
I said, “I remember Dr Lohia had said that in order to gain the people’s
confidence, any non-Congress government must perform some miracle within
the first six months of its coming into power. Did it happen?”
The man replied, “Yes, we performed not one miracle but many. Just
recall the amazing somersault our own Mandal Babu performed when he
came to power.”
Next we went to the Communists. The CPI people said, “Well, Comrade
Krishna, we know your history. You have often displayed leftist adventurism
and radical confusion. You better go to the Marxists.”
The Marxists were blunt. They said, “You are nothing but a reformist.
Your class character has been entirely reactionary.”
But the Jansangh man welcomed us with open arms. He said, “You have
been a member of our party since the Dwapara Yuga. We need only to open
your mind now.”
He took a piece of paper and wrote on it, “Hindi Rashtra, Cow Protection,
Indian Culture.” Then he folded it with a printed form. Next he took out
a key and a lock from a cabinet. Finally, using a peculiar instrument, he
started prying open Krishna’s skull.
Krishna was startled. He tried to struggle away and asked angrily, “What
are you doing?”
The man said, “Your intellectual induction. I shall open your skull, put
these ideas inside, then lock it up. The key will be sent to Nagpur, to
Guruji. Then there won’t be any risk of some adulterous or anti-national
thought sneaking into your mind.”
Krishna was scared out of his wits. Freeing himself with a jerk, he fled.
“Stop, please stop,” the Jansangh man called after him, “at least let our
volunteers have some of your sudarshan chakras.”
Hastening away, we went straight to the Backward Bloc. They said, “You
can’t join us, you are not backward yet. You will become one when you get
to be a legislator but fail to be a minister. Failing to become a minister, you
may rightfully claim to be an exploited and backward person. Then come
and join us.”
We had planned to meet Mahamaya Babu of the Forward Bloc, but we
were told that after withdrawing the two hundred and eighteen cases he had
filed against Kamakhya Babu, he had gone into hiding in the latter’s coal
mine. At the entrance of the mine we ran into Raja Kamakhya Narain Singh
alias Kamakhya Babu. He said, “If you were to join me you’ll be asked to

30
Harishankar Parsai Contesting an Election in Bihar

make a tour of the entire world of politics. That might be too much for you.
Not everyone can be as agile as I am. See for yourself — first I broke away
to form the Janata Party, then I moved to the Swatantra Party. From there
I returned to the Congress. Later I shifted my allegiance to the Bharatiya
Kranti Dal, only to leave it and revive the old Janata Party. To me, political
parties are like underwear. I can’t wear any for long. It begins to stink. I
have with me seventeen legislators, but no government can function without
me. Let me give you some advice. Form a party of your own and get some of
your own people elected to the assembly. Then you can sit majestically and
have the Congressites, the Jansanghists, the Socialists, the Revolutionaries,
the Communists, and what have you — all sit at your feet and serve you. But
if you stick to Principles you’ll be wiped out. The most important principle
is to bargain.”
We too were by now convinced that we won’t quite get along in any party,
that we better form a party of our own. That if we succeed in getting in a
few legislators, then, through manipulations, defections and deals, we can
always control the government itself.
Now we have set up a new party. It will function for the time being only
in Bihar. If it gets strong public support in the mid term elections, we’ll
make it national. Herewith is a summary of our manifesto.

The opportunism, lack of principles, and basic instability that


prevail in contemporary Indian politics are enough to break the
heart of any true servant of the masses. Corruption in higher pol-
itics has caused millions of people to starve, go without clothes,
remain jobless. They are falling prey to famines, floods, droughts
and epidemics. From countless throats rises only one cry —
“Bhagwan, come, form a new party and take political power in
your hands to save us.” Responding to this heart-rending plea
of the people, Bhagwan Krishna has incarnated himself in Bi-
har and, joining hands with that world-renowned public servant,
Babu Harishankar Narain Prasad Singh, has established a new
political party. It is called Bharatiya Janmangal Congress.
In contemporary politics, it has become quite a fashion to use
the word Janata or Jan or Lok in party names. That’s why we
too have included Jan in our party’s name. We, however, appeal
to the people that they shouldn’t take it too seriously. It’s just a
political joke.
The word Bharatiya in our party’s name is also for a reason.
It will facilitate if, in the future, it becomes necessary for us to
merge with the Bharatiya Jansangh and share power with them.

31
Contesting an Election in Bihar Harishankar Parsai

Likewise, we have the word Congress, so that if the Indira


Congress finds it necessary to form a coalition government, it
should first turn to us.
No party has ever explained what the word Janata means. We
are doing so for the first time. Janata are those men and women
who are voters and whose votes elect legislators and ministers.
In this world, the usefulness of the janata lies entirely in the
fact that their votes elect ministries. If it were possible to form
governments without votes, there would be absolutely no need
for the janata.
The people are raw material. From them one makes the more
pukka stuff — the legislators and ministers. In order to make
something more solid, one must do away with what is raw. We
give our full assurance to the people that doing away with them
we shall fashion a high quality government.
Our minimal goal is to remain in power.
Ideologically we believe in the maxim, As is the king, so are
his subjects. If the king lives in luxury, his people too live in
luxury. If the king is happy, so are his people. That’s why the
ministers in our government shall live only lavishly. The people
must understand that we’d be doing so under duress, in fact, only
for their own sake. As is the king, so are his subjects.
Our candidates shall nor enter the elections to become leg-
islators. They shall seek votes to become ministers. When the
people vote for us they will be voting for ministers. Every suc-
cessful candididate of our party will be included in the cabinet.
That will ensure that no one defects. But if any of them must
do so, he should first talk to us — to make sure that we cannot
possibly meet his demands.
The government’s main job is to govern, nor to solve the prob-
lem of roti. That’s why our government will take no interest in
food production. If any company is interested in producing more
grain we will gladly give it all the land in Bihar.
We shall create new administrative districts on the basis of
caste. For example, no kshatriya will be allowed to live in a
brahmin district. District commissioners will be appointed by
the caste panchayats.
Countless people die in epidemics and famines in Bihar every
year. But Kashi is not a part of Bihar. We have only Gaya for
the final rites of the dead. Our party will launch an agitation to
get Kashi annexed to Bihar. Then the people of Bihar can die in

32
Harishankar Parsai Contesting an Election in Bihar

Kashi and have their rites done right here.


We give the people our solemn word that we shall topple any
government that won’t include us. If we ourselves fail to get a
majority, we shall provide the people the pleasure of having a
government every month.
This, of course, is just a summary draft of our manifesto. We
shall give the details later.
People should pray for our party’s victory.
Industrialists, contractors and professional troublemakers
should immediately contact us to negotiate terms.
Our brothers, cousins, uncles, nephews, in-laws and other rel-
atives — wherever they may be — should all come and settle
in Bihar. They should also immediately send in applications for
welfare funds, together with any proof of their relationship to us.
Any delay would only benefit impersonators.4

4
“Contesting an Election in Bihar” was originally published in Hindi as “Ham Bihar
Mein Chunao Lad Rahe Hain” in 1965.

33
Poor Trishanku

In a certain city, in a small house in a dirty neighbourhood, there lived a


man called Trishanku.1 He was a teacher in a school.
Trishanku was dissatisfied with nearly everything in his life, but most
of all with his house. His biggest ambition was to move into a larger place
in some decent neighbourhood someday. Consequently, he was exceptionally
nice to those children whose fathers owned rental properties in the city. Come
examination time, he would tell them the “important” questions they should
prepare for. He would even give them better marks. Trishanku believed that
some day some house-owning parent would be so pleased with him that he
would ask. “Do you want anything?” Then he would have his chance to say,
“Yes, a nice house.”
The rent control officer in that town was a certain Vishwamitra. It was
his job to keep an eye on the house rents in the city and allot vacant houses
to the needy.
It so happened that Vishwamitra’s son was a student in Trishanku’s class.
Naturally, Trishanku was very loving towards him. But the boy was ex-
tremely poor in studies. In fact, his father had warned him not to lose any
of his textbooks, for they were sure to be needed again next year. But Tr-
ishanku told him such important questions — and later gave him such good
marks — that the boy passed.
Vishwamitra was delighted. A few days later, when Trishanku was sitting
near him eating laddus to celebrate, Vishwamitra said, “Trishanku Master,
I’m very pleased with you. I would like to do something for you. Tell me,
what do you want?”
Trishanku had waited for years for this moment. Countless houses flashed
before his eyes, but he didn’t display any eagerness. “Sir, what have I done
that I might wish to be rewarded!” he humbly responded. “I only did what
1
Trishanku: A ruler of the Surya dynasty, who sought to enter heaven after his death
encased in his mortal Chandal body, but was pushed down from the gates of heaven by
Lord Indra. His guru, Sage Vishwamitra, halted the fall, and Trishanku hung upside down
midway between earth and heaven.
Harishankar Parsai Poor Trishanku

was my duty. You provide homes to the entire city. If your son had failed in
his exams it would have been a disgrace to the city itself: I merely did what
was required of me as a citizen of this city. I need nothing except that you
continue to look upon me favourably.”
These words only enhanced Vishwamitra’s genial mood. He felt a tremen-
dous urge to do Trishanku some favour. “No, Trishanku Master, you must
ask for something,” he persisted. “I’m obliged to you. Every child has two
fathers. One gives him life, the other gives him knowledge. You taught my
son not only reading and writing and all that, but you also taught him some-
thing invaluable. You taught him how to succeed despite being unworthy of
success. Your rank, therefore, is even above me. So tell me, is there anything
you want?”
Trishanku could see the iron was hot. “All right, sir,” he meekly said, “if it
really pleases you, please get me a nice house in some decent neighbourhood.”
Vishwamitra was forced to think for a minute. Then he said, “Trishanku
Master, that’s a tough one. Houses are very scarce. I’d have had no problem
if you had instead asked for a country. Anyway, now that I have promised,
I must find you a house.”
Vishwamitra pulled open his desk drawer and took out a notebook. After
flipping through several pages he stopped, and dialed a number — “Hello,
Is Indraji there? . . . This is Vishwamitra speaking . . . Namaskar . . . Yes,
all’s well, thanks to your blessings . . . Ha, ha, ha . . . I’m sorry to bother
you but it’s something rather special . . . You don’t happen to have a vacant
house, do you? You do! . . . He’s someone close to me. My own man, you
might say. Yes, a very decent person . . . Should I send him to you? . . . This
evening? . . . All right, I’ll do that . . . Thank you very much.”
He put the receiver down and turned to Trishanku. “Well, Trishanku
Master, that takes care of your need. I’ve found you a house in the best
neighbourhood in the city”
As the phone conversation had proceeded, Trishanku’s face had bright-
ened little by little. Now it lit up fully. “Where is this house?” he asked
eagerly.
“In the most beautiful part of the city — in Swargapuri. They also call
it the Civil Lines. There, a gentleman named Indradev owns a number of
houses. Formerly he was an engineer in Public Works Department, but he
served the country so well that when he retired he had some fifteen or sixteen
houses of his own. These he rents out. I have asked him to let you have a
portion of one of the houses.”
Trishanku’s next question was, “What’s the rent?”
Vishwamitra said, “Don’t worry. I’ll speak to him about it. All you have
to do is to meet him this evening and take possession of the house he shows

35
Poor Trishanku Harishankar Parsai

you. Today’s the last day of the month. Vacate your present house today,
otherwise the owner will make you pay another month’s rent. In fact, when
you go to see Indraji, take all your things with you.”
Trishanku felt a bit unsure. Swargapuri, or the Civil Lines, was another
world. The people who lived there were totally different. Trishanku always
looked at them with envy and fear. No doubt, he had often fantasized about
living there, but now that a chance had actually come up, he wasn’t so sure.
How would I live there? he thought, And why would they ever let me?
With much trepidation he said, “Sir, a very different kind of people live
there. You might even say, a different species. How will they ever let me live
among them?”
“What nonsense is that, Trishanku Master,” Vishwamitra replied. “A
house in that area is a matter of good fortune, and you are turning it down?
Don’t be scared. Go there without fear. Now that I’ve myself spoken to
Indraji, he’ll offer you the house only too eagerly.”
But Trishanku’s heart was still unwilling. In his most abject manner he
said, “Sir, I don’t know why but I’m scared. I feel we can live in Swargapuri
only in our mind. If we go there physically, the local people won’t accept
us.”
Vishwamitra’s sense of pride was aroused. How could Trishanku doubt
his powers? He leapt out of his chair, his face red with anger. “Trishanku,
I’m Vishwamitra, the rent control officer,” he roared. “No landlord can say
no to what I tell him to do. I’ve been in the service for the last twenty years.
That’s nothing to laugh at. I’ll see to it that you live in Swargapuri. I have
made you a promise. It can’t go waste. Now go and be sure to see Indraji
this evening.”
That evening, Trishanku hired a pushcart and loading it with all his
possessions, set off for Swargapuri. When he arrived at Indradev’s bungalow,
the latter was lolling in an armchair in his front garden, giving instructions
to a gardener. Trishanku had the pushcart stop outside on the road and went
and stood before Indradev.
“Namaskar, sahab.”
When he got only a Hunh in response to his namaskar, Trishanku was a
bit upset. He felt as if he were a beggar at someone’s door and a voice from
inside the house was telling him to move on. But he let it pass. After all,
he was there for a purpose. Resolutely he said, “Sir, Mr Vishwamitra had
called you about a house, that’s why . . . ”
“Yes, yes, that’s fine,” Indradev interjected, “where is your sahab?’
Trishanku couldn’t follow the drift of his remark. “What sahab?’ he
asked.
“The sahab who will live in that house,” Indradev replied with some

36
Harishankar Parsai Poor Trishanku

annoyance.
Trishanku was jolted. He stammered, “Ah . . . ah . . . I will live in that
house.” Indradev sat up. He glared at Trishanku. “You! You’ll live in my
house!” he shouted. “Has Vishwamitra taken to drinking during the day
too?”
Trishanku desperately tried to put up a bold front. “Why? Why do you
say that? Has he done something crazy?”
“I thought,” Indradev said, speaking as if to himself, “I thought he wanted
the house for some gentleman.”
Trishanku gave up any remaining hope of getting the house. That made
him bold. In a strong voice he said, “Why can’t I live in that house? Am I
not a man?”
Indradev looked at him intently, then said, “No one who is just a man
can live in this neighbourhood.”
“What do you mean?”
“Simply, that you’re not fit to live here. I need only look at a man to
know all about him.”
Now the school teacher in Trishanku was aroused. He wanted to under-
stand the matter fully and also make sure that the other party understood
him equally well. He asked, “So what are the prerequisites for living here?”
Indradev looked at him with annoyance. “Beggars, for one, can’t live
here,” he replied. “Do you have a car? A radiogram? A refrigerator? A sofa
set?”
Trishanku couldn’t move his eyes away from Indradev’s wrathful face.
“Do your children go to a public school,” Indradev continued, “or do they
go with the riffraff? How many varieties of cactus can you name? Which
club do you go to in the evening?”
After briefly pausing for some response, Indradev concluded, “In that
case, how dare you come here?”
“I was sent here by Vishwamitra,” Trishanku replied with some force.
“He is the rent control officer. His order . . . ”
Indradev stood up in rage. Poking a finger at Trishanku’s chest, he
shouted, “You’re threatening me with Vishwamitra’s name! I’ve seen dozens
of RCOs. Just wait, I’ll have him transferred tomorrow. Even Vishwamitra’s
father can’t get you a house here. You think my houses are homes for the
poor?”
When Indradev began to swear at Vishwamitra, Trishanku saw no reason
to linger any further. He walked out of the garden and, asking the pushcart
man to follow him, went straight to Vishwamitra’s bungalow. He said to
him, “Sir, Indraji turned me away. He said I wasn’t fit to live there. He also
called you some bad names.”

37
Poor Trishanku Harishankar Parsai

A scowl appeared on Vishwamitra’s face. His eyes flashed with anger.


“How dare he!” he hissed, “I’ll take care of that fellow tomorrow. Find some
place for yourself tonight. Tomorrow I’ll put you in his house.”
With folded hands, Trishanku pleaded, “Sir, I won’t live there. They’re
a wild lot. I don’t want to live among them.”
Vishwamitra glared at him. “You’ll have to live there,” he thundered.
“It’s no longer just a matter of your house. It’s now a question of my pres-
tige.”
“Sir, forget all that. I won’t go there. I’ll just stay on in my old house.”
And Trishanku turned around to walk away.
“But you can’t live there,” Vishwamitra shouted after him. “I’ve already
allotted it to someone else.”
For a moment everything blurred before Trishanku’s eyes. Somehow he
managed to get on the road and, with the loaded pushcart following him,
staggered off to look for a dharmashala.
And ever since that day, Trishanku has been living in a dharmashala in
the city.2

2
“Poor Trishanku” was originally published in Hindi as “Trishanku Bechara” in 1966.

38
The Twenty Eighth Tale of the
Vetal

Then the vetal said, “So, Vikram, you have again dragged me down from the
tree? Your devotion to your task pleases me. I’ll now tell you another tale
to entertain you. Listen . . .
Once upon a time, in a certain city, there lived a cloth merchant whose
name was Dharamchand. True to his name, Dharamchand was a man full
of piety. He would go to the temple mornings and evenings and pray there
for almost an hour. And every so often, while concentrating his mind on
worship, he would come up with lucky numbers for the daily game. He also
kept a charity box at the shop. Everyone considered him a gentle and friendly
man. All eighteen hours of his waking day his face was lit up with a huge
smile. This had caused his mouth to spread to his ears. His teeth stuck
out, which only made it easier for him to show how humble a person he was.
When Dharamchand would speak to someone, there would be such a sweet
smile on his face and his protruding teeth would indicate such humility —
and his eyes, such helplessness — that even if he were to ask that man for his
head, the man would probably hesitate for a moment or two before saying
no. Dharamchand was also a very honest man, for as he talked to customers
he would constantly say, “Honestly . . . ” And he was a virtuous man too,
for he would quote a price or tell a creditor his account only after saying, “I
swear to god . . . ”
O Vikram, god likes to test virtuous men again and again. Dharamchand
had to suffer many litigations. Sometimes it was he who would file a case
against someone, at others, someone else would sue him. Once, when just
such a litigation was going on, the presiding judge was transferred to another
city and a new judge arrived. Now it so happened that Dharamchand’s case,
in that instance, was rather weak. He could have lost. But he didn’t give up
hope.
One day the new judge came to the market to buy some cloth, and by
some sheer chance entered Dharamchand’s shop. Dharamchand immediately
The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal Harishankar Parsai

recognized him. He dropped the bolt of cloth he was measuring from and
greeted the judge with folded hands. After making certain that he was com-
fortably seated, he offered him some paan and said, “How very kind of you,
sahab! What humble service may I do for you?” The judge replied, “Please
show me some nice cloth for shirts.”
Dharamchand started pulling down bolt after bolt from the shelves and
spread them out before the judge. He did it with loving care as if he were
a devotee serving food before a god. The sahab finally liked a pattern and
asked the price. Dharamchand folded his hands abjectly and said, “Why
must you embarrass me? This is your store, sahab. Just tell me how many
yards.”
The judge’s face became stern. He said, “No, I don’t buy things that
way. I never have. Tell me the price.”
O Vikram, the sahab also was very honest. It now became a contest
between two honest men. Dharamchand remained silent for a few moments
then, in a sad voice, said, “Four rupees seven annas per yard.”
Suddenly the sahab’s face lost its sterness. Instead. it took on a pained
look. He seemed rather worried. Dharamchand kept his eyes fixed on the
sahab’s face. The sahab’s pained look could have broken his own tender
heart. With difficulty the words came out of the sahab’s mouth, “No, I
cannot afford to wear such expensive clothes.” He got up to leave.
Dharamchand looked at the sahab’s face and almost broke into tears.
Most abjectly he said, “Sahab, don’t worry about the price. Just take the
cloth now.” But, for some reason, that only made sahab very angry. He
pushed Dharamchand aside and stomped out of the store. Dharamchand
remained standing at the door until the judge was out of sight, then with a
heavy heart he returned to his usual tasks.
O Vikram, in that encounter between two honest souls, Dharamchand
was sorely defeated.
That evening, when Dharamchand sat down to pray at the temple, a voice
rose out of his gentle heart — “O Dharamchand, did you see the sahab’s
dejected face? How helpless he looked. How disappointed he was. How
eagerly he had chosen the pattern and then, when he heard the price, how
his face fell. The sahab must have thought, We’re called officers and yet we
can’t even wear the kind of clothes we want. O Dharamchand, you know well
the life of these government officers. You call yourself a kind man. Don’t
you feel pity for the sahab? Can’t you fulfil one small wish of his? Shame
on you, Dharamchand! Shame on all your prayers! You fool, kindness is the
essence of religion . . . ”
Dharamchand listened to his soul. His heart filled up. The sahab’s de-
spondent face appeared before his eyes and they flowed over with tears. He

40
Harishankar Parsai The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal

wiped the tears with his dhoti’s end and with folded hands addressed god,
“God, I made a terrible mistake. O most generous one, I know how kind you
are when it comes to clothes. You gave endless number of saris to Draupadi.
Can’t I, your humble devotee, give just one shirt to the sahab? Lord these
sahabs are the Draupadis of today. The Dusshasan of inflation has deprived
them of their clothes. Give me some strength, lord, give me some power.
Bless me, that I may remove the grief of that grief-stricken person. I swear
to you, lord, I’ll have the sahab wearing that shirt within the month.” Once
he had made his vow, Dharamchand felt a heavy burden lift from his heart.
Eight days passed. Early on the ninth morning, Dharamchand bathed,
then put a tilak on his forehead and went to his store. He pulled out the bolt
of cloth that had struck the sahab’s fancy, and measured out enough cloth
for four shirts. Carefully wrapping the piece in a newspaper, he tucked it
under his arm, then, with his mind fixed on god’s true name, he walked to
the sahab’s house.
The sahab recognized him. “What brings you here, sethji?” he asked.
With hesitant hands, Dharamchand unwrapped the cloth and placed it
before the sahab. Then he said, “Sahab, I had gone to Bombay recently.
There, in the cut-piece market, I found this piece of cloth. You wouldn’t
believe me but it came to only seven annas a yard. I bought the whole piece,
enough for six shirts. I kept enough for two shirts for myself, and brought
the rest for you.” He placed the cloth in the sahab’s hands.
The sahab looked at the cloth, looked at Dharamchand and then looked
out of the window. Finally he looked at the ground and said, “That’s really
cheap. It was very nice of you to get it for me.”
Dharamchand said, “Sahab, we’re always ready to serve you in every way
we can. You know, money doesn’t accompany a man when he dies. It’s only
the service he does here that goes with him.”
The sahab paid him for the cloth at seven annas a yard and Dharamchand
happily took the money. As he was leaving, he said, “Sahab, the local tailors
are all crooks. You’re new here. I’ll send you my own trustworthy man.”
That evening Dharamchand’s own trustworthy tailor came to the sahab
to get his measurements and the cloth. That same night, Dharamchand sat
down before god and prayed, “Lord, I’ve done what I vowed to do. Now
the sahab should he able to wear a shirt of that cloth. This came about
only because you, in your kindness, wished it so. Now my honour is in your
hands.”
O Vikram, the shirts were made and neatly ironed. They were ready
to be worn. On the morning of the day his case was to be heard in court,
Dharamchand took the shirts to the sahab’s house. When the sahab saw the
shirts he was most pleased. He once again thanked Dharamchand.

41
The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal Harishankar Parsai

O Vikram, can there be any sahab who would delay wearing such shirts?
None, of course. And so the sahab put on one of the new shirts and went to
the court.
The case was called and the file was placed before the sahab. He examined
the details, for and against. Just then Dharamchand happened to pass by
the open door. The two looked at each other and smiled. O Vikram, not
even the finest writer can describe that wonderful scene.
The sahab picked up his pen to write the judgement. At that moment,
some inner urge made him look at his shirt. Suddenly, a miracle happened.
The piece of cloth became hard as steel. Its weight began to bend the sahab’s
spine. Gradually the shirt grew tight on his body. The sleeves shrank and
gripped his wrists. The collar began to choke his throat. The sahab groaned.
The shirt became even more constricting. In desperation, the sahab quickly
wrote the judgement in favour of Dharamchand. Behold, O Vikram, imme-
diately another miracle occurred. The shirt became soft as silk again.
The news of Dharamchand’s victory spread. All were amazed. One person
remarked, “The sahab has lost his integrity.” Another responded, “What
could the poor sahab do? It’s Dharamchand who lost his integrity.” Still
others said, “No, both of them lost their integrity.”
Having brought his tale to an end, the vetal fell silent for a few moments.
Then he said, “O Vikram, now you know the whole story. Tell me, who lost
his integrity — the sahab, Dharamchand, or both?”
“Neither,” Vikram promptly replied, “neither of them lost any integrity.
Dharamchand accepted money for his cloth and the sahab paid money for
his shirt.”
Upon hearing these words, the vetal flew up into the tree and once again
suspended himself from a branch.1

1
“The Twenty Eighth Tale of the Vetal” was originally published in Hindi as
“Arthaiswin Katha” in 1966.

42
Family Planning

In one of the warehouses of the Creator’s Department of Souls, a clerk was


going around with a list in one hand. He would look up a number on the
list, then locate that particular soul on the shelves. Next, he would carefully
wrap the soul in a piece of cloth and place it in a bag that he carried in his
other hand. The bag was rather worn out, for he had also been using it to
deliver fresh vegetables to the Creator’s house.
He picked up soul No D–865372 and was about to put him in the bag,
when the soul spoke up. “Where are you taking me?”
The clerk replied, “You will be put into a body to be born again.”
The soul asked, “In whose house? To whose wife?”
The clerk felt a bit peeved. He said, “Look, I’m not supposed to talk to
you. Last month someone went to the sahab and complained that I had taken
bribes from souls and switched their parents. If you have any questions, you
better come and ask the sahab.”
The clerk took the soul to the sahab. The sahab was in a rage. No sooner
he saw the clerk than he started shouting. “What a mess you have made!
I received another complaint today, that you placed a wolf’s soul in some
woman’s womb. Now the boy goes around pestering girls on the streets.
You had done something similar earlier. I’d have fired you long ago, but my
hands are tied since you deliver vegetables to His house!”
The clerk remained silent.
The sahab asked, “Why have you come now?”
The clerk took the soul out of the bag, placed it on the sahab’s table and
said, “Sahab, this soul talks too much.”
The sahab said, “It must be due to his previous birth. Perhaps, he was
a salesman for some third-rate company.”
“No, I wasn’t a salesman,” the soul retorted. “I was a doctor, a specialist
in family planning. And I don’t talk too much. I merely want to know whose
house I’m going to be born in.”
The sahab opened his record book. “What’s your number?”
“D–865372.”
Family Planning Harishankar Parsai

The sahab checked the record, and said, “You’re to be the son of one
Hariprasad Pandey, a schoolmaster.”
“How much does he earn?”
“One hundred and fifty rupees per month.”
“How many children does he already have?”
“Six. You’ll be the seventh.”
The soul was enraged. “I’m not at all prepared to be his seventh child,”
he fumed. “I won’t be born. I refuse to accept rebirth.”
The sahab was not known for tolerating such scenes. “You think your
rebirth depends on your wish?” he growled. “Even the greatest rishi must
perform austerities all his life, only then may he expect release from the cycle
of birth and death. And if some woman happens by as he does his austerities,
his entire labour goes to waste. It’s like walking on the edge of a sword. Your
rage means nothing to me.”
The soul retorted, , “But I won’t let you get away with it. I shall speak
to the Creator himself. Now what was that name? Hariprasad Pandey?
Somehow, it sounds familiar to me. Where does the poor beggar live?”
“In Khandwa,” the sahab replied.
The soul bounced up and down on the table in excitement. “Khandwa!”
he exclaimed. “That’s where I lived. I know the man. His house was close
to my clinic. Now I remember, he’s that Do It-Master.”
The sahab asked, “Do It-Master? What kind of a name is that? They
don’t have such names in that part of the world.”
The soul said, “That’s the name he’s known by. It was given to him by
his students. When one of them would ask him a question he wouldn’t give
an answer. Instead, he would pull the boy’s ears and scream, “Do it, you
fool, just do it!” And so the boys began calling him “Do It-Master.” I know
the fellow well. You think I’d agree to be his seventh son?”
The sahab had had a long and frustrating life. These remarks provided
him some amusement. He said, “I like you. But I can’t do anything for you.
I have to go by the rules. Life and death are in the Creator’s hands. I can
forward you to him, that’s the best I can do.”
The soul was taken before the Creator. The Creator was in a good mood.
He had been looking at a handsome new edition of stutis in his praise. Show-
ing the soul the book, he asked, “Have you seen it? What do you think?”
The soul said, “I read parts of it, then I was bored. It’s well-written, but
it’s not very scientific — if you know what I mean.”
The Creator decided not to argue. “What brings you here?” he asked.
The soul replied, “You’ve placed me in a funny situation. In my previous
birth I was a specialist in family planning. I must have done thousands of
vasectomies and tubectomies on people who had had two children. But now

44
Harishankar Parsai Family Planning

you’re sending me as the seventh child of a schoolmaster! Just think about


it for a moment.”
“But what are you objecting to?” the Creator asked.
The soul tried to explain, “Bhagwan, you don’t seem to see or understand
anything. You just go on sending down one child after another. I know what
the life of the seventh child of that poor schoolmaster will be like. He lives
close to my former clinic. His children get neither a decent meal nor enough
clothes. Hungry, skinny, filthy — that’s how his children are. Poor in health,
poor in mind — without any education, without a future. And I’d be his
seventh child. Just try to imagine what it would he like for me. His first
son’s jacket was handed down to the second son, the third son got the second
son’s jacket and the fourth son got the third’s. I won’t get even a worn-out
rag, for his next children were all daughters. You know, for three or four
years after his marriage that schoolmaster used to wear nice clothes. But
later, I myself saw him use the edge of his jacket to wipe the running noses
of his sons.”
“But he does want children,” the Creator countered.
“He does not!” the soul retorted. “In fact. he’s tired of children. He
simply can’t help having them. He beats them, he swears at them, he says
to them, Why don’t you all die? He constantly fights with his wife. He
shouts at her, It’s all your fault. You just kept on producing children. His
wife shouts back, Did I do it alone? Lost for argument, he then starts hitting
her. His children see him beat their mother on their account. They hate
him, and he hates them. And you want to send me into such a home?”
The Creator was beginning to enjoy this conversation. He said, “But
you were a family planning doctor. Why didn’t you get him to stop having
children? Perhaps you were neglectful in your duties.”
The soul’s pride was hurt. He said heatedly, “Everyone there knows how
hard I worked. I can’t even begin to count the number of families I planned.
If you had let me live another ten years I’d have had even dogs and cats
sewed up after two deliveries — not to mention human beings. As for that
stupid schoolmaster, I told him . . . ”
“You should be more respectful,” the Creator interjected, “he’s going to
be your father.”
The soul shrugged off the reprimand. “That man won’t be my father,” he
said. “If anything he would be an enemy. After he had his third child, I told
the fool, “Now stop! You live in the atomic age. Science has provided us with
many simple devices. Come to my clinic.” He even seemed to agree with
me. But then he began to avoid me. I don’t know what fear or doubt came
over him. Then his fourth child arrived and, just before I returned here, his
fifth. Now they tell me he has had one more. You see, there are these men

45
Family Planning Harishankar Parsai

down there who wear modern clothes but are still like cavemen underneath.
They belong to the Stone Age, so bound are they to their natural urges. The
scientific gains of millions of years mean nothing to them. Even you can’t
plan their families. You might stop giving them babies, but they’ll start
producing dogs and cats.”
“But why are you so against someone having many children?” the Creator
asked. “Look, I have countless, millions of children. All believers call me
Father.”
The soul could barely suppress his smile. He said, “That’s another of
your favourite delusions. It’s only within their temples and churches that
they call you father. No one claims you outside. There, when asked about
their fathers, they give other names. Yes, there was once a man who went
around openly calling you his father but he was declared a criminal, and
those other lying sons of yours crucified him.”
That was a bit too much for the Creator. He didn’t feel like talking
to that soul any more. He gave his final verdict, “My decision cannot be
changed. You’ll have to be reborn as that schoolmaster’s child.”
The soul, having lost all hope, now lost his temper too. “Do Justice
and Injustice mean anything to you, he shouted angrily, or are they just
empty words? Let’s take for example your actions as Vishnu. When you
wished to be born you carefully chose a chakravarti king, Dasharath, for
your father. Tell me, why didn’t you prefer to be born as the seventh child of
some schoolmaster? No, you wanted to be a raja’s son. Then, even though in
those days rajas always had hundreds of sons, your father had only four —
and of them, you of course were the eldest. You had a palace, countless
servants, heavenly food, and a private tutor, no less. Or take that other
time, when you were born in a commoner’s family, Vasudev’s wife. Then you
were number nine. But you had the previous eight sent back, using Kans
as your instrument. You became the only child in the family. And yet you
insist that I should go down as the seventh child of a poor man!”
The soul had misjudged. You don’t say such frank and harsh words to
someone who hears only stutis in praise day and night.
The Creator went purple with rage. He thundered, “No one has the right
to choose his father. Get out! Tomorrow you will be placed in the womb of
the schoolmaster’s wife.”
As he was dragged away, the soul burst into tears. “No, no!” he cried.
“Not the seventh!”
A few months later, the newspapers carried the following item.

A strange boy has been born to the wife of Hariprasad Pandey, a


local schoolmaster. He is old from birth. His hair is snow-white,

46
Harishankar Parsai Family Planning

his face is wrinkled, and his shoulders are bent low. He neither
smiles nor cries. He remains withdrawn and silent, like an old
man. There is another strange thing about this baby. Day or
night, at the hour of seven, he suddenly lets out a cry, and on the
seventh day of every month he cries all day long. Many devout
people believe that the baby had been a great rishi in his previous
birth and was sent to this transient world against his wish.1

1
“Family Planning” was originally published in Hindi as “Family Planning.”

47
The First Bridge

One day Babu Ram Sevak of the Public Works Department suddenly resigned
from his job and began to devote his entire time to remembering Bhagwan
Ram. People speculated. One offered, Babu Ram Sevak was caught in a
bribery case and escaped by resigning. Another said, Babuji received a huge
gift of money from his in-laws which he now planned to use to start a business.
But whenever Babu Ram Sevak opened his lips, out came only the name of
Ram. Consequently, the truth of the matter remained hidden from the public
for a very long time.
One day I went to Babuji. He was seated cross-legged on deerskin. Beside
him was a pile of papers, and in front lay a pen and a bottle of ink. He
appeared to be lost in some profound thought.
When he heard my steps he opened his eyes, and recognizing me, gave
me a slight smile. “What brings you here today?” he asked.
I sat down. “Nothing special,” I replied. “I hadn’t seen you for some
time. You don’t seem to go out at all.”
He said, “Hahn bhai, my world has changed. Now my heart’s set on
something else. All ties should be with Ram, so said Tulsidas. That’s exactly
how I feel.”
“But the people say something different,” I said, a bit hesitantly.
He smiled and nodded his head. “Let them say what they want. I’ve
transcended the dichotomies of praise and blame, honour and disgrace . . .
virtue and vice.”
Gathering a bit more courage, I persisted, “But only you know why you
resigned. If you don’t mind, please . . . ”
Babu Ram Sevak closed his eyes and remained silent for a few moments.
When he opened his eyes again, he fixed them on my face and said gen-
tly, “Now that you have asked, I’ll tell you. I left my job because I was
commanded to do so by Hanumanji.”
I was flabbergasted. I couldn’t believe my ears. “Did Hanumanji actually
honour you with a darshan?” I asked.
“Hahn bhai,” Babu Ram Sevak said. “One night Hanumanji appeared to
Harishankar Parsai The First Bridge

me in a dream and said, You wretch, you imbecile, why are you squandering
your life? Cast away the maya of your office. Don’t waste your precious
human life in writing memos, you fool. Write instead the story of Ram. I
somehow stammered out, Maharaj, how can that be? I’m a foolish person. I
possess no learning. I have no talent other than that of writing memos and
filling forms and making entries in registers.
”Hanumanji said, Your true talent will soon shine forth — that’s my
blessing upon you. All poets in their humility say similar things. Tulsi
had similar feelings too — Kavya-viveka ek nahin moré, satya kahaun likh
kagada koré. You too should just get up and start writing. I folded my hands
submissively and said, Master, your command must be obeyed. But what
will I write? So many great poets and saints, so many devotees of Ram have
already written the blessed story. What is now left there for me to write?
“Then Hanumanji gently explained to me, Every poet has his own per-
spective, his own insight. Every poet, influenced by his own age, gives the
story of Ram a new shape. Don’t you find any difference between Valmiki
and Bhavabhuti, between Bhavabhuti and Tulsi? You too should write using
your own discretion and give the Ram story a shape that suits your times.
Then he disappeared, but I was tranformed. In the morning I went to the
office and quietly submitted my resignation, and on my way out picked up a
handful of memo-pads from my desk to use for writing the story of Bhagwan
Ram”
“Have you written it?” I asked.
Babuji replied, “Yes. As a matter of fact, it’s almost finished. Just this
morning I completed the section dealing with the construction of the bridge
to Lanka. Would you like to hear it?”
I said, “Of course. Who wouldn’t like to hear the story of Ram!”
Babu Ram Sevak opened the bundle in front him and pulled out a sheaf
of papers. But before starting to read, he decided to explain a few things.
He said, “Look here, bhai, you’ll find some new things in my story Don’t
let that startle you or don’t let that make you disbelieve what I tell you.
When Hanumanji appeared to me, he assured me that after I’ve completed
the tale he would come to me again and sign Approved on it. Then no one
will have any doubt. And I’ll tell you one more secret — the bridge that Ram
eventually used to go to Lanka was a second bridge. There was another, an
earlier bridge, and that’s what I have written about. Now listen.”
He took off his glasses, wiped them clean and then began to read.

When the bridge was finished, Nala and Nila came to Shri Ramchandra,
prostrated themselves full length before him, and said, “Maharaj, the bridge
is ready.” Ram looked towards them, amazed, and said, “What! The bridge

49
The First Bridge Harishankar Parsai

is ready? Nothing like this has ever happened. Why, it was just the other
day that I laid its foundation stone. Anything that has a proper Foundation
ceremony never gets done so soon — in fact, it doesnt get done at all. You
see, what must get done never has its foundation stone laid, and what gets
its foundation stone laid is never done. Years ago, when I had gone out
on a tour with Guru Vasisht, I had laid the foundation stones of so many
buildings on people’s insistence. But when I set out more recently — to
follow the command of my father and go into exile — and passed through
those places again, I found that the foundation stones were still in the original
condition. Not one bit of construction had begun. But you’re saying that
your bridge is finished. How can it be? I had no expectation that it would
ever be finished. In fact, I was trying to figure out some other way of reaching
Lanka. Nala, Nila, you’ve done something truly amazing.”
Nala and Nila stood with folded hands and submitted, “Maharaj, it’s the
fruit of your blessings upon us. The bridge is ready. You may give orders to
the army to move forward.”
Then Ramchandra sent for Sugriv, and said to him, “Bhai, the bridge
is ready. Nala and Nila have amazing powers, but even they couldn’t have
achieved much if you hadn’t helped them with your wealth. Dear friend, I’m
greatly indebted to you.”
Sugriv replied, “Maharaj, such humility doesn’t become you. You’re the
future king of this vast and ancient country. I’m merely the petty chief of a
small piece of land. It can only be a matter of pride for me, maharaj, if my
treasure has been of any use to you.”
Ram said, “Bhai, tell the army to start for Lanka tomorrow.”
When Sugriv heard that he was quite shocked. He said, “Maharaj, what
are you saying! How can the army set out tomorrow? The bridge is yet to
be inaugurated.”
Ram gently said, “Look brother, we must remember that even a day’s
delay might result in injury to Sita’s honour. It’s not incumbent at this time
to perpetuate the tradition of a formal inauguration.”
Sugriv was so astounded, he almost fell from his perch in the sky. “How
can we step upon a bridge without first properly inaugurating it?” he ex-
claimed. “Has it ever happened before? Even now so many bridges lie com-
pleted here and there but no one can walk upon them because they haven’t
yet been inaugurated. Maharaj, bridges are not made for crossing over,
they’re made for inaugurations. If they are also used for crossing over —
why that’s quite irrelevant.”
When he saw Sugriv so insistent, Ram modified his position and said, “In
that case, let’s get started. Whom should we ask to inaugurate the bridge?”
Sugriv immediately said, “In my humble opinion, maharaj, the bridge

50
Harishankar Parsai The First Bridge

should be inaugurated by your honoured father-in-law, Raja Janak.”


Ram agreed, “Excellent idea. Please invite him right away. Sugriv im-
mediately sent his most trusted monkeys to Raja Janak to invite him to
come.”
Raja Janak set out with his retinue from Mithila and in a few days arrived
at the coast. The cost of his journey was paid by Sugriv, who calculated that
the amount could have paid for two more bridges.
An auspicious day and time were set for the inauguration. Janak per-
formed the proper religious rituals, then with a pair of golden scissors cut the
ribbon. All the monkeys shouted — “Raja Janak ki Jai! Raja Ramchandra
ki Jai! Raja Sugriv ki Jai!”
Then Raja Janak addressed the assembled monkeys.
“Brothers, I’m deeply grateful to Ramchandra for the honour he bestowed
on me by inviting me to inaugurate this bridge. But he did the right thing.
Who else could he invite — after all he is my son-in-law. Brothers, everyone
knows how important bridges are in the life of our nation. Today it’s our
task to develop the country, and no country can develop unless it has a lot
of bridges. Bridges are a nation’s true wealth. No nation can march towards
progress without bridges. Consider the history of the world — only those
nations have been able to progress which have plenty of bridges. That’s
why I believe that we should make nothing but bridges in our country. Fill
the entire land with bridges. Let there be bridges over land. Let there be
bridges over rivers, seas and oceans. Let’s not stop there. Let’s make bridges
in the air too — the way we make castles. This bridge here is just the first
link in that great chain of bridges that we must construct. Once again, I
congratulate you and thank all of you.”
There was a great burst of applause as Raja Janak sat down.
But just then, right there in front of everyone, the entire bridge collapsed.
They say that a commission of enquiry was immediately set up, but even
today, in the fourth quarter of the kaliyug, it has yet to submit its report.1

1
“The First Bridge” was originally published in Hindi as “Pahla Pul”

51
Gentlemen, Conmen and
Congressmen

Leaning against a bolster, he was sprawled on a thick mattress. In front


of him lay a plate of prepared paans. His cheeks bulged, and, with closed
eyes, he was slowly chewing away. I quietly sat down in a chair near him.
After some ten minutes he opened his eyes to reach for some more paans
and, seeing me, smiled. After re-stuffing his mouth, he somehow asked, “Sir,
why did you trouble yourself?”1
I replied, “Bhaiya Saab, I’ve come to interview you. I’d like to ask you
some questions.”
He slowly counted the paans on the plate, then said, “You’ll have to wait
for about two hours. There are still twelve paans left. It’s a rule with me
to lie down at noon and chew twenty paans. a meditative act. It’s also a
creative act. It can’t be disturbed. I’ll finish the remaining twelve paans in
two hours — for you I might even do it in less time. But you must sit here
quietly till then.”
He closed his eyes again. I sat and watched his slowly moving jaws. Every
ten minutes or so, he would open his eyes just long enough to grab a couple
of more paans.
After nearly two hours he sat up and said, “Please do forgive me. you had
to wait for long. But the fact is, I’m very firm when it comes to principles. I
have a fixed schedule which I can’t give up at any cost. For example, every
evening I sit on my terrace and engage in “mass-contact” as people go back
and forth on their business on the street below. Similarly, I’ve made it a rule
to worship Khadiji every day.”
“Worship Khadiji? I don’t understand.”
1
Author’s note: There are three kinds of men — gentlemen, conmen and Congress-
men. A gentleman, after he suffers a defeat at the hands of another person, looks only at
himself, a conmen looks only at the other man, but a Congressman frequently does both.
To remind him that a third person might also be looking at him, I publish this interview
with a leader-type Congressman.
Harishankar Parsai Gentlemen, Conmen and Congressmen

He pointed to one corner of the room, “See there?”


A miniature platform was set in a corner on which lay a bolt of khadi
cloth marked with kumkum and decorated with fresh flowers. In front, on
the floor, lay a tray with items for performing an aarti.
Bhaiya Saab said, “You know, I’m an old Gandhian. I’ve not given up
my dharma — unlike others. I still worship Khadiji. In fact, in my house
you can still find both Takliji and Charkhaji.”
I asked, “Bhaiya Saab, I’m sure you’ll concede that there is much dif-
ference of opinion within the Congress party, that there are many cliques.
Which group do you belong to? In other words, whose principles do you
acknowledge and accept?”
“I don’t get involved in cliques,” he replied. “I follow Pandit Nehru. I
act according to the principles he has set up.”
I pursued the matter further, “What are those principles of Panditji’s
that you are so devoted to?”
Bhaiya Saab stood up. He put on the sherwani that was hanging from
a hook, then inserted a bouquet of roses into one of its huge buttonholes.
With a smile he said, “What better proof do you need? panditji likes roses.
He always has a rosebud in his buttonhole. I have a whole bouquet. Bhai
meré, I have absolute faith in panditji’s policies.”
I changed the subject. “Bhaiya Saab, come election time and one always
hears the demand that new blood should be given a chance — what’s your
opinion regarding that?”
He first gave a twirl to his white moustache, then said, “The young have
no patience. Look, they have a whole life ahead of them to gain big positions.
So why are they in such haste? We, on the other hand, have barely five to
ten more years left.”
Then he became sombre and thought for a while. Finally he continued,
“Old rice tastes better. In fact, I want to see the day when there would be
lines of ambulances in front of the assembly halls and ministers and MLAs
would be carried in on stretchers. You see, the chief reason for the rebellion
brewing in the Congress party is that some very old Congressites are unem-
ployed. For example, Rajaji. Now you tell me, if Rajaji had a job today, do
you think he’d be making so much noise? But the father-in-law of Mahatma
Gandhi’s own son remains jobless. Isn’t that disgraceful?”
He looked very sad. A kind of piety mixed with remorse showed on his
face. Then, recovering himself, he said, “It will be a great loss to the public
if all the old people were to retire. For example, if one day some members
of the general public get arrested for gambling, do you think a new leader
would be able to get them freed? Of course not. Only an older man can get
that done. Only he would have the necessary connections with the officials.”

53
Gentlemen, Conmen and Congressmen Harishankar Parsai

My second question was, “What programme do you have to fight the


communalism of the Jansangh?”
His face brightened up. With total self-confidence, he replied,
“Even Panditji lacks the grip I have on this problem. The antidote to
communalism is casteism. I used this tactic in my area and deflated the
Jansangh. If they come with Hinduvada, I counter with Brahminvada. As
the saying goes, If you dance on every branch, I shall dance on every leaf.
They can’t win against me.” And he guffawed with delight.
I was very impressed by his confidence.
He leaned forward conspiratorially and said, “You may say anything, but
caste and religion are eternal. They can’t be erased. But if Panditji says all
are one, that’s right too — I’ll go along with that.”
Now that I had some grasp of Bhaiya Saab’s clear thinking, I thought of
asking some more difficult questions. I began, “Bhaiya Saab, your detractors
criticize the Congress party and its government on several issues. For example
they say . . . ”
His fist clenched as he interrupted me, “I can force them to eat their
words, and I have often done that. What are they saying now?”
“They claim, for example, that our foreign policy of non-alignment has
been unsuccessful and that we ought to give it up. Please tell me why did
we adopt that policy in the first place, and how has it benefited us?”
Bhaiya Saab bowed his head, deep in thought.
I looked towards him for an answer. “You didn’t answer my question.”
He raised his head and said, “I will. Just wait.”
Then suddenly he got up and standing on top of the bolster, raised both
his arms upwards, and shouted, “Gandhiji ki Jai! Pandit Nehru ki Jai!”
I was flabbergasted. But he sat down with a calm look on his face and
said, “Next question, please.”
I wasn’t sure, but he looked so satisfied with his previous answer that
I continued for his sake. I asked, “Bhaiya Saab, the dissenters are always
very critical of the public sector of our economy. Can you explain for the
common man the importance of the public sector industries in the nation’s
development — what are their achievements so far and what do they hope
to accomplish in the future?”
Again he fell into deep thought. Then, as suddenly, he jumped up and
climbed on top of the table. Raising his arms high he shouted, “Pandit Nehru
Zindabad!”
Then he climbed down from the table, sprawled again on the mattress
and said, “Next question, please.”
I asked, “Will you throw some light on your policy towards China? Also,
why do you think friendly ties with a Communist Russia are in our national

54
Harishankar Parsai Gentlemen, Conmen and Congressmen

interest despite the recent invasion by Communist China?”


Once again Bhaiya Saab became lost in thought. This time when he
jumped up, he climbed on a chair and, waving his arms, shouted, “Strengthen
the hands of Pandit Nehru!”
Then he settled down on the mattress again and very calmly said, “Yes,
go on please. I’m deeply interested in matters of policy and principles. I tear
apart dissenters’ arguments like a blade of grass.”
I said, “Bhaiya Saab, your goal is to create a socialist framework — can
you delineate its outline in the context of the past three economic plans?”
This time he climbed up on the sofa’s back and shouted, “Chacha Nehru
Zindabad! Chacha Jawahar Zindabad!” Then he again settled down on the
mattress and said, “Go on.”
I cast a glance around the room and lost my courage, but he continued
to press me to ask him another question. Finally I said, “I’m afraid.”
“Why, what are you afraid of?” he asked most gently. “Go ahead, ask. I
don’t mind.”
“The reason I’m scared,” I replied, “is that there are now only two things
left in the room for you to climb upon — that huge almirah and I, your
humble servant. But the almirah might be a bit too high for you. I’m afraid
if I ask you one more question . . . ”
Bhaiya Saab burst into laughter.
I took advantage of his gaiety and quickly slipped out of the room.2

2
“Gentlemen, Conmen and Congressmen” was originally published as “Sajjan, Durjan.
aur Kangressjan” in 1965.

55
When the Soul Cries Out

Sometimes the weather changes suddenly and thousands of moths appear out
of nowhere.
Sometimes the weather changes suddenly and honesty rears its head from
where it lay hidden under a hundred covers.
Honesty and moths, suddenly they begin to buzz around — it all depends
on the weather.
This March, for the first time in twenty years, our weather changed
so much that where there had been nothing previously, honesty suddenly
popped up and began to buzz — where there had been only clay, suddenly
a soul was born and began to make noises.
Those who know all about weather say that this change is due to the
forthcoming elections, that not until the second general elections are over
will the weather change, that until then honesty and soul will continue to be
extremely active.
The other day, Harcharan, a resident of my village, told me that his soul
was also crying out. Harcharan is a second term Congress legislator from our
constituency.
Harcharan said, “Bhaiya, Please write a nice statement giving reasons for
my resignation from the Congress.”
“And why are you leaving the Congress?” I asked.
He replied, “My soul is crying out to do so. The Congress is murdering
the principles of our late, revered Bapu. The Congress can no longer protect
our democracy. I’m a man of principles — you know that.”
I was truly astounded. l had never even dreamt that I’d hear Harcharan
talk of Soul, Principles and Democracy. Who knows what worse days might
lie ahead for me!
I asked,“Tell me, Harcharan, when did your soul start talking? It had
been dumb so far. Did you go to some doctor?”
He said, “Bhaiya, day before yesterday I went to see the chief minister.
I told him, The principles for which the Congress stands are being killed. I
cannot tolerate that. He replied, You tolerated it until now. Just go on doing
Harishankar Parsai When the Soul Cries Out

the same. I said, I can’t tolerate any further. Six other legislators belonging
to my caste also think that principles are now being killed on a larger scale.
The chief minister said, If you alone had told me that principles were being
killed I wouldn’t have believed you, but since you have six other legislators
with you saying the same thing, I have to believe it. I too want to protect
principles. Why don’t we join hands and do it together? I’ll appoint you
a parliamentary secretary. Will that protect your principles sufficiently? I
replied, No sir, how can one protect great principles with such a small post.
You should at least make me a deputy minister — then I might be able to
give the necessary protection. The chief minister said, No, that stage hasn’t
come yet. Well, bhaiya, no sooner did I leave his bungalow than my soul
began to cry out.”
I asked, “Did it speak out loud and clear?”
He replied, “Yes, bhaiya, very loudly. Those who happened to be nearby
asked, Who is saying such nice things? I replied, It’s the soul of this most
humble servant of Gandhiji.”
“And what was your soul saying?” I asked.
“It was saying, You fool, for five years you’ve been sitting in the legis-
lature, but what have you accomplished? Look at Khuman Singh. He’s a
deputy minister now. You’re beginning to get a bad name in your caste.
The Congress is dead. It can no longer protect democracy. Today, all prin-
ciples are being killed in the Congress. How can they who can’t even make
you a deputy minister be expected to protect democracy? Get out of this
Congress.” Then he added, “For two days now my soul has been telling me
the same thing. I’m most upset. Please write a nice statement that I can
use.”
I said, “Harcharan, I hope you’re not being hasty. I hope you don’t lose
this chance of becoming a parliamentary secretary.”
He explained, “No, I have talked with people. The rebel group will form
a new government in a fortnight or so. They have promised to make me a
deputy minister. A pure soul is a smart soul. None can deceive it.”
“Which rebel group do you plan to join?” I asked.
“I’ll remain in the middle and thus protect democracy from both groups.
You know, these days I get more respect than I ever received before. All
sorts of big men come to see me and I get invited to many special parties.”
I persisted, “But which party do you really like?”
“All the parties are good, bhaiya,” he replied innocently. “They all serve
the country. Members of all the parties speak nicely to me. Tikadamkarji of
the Jansangh speaks nicely to me. Azad Sahab of the SamSoPa and Aandhi
Behanji of the PraSoPa also treat me very nicely. To me they are all very
nice. Anyway, this talk of parties and platforms is just needless pretension.

57
When the Soul Cries Out Harishankar Parsai

I don’t believe in these distinctions. Except the Communists — I stay away


from them. I hear they don’t get along even with god.”
I prepared a statement for Harcharan, detailing his reasons for leaving
the Congress party. He had it published in the papers.
Some four or five days later Harcharan came to me again. He looked
harried. He said, “Bhaiya, my soul was quiet for three or four days, but
since yesterday my soul has again started to cry out.”
“It’s a bad disease you’ve got, Harcharan,” I said. “What made your soul
cry out this time?”
He replied, “Bhaiya, the chief minister sent for me two days ago. He
asked my why I had left the Congress. I was frank. I told him that I
had some fundamental differences with the party and that I can’t tolerate
it if principles are killed before my own eyes. He said, Principles can’t be
protected on the other side either. The Opposition is a crazy mess of odds
and ends — anything can happen there. All those parties will start fighting
among themselves and their cabinet will soon disintegrate. You won’t remain
a deputy minister for more than a month or two. The Congress, on the other
hand, is a stable party. Come back to us. I’ll make you a minister of state.”
And Harcharan fell silent.
I asked, “Then what happened?”
He said, “Well, bhaiya, my soul began to cry out. O Harcharan, principles
are getting trampled on this side too. The killing of principles in Congress is
known to you. At least you have already had that experience. But the rebels
might start destroying principles in some new way. That would be intolerable
for you. Think for a moment — who sticks more to priniciples — those who
are making you just a deputy minister or those who want to make you a
minister of state? You should go back to the congress. I listened to my soul
and accepted what it told me. Please prepare a new statement explaining
my reasons for returning to the Congress.”
I protested, “But just a few days ago you sent a signed anti-Congress
statement to the papers! How will you now contradict yourself? What can
you possibly say?”
Harcharan said, “You should write that the Opposition had threatened
me and forced me to sign the statement through deception. They are in fact
still trying to woo me. But I cherish the principles the Congress stands for,
and only the Congress can benefit the masses. I’m returning to the Congress
in order to preserve my principles.”
I wrote his statement for him. I thought, now he would become a minister
of state and that would silence his soul for good.
But four days later he was back. He said, “My soul is in great distress.”
“What happened now?”

58
Harishankar Parsai When the Soul Cries Out

“Something terrible is about to happen. The rebels now have the majority
and the Congress government is going to fall. The rebels are also willing to
make me a minister of state. My soul repeatedly warns me that if I fail to
join them, our democracy will be destroyed. I’m not worried about myself,
but I cannot fail to protect democracy. Perhaps god desires that democracy
should be preserved through me. How can I turn away from such a great
responsibility. Bhaiya, you must prepare a new statement.”
“And what reasons should we offer this time?” I asked resignedly.
“Write the truth. After all, Truth always wins,” said Harcharan. “Write
that the Congress people had threatened and deceived me and made me
sign the previous statement under duress. That the Congress is destroying
the country, and a patriotic and honest public servant like me cannot be a
partner to such destruction. Also add at the end that I warn the Congress
people not to try to woo me again.”
Once again I prepared a statement.
When only two days were left for the test of power in the legislative
assembly, Harcharan came to see me again. His face was ashen. He said,
“This time my soul is most persistent. It keeps saying, The Congress got the
country its freedom, the Congress was nurtured by Gandhiji and Nehruji —
so don’t leave the Congress. Only the Congress can benefit the country. Only
the Congress can protect our democracy.”
“What made your soul cry out this time?”
“What can I tell you! It was the marijuana.”
That startled me. I knew that marijuana had made the souls of the
Western youth cry out, but Harcharan’s soul?
“Have you started smoking marijuana?” I asked sharply.
“No, bhaiya. The thing is that two days back someone threw a kilo-
gramme of marijuana into my room, and when I returned to my room the
police suddenly appeared . . . Yesterday the chief minister sent for me again.
He said, You seem to have got involved in a serious case. What do you say
now? What would you like to enter — the jail or the Congress? I’ll have
the case withdrawn if you come back to us. Bhaiya, my innermost soul is
piteously crying out, Harcharan, don’t leave the party of Gandhi and Nehru.
Only the principles laid down by the Congress can bring good to the nation.”
I asked “Have they promised to make you a minister?”
He replied, “Why would they promise me anything, now that I’m in this
marijuana mess. In any case. I’m not greedy for position. I want to serve
the masses as just an ordinary soldier in the Congress. Today our country
needs honest and faithful people to serve it well.”
I prepared his final statement. Now Harcharan is serving the nation as

59
When the Soul Cries Out Harishankar Parsai

an ordinary soldier, eternally vigilant due to his Marijuana case.1

1
“When the Soul Cries Out” was originally published in Hindi as “Dal Badalnewala”.

60
Mufat Lal Goes For An
Interview

Our readers will remember that Mufat1 Lal had applied for the post of deputy
collector.
Recruitments for all government jobs in the country were done under
two conditions, (i) when certain jobs had become vacant and candidates
were needed to fill them, or (ii) when special candidates were lying vacant
and jobs were needed to fill them. According to Article 2, section 11, sub-
section 3 of the Government Service Manual, a special candidate was “any
job-seeking citizen whose qualifications are ordinary but whose connections
are extraordinary — for example, he may be the recommendee of someone
who either himself holds a high government post or has influence over such
office holders.”
As occasions would arise — to seek candidates for jobs, or jobs for can-
didates — the government would seek applications by advertising in the
newspapers, under the heading — Needed. The country’s newspapers sold
only because of these Needed advertisements. Any paper that didn’t have a
single such notice could find no takers. Some didn’t hesitate to cheat in order
to increase their sales. One newspaper frequently printed in bold letters on
its front page, NEEDED . . . People would eagerly buy it, only to discover
underneath the following in small print:

. . . a mountain, by the river; . . . some soil, by the tree; . . . a little


grass, by the cow; . . . a mother, by the child; . . . some clothes, by the
naked; . . . two eyes, by the blind; . . . a collar, by the dog; . . . two
horns, by the bull; . . . a servant, by the master; . . . devotees, by god.
Who is there without a need? We all need something or someone.

In retaliation, another paper published a warning.


1
Mufat is the colloquial form of “muft” meaning free, gratis.
Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview Harishankar Parsai

Beware of Imitators! Envious of our large circulation, some newspa-


pers have started deceiving our trusting public by publishing nonsen-
sical statements in Needed columns. These spurious ads contain no
reference to jobs. We alert the citizens to this fact and advise them
to look for genuine advertisements and read entire texts before buying
any newspaper.

Each job advertisement attracted several thousand applications, requiring


two to three years for them to be sorted through. Then followed tests and
interviews of the candidates. According to the rules, every candidate had to
send in a note every three months, confirming that he was still alive. If any
failed to do so, he was assumed to be dead and had his name deleted from
the list. This made the selection process that much easier.
And so, two years later, Mufat Lal received his copy of the letter from
the secretary, Administrative Services Commission, sent to him through the
Office of the Employment Officer. The secretary, ASC, at the time was a
Shri Aspasht2 .
Below, we reproduce that letter.

Administrative Services Commission Copy


Shri Mufat Lal, BA
Ref: Application for the post of a deputy collector
You are hereby informed that your application was received in our
office in due time. Pursuant to Section 17 of the Administrative
Services Code, you must inform this office within three months
as to whose man you are and what his official rank is. Proper
certificates must be attached.

Yours, et cetera.
Aspasht
(Secretary)

Mufat Lal sent in the necessary information within a week. We reproduce


his letter below.

To
Shri Aspasht
Secretary
Administrative Services Commission.
2
Aspasht literally means unclear. Shri Aspasht here means “Mr Illegible.”

62
Harishankar Parsai Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview

Sir,
I am pleased to inform you that I am Kunwar Astabhan’s Man. I
am just like a member of his family. As proof of this relationship,
please find enclosed a photograph, in which I stand beside Kunwar
Sahab.

Yours, et cetera.
Mufat Lal

Obviously, every candidate tried to be the man of someone big. These


big men came in three categories. Members of the royal family, ministers
and deputy ministers were in Category A. Members of the legislative council
and departmental secretaries were in Category B. And those who could have
any influence over the aforementioned people were placed in Category C.
The categorization was not simply on the basis of rank, actual influence also
counted for a great deal. For example, the personal physician of the chief
was obviously in a category by himself.
Once all the responses had arrived, the applicants were placed in different
categories according to their respective big men. To make clear how useful
all this was, we reproduce below the entries concerning Mufat Lal.

Administrative Services Commission


Form B
Name Qualifications Age Whose Category Relationship Gifts To be
man Taken
Mufat Lal BA 28 Kunwar A Friend No Yes
Astabhan’s

As the above makes it clear, anyone who was not someone’s man had no
chance of being selected. Usually, he didn’t even get invited for an interview.
But if any such person happened to have truly exceptional qualifications, he
was summoned — in a show of fair play — only to be found unqualified in
the interview. The interviews and selection were conducted by a commission
of five sages, who received copies of all Form Bs, and accordingly set up two
sets of questions — one for those who had to be taken, the other for those
who had to be disqualified.
The day for the interviews was announced and Mufat Lal received his
notice.
The commission met in a room in an imposing building. Outside, in the
veranda, milled hundreds of candidates. Some stood around, others paced the
floor, while still others sat down here and there, exhausted. Every candidate

63
Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview Harishankar Parsai

had dressed up as best as he could. Some looked as if they had just stepped
out of a laundry, body and soul. Some wore such colourful clothes they looked
like actors waiting to go on stage. Some had put on brand new suits, others
wore old but freshly cleaned ones. Then, in a class by themselves, were those
who were in borrowed clothes. Some of them wore trousers, but walked as if
they were wearing a dhoti, while others seemed to have even retained their
dhotis under the trousers. Each candidate carried a fat bundle of degrees
and recommendations. A few had even brought their framed degrees. They
were all perspiring profusely, and continuously patting their faces dry. Every
so often, some candidate would lean over the edge of the veranda and wring
out his handkerchief, then he’d resume dabbing at his perspiring brow.
Mufat Lal was totally composed and confident as he arrived. As he
took his position on the veranda, he encountered a smart, handsome and
impressive-looking young man. Mufat Lal casually asked him, “What are
your qualifications?”
The man said, “MA (First Class), LLB (First Class).”
Mufat Lal was not impressed. To find out what really mattered, he asked,
“Whose man are you?”
The young man was taken by surprise. Flushing with anger, he retorted,
“Why should I be someone’s man? I’m not some domestic animal. It’s they
who are described as Gopal’s cow or Kakkar’s dog. I don’t need an owner’s
tag around my neck.”
These sharp words didn’t faze Mufat at all. On the contrary, he felt pity
for that unfortunate youth.
Now the young man asked, “And whose man are you?”
“Kunwar Astabhan’s,” Mufat Lal proudly replied.
“And your qualifications?”
“Do I need any other?” Mufat Lal rejoindered.
The young man smiled.
For the first time, Mufat Lal felt angry. He felt as if the young man’s MA
(First Class) was chasing his own BA (Third Class) down a road. calling it
all sorts of names. His voice dripped with poison as he said, “Listen, it’s I
who’ll be a deputy collector — not you. You don’t have a chance. But when
you start starving and find you can’t survive on your smart looks, come and
see me. I’ll appoint you as a clerk in my office.”
The young man wanted to make some suitable retort but just then his
name was called by a chaprasi. He patted his face with his handkerchief and
strode off for the interview.
Five sages were seated at a table. One of them asked the young man his
name. When they heard his reply, they looked at his Form B. Under the
question, Whose Man?, it said, No one’s.

64
Harishankar Parsai Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview

The interview began.


One sage asked, “What’s the difference between the concept of maya in
the vedanta and the concept of prakriti in the sankhya?”
The candidate had not studied philosophy so deeply. He didn’t know that
one had to be a philosopher in order to be a deputy collector. He, however,
gave the question some thought and tried to frame an answer.
The chief sage scowled at the delay and said, “You’re taking too long.
Very dull!”
The second sage asked, “How has Kant defined Pure Reason?”
The candidate was dumbfounded. He hadn’t been a student of philosophy.
He stared at the faces before him, while perspiration ran down his face.
The second sage said, “He doesn’t know a thing. Totally dull!”
The chief sage turned to the remaining two sages, “Would you like to ask
a question?”
“There’s no need,” they replied. “We’ve seen enough.”
The interview ended. The candidate walked out with a long face. Mufat
Lal saw him and made the sound of a goat.
A bit later, the chaprasi called Mufat Lal’s name. Mufat Lal went in and
stood before the five sages. When he told them his name, they consulted his
Form B. In the Whose man column, it said, Kunwar Astabhan’s.
The five sages looked at him with great affection. The chief sage lovingly
said, “Why are you standing, son? Take a seat.”
Mufat Lal sat down, and the interview started.
One sage asked, “How is Kunwar Sahab?”
“He’s fine.”
Another sage asked, “What did you have for lunch today?”
“Roti, chawal, dal, sabji, and some achar,” Mufat Lal replied heartily.
Everyone was impressed by his prompt responses. The chief sage re-
marked, “How quick he is! Very smart.”
The third sage asked, “Which is the best film in town these days?”
“Chaudawin ka Chand, starring Waheeda Rahman, Guru Dutt, Johnny
Walker and Helen.”
“Shabash!” the chief sage said. “What a well-informed boy!”
The questions stopped.
The chief sage turned to Mufat Lal. “Son, we are all very impressed to see
how well-qualified you are. You’ve been selected. Now go and wait for your
appointment letter. Remember, it can take anywhere from three months to
three years — or even ten. Some people, in fact receive their letters when
they’re close to their retirement age. But since, you’re Kunwar Sahab’s Man,
you should get your letter very soon. Go, you have a bright future.”

65
Mufat Lal Goes For An Interview Harishankar Parsai

Mufat Lal saluted the sages and left the room.3

3
“Mufatlal Goes For an Interview” has been excerpted from Rani Nagphani ki Kahani
originally published in Hindi in 1960–62.

66
Honouring the Sahab

What appeared in the papers


Last night, in Shanti Bhawan located in the main market of our city
a function was organized by the local cloth dealers to honour the income
tax officer, Shri Devendra Kumar “Kamal,” for his contribution to Hindi
literature. Paying homage to Shri Kamal, Seth Babulalji, president of the
Cloth Dealers’ Association, said, “Shri Kamal is a great poet and litterateur.
With his fine poems he has filled the lap of Mother India. Our city has
indeed been blessed that a poet of the rank of Kalidas and Tagore has come
here.” Responding to the felicitations, Shri Kamal said, “In honouring me,
you have, in truth, honoured the Goddess of Art, Ma Saraswati herself. I’m
endlessly grateful to you. I don’t know how I can ever return the great favour
you have done to me.” Following his remarks, local poets recited their verses.
Several dealers from the cloth market also read poems honouring Shri Kamal.
Finally, Shri Kamal gratified the audience by reciting his poems for almost
two hours. The meeting ended with a reception.

What didn’t appear in the papers


Shri Devendra Kumar came to the city as the income tax officer some
eighteen months ago. He was fond of poetry and used Kamal as his pen
name. Every evening his subordinate staff would gather at his house and
listen to his poems. He wrote a poem on the occasion of Diwali last year.
It became so popular that he recited it until the festival came around again.
The poem opens — “Beloved, you’re far away from me, how then should I
light my lamp?” It made his wife very angry. She asked, “Who’s the wretch
that you’re pining for?” Shri Kamal gently explained, “It is you. As the
poet has said — you are near yet far away . . . ” Shri Kamal had but one
complaint. He felt that the city hadn’t sufficiently recognized his talents.
Then one day, by the grace of god, a special circular arrived from the
central Income Tax Office ordering that the records of every dealer should
be examined most stringently, that taxes should be raised, and that severe
action should be taken against anyone found hiding his true income. It caused
great commotion among the dealers. Everyone started thinking of ways to
Honouring the Sahab Harishankar Parsai

avoid taxes. Fortunately, it turned out that Rasiklal, son of Seth Surajmal,
secretary of the Cloth Dealers’ Association, also had much interest in poetry.
He also had close ties with Shri Kamal’s personal assistant, Shri Brajkishore
“Brajendra.” Shri Brajendra too is a poet. He said to Rasiklal, “The sahab’s
weakness is poetry. You should honour him as a poet. He’ll then be pleased
with all the dealers and will go easy on them.”
Subsequently, last week, a meeting of the Cloth Dealers’ Association
unanimously decided that there was nothing wrong in honouring Shri De-
vendra Kumar “Kamal,” as a poet. That, in fact, it was important to let
him know that they, the cloth dealers, viewed him as a very great poet.
Consequently, last night, in Shanti Bhawan, a function was organized by
the Cloth Dealers’ Association in honour of Shri Kamal. Hundreds of cloth
dealers gathered in the hall, together with all the employees of the income tax
department and a few local poets. Any dealer who was involved in some tax
inquiry had received a special notice from the Association — Get someone
to write a poem felicitating Shri Kamal, and read it at the meeting.
The meeting started with Shri Brajendra introducing the audience to
the literary greatness of Shri Kamal. Brajendra, still unconfirmed in his job,
began, “I told the dealers that an extraordinary genius has arrived in the city,
and yet, unfortunately, the city has failed to recognize its good fortune . . . ”
Immediately he was interrupted by the president of the Cloth Dealers’
Association, who got up and said, “You’re wrong. You didn’t tell us. We
recognized his greatness on our own. My son Rasiklal knows all about poetry
and all that.”
The two men started to argue. Seeing that the situation was getting out
of hand, Shri Kamal himself calmed them down.
Then the president of the association, Seth Babulal, felicitated Shri Ka-
mal in the following manner.
“As we honour Shri Kamal, our hearts are filled with joy, the same joy
that fills the heart of an Indian woman when she sees a Banarasi sari. The
colourful bunting and banners that you see here decorating the hall to wel-
come you, are made of calico, rayon silk, Madras jean, georgette and flannel.
“Shri Kamal, for years the wish to honour you lay buried in our hearts
like the actual details of our sales. This wonderful event kept getting pushed
behind, the way a yardstick is when we measure a piece of cloth. It took
us eighteen months to learn that you were a poet too. In fact, if the new
order hadn’t come from the Central Office we might have never found this
out. Everything happens at its proper time. For example. we always sell
more silk during the wedding season. Likewise, when the right time comes
we immediately recognize who is a decent person — just as we never fail to
discover who his relatives are when some sales tax inspector confiscates our

68
Harishankar Parsai Honouring the Sahab

books.
“There are other dealers too in the city — grain sellers, grocers, hardware
merchants. But they all failed to recognize that you are a poet. We are
different. After all, calico cloth is different from ordinary linen. Only cloth
dealers know what art is. The previous sales tax officer used to paint pictures.
He did a painting of Shiv and Parvati that looked just like the poster for the
film Shankar Vivah. Our Seth kalumal had it reproduced on his calendar.
Later the Sethji was tried for not paying sufficient sales tax, but the blessings
of Bhagwan Shiv were upon him and the case was dismissed.
“Sir, we have a proud tradition of honouring our artist officers. We are
traders. Our ties with officers should be close — the way imitation silk is
tied in with real silk. We don’t know what a poem is. The only poems we
listen to are those on the radio — about toothpastes and vitamin pills. But
when Rasiklal told us that you are a poet, we immediately understood.
“The other traders in the city, they too will have their income tax in-
creased. Their accounts too are in a mess. Some of them are even involved
in cases. But not one of them paid any heed to the fact that you are a poet.
They have dishonoured you, while we offer you our deepest respects. Please
don’t ever forget that. We felicitate you with open hearts. Tonight, even
those of us who are involved in cases will recite some sweet verses felicitating
you. It is our good fortune that you have graced the occasion with your
benign pretence. Please grace our stores too in the same manner — this is
our humble prayer.”
Responding to the address, Shri Kamal said,
“Tonight, experiencing the love that you have showered upon me, I feel
the same joy that an income tax officer feels when suddenly, in the dead
of night, some trader appears at his door, bearing all his account books.
Tonight I feel as if I have leaped over my senior officers and reached a very
high position. Like the Urgent papers that lie forgotten under my blotting
pad, there was a secret wish tucked away in my heart that I must someday
appear before the traders in the guise of a poet. That such an occasion came
after a very long time doesn’t bother me at all, for I was brought up on
the precepts of Red-tapeism, whose first and foremost principle is — Delay.
Tonight I feel as if the finance minister himself pulled me out from among
thousands of income tax officers and asked me to make all the arrangements
for paan on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding!
“I know there is a big difference between you and the other traders. They
only trade. You on the other hand are like a religious trust which is exempt
from income tax. The address you have given me. I’ll have it framed. It
shall hang in my drawing room and guide me in my life, just as an old clerk
guides his new officer. How can I ever repay your kindness? But let me at

69
Honouring the Sahab Harishankar Parsai

least assure you that I’ll always look after you. You needn’t worry about the
new orders from the ministry.
“I offer you my heartfelt thanks. On this occasion, I shouldn’t forget
Brajendra, my PA. It’s due to his efforts alone that I received recognition in
this city as a poet. Just think what injustice could’ve occurred if Brajendra
had not been my PA, but had instead worked under the sales tax officer. Then
it would have been him standing here, being honoured by you! It’s nothing
but a boon of Brajendra’s devotion that I’m being honoured tonight. I want
to see him confirmed in his job. Once again I thank all of you. Have no fear.
Do your business in peace.”
After that some poets read their compositions. Finally Shri Kamal recited
his poems for almost two hours. The entire assembly of cloth dealers was
drenched in bliss.
Unfortunately, an untoward incident happened at the conclusion of this
most beautiful event. Seth Lapeté Lal of Ram Gopal and Shri Gopal got
into an angry argument with the president of the association. Lapeté Lal
was heard shouting, “I have to appear before the sahab tomorrow still you
didn’t give me a chance to read my poem! You only let your relatives read.
I paid ten rupees for this poem. Now they’re gone for nothing.”
But the sahab intervened and saved the situation. Then everyone went
home happy.1

1
“Honouring the Sahab” was originally published in Hindi as “Sahab ka Samman.”

70
The Prospectus of a Proposed
Private College

May Goddess Lakshmi always bless us.


We the present owners of Babulal, Chhotelal & Co are in the process of
opening another new branch of our famous firm.1
It will be called Gobardhandas College.
As the entire world knows, Shri Gobardhandas was our revered father. He
has now departed from this world of illusion, and that has made everything
meaningless — except the firm itself. We know there is not much profit in
education as there is in cement or sugar. Our merchant brethren will consider
it the height of folly for us to open an education store. They will ask, “Why
are you opening a college? Why don’t you buy a stock of sugar with that
money?”
In a way, what they say is true. However, we have a somewhat philo-
sophical attitude towards everything. One gets a human form after passing
through eighty four lakh births — it has been said in religious discourses.
That is why one ought to seek in life both what is selfish and what is eternal
and spiritual. But what is eternal and spiritual? The answer is, any action
that makes people consider you generous, self-sacrificing and a servant of the
society. It brings you greater glory. And that greater glory is eternal and
spiritual. In our life we must do at least one such act to immortalize our
name.
Our late father always had a great desire to become immortal, but during
his own life he couldn’t arrange it. He was always too busy with the firm’s
work. That responsibility has now fallen upon our shoulders. We wish to
immortalize our father. Earlier, every summer, we used to set up a free
water stand in his honour. We are sure people couldn’t have forgotten the
1
Author’s note: A certain party is establishing a new college. It has already published
one prospectus in the papers. But like its account books, that party actually prepared two
different prospectuses. The other, private prospectus was tucked away in the true account
book. Here it is published for the first time.
The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College Harishankar Parsai

Shri Gobardhandas Water Stand at the intersection near the railway station.
But then we realized that the water stand keeps our late father’s good name
alive only during the months of summer — the remaining ten months he is
totally forgotten. Even those who survive through the summers by drinking
water daily from our stand don’t, in the winter months, remember the great
favour our father did them. People are so ungrateful!
The water stand cannot immortalize our late father during all twelve
months, or for hundreds of years — though it does cost so little. But has
anyone ever become immortal through frugality? Then we thought we should
have a dharmashala built in his name — not only will his name live as long
as the building stands, but even if with the passage of time it sinks into the
ground, some archaeologist in the future will dig it out and our fathers name
will be enshrined in the annals of history forever. But then certain wise men
advised us that there was much talk of socialism going on and there might
be bad times ahead. If socialism arrives there would be no poor or needy —
“Who would then seek shelter in your dharmashala,” they asked, “who would
then remember your father’s name?”
That’s why, after a great deal of thought, we have decided to open a
college.
The opening of a college will also remove a blot from our good name. Our
late, revered father was not literate. Indeed, it is a matter of great shame
that the man who carried the firm to such heights was illiterate. But when
future generations see a college named after him, they will only conclude
that Gobardhandas must have been a great scholar or educationist in the
twentieth century. Why else would there be a college in his name? Certainly
that kind of benefit cannot be gained from an orphanage or a dharmashala.
We have contributed one lakh rupees for the establishment of the college.
Of course, few people know that actually only forty thousand came out of
our pockets — the other sixty would have gone to the taxman in any case.
To buy the glory of a lakh by contributing only forty thousand, that was
only befitting the memory of our revered father.
We went to our brethren, the other traders, and asked them to help
us immortalize our late father’s name. They gladly contributed. After all,
if it was our father’s cause today, it could be their father’s tomorrow. In
this manner we collected three lakhs. Then we called upon the education
minister. The minister’s great grandfather had been the account keeper in
our great grandfather’s shop. We always make sure to remind him of it —
lest he starts to forget. Incidentally, in the last election we made sure that
our entire caste group voted for him.
We placed our scheme before the education minister, then told him that
we were still short of funds. The education minister replied, “Your late father

72
Harishankar Parsai The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College

was like a father to me too. I have to fight my next election in that area. I
need his blessings. I was myself thinking of immortalizing him by opening
a university in his name. But if you’re satisfied with just a college, I’ll be
happy to donate seven or eight lakhs on behalf of the government.”
In this manner, at the cost of only forty thousand rupees, our father will
gain an estate of some ten or twelve lakhs. The body may have died but, as
the Gita says, the soul lives on. His soul is still functioning with the same
professional acumen.
It is our intention that the new institution should function in a profes-
sional manner. We want to make it an ideal institution. With that in mind
we have set up certain principles and rules for its administration. These must
be followed carefully. They are listed below.
1. The contract for the construction of the college will go to the husband
of our father’s sister. That is a must for us in order to be true to the
memory of our late father. When our father had organized the con-
struction of the Shiv temple through public subscription, its contract
was also given to our phuphaji.
2. If for some reason the government interferes and gives the construction
contract to the education minister’s brother-in-law, the cement and
bricks for the project should still be obtained only through us.
3. If, while the college is under construction, we have some building of
our own going up, the supplies for the former may be utilized for the
latter’s benefit. After all, the firm is one.
4. As long as our mamaji has his stationery store, all the stationery for
the college must be bought from him. Our father had great love for
him. In fact, it was he who had inaugurated the store. It would greatly
pain our father’s soul if the stationery were bought elsewhere.
5. In the college yard mango, papaya and jackfruit trees should be planted.
All the produce must always be sent to our house. If the principal fails
to do so, he may be sued for breach of contract.
6. Whenever there is a wedding in our family, the college building will be
vacated for the groom’s party to stay. The charges for electricity, et
cetera, will be paid by the college.
7. We will be the secretaries of the managing committee of the college,
and after us our sons will get the jobs. This convention will continue.
Additionally, several members of the Management Committee will be
from the clans of our parents.

73
The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College Harishankar Parsai

8. Other members of the Management Committee should have only the


remotest connection with education and learning. Learned men split
hairs and cause trouble. Further, since this will be a vocational college,
the merchant class should have a greater hand in running it.

9. As it has been declared at the very beginning, this college is a branch of


our firm. Consequently, the principal of the college will have the same
rank as that of the chief accountant of our firm. And the professors
will be considered equal to ordinary accountants.

10. The principal will have to come daily to our store and greet us saying,
“Jai Ramji ki.” He won’t get paid for any day that he fails to come. If
he is absent for fifteen consecutive days he will be fired.

11. Every professor will have to come at least once every week to say “Jai
Ramji ki” to us. Any professor who does so daily will have a better
chance to be promoted as the principal.

12. All the chaprasis will work half the time at the college and the other
half at the store. They shouldn’t object. After all, the firm is one.

13. The education of any boy or girl of our family will be the responsibility
of the staff of the college. They will have to come to our house to
tutor the children. Further, they must not only tell the children the
test questions but also later make sure that they get good marks, even
from outside examiners.

14. The main job of the professors will be to visit us frequently to flatter
us and to report on their colleagues. We’ll always be ready to listen to
their backbiting, even if it is past midnight.

15. If perchance any progeny of ours turns out to be a failure at business,


the college must appoint him as a professor.

We make these declarations in sound mind and in full control of our


senses. We hope that everyone will cooperate in making the college an ideal
institution.
Iti.
(Let any mistake be forgiven.)2

2
“The Prospectus of a Proposed Private College” was originally published in Hindi as
“Private Kalij ka Ghoshnapatra” in 1965.

74
Iti Shri Researchayah

AD 1950 . . .
Babu Gopalchand was a big leader. He had explained to the people —
and the people had understood too — that if in the great freedom struggle
he had not gone to the jail twice and served as an A Class prisoner, India
couldn’t have become free.
On the night of 3 December, 1950, in the seventh room of the third floor
of his house, lying on a foot thick mattress on a three foot high bed, Babu
Gopalchand was tossing and turning restlessly. No, he hadn’t become a vic-
tim of someone’s bewitching glances. He was suffering the pangs of planning.
Recently he had raised some four lakh rupees from public subscription. That
money was to be used to build a grand Martyrs’ Memorial, to commemorate
those who lost their lives in the great freedom struggle. His plan was to have
a poem full of patriotism and sacrifice engraved on the gate to the monu-
ment. And the problem besetting his mind was — whose poem should it be?
There were any number of poets who had themselves gone to jail during the
struggle and had written splendid poems on the subject — and could write
new ones if needed — but Babu Gopalchand didn’t like their poems. “They
don’t have power,” he would say. “They lack the power of the soul.”
In desperation, he picked up the book of Akbar Birbal jokes that lay by
his pillow and began to read.

. . . Akbar said to Jaggu Dheemar, “Bring the most handsome boy


in the city to the court tomorrow morning. If you fail to do so
your head will be chopped off.” When he heard the king, Jaggu
Dheemar was scared. How was he to find the most handsome
boy in the city! He lay in despair on a cot in his veranda when
his wife came by. “You look. gloomy today,” she said, “has
something happened?” Jaggu explained his problem. His wife
said, “So that’s what’s bothering you, such an easy matter? Just
take our own Kallu to the king. There’s no boy more handsome
in the city.” Jaggu liked her suggestion. He sat up, delighted,
and said, “Look as that! What a simple matter and I didn’t think
Iti Shri Researchayah Harishankar Parsai

of it. Who can match our darling son in looks?” Next morning,
Jaggu presented Kallu in the court. It so happened that Kallu
was terribly dark and had a face that was pitted with pockmarks.
He also had a bulging belly, two tiny eyes, and a flat nose . . .
By now Babu Gopalchand was as ecstatic as Jaggu. He sat up and called
to his son, “Gobardhan! Are you asleep? Come here for a minute.”
Gobardhan had just then returned from a drinks party. He walked in on
unsteady feet. Babu Gopalchand asked, “Arré, you still write poems, don’t
you?”
Gobardhan was dumbfounded. Dreading that he might again be repri-
manded, he replied, “No Babuji, I gave up that bad habit.”
“Listen, beta,” Babu Gopalchand said gently, “tell me the truth. There’s
nothing wrong in writing poetry.”
Gobardhan felt life coming back into his body. He said, “Babuji, I wrote
a few poems, but people didn’t appreciate them. Once as a kavi sammelan
they booed me off the stage. After that I stopped writing.”
“Beta, the world does that to every genius,” Babu Gapalchand consoled
him. “They laughed because they failed to understand your complex poems.
Now go and write a few verses on sacrifice and patriotism and give them to
me by tomorrow.”
Gobardhan continued to stare at his feet. He said, “Babuji, I’ve never
written on such light topics. I write love poems, One of them is on Jahuran
Bai, the singer. Will it do?”
Babu Gopalchand was ready to explode, but somehow controlled himself
and said gently, “These days sacrifice, renunciation and patriotism are in
fashion. One should write on them alone. It’s also becoming fashionable to
write on poverty. You may write on any of these subjects. All I want from
you is a few lines on sacrifice and the love of the land. I wish to use them
for a national cause.”
“Will they be published?” Gobardhan asked eagerly.
“Engraved, not published. I’ll have them engraved on the gate of the
Martyrs’ Memorial.”
Now Gobardhan was truly inspired, By next evening he had composed
four verses. On reading them. Gopalchand jumped up with joy. “Wah beta,”
he exclaimed, “you have captured an epic in these four lines. It’s like . . . an
ocean poured into a cup!”
On 6 December, 1950, those four verses were engraved on the gate of the
grand new Martyrs’ Memorial. Under the verses was the poet’s name —
Gobardhandas.
AD 2950 . . .

76
Harishankar Parsai Iti Shri Researchayah

In the research seminar in the Department of Hindi at the university,


Dr Venus Nandan was talking to his favourite student, Robert Mohan.
(Readers, by then such international names were fairly common.) Robert
Mohan was doing research under Dr Venus Nandan. His subject was Twen-
tieth Century Hindi Poetry.
Mohan was very excited. “Sir,” he eagerly said to Dr Nandan, “thanks
to the Department of Archaeology I have found a clue to the identity of
the greatest national poet of that age. Until now we had been floundering
in darkness. The written tradition has given us incorrect information. Ni-
rala, Pant, Prasad, Makhanlal Chaturvedi, Dinkar — the written tradition
gives only these five names. But, in fact, that ungrateful age let its greatest
national poet fall into obscurity. I’m about to bring bring him to light.”
“You are an idiot.” Dr Nandan said.
“And you are a fool,” replied his student. (Readers, by then such cordial
relations between a student and a teacher were fairly common.)
Dr Nandan laughed, then said amiably. “Robert, you must tell me the
whole story.”
“Sir.” Robert Mohan began. “recently a magnificent Martyrs’ Memorial
built in 1950 was excavated. The inscriptional evidence indicates that it was
built to commemorate the martyrs of the great freedom struggle of India. On
its main gate are four verses. Apparently it was the biggest memorial in the
country. The entire nation, it appears, paid tribute to its heroes by building
it. It must therefore follow that the poet whose verses adorn its gate must
have been the greatest poet of that time.”
“And the name of the poet?” Dr Nandan asked. “Gobardhandas,” Mo-
han replied, and pushed before his mentor the piece of paper on which he had
copied the verses. Dr Nandan was very pleased. “Well done! Well done!” he
exclaimed.
“But now I need your help, sir,” Robert Mohan continued, “so far we
know of only these four verses by this poet. What can I write about the rest
of his work?”
“That’s simple enough,” Dr Nandan replied. “Just say, the rest of his
writings were lost in the tide of Time. In those days, poets were divided into
small cliques. But Gobardhandas was by nature an extremely simple and
gentle person. He ploughed his lonely furrow, and never joined any clique.
Consequently, the critics of his time did him tremendous injustice. They
neglected him completely. He couldn’t even find a publisher. And when a
few of his books did get published, other poets got together and, buying all
the copies from the publisher, burnt them.”
Mohan’s face lit up. “Should I also say that Gobardhandas had written
more than one hundred books?” he asked.

77
Iti Shri Researchayah Harishankar Parsai

“Of course you should. In fact, you should write that he authored two
hundred books. Also, that in those days hordes of people filled with patriotic
fervour used to sing Gobardhandas’s brilliant poems as they marched off to
sacrifice themselves for the great cause.”
“But sir,” Mohan said hesitantly, “these verses are rather poor. My
conclusions might turn out to be wrong.”
“Robert, don’t you know the first principle of research?” Dr Venus Nan-
dan scolded him. “What is old is best. Only the present is not good enough.
Further, the whole purpose of research is to find something that is not there.
These verses don’t have any poetic beauty, and so you’ll have to find it
in them. After all, Gobardhandas was a great poet. You can’t treat him
lightly.”
Poor Robert Mohan was scared.
Dr Nandan continued, “But Robert, you mustn’t forget to praise the great
man who recognized the genius of the great poet and preserved for posterity
at least these four verses. Who was the founder of that memorial?”
Mohan consulted his notes and said, “Some leader named Babu Gopal-
chand.”
“He must have been a great man,” Dr Nandan said, his eyes, closed in
thought. “In that clique-ridden age, he must have been a unique soul to
recognize a neglected genius and give him his due honour. I wonder if it
wasn’t Mahatma Gopalchand who gave shelter to that indigent but great
poet and thus made him a target of his peers’ rage? They must have burnt
with jealousy and said the nastiest things about him. I wouldn’t be surprised
if some of them even went on a fast outside his door — those were the great
days of satyagraha, after all. There may be some reason to believe that
Nirala wrote his poem ‘Kukurmutta’ only in response to that horrid situation.
Dinkar, too, might have raised the same issue in that famous poem of his —
‘Kasmai Devaya Havisha Vidhema.’ You see, Robert, research moves forward
on hypotheses.”
And so Robert Mohan’s revolutionary research was finally published, and
through it the world came to know of Gobardhandas, the greatest nationalist
poet of the twentieth century.1

1
“Iti Shri Researchayah” was originally published in Hindi as “Iti Shri Researchayah”
in 1962.

78
A Journey with a Premi

Jagannath Kaka and I were coming back by train after attending a wedding.
We had gone along with the groom’s party. At the station, our companions
quickly took over an entire compartment. Kaka said to me, “If you know
what’s good for you, better find another compartment. There is no wilder
pack of animals than a marriage party. One must keep one’s distance from
them, particularly when they’re coming back from a wedding. Then they
have had their taste of blood at the bride’s house and are ready to pounce
on anyone at sight. If a fight starts we might get thrashed along with this
bunch.”
We went and found seats for ourselves in the sleeper coach.
On the opposite bench were three passengers — an old woman, a young
woman, and a young man. Kaka fixed his eyes on them.
To get a conversation going, I said, “Kaka, it looks like America won’t
stop bombing North Vietnam.”
He paid no attention.
After a while I cried again, “Kaka, the anti-Hindi agitation in Madras is
getting worse.”
“Sssh!” He continued to give the three passengers an intense look.
Then, a few minutes later, he turned to me and said, “Beta, you want to
entangle me in national and international affairs, but you should first sort
our what’s in front of us right here. Tell me, what’s the relationship between
this young man and the old woman?”
“Must be her son.” I replied. “He’s being so attentive to her, taking care
of her needs.”
“No. he can’t be her son,” said Kaka. “He attends upon the old woman,
but seeks the record of his service in the girl’s eyes. He is the premi1 of the
girl. Well, not quite yet a premi, but on the way to becoming one, for no
one wastes time attending upon the mother after fully becoming a premi of
the daughter. Then he merely asks, as he walks into the house, “How’re
1
A Premi is a lover or one who is in love.
A Journey with a Premi Harishankar Parsai

you. Amma?” and continues on into the girl’s room, saying, “How’s Sushma
doing in her studies?”
Kaka again fixed his eyes on the three.
Suddenly he remarked, “How sad! In this land of ours, if one wishes to
find a place in a girl’s heart one has to go through the hearts of her parents.
That can make a wreck of any young lover. Remember how Shirin’s father
told her lover to dig a channel through a mountain and how that stupid
Farhad immediately got going?”2
“But Kaka,” I tried to argue, “here it seems to have been all worked out.
Why else would they be travelling together like this? I think the boy has it
all fixed.”
“No,” Kaka said confidently, “as yet the boy only knows them well. Prob-
ably he’s been going to their house. The old woman might have asked him
a few times to do some shopping for her. Perhaps, once in a while, even the
girl gave him some sample of knitting wool and asked him to find out the
price in the market. That’s about all. You see, the poor boy is still in the
stage of making an impression. He probably thought he would get that taken
care of during this journey. Travelling with the girl, one can accomplish on
a train in ten hours what would otherwise take ten years. All the daily little
tasks of life come up on a train journey too. A candidate can fully display
his talents on such an occasion.”
What Kaka said was true. The young man had certainly been putting
on quite a show. He opened the windows, turned the ceiling fans towards
the old lady, and opened two bedrolls and spread them on the berths. Then
he went and filled a flask with cold drinking water. When he had paid the
coolie, he had counted out an extra ten paisa, saying, “Here take another ten
paisa. Poor man!” Perhaps he was telling the girl, I’m generous.
Then he went and got some magazines. He gave the pile to the girl, but
made sure to place a film magazine on top. The cover had the picture of a
screen couple — the hero was holding the heroine’s hands. The girl took the
magazines from him and began to flip through the pages.
Kaka whispered in my ear, “Did you see that magazine? The cover? He’s
saying to her, Wouldn’t it be nice if we too were holding hands like that?”
I began to look at them more intently.
“Beta,” Kaka continued, “you shouldn’t stare at them that way. It may
cause offence. Let me do the staring. That’s the special privilege of old men.
They may stare at any woman and no one can take offence. Behind the shield
of our grey hair, we can do things that you young men can’t even dream of.”
In the meantime, the premi had gone and got some paan. He offered the
2
Shirin and Farhad are famous lovers of a Persian romance.

80
Harishankar Parsai A Journey with a Premi

packet to the old woman. She took two. Then he offered it to the girl. She
took one. The premi’s face took on a hopeful look.
But he had forgotten to get some tobacco for the old woman. Hastily,
he got off the train, and rushed to the paanwala. By the time he got some
tobacco and climbed back, the train had already started to move. When he
gave the packet to the old lady, she expressed some concern, “You shouldn’t
have. I was worried.”
“There was no need to worry,” the boy replied. “Anyway, I couldn’t be
sure about getting any at the next station.”
The old lady said, “Yes, beta, I can’t do without tobacco. Without it,
paan has no flavour for me. But you should be more careful and not jump
on to moving trains.”
The boy turned and looked at the girl.
Kaka whispered to me, “See, he’s telling her, For you I can jump off and
on even faster trains. I’m bold. I’m bold and brave and ready to lay down
my life any time.”
Just then the conductor in charge of the compartment came by. The boy
jumped up and started arguing with him in English about his berth, “But I
told you . . . ”
Kaka explained to me, “Now he’s scolding the conductor in English. The
youth of this land still believe that girls fall in love with those who speak
English. Now, beta, let me ask you a question — What if he had fallen under
the train at that time?”
I replied, “What of it? Such sacrifices are common in love.”
“How could it have been a sacrifice in love?” Kaka retorted. “He’d have
lost his life for the sake of the old woman’s tobacco. The trouble is, the youth
of this land don’t even know how to die for love. They die in love all right,
but in a sickening way. Killing themselves for some other cause, they believe
it’s for love. All right, what do you think he’ll do next?”
“He’ll show off by pulling the alarm chain,” I suggested. “First he’ll throw
the old lady’s shawl out of the window, then he’ll pull the chain to stop the
train.”
“No. Think harder.”
“Probably he’ll hand out money to all the passengers.”
“No. He’s already displayed compassion when he gave the extra ten paisa
to the coolie.”
I thought some more, then said, “I know. He’ll sing a song.”
Kaka laughed. “No, he isn’t the singing kind,” he said. “I don’t think
you know anything about premis. As for me, one look at a man’s face and
I can tell you how long he’s been in love, what stage he’s at presently, and
what he may be expected to do next.”

81
A Journey with a Premi Harishankar Parsai

“In that case,” I rejoindered, “you tell me what his next move will be.”
Kaka said, “Next he’ll start a fight with someone. He has displayed his
tender side, now he must show the brute in him. If a man hasn’t displayed
to his woman that he’s a wild animal too, he believes his total personality
hasn’t emerged. This boy will now look for someone who’s weaker than him,
He’ll then find some excuse to start a fight and beat him up. We should be
careful, beta, for we too can become his victims,”
“If he gets nasty with us, I’ll . . . ”
“No,” Kaka interjected, “if you beat him he’d fall low in the girl’s eyes.
It’s a great sin to mess up love.”
“But it’s all right to let a stranger beat us up?” I retorted.
Kaka said, “Well, if that should happen we must at least appear to have
been roughed up by him. We must make sure of that. If we’re made to suffer
some pain or shame for the sake of this premi, so be it. Of course, we should
also try at the same time to protect ourselves.”
Kaka and I sat up, alert. The premi was rolling up his steeves and looking
around the compartment.
At the next station a handsome young man came on board, carrying a
small suitcase. The premi looked him over. As the young man passed him
by, the suitcase rubbed against the knees of the premi. The premi jumped
up, boiling with rage. He grabbed the young man’s collar and swore at him,
then slapping him hard across the face, he pushed him down. Kaka and I got
up and stopped the fight. We commiserated with the new man and made
him sit near another window across the aisle. His face was red with anger
and shame.
The premi turned triumphantly towards the girl, but she was staring out
of the window. He began to boast to the old lady, “If they hadn’t stopped
me I’d have beaten him to a pulp.”
The girl turned around, looked with contempt at the premi, then cast a
glance at the newcomer.
“Beta, our drama is becoming quite complex,” Kaka whispered to me.
“It’s now turning into a triangular affair.”
The premi was beginning to look rather perturbed. By now the girl had
looked towards that young man several times.
The premi took out his packet of paan and offered it to the old lady, but
she had dozed off. He then offered it to the girl. “No,” the girl said curtly
and gave him a withering look.
Now the girl would look out of her window for a few moments, then turn
around to look at the newcomer. He too would alternate between gazing out
of his window and looking at the girl. Eventually, the two started watching
the outside scene through each other’s windows.

82
Harishankar Parsai A Journey with a Premi

“It’s happened!” Kaka exclaimed. “It’s happened!”


“What has happened?” I asked.
Kaka explained. “She has given herself to the weak. Women are strange.
They give themselves to those who get thrashed. May god save us from their
wiles. Now it’s all over.”
The premi was in a bad state. He looked most rueful. He said loudly to
no one in particular, “I myself feel very sorry that I hit him.”
Kaka said to me, “Beta, this boy has lost out because of his manliness.
Right now he wishes someone would rough him up. You’re always willing
to help others. Why don’t you get up and slap him around a bit? He’d be
eternally grateful to you.”
“I can’t do that, Kaka,” I replied. “How can I hit him without any cause
or anger?”
“For his sake, beta, for his sake — the way a surgeon cuts up a body,”
explained Kaka. “The poor boy is desperately looking for someone to give
him a beating. Then he too might deservedly claim the girl’s compassion.
He’s been forced into competing with the fellow he himself beat up.”
“Why don’t you give him a beating?”
“It won’t help him at all if an old man does that,” Kaka explained. “He
wants to be beaten by someone young. Anyway, it’s you who is always
championing the cause of others, not me.”
Then Kaka got up from his seat and, stepping closer to the premi, said,
“Bhai premi, if you think a good thrashing would help your lost cause, I can
ask my friend here to help you out.”
The girl burst out laughing. The premi too began to laugh. Kaka flopped
back on his seat, looking sorely disappointed.3

3
“A Journey with a Premi” was originally published in Hindi as “Premi ke Sath Ek
Safar.”

83
Bholaram’s Soul

This had never happened. For millions of years, Dharmaraj had been al-
lotting homes in hell or heaven to millions of people on the basis of their
karma or some personal recommendation. But this sort of thing had never
happened before.
Seated in front of him was Chitragupt, repeatedly wiping his glasses clean,
moistening a finger with his tongue and flipping through the pages of one
register after another. But he just couldn’t pin down the mistake. In sheer
exasperation, he banged the last register shut with such force that a poor fly
got squashed between its pages. Chitragupt wiped the traces clean with a
finger, then turned to Dharmaraj. “Maharaj,” he said, “our record is pretty
clear. Bholaram’s soul left his body five days ago. It also set out for here
with our emissary who had been sent to bring it. However, somehow it has
failed to arrive.”
“And where is the emissary?” asked Dharmaraj
“He too has disappeared, maharaj.”
Just then the doors were flung open and the emissary entered the hall.
He seemed utterly distraught. His naturally ugly face looked much worse
for all the toil and terror he seemed to have suffered. Chitragupt shouted,
“Where were you all this time? And where is Bholaram’s soul?”
The emissary folded his hands suppliantly before Dharmaraj, and said,
“Merciful One, how can I tell you what happened. I’ve never been deceived
before, but Bholaram’s soul has made a fool of me. Five days ago, when it
left Bholaram’s body, I grabbed it and set out for this world. But after we
came out of the city and just as I caught a fast upper current of air to come
here, it managed to slip out of my fingers and disappeared. For these past
five days I have turned the universe upside down but have failed to find any
trace of it.”
“Fool!” Dharmaraj growled. “For millions of years you’ve been fetching
all kinds of souls, but now you claim that the soul of some decrepit old man
managed to give you the slip?”
The emissary bowed his head still lower and said, “Maharaj, I was ex-
Harishankar Parsai Bholaram’s Soul

tremely careful. There’s no precaution that I didn’t take. As you know, even
the most crafty lawyer can’t slip out of these skilled hands of mine. But in
this instance, it seems as if Indra himself put one over me.”
“Maharaj,” Chitragupt intervened, “lately such things seem to happen
a lot on Earth. People send parcels to friends, but they vanish in transit.
Entire wagons of goods trains disappear. Another strange thing that’s be-
come common is that leaders of one political party kidnap leaders of another
party and hold them confined. I wonder if that didn’t happen to Bholaram’s
soul?”
Dharmaraj gave him a scornful look, and said, “Looks like you too need
retirement. What interest could anyone have in a worthless wretch like Bho-
laram?”
Just then that eternally footloose sage, Narad, walked in. When he saw
Dharmaraj so agitated, he asked, “What’s bothering you, maharaj? Is it
that old problem of not having enough housing in Hell?”
“No, that was resolved some time ago,” Dharmaraj replied. “Lately these
most ingenious people have been coming to Hell. Many of them are building
contractors who, when alive, always extracted full payments but left the
buildings unfinished. Some are famous civil engineers who worked hand in
glove with contractors on various five year plans. Then there are the overseers
who supervised the work and collected wages of thousands of labourers who
didn’t even exist. These men quickly put up any number of new buildings in
Hell. I’m faced now with something more difficult. A man named Bholaram
died five days ago. This emissary was bringing his soul here when somehow
it gave him the slip and disappeared. He searched all over the universe but
couldn’t find any trace of it. If such goings-on continue, there won’t be any
distinction left between right and wrong.”
Narad asked, “Did Bholaram have any arrears of income tax? Perhaps
the Income Tax people caught hold of him.”
Chitragupt said, “Why talk of tax when he had no income! Bholaram
died starving.”
“Hmm. That makes it very interesting,” said Narad. “Give me his full
name and address. I’ll go down and look for him.”
Chitragupt read aloud from his register, “Bholaram. He lived in Jabalpur,
in a tiny house by the sewage drain, in the neighbourhood called Ghamapur.
He had a wife, two sons and one daughter. His age was around sixty. He
used to work in a government office but had retired some five years ago. His
house rent hadn’t been paid for the previous twelve months and the landlord
was ready to throw him out. Just then Bholaram passed away. That was
five days ago. Probably the landlord, true to his trade, threw the family out
on the road. You may have to look around a bit to find them.”

85
Bholaram’s Soul Harishankar Parsai

Narad had no trouble finding the house. The loud wailing of the widow
and the daughter made it easy. He stood at the door and loudly said,
“Narayan, Narayan.” The daughter peeked out and said, “Maharaj, go some-
where else.”
Narad said, “Beti, I’m not seeking alms. I want to ask some questions
that concern Bholaram. Tell your mother to come to the door for a minute.”
Bholaram’s widow came to the door. Narad said to her, “Mata, what did
Bholaram die of?”
“What can I say,” she replied, “he died of poverty. He retired five years
ago, but never received any of his pension. He would post a reminder every
week or so, but either he never received a reply or if a letter came it only said,
“The matter is under consideration.” We first lived on the little jewellery I
had, then we had to sell our pots and pans. Now we had nothing left. Some
days we’d have nothing to eat. Desperate and starving, he suddenly passed
away.”
“You can’t change things, mata. They were all the years he was given to
live,” Narad tried to console her.
“Maharaj, don’t say that. He still had many years in him. If he had
received his little pension every month, he could have supplemented it by
working somewhere — that would have met our needs. We could have sur-
vived. But what could we do? He came home from work five years ago, but
we’re yet to receive a single paisa in pension.”
Narad didn’t have the time to listen to her woes. He turned to what was
on his mind, “Tell me, mata, was he particularly fond of anyone — someone
whom his soul would refuse to part from?”
The widow replied, “One can be so fond of only one’s family, maharaj.”
“No, it can be outside the family too. I mean, was there another
woman . . . ?”
Bholaram’s widow glared at Narad. “Don’t be so loose with your tongue,
maharaj. You’re a sadhu, not a rogue,” she said heatedly. “In all his life he
never ever raised his eyes to look at another woman.”
“Yes, yes, you’re absolutely right to think that way. All good wives live
by that precept,” said Narad, with a laugh. “Now, mata, I must take my
leave.”
The widow said, “Maharaj, you’re a sadhu. You’re gifted with special
powers. Can’t you do something to get his pension released? It would feed
these children a few days.”
Narad was moved. He said, “Who listens to sadhus now? Also, I don’t
have any followers here. But I’ll go to the office and give it a try.”

When Narad arrived at the pension office, he went directly to the first

86
Harishankar Parsai Bholaram’s Soul

clerk he saw and asked about Bholaram’s case. The clerk looked at him
carefully, then said, “Yes, Bholaram did send in many applications but he
didn’t put any weight on them — they must have flown away.”
Narad said, “Bhai, what about these paperweights on your table You
could have used one of them.”
The clerk laughed. “You’re a sadhu. You don’t know the ways of the
world. Applications are not kept in place by paperweights. Anyway, you
should talk to that babu over there.”
Narad went to the other babu. He sent him to a third man, who directed
him to a fourth person, who in turn asked him to see a fifth man, and so on.
After Narad had been to see some thirty or so different clerks, a peon took
pity on him. He said, “Maharaj why did you get yourself involved in this
mess? You may go round and round like this for a whole year, but it won’t
get you anywhere. You should see the chief sahab. If you manage to please
him, your work will he done in an instant.”
Narad strode over to the office of the chief sahab. The peon outside the
door was dozing on his stool, so Narad had no trouble getting in. But the
chief sahab was not pleased. “You take this for some temple of yours?” he
asked with annoyance. “Why didn’t you first send in your card?”
“How could I” Narad replied. “The peon was asleep.”
“So what’s your problem?” the chief asked rather regally.
Narad explained the case of Bholaram’s withheld pension.
“You’re a sadhu,” the chief sahab replied, “you don’t understand how
things are done in government offices. The fault lies with Bholaram. You see,
this place, too is like a temple. Here too one must make offerings. You seem
to be close to Bholaram. You should put some weight on his applications.
Then they will stay in place and won’t fly away.”
Narad thought, Here we go again, talking about weights!
Seeing the perplexed look on Narad’s face, the chief sahab continued,
“Look, this involves government money. A pension file must go to countless
different offices. It takes a long time. Delays happen. Sometimes the same
note must be copied and entered twenty different times. Only then can one
be sure of the final decision. You might say, the amount of any pension equals
the cost of the stationery required for the paperwork. Of course, things can
be expedited. But . . . ” He stopped and gave Narad a meaningful look.
“But what?” asked Narad.
“It requires some weight,” the chief sahab replied, with a smile. “Let me
explain. Take this fine veena of yours, it too can be used as a weight on
Bholaram’s application. My daughter is taking music lessons. I can give it
to her. It’s after all a sadhu’s veena. It should produce lovely music.”
The sudden prospect of losing his veena made Narad nervous, but he

87
Bholaram’s Soul Harishankar Parsai

quickly recovered his poise. “Here, take it,” he said, placing the veena on the
table. “Now, please issue an order rightaway for the release of Bholaram’s
pension.”
The chief sahab was delighted. He offered Narad a chair, took the veena
and put it in one corner of the room. He then pressed a bell. When the peon
arrived, the chief sahab ordered, “Get the file on Bholaram’s pension from
the head clerk.”
A few minutes later, the peon came back with the file. It was bulging with
the two hundred or so petitions that Bholaram had sent. It also contained
all the necessary papers for the final approval. The chief sahab checked the
name on the file, then to make sure that there was no mistake he asked
Narad, “What was the name again?”
Narad thought the chief sahab was perhaps short of hearing. He cleared
his throat and said somewhat loudly, “Bholaram.”
Suddenly a thin voice came out of the file, “Who is it? Is it the postman?
Have the orders come?”
Narad was startled, but the next instant he understood everything. “Bho-
laram?” he asked. “Are you Bholaram’s soul?”
“Yes, I am,” came the reply.
“I am Narad. I have come to take you to Dharmaraj. Come, they are
waiting for you in Heaven.”
“I can’t come,” the voice replied. “I’m caught up in my pension case. I
can’t abandon my file and go off elsewhere.”1

1
“Bholaram’s Soul” was originally published in Hindi as “Bholaram ka Jeev” in 1954.

88
Tiny Tales

The Right Punishment


An artist committed a serious crime and was brought before the king. The
king asked his minister. “Shall we send him to jail for three years?”
“His is a serious crime, maharaj,” the minister replied. “Three years
won’t be enough.”
“Let it be ten years then,” the king said.
“No, maharaj, ten years aren’t enough either.”
“Well, should it be for life?”
“Even that’s not enough, maharaj”
“Should he be hanged?”
“No, maharaj, that’s still not enough.”
The king seas exasperated. “What can be worse than that?” he asked.
“Let him be tied to a post,” the minister replied, “then have someone
praise other artists before him.”

The Right Medicine


The great poet, Anangji, was on his death bed.
His doctors had declared that he had, at the most, only an hour to live.
His wife begged them to give her husband something that would keep him
alive for a few more hours, just long enough for him to meet their son who
was arriving by the evening train. The doctors regretfully told her that they
had no such medicine.
Just then a friend of Anangji came to see him. He said, “I can easily keep
him alive for several hours.”
The doctors laughed. “That’s impossible,” they said.
The friend said, “Let me at least try. Please leave me alone with him.”
They left the room.
Tiny Tales Harishankar Parsai

The friend sat down by Anangji’s bed and whispered to him, “Anangji,
you’re about to leave us forever. We’ll never get to hear your sweet voice
again. Please recite a few verses before you pass away.”
No sooner had the friend spoken the words than Anangji sat up. He said,
“I don’t quite feel up to it, but of course I can’t say no to you. Please get
me my notebook from the shelf.”
The friend brought him the notebook and Anangji started to read him his
verses. Hour followed hour. The evening train arrived, and with it Anangji’s
son. When the son entered the room he found his father sitting on the bed,
reciting a poem, but the father’s friend had fallen to the floor, dead.

A Boy of Destiny
A woman took her young son to a fortune teller and said, “Panditji, please
tell me the future of this boy. What will he become when he grows up?”
The fortune teller replied, “Ma, tell me about his habits. Have you seen
him do anything unusual?”
The woman said, “Often at night he suddenly cries out — Awake! Move
Forward!”
“When he cries out these words.” the fortune teller asked, “does he do
anything himself?”
“No, he doesn’t,” the woman replied. “He stays sound asleep, doesn’t
move a limb — he lies there like a rock”
The fortune teller remained silent in thought for a few moments. Then
he said, “Ma, your son’s future is very bright.”
“What will he be, Panditji?” the woman asked eagerly.
“The leader of a democracy.”

Caste
A factory was set up, and a housing colony was built for all the employees.
From Thakurpura came Thakur Sahab. From Brahminpuri came Pan-
ditji. They joined the factory and lived in the colony in adjoining blocks.
Thakur Sahab had a son. Panditji had a daughter. The two met and got
to know each other. They decided they should get married.
When Panditji heard their decision, he said, “No, that’s impossible. A
brahmin’s daughter marrying a thakur? Never! We’ll lose our caste.”
Thakur Sahab responded similarly, “Never. We’ll lose our caste if you
marry outside it.”

90
Harishankar Parsai Tiny Tales

A third person tried to reason with them. He said, “Look, both the
boy and the girl are mature, sensible and educated. Let them get married.
Suppose they don’t marry, but continue to meet secretly and something
happens — won’t that be fornication?”
“So what!” Thakur Sahab and Panditji retorted. “Fornication doesn’t
make you lose your caste, marriage does.”

The effigy
In a certain city in a certain raj, the police was so brutal with the people
that they decided to burn the effigy of the police minister.
The built his effigy. It was huge and had a horrible face.
The administration imposed Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code and
the police confiscated the effigy.
But now the police was faced with a dilemma — what should it do with
the effigy?
The constables went to their officers and asked, “Sir, this effigy takes up
too much space. Should we burn it or should we take it apart?
The officers said, “Are you crazy? It is the minister sahab’s effigy! We
can’t burn it. You want to lose your jobs?”
Then the festival of Dushehra came around, and with it the enactment of
Ramlila. A senior police officer had a brainwave. He sent for the organizers
and said, “You need an effigy of Ravana, don’t you? Take this one here. All
it needs is nine more heads — you can easily provide those yourselves.”

The sorrow
The office workers were very gloomy that day. One of them had been trans-
ferred to another city. He was a very decent man. His colleagues organized a
small function to bid him farewell. Some of them gave speeches. They said
it seemed as if they were losing a brother.
A man sitting by himself in a corner was crying bitterly. His tears seemed
endless.
Someone said to him, “His impending departure seems to have really hit
you.”
“Yes,” the man replied, between sobs.
“You must have been very close to him?”
“No.”
“Then why are you crying so?”

91
Tiny Tales Harishankar Parsai

“The bastard’s going on a promotion, that’s why,” the man replied, al-
most choking on his words.1

1
“Tiny Tales” contains some “short” short stories from Laghu Kathayen originally
published in Hindi. “The Right Punishment” was published as “Dand” in 1965, “The
Right Medicine” as “Dava” in 1964, “A Boy of Destiny” as “Honhaar” in 1966, “Caste” as
“Jaati”, “The Effigy” as “Pulis Mantri ka Putla” and “The Sorrow” as “Dukh” in 1965.

92
A Fast Unto Death

We present below a chapter from the book Our Glorious Ancestors,


published in 3002 AD. To quote from it’s Preface — “. . . the glory
of our ancestors is inscribed in silver letters on the pages of history.
Their resoluteness, their sacrifice, the nobility of their character can
be glimpsed in this book. Like lamp posts they light the road for our
children.”

This happened in 1960. In a certain city, a certain Gobardhan Babu


was the chairman of the municipal corporation. He was well known for his
services to society. During his tenure only his kinsmen had been appointed
to civic positions and his relatives alone handled all the contracts issued
by the corporation. In the same city there also lived a Seth Kishori Lal, a
wholesale dealer in textiles. He was a devoutly religious man, and thanks
to Gobardhan Babu, all his goods could enter the city without paying any
octroi duty. Naturally, the two were great friends.
One day Gobardhan Babu was visiting Seth Kishori Lal. The Sethji
complained to him that the new octroi inspector had caused him some trouble
a few times. Gobardhan Babu said, “You’ve done the right thing in letting
me know I like to hear all complaints personally. I shall reprimand that man
right away!”
After some more similar chit chat, Gobardhan Babu said, “Sethji, god has
given you everything — wealth, prestige, children, a happy family. There’s
just one thing that’s still missing,”
“And what’s that?” Kishori Lal asked.
“You’ve not yet been immortalized. You ought to get it done now.”
“How can that be?” the Sethji spoke in philosophical tones. “Who has
ever been immortalized in this world? One who has come in this world must
also leave, whether he is a king or a pauper.”
“What I meant was,” Gobardhan Babu said, “that your name should be
immortalized. You, of course, may die, but your name must live on.”
“Well, it shall live on,” the Sethji responded innocently. “My son will
always write it in the paternity column on contract forms. I’ll also have it
A Fast Unto Death Harishankar Parsai

put on the signboard over the shop.”


“That’s fine,” Gobardhan Babu persisted, “that’s fine. But what I mean
is that you should be immortalized in the public’s eve. The people should
remember you and sing your praises for centuries.”
“Yes, I’d also like that,” Seth Kishori Lal responded. “But how can that
be? I haven’t done anything . . . ”
“You leave that to me,” Gobardhan Babu interrupted. “I have a plan
that will immortalize you and also cost you very little. The corporation has
decided to have a statue of Mahatma Gandhi set up in Azad Park. That
should cost three to four thousand rupees. Now, if you donate the statue,
your name gets engraved on its base. For centuries to come, those who’ll
learn about Gandhiji will also come to know of you. Your name will be
taken in the same breath with Gandhiji’s. People will bow their heads before
it.”
The Sethji fell into a reverie.
“The statue,” Gobardhan Babu pressed on, “will be unveiled by Bhaiya
Sahab. You know who he is. His word is supreme in the Congress party
these days. He can make anyone an MLA, or even an MP. If he’s pleased
with you he’ll get you elected as an MLA in the next elections. He may even
make you a minister. As wise men have said, One should always do what
benefits one in this birth and also the next.”
Seth Kishori Lal could no longer hesitate, “As you wish, Gobardhan
Babu,” he said humbly, “I accept. You get the statue made, I’ll pay for
it.”
The statue was made. Covered with a sheet of cloth, it was placed on a
platform in Azad Park. Gobardhan Babu fixed a time with Bhaiya Sahab for
the unveiling ceremony. He also had a fenced flower garden laid out around
the statue. It had a small gate that faced the front of the statue.
One day before the unveiling ceremony, Gobardhan Babu went to the
park with a stone cutter and instructed him to carve into the base of the
statue, on the side facing the gate, the following words, “Erected during the
tenure and through the efforts of Babu Gobardhan Das.” The man had just
started when seth Kishori Lal arrived.
“What’s going on?” the sethji asked, and took the paper from the stone
cutter’s hand. As he read, his face flushed with anger. “Why are you getting
this carved?” he asked. “Is the statue mine, or yours?”
“It’s yours, that’s true,” Gobardhan Babu replied. “And your name will
also be engraved.”
“Where?” the sethji asked.
“There,” Gobardhan Babu pointed towards the back of the statue,
“there . . . it will be carved there.”

94
Harishankar Parsai A Fast Unto Death

“Oh yes!” the sethji said, with some sarcasm. “The name of the one who
paid for it will be on the back, but the name of the one who didn’t spend a
paisa will be in the front! So when people come through the gate they see
your name first. Hunh?”
Gobardhan Babu tried to reason with him, “After all, sethji, I’m the
chairman of the municipal corporation — the first citizen of the city. I too
have some prestige, don’t I?”
“That I understand very well,” the sethji responded, with some heat.
“You can’t make a fool of me that easily. Now listen. Here, facing the gate,
should be my name. If that’s not done, I’ll take the statue home.”
Gobardhan Babu knew when he was defeated. He had Seth Kishori Lal’s
name carved on the front and his own on the back. The carver had not yet
finished when a man arrived with a letter from Bhaiya Sahab. Gobardhan
Babu smiled as he read it, then he handed it to the sethji. Bhaiya Sahab
had written, “It’s been my experience that often the name of the person who
inaugurates gets carved together with the names of other people. That is
patently wrong. The name of the inaugurator should be the most prominent
and also all by itself. Anyone coming to the site should first see the name of
the person who inaugurated it.”
“Well?” There was a triumphant ring to Gobardhan Babu’s voice. But
the sethji remained firm. “Well what?” he retorted. “Who paid for the
statue, I or Bhaiya Sahab? Put his name there, on the left side of the base.”
And he marched off.
With a heavy heart, Gobardhan Babu had the names carved the way he
had been instructed. The unveiling was to take place in the morning. All
night long, Gobardhan Babu remained busy completing the arrangements.
Tents were put up. Chairs were laid out. The space around the statue
was gaily decorated.
Seth Kishori Lal arrived a bit early and went straight to the statue. What
he saw left him dumbfounded. During the night the gate in front of the statue
had been closed. Instead, a new gate had been constructed facing the statue’s
back. Once again, his name was not the first to be seen.
“Gobardhan Babu!” the sethji shouted. “Please come here.”
Gobardhan Babu came somewhat sheepishly.
“You have again deceived me!” Seth Kishori Lal bellowed. “Is there no
limit to your tricks? Why did you move the gate overnight to the other side?”
Gobardhan Babu tried to soothe him. “You see, one shouldn’t come face
to face with a great person suddenly. The visitors will now approach from
the back, walk around one side and only then step before . . . ”
“But they’ll see your name first!” Kishori Lal interrupted him vehemently.
“Look here, Gobardhan Babu. I won’t let the ceremony take place until my

95
A Fast Unto Death Harishankar Parsai

name is in the front again. If you continue to persist, I’ll simply take the
statue home.”
People had started to arrive. Some of them had sauntered over and
were now listening to the exchange. Just then Bhaiya Sahab’s car arrived.
He walked over to the two luminaries and asked. “What is the problem,
Gobardhan Babu?”
Seth Kishori Lal said, “Bhaiya Sahab, if the gate isn’t moved to the front
of the statue I won’t let the inauguration take place. I’ll start a fast unto
death right here to get justice done.”
Now Gobardhan Babu also became adamant, “No, the gate will remain
where it is. I too will go on an indefinite fast for the sake of justice.”
Bhaiya Sahab grasped the situation. “You’re wrong,” he declared, “both
of you. The gate should face the side where my name is. It is I who have the
most important task to perform here. These hundreds of people have come
here because of me, not because of you. Please move the gate immediately
so it faces my name.”
The conflict became triangular. It was a test for both the sethji and
Gobardhan Babu. But the two remained staunch in their resolve. They said,
“No, that can’t be done.”
When he heard that, Bhaiya Sahab quickly climbed up to the rostrum and
began to address the crowd, “Friends, we’re suddenly faced with a serious
ethical problem. This is the question — whose name should face the gate?
Seth Kishori Lai, Babu Gobardhan Das and your humble servant — each of
us believes that the gate ought to face his name. All three of us are on the
path of Truth. Truth has many faces — this person looks at one face, that at
another. But the question is, whose Truth is supreme? It’s a tough question.
But no question is so difficult that it can’t be resolved through nonviolent
means. And so, the three of us have vowed to go on a fast unto death right
here. We’ll put moral pressure on each other and thus try to bring about a
change of heart. The one who succeeds in changing the hearts of the other
two will have the gate placed facing his name.
”Friends, it’s your duty to immediately set up a Peace Committee. It
should first place marigold garlands around our necks, then arrange to have
ghee lamps lit here. Next it should organize a chorus to sing continuously
that great favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, the Ramdhun. It will also be the
Peace Committee’s job to publicize our fast and keep a watch on us to make
sure that we strictly follow the rules. Most importantly, it should find out
rightaway from each of us the name of the person from whose hands he would
eventually like to receive the orange juice to break his fast. As for me, I have
gone on a fast seventy three times in the past. In no instance did I break my
fast at the hands of anyone lower in rank than that of a chief minister.

96
Harishankar Parsai A Fast Unto Death

“Friends, we three are risking our lives for the sake of Truth and Justice.
We hope that you too will do what is your duty.”
The three fasters settled down under a tent. Garlands were put around
their necks. Ghee lamps were lit. A chorus also started to sing — Sab ko
sanmati de bhagwan . . . Telegrams were sent to spread the news. Newsmen
and photographers began to arrive. Every morning the chairman of the Peace
Committee would go to each of the fasting person and ask, “Sir, has there
been a change of heart in you?”
The answer was always the same, “No. Go, ask the others.” On the
fourth day the condition of the three fasters became serious. Still no one had
a change of heart.
The chief minister arrived on the fifth day. He went directly to the sethji
and whispered in his ear, “Look, if you don’t have a change of heart within the
hour you won’t get the contract to supply uniforms to all the state chaprasis.”
Then he went to Gobardhan Babu and whispered, “Listen, if you don’t
have a change of heart within the hour I’ll suspend the municipal corpora-
tion.”
Very shortly the public heard the news. Both Seth Kishori Lai and Babu
Gobardhan Das had had a change of heart. The two had acknowledged that
the gate should rightly face the side which carried Bhaiya Sahab’s name.
The three stalwarts drank glasses of orange juice. Bhaiya Sahab’s neck was
loaded with marigold garlands.
Such, dear readers, were our brave ancestors. For the sake of Truth and
Justice, they even risked their lives.1

1
“A Fast Unto Death” was originally published in Hindi as “Aamaran Anshan” in 1964.

97
Pulled Down Lamp Posts

One day the raja became so exasperated with all the profiteers that he an-
nounced that he would have every one of them hanged from the nearest lamp
post.1
Next morning, people began to gather near lamp posts. Reverently they
bowed before the posts, performed aarti and put tilak marks on them. They
then waited till evening for the profiteers to be brought and hanged. But
none was.
The people went in a procession to the raja. They said, ”Maharaj, you
had announced that you’ll have the profiteers hanged from the lamp posts,
but the posts stand bare as ever while the profiteers are well and prospering.”
The raja said, ”If I said so then it will happen — they will be hanged
from the posts. But it will take a little time. We need nooses to hang them
with. I have given the orders. As soon as the nooses arrive, I’ll have all the
profiteers hanged from the posts.”
A man stepped forward from the crowd. He said, ”But, maharaj, it’s one
of the profiteers who got the contract to supply the nooses!”
”So what? He’ll be hanged from his own noose.”
A second spoke up. “But he was saying he’s also got the contract to do
the hangings.”
“No, that can’t be,” said the raja. “Hanging is not yet in the private
sector.”
The people asked, “So when will they be hanged?”
The raja replied, “Exactly sixteen days from today you’ll see them hang-
ing from the lamp posts.”
The people began to count the days.
On the sixteenth morning, when the people came out they found all the
lamp posts lying on the ground. They were astounded. There had been no
storm the previous night, nor any earthquake. What caused them to topple
over? They wondered.
1
Profiteers . . . hanged from the nearest lamp post: A famous announcement
by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru.
Harishankar Parsai Pulled Down Lamp Posts

They found a man standing near one of the posts. He told them that the
previous night someone had hired him and several other men to pull down
the lamp posts. The people dragged him to the raja.
“Maharaj,” they complained, “you were going to have the profiteers
hanged from the lamp posts today, but last night all the posts were knocked
down. We have brought this man to you. He says that someone ordered him
to do so.”
The raja turned to the man, “You there, who told you to knock down
the lamp posts?”
The man replied, “Maharaj, the overseer sahab gave the order.”
The overseer was sent for.
The raja asked him, “You know that I had announced to have the profi-
teers hanged from the lamp posts today, don’t you?”
“Yes, maharaj.”
“Then why did you tell this man to knock down all the lamp posts?”
“Because the engineer sahab ordered me to have it done overnight,”
replied the overseer.
The engineer was summoned. He said. “I was ordered by the chief electric
engineer to have all the lamp posts dug out.”
When the CEE was asked for an explanation, he humbly admitted that
he was so ordered by the secretary, Department of Electricity.
The raja asked the secretary if he had ordered for the posts to be knocked
down.
The secretary acknowledged that he had.
“How dare you!” the raja thundered. “Didn’t you know that I intended
to use the posts today to hang the profiteers?”
The secretary said, “Maharaj, it was a question of the safety of the city,
If the posts had not been removed Iast night, the entire city would have been
in ruins today.”
“What made you believe that?” the raja asked. “Did anyone tell you
something?”
“Maharaj, an expert advised me to do so,” the secretary replied. “He said
that if I wanted to save the city I should have all the posts dug up before
dawn.”
“And who’s that expert? Is he someone trustworthy?” the raja asked.
“Absolutely trustworthy, maharaj.” said the secretary. “Someone, in
fact, from my family. My brother-in-law. I’ll bring him to you.”
The expert came. He said, “Maharaj, I’m an expert. I study the earth
and its environment. Through tests I came to know that a huge electric
storm was brewing underground. I also discovered that it must pass under
our city today. You may not feel it, maharaj, but I know that right now

99
Pulled Down Lamp Posts Harishankar Parsai

monstrous electric currents are passing through the ground underneath us.
If our lamp posts had remained in position, that electric surge would have
come above ground through them. It would have then collided with the
power generated by our own stations and caused a horrible explosion. It
would have been as if thousands of lightning bolts had struck the city at
once. Not one person could have escaped alive, not one building could have
survived. I immediately informed Secretary Sahab, who then took the right
action just in time and saved the city.”
The people were dumbfounded. They completely forgot about the prof-
iteers. They were overwhelmed by the terror whose barest image they had
just been exposed to. They cowered with gratitude that their lives had been
saved. Silently they turned around and left.
That week, the following cash deposits were made at a local bank:

In the account of Mrs Secretary — Rs 2 lakh.


In the account of Mrs CEE — Rs 1 lakh.
In the account of Mrs Engineer — Rs 1 lakh.
In the account of Mrs Expert — Rs 25,000.
In the account of Mrs Overseer — Rs 5,000.

The same week, in the account book of the National Profiteers’ Associa-
tion, the following amounts were entered under Charitable donations:

To the Leprosy Hospital — Rs 2 lakh.


To the Widows’ Ashram — Rs 1 lakh.
To the TB Sanatorium — Rs 1 lakh.
To the Mental Hospital — Rs 25,000.
To the Orphanage — Rs 5,000.1

1
“Pulled down Lamp posts” was originally published in Hindi as “Ukhre Khambe.”

100
Shivering Republic

I have seen the Republic Day parade in Delhi four times. I don’t have the
strength to see it a fifth time. Why is it that every time I go to attend the
parade the weather turns awfully cruel? Just before 26 January, it snows in
the hills and a cold wave sets in — clouds gather, it drizzles a few times,
and the sun goes into hiding. Just as Delhi doesn’t have its own economic
policy, it doesn’t have a weather of its own either. Delhi’s economic policy
is established by the International Monetary Fund and the Aid India Con-
sortium. Delhi’s weather is determined by Kashmir, Sikkim, Rajasthan, and
what have you.
I’m not so foolish that I believe it happens only the years I go to see the
parade. Even they who go every year say that on Republic Day the sky is
always sunless and the weather bitterly cold. Why? What’s the mystery?
When there was just one Congress party, I had asked a Congress minister,
“Why is it that the sun remains hidden on every Republic Day? Why can’t
we celebrate the day under a bright sun?”
His reply was, “Be patient. We’re trying to make it come out, but it’s
not easy with such a big sun. It will take time. You should give us at least
a hundred years in power.”
All right, so we give you a hundred years to bring the sun out all the
way. But in the meantime, shouldn’t we be able to see at least a bit of it on
every Republic Day? You’d think the sun was a baby stuck in the horizon’s
womb — one day they’d do a caesarian and suddenly pull it out!
More recently, after the Congress had split, I asked an Indi-cate Con-
gressite. He replied, “In the past, whenever we tried to get the sun out, the
Syndicate people put up some obstacle. Now we promise you we’ll have the
sun out on the next Republic Day.”
A Syndicatewala was close by, eavesdropping. He said, “Their Madam is
in the clutches of the Communists. It’s they who are pushing her to bring
the sun out from behind the clouds. They hope it will be their beloved Red
sun. But we ask, why is it necessary to bring the sun out? Shouldn’t it be
enough just to remove the clouds?”
Shivering Republic Harishankar Parsai

I questioned a bhai from the Samyukta Socialist Party. He replied, “The


sun must act in an anti-Congress way. It has signed — at Dr Lohia’s in-
stance — our party’s membership form. Certainly you don’t expect it to
come out and watch some Congresswala review the parade? Put a non-
Congress man on the reviewing stand, then you’ll see — you’ll have ten suns
shining in the sky.”
I then went to a Jansanghi bhai. He was quite frank. “Had the sun been
secular, it would have shown itself for this party’s parade. You think these
secular people can persuade Bhagwan Amshumali to come out? He shall
shine forth when we come into power.”
The Communists were still more blunt. “Its a CIA conspiracy — the
Seventh Fleet sends these clouds to Delhi every year.”
The Prajatantra Socialist Party bhai, on the other hand, was somewhat
brusque. He said, “It’s a complex issue. Our National Council will come to
a decision in its next meeting. I’ll let you know then.”
I couldn’t get hold of Rajaji, but if I had he would have only said, “Why
complain? At least the stars still come out at night in the Raj.”
I’ll wait. Let the sun come out when it will.

Likewise our Independence Day comes in the middle of heavy rains. The
British were very clever. They gave us freedom in the middle of the rainy
season, then walked away — like the wicked lover who walked off with the
umbrella of his beloved. Now, when she walks to the bus stop in the rain, she
is tortured not so much by the memory of her absent lover as by the thought
of her stolen umbrella.
Our Independence Day gets rained on, our Republic Day comes in shiv-
ering.
I stand watching the parade. My hands are stuffed in the pockets of my
overcoat. The prime minister goes by in an open car, some foreign dignitary
riding with her. The commentator on the radio says, “People are clapping
loudly.” I look around. No one around me is clapping. We all have our hands
stuffed in our pockets. No one wants to expose his or her hands. They might
freeze.
But others do clap even if we don’t. The people seated on the bare ground
clap. They don’t have coats to stuff their hands into. It seems our Republic
Day depends on freezing hands, for only those hands clap in welcome whose
owners don’t have coats to warm them.
Some say, “Poverty should be removed.”
Others respond, “They who make such demands are a threat to democ-
racy.”

102
Harishankar Parsai Shivering Republic

There are floats from every state in the Republic Day parade. They aren’t,
however, truly representative. Our motto is “Satyameva Jayate,” but the
floats tell only lies. They highlight development programmes, folk culture,
history. But surely each state ought to display on its float only that which
made it famous in the preceding twelve months. For example, the Gujarat
float this year should depict the Ahmedabad riots — a burning house, a
child thrown into the flames. Last year I had hoped that the Andhra float
would show some Harijans being burned alive. But it didn’t happen. The
state gained international fame for its riots, but its float displayed small scale
industries! What mendacity! I ask you, is there a better Cottage Industry
in our country than communal riots?
Two years ago, my own Madhya Pradesh tried to come closer to the truth.
On their float they displayed famine relief activities. But, again, that was
only half the truth. That year Madhya Pradesh had gained a name not for
its relief work, but for the malpractice in it. Had I had my way, our float
would have had clerks falsifying muster rolls, paymasters putting their own
thumbprints against thousands of names, and netas, officers and contractors
passing on money to each other. The actual float didn’t come anywhere near
the truth. Then last year our state gained fame on account of the “burlap
incident.” I would have enjoyed a tableau of ministers and civil servants
standing around, munching on pieces of burlap.
As with the floats, so with the public announcements. Every year it is
officially announced, “Socialism is coming.” Well, it has yet to arrive. Where
did it get stuck? Just about every party has promised to bring Socialism,
but it isn’t coming.
I have a dream. Socialism has come — it stands on a hill outside the city.
The people in the city stand ready with aarti trays to welcome it. But the
hill has been surrounded by Socialists of every colour. Each has promised
the people that he would personally lead Socialism by the hand into the city.
Socialism shouts from the hilltop, “Take me to the people.”
The Socialists encircling the hill shout back. “But we must first decide
who will hold your hand and lead you into town.”
Socialism has been gheraoed. There are the Democratic-Socialists of the
PSP and the SSP, there are the Communists of both the People’s Democracy
and the National Democracy, there are the Congressites of the two varieties,
and there are several stalwarts from the Socialist Unity Forum. There are,
of course, the Revolutionary Socialists too. And each of them wants to lead
Socialism by the hand into the city and declare, “Here, I have brought you
Socialism.”
Socialism is bewildered. So are the people. Socialism stands ready to
come, but the Socialists are engaged in fisticuffs. Socialism tries to sneak

103
Shivering Republic Harishankar Parsai

down but is showered with rocks and threats. “Stop right there! Not that
way!” A Socialist grabs its right hand, another its left. They try to pull it in
separate directions. Then other Socialists jump in and pull it free. Socialism
rushes back to the hilltop, badly battered.

In this country, those who champion something are always the ones who
destroy it. Those who demand freedom of expression try to rob the writer of
his freedom. Those who are charged with establishing cooperatives seek to
demolish them. They say, cooperation is of the spirit. They cooperate with
each other — in filling their pockets.
Meanwhile the prime minister has announced. “Socialism is just around
the corner.”
I have another dream. A pronouncement has been made in Delhi, “So-
cialism will soon start on a tour of the country. It will go everywhere. Every
effort should be made to welcome it.”
One secretary remarks to another, “Here comes another VIP. Now we
must make arrangements for it too. What a pain . . . !”
Circulars go out to the collectors in all districts, who forward them to the
senior district officers, and they in turn pass them on to the tehsildars.
A secret memo reaches the police officers — Protect Socialism!
In the head office, the Badé Babu asks the Chhoté Babu, “Arré, Tiwari
Babu, didn’t we get a Government Order about Socialism. You think you
can find it?”
Tiwari Babu looks for the Government Order and brings it over. The
Badé Babu exclaims, “Arré, that Socialism fellow passed through here two
days ago! No one went to the station to meet it! Tiwari Babu, why must
you always sit on files? It’s such a bad habit.”
All the senior officials go to the chief secretary. “Sir, can’t this Socialism
come a bit later? The fact is, we’re unable to make any sort of arrangement
for its protection. Dushehra is not far off. There might be riots. Our entire
force is busy.”
The chief secretary writes to Delhi — “We are unable to provide full
protection to Socialism. Its tour should be postponed for a while.”
A government that misplaces files concerning Socialism’s tour, that can’t
provide it proper protection — if you wish to bring in Socialism with the
help of such a government, go ahead, bring it in. I have no particular ob-
jection. After all, if Socialism eventually comes, not through the efforts of
the people but through the channels of the government, that in itself will be
some historical event.1
1
“A Shivering Republic” was originally published in Hindi as “Thithurta hua
Ganatantra.”

104
Divine Lunatic Mission

India is faced at present with a major question — what should it send to


America next? The Americans have already read the Kamasutra. They
have seen enough yogis, saints and ascetics. Young Americans have enjoyed
marijuana. They have also watched cobras and tigers, and bought antiques
on the Janpath. America has also imported plenty of spiritualism from here.
In return, it continues to ship us wheat. And, of course, there has already
been enough chanting of Haré Rama, Haré Krishna.
Mahesh Yogi, Bal Yogeshwar. Bal Bhogeshwar. They’ve all been there.
Who should it be next? I’m quite patriotic, but I also understand the Amer-
ican. I know he belongs to a Bored society — that is, he’s a bore. His stocks
automatically bring in dollars. His den contains a television set and plenty
of liquor. In the evening, he goes out and says Hi to a few people, but that
doesn’t cure his boriyat1 . No matter how often it bombs Hanoi, America
doesn’t feel exhilarated. America feels the need for something — something
from India.
I worry about America. I’m equally worried about my fellow Indians.
They too need something.
So what should we Indians take next to America, to get dollars there
and bring rupees here? Ravi Shankar bores them. They have had enough of
sadhus and saints. The Americans need something new to end their boriyat
and re-ignite their enthusiasm. They’re, of course, ready to pay in dollars.
I have a modest suggestion — let’s send them a Divine Lunatic Mission
from India. Such a mission has never gone there. It will be something rare —
a Divine Lunatic Mission from India, that is, a mission of spiritual lunatics.
I know. I know. Every American would likely say, “We’ve already seen
one, his name was Krishna Menon.” But our representatives should tell
them, “He was neither divine, nor a lunatic. It’s only now that actual Divine
Lunatics are coming to you from India.”
Spiritual missions often engage in smuggling. But the Government of
1
Boriyat usually means “boredom” but here it is also being used to mean “being a
bore.”
Divine Lunatic Mission Harishankar Parsai

India and ordinary Indians don’t know that. They don’t know that people
are often smuggled into paradise too. It’s done through the Department of
Spiritualism. India is indeed a great country. Here in a village in Gujarat, a
man distributed “holy water” and turned the village into a ruin. You think
we can’t smuggle America into paradise?
Everyone knows about the smuggling of goods, but there is also a kind
of spiritual smuggling. Suppose a man grows a long beard and goes off to
America with a disciple and declares, “I’m one thousand years old. I lived
as an ascetic in the Himalayas for centuries, and have talked to god three
times.” The trusting, and yet doubtful American will ask the disciple, “Is
your guru telling the truth? Is he really a thousand years old?” The disciple
will respond, “I can’t say for sure. I’ve been with him only half that time.”
In other words, the disciple smuggles in five hundred years for his own use.
Now he can open shop independently.
Anyway, I believe we have exported to America everything Indian. Only
one more thing can still be sent. An Indian divine lunatic. That’s why I’m
urging the immediate establishment of an Indian Divine Lunatic Mission.
No doubt, there are far more important people in this country, but I too
wish to serve India. I also wish to remove the boriyat of my American big
brother. Of course, I’m fully aware that even after chanting “Haré Rama,
Haré Krishna” for a thousand years, we still must buy things in the black
market. So what can the Americans hope to obtain in just a few days? But
every rich and pleasure loving society has its own ways of finding peace and
comfort, and if it obtains them from India, why, that only adds to India’s
glory.
Bertrand Russell is said to have remarked that the American society went
from barbarism to decadence, skipping the stage of civilization. But I’ve
nothing to do with Russell. I’m only interested in starting a new international
business.
All over the world. lunatics are simply lunatics. In India, they are divine.
I wish to create a Divine Lunatic Mission, restricted only to those who were
never sent to an asylum. We need them. Only they can properly act as
lunatics. It’s quite easy to act as a yogi. It’s easy even to act as god. But
to act as a lunatic is extremely difficult. Only the really talented can do it.
I already have my sights on a couple of academic friends, and have appealed
to them to join my mission.
The Mission will be formed, I’ve no doubt of it. Our publicity men in
America will announce, See Genuine Indian Divine Lunatics. The news of
our impending arrival in New York will be in the papers. Television cameras
will whirr. Mrs Roberts will ask Mrs Simpson. “Honey, have you seen a
genuine Indian lunatic?”

106
Harishankar Parsai Divine Lunatic Mission

“No,” Mrs Simpson will reply, “is there one in this country?”
“Yes,” Mrs Roberts will tell her, “a mission of Divine Lunatics from India
is arriving in New York. Let’s go and see them. It’ll be a truly spiritual
experience.”
Thousands of people will gather at the airport to have the Mission’s
darshan, to be rid of the boriyat of their daily lives. They will heartily
welcome us by putting garlands around our necks, and set us up in luxury
hotels.
We shall put on for them a show of divine lunacy. The members of our
mission will have been fully trained to act as true lunatics. A ticket to the
show will cost fifty dollars. Thousands of Americans will spend hundreds of
thousands of dollars to watch the Divine Lunatics from India.
As the leader of the Mission, I’ll introduce the show, “We are real Indian
Divine Lunatics. Our rishis and munis declared thousand of years ago that
the way to real internal peace and salvation lies through lunacy.” Then my
companions will perform their lunatic acts. They’ll be showered with dollars.
Our business will flourish.
Those who’d like to join the Mission will be urged to contact me. Our only
condition will be that they shouldn’t really be lunatics. Actual lunatics will
not be accepted — just as actual sadhus are never admitted to membership
in the Sadhu Sabha.
When we return from America, we’ll be felicitated on the Ramlila
Grounds, or perhaps in front of Red Fort. I’ll try to get the prime min-
ister to grace the occasion. But if she’s unable to find time, there are plenty
of leaders, doing penance out in the political wilderness, who are always
available.
Of course, all the smugglers in Delhi will give us their full cooperation.
We’re also having talks with the law enforcement agencies and the cus-
toms services. We hope they too will cooperate in spirit.
There will be a speech at the reception, “This is yet one more grand
victory for Indian spiritualism. Our Divine Lunatics have returned after
giving the world the message of true internal peace and salvation. We are
sure this tradition of Divine Lunacy will continue to flourish in our great
land for ever and evermore.”
Yes, the Divine Lunatic Mission must go to America. Now that the
diplomatic relations between the two countries have significantly improved
it is doubly imperative that we send them a mission of our lunatics.2

2
“Divine Lunatic Mission” was originally published in Hindi as “Divine Lunatic Mis-
sion.”

107
The Days of Gardish

I have sat down to write, but I don’t know what the editor’s intentions are
or what the readers want — why the two wish to peek into the days which
are the writer’s very own and which he has long placed behind a cover. How
should I return to those days of gardish1 which belonged to someone who had
my name — as myself the writer, or in the capacity of that other person?
But in reliving a gardish as a writer and making it manifest to others, there
is release for both. Here I’m not repeating what is said about the separation
between one who experiences and one who creates. But to recall a gardish
or to relive it can also be most dangerous. Once, I had pushed aside the
sharp horns of Time, should I now pull them back towards my breast and
say, “Here, be my guest?”
There was gardish once, long ago. There’s none now, and there won’t be
any in the future — that’s utter nonsense. The continuum of gardish is still
with me. I’m sensitive and extremely restless. I can never be at peace. For
me, gardish is destiny.
But I have plenty of memories. Perhaps the readers’ interest lies in finding
out what the life has been like of this man who is called Harishankar Parsai —
who laughs, is full of zest, and can be quite sharp and bitter. When did he
meet a fall? When did he rise again? How did he break apart? What pieced
him together again — this man who is so harsh and pitiless, so cantankerous.
Typically, my sharpest memory of childhood is of plague. It was 1936 or
37 and I was probably in class eight. The plague raged in our small rural
town, and most people had abandoned their homes and fled to live in huts
in the jungle. Our family hadn’t. Ma was terribly sick. We couldn’t take
her to the jungle. In our desolate, silence-struck neighbourhood, only our
house showed any trace of life. Dark nights and their only light — a tiny
candle in our home. And I was scared of candles. Even the town’s stray dogs
1
It is difficult to find an exact equivalent in English of Gardish. Gardish, literally “a
circular movement.” means trouble or travail as brought about by the “turning” of the
heavens. The word implies persistence and repetition as well as the transitoriness of any
grief or pain. In other words, calling your troubles gardish is not bleak fatalism.
Harishankar Parsai The Days of Gardish

had disappeared. In the overwhelming stillness of those nights even our own
voices frightened us. But every evening we’d sit near our dying mother and
sing the aarti — Om jai jagadisha haré. Bhakt jano ke sankat pal mein dur
karé . . . In the middle of the song, Pitaji would start sobbing, Ma would
burst into tears and pull us children to her breast, and we too would start
crying. This happened every day. Late at night, Pitaji, Chachaji, or some
other relative, would pick up a spear or staff and walk the perimeter of the
house to keep watch. Then, one such terrifying night, Ma passed away. We
raised loud howls of pain and grief. Suddenly some stray dogs appeared
outside to lend support.
Among the five brothers and sisters, I alone understood what Ma’s death
meant — I was the eldest.
Those dark nights of plague have sunk deep into my heart. It would take
too many pages to give a full measure of the terror and despair that filled our
lives then. None of us was broken — except Pitaji. He was devastated. He
lived on for a few more years but was continuously sick, despondent, scared
of himself. Soon his business closed. Now we had only his meagre savings
and our household goods to live on. Everyone was waiting for me to finish
high school. I knew Pitaji too was about to go. Despite his ill health, he
managed to get one of my sisters married. What a terrible occasion that
was! I understood, of course, that he was only trying to lighten my burden.
But there were still two sisters and one brother to be looked after.
I began preparing myself. I was always a big reader, a big eater, and a
big sportsman. In books and sports I’d forget everything. Then I finished
high school and found a job in the forestry department. I even lived in the
forest, in a little hut provided by the government. My bed was made of bricks
and boards, but the ground underneath it was hollow with rat tunnels. The
rats scurried around noisily all night long, but I always managed to get my
sleep. I used to wake up if one of them ever climbed on top of me, but would
immediately go back to sleep. I spent six months among those boisterous
rats.
Poor Parsai?
No, no. I was enjoying myself too much. Hard work all day long. A
long walk in the jungle at dusk. Then a hearty meal prepared with my own
hands — pure ghee and fresh milk!
But the rats did me a great favour. They taught me an excellent habit. In
subsequent life I have had other rats — even a few snakes — scurrying around
me, but I have always managed to lie down on my bricks and boards and get a
good night’s sleep. I have been bitten all right, not just by rats — frequently
some human-faced snake or scorpion has also made me its victim — but I
have always had with me that perfect antidote I obtained long ago. No, I

109
The Days of Gardish Harishankar Parsai

have never allowed any occasion for “Poor Parsai!” From that young age I
have felt extreme disgust for false pity. Even now, when I encounter someone
making a big display of sympathy I feel like slapping him in the face. I have
to struggle to control myself.

Next came a school job, followed by a training course at a teachers college.


Pitaji was close to death. My younger brother had to drop out of school to
look after him. The two younger sisters had been sent to stay with their
married sister — and there I was, going myself to school to be a teacher!
Then came a second job search. By now I had developed a new talent.
I travelled on trains without a ticket. From Jabalpur to Itarsi, to Timarni
and Khandwa, to Indore and Devas, and back to Jabalpur — innumberable
trips in search of a job. I had no money. When my train would come I’d
fearlessly climb aboard — ticketless. I had learned many ways of not getting
caught and if ever some ticket-checker caught me I’d speak to him in proper
English and tell him my woeful tale. The use of English never failed to have
its effect. They always said, “Let’s help the poor boy.”
The second skill I learned was to borrow money. Again without any fear,
I could ask anyone for a loan. In fact, I’m good at it even now.
The third thing I learned was to have no care — an attitude of what-
ever will be, will be. No matter what happens, it’ll always be for good.
I had an aunt — desperately poor, life filled with gardish, but possessing
immense energy to survive. Come cooking time, the daughter-in-law would
say to Bua, “Bai, what shall I cook? We have neither dal nor vegetables.”
Bua would reply. “Not to worry,” and march out of the house. Strolling
around the neighbourhood she’d soon notice some vine spread over some-
one’s thatched shed and shout to the owner, usually a woman of her own
age, “Arré Kaushalya, your turais look nice. How about a couple for me?”
Then, without even waiting for a reply, she’d herself pick a few. Returning
home, she’d say to the daughter-in-law, “Here cook these — just be sure to
add extra water.” I would often visit her, worn out from my futile wander-
ings, and she’d say to me, “Not to worry. Here, sit down and have something
to eat.”
That favourite phrase of hers became my strength — “Not to worry!”

I went to Hoshangabad and asked the education officer for a job. As


usual, I was disappointed, and had to trudge back to the railway station to
wait for the train to Itarsi. My pockets were empty. The one rupee I had
earlier, had fallen out somewhere. I could get to Itarsi ticketless, but how
was I to feed my hunger? This was during the time of the Second World
War and trains were running very late. My stomach was empty I repeatedly

110
Harishankar Parsai The Days of Gardish

tried to fill it with water. Finally I lay down on a bench. Fourteen hours
passed. Then a poor peasant family came and sat down nearby. They had
some melons with them in a basket. By then I was ready to become a thief.
The man started to slice a melon. I remarked, “The melons look good. Must
be from your own field.” He said, “It’s all Ma Narmada’s blessings. They’re
sweeter than sugar. Here, see for yourself,” and gave me two big slices. I
devoured them, barely leaving any rind to throw away, then topped off with
tap water. Just then my train arrived and I scrambled aboard through a
window.
Finally a job came through, at the government school in Jabalpur — but
who had the train fare to get there? The newly appointed Master Sahab
wrapped up his few clothes in a durrie and got on the train without a ticket.
That bundle, however, made me feel more vulnerable. Then I discovered
that a man sitting near me was the khansama of the collector at Jabalpur.
We started talking. I found him quite likeable. When Jabalpur came near, I
told him my problem. He said, “Don’t worry. Give me your bundle. I’ll wait
for you outside. You just pretend to look for drinking water and get yourself
near the fence where the hand pump is. Nearby there is a gap in the fence
where some bars have been twisted. You can easily sneak through.” I did
as he had told me. He was indeed waiting for me outside. I recovered my
bundle and set off on foot for the city, confident that I’d find someone who’d
give me shelter for a few days. By then I was well-versed in surviving amidst
uncertainty.
I found it delightful, that first day of being a proper “Mas’sahab.” But
only a day or two after receiving my first salary I also got the news of Pitaji’s
death. I sold Ma’s few remaining ornaments for his final rites, then, shoul-
dering my responsibilities as best I could, set out on life’s long journey, secure
only in the knowledge that I still had a job.

Why did I describe in such detail the gardishes of that phase in my life?
There were many gardishes later too. They occur even now. Surely there
will be some in the future also. But the gardishes of young age have their
own significance. They have a profound effect on the future development of
any author’s thought and personality.
As I have said, I’m emotional, sensitive and restless by nature. A normal
person would have taken care of his responsibilities sedately and also worked
out some way to get along with the world. He could even have found some
satisfaction in spending his life as a faceless toiler.
That didn’t happen with me. Responsibilities, a past full of pain and
now, total exposure to the relentless attacks of the world. In the midst of all
this, the biggest issue before me was how to preserve my individuality and

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The Days of Gardish Harishankar Parsai

thought. Then, I hadn’t even dreamt of becoming a writer one day. Even
so, I wanted to protect my individual self.
I told myself, Parsai, don’t be afraid of anyone. The moment you feel
scared, you die. Harden yourself outside, no matter how you feel inside.
Bear your responsibilities in an irresponsible manner. If you try to bear
them responsibly you’ll surely destroy yourself. Also, you won’t lose your
individuality if you were to step out of yourself and join others. You might
even gain something. Come out of yourself. Look, understand, and laugh!
I became fearless. Even when I was being dishonest I didn’t feel scared.
And because I didn’t let any fear touch me, I lost jobs, benefits, positions,
rewards. As for being irresponsible, this is how bad I was. On the way home
to have one of my sisters married I managed to get my pocket picked on
the train. So I got off at the next station, had a good meal, then sat down
carefree on a bench, confident that something was bound to happen to get
me out of my predicament. It did. Of course, I had to toil and suffer for it.
That pitch dark night, in a heavy downpour, I walked with a pujari all the
way to my married sister’s village and back. Then I had to run around some
more. Eventually, help arrived and the wedding was performed.
Now I wonder how did the author in me come forth in the midst of such
happenings? At first, I was totally engrossed in my own troubles. Man can
find happiness even in convincing himself — and making others believe it
too — that he’s inflicted with troubles. A lot of people find satisfaction in
hearing themselves described as pitiable. In the beginning, I too felt that
way. But then I realized — how could I be pitiable when so many around
me are much worse off? How could my struggle compare with the more
formidable struggles going on all around me?
I must have taken up writing as a way to fight the world. I saw in it a
way to protect my individuality. In other words, I started writing in order
to save myself from becoming faceless. That’s how it was, I think. That’s
how it must have been then.
But I soon freed myself from this fascination with the sorrows of just
one individual, me. I expanded myself. There were others too besieged with
trouble. Many others too had suffered injustice. Victims of exploitation were
countless. I was only one of them. And I had a pen in my hand and was rich
with ideas.
That’s when the satirist must have been born. I must have thought —
No tears. Fight back. Fight with whatever weapon you find in your hands.
I then began a systematic study of history and society, politics and culture.
Simultaneously, I shaped for myself an odd and difficult persona and, with
utmost deliberateness, set about writing satires.
But salvation doesn’t come to the solitary. One can’t separate oneself

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Harishankar Parsai The Days of Gardish

from the rest or find good for oneself alone. Man feels restless — to obtain
salvation, to gain happiness, to find justice. But this enormous battle cannot
be fought alone. Only that person, who has no battle to fight, feels happy
in being solitary. His is a different tale. As for me, I see countless people
who look happy and wonder, how come they’re happy? No question or doubt
arises in their minds. They only make infrequent complaints. Complaining
too gives them pleasure. They feel that much happier for it. Kabir has said,

The world is happy, it eats and sleeps.


Unhappy is Kabir, he’s awake and weeps.

The crying of the one who is awake never ends. The gardish of the satirist
doesn’t end either.
My newest gardish — I recently tortured myself for a political seat. Some-
one had me believe that I’d be nominated to the Rajya Sabha. A month of
gardish ensued. I’m not in the habit of conspiring. It feels like death to me if
I have to send my chit in and then wait outside some door. More valiant men
can sit like that for months and feel no mortal threat, but I can’t. So the last
few months were of just such gardish. Of course, Profit doesn’t just walk over
to your door and knock. One has to cajole and supplicate it. When Profit
clears its throat you must extend your palm to receive the spit. I suffered a
lot. I underwent much gardish.
There is yet another gardish for any writer like me. If he fails to put into
words the storm he feels raging inside him, he goes through a torture that is
unending and remorseless. It becomes a time of extreme gardish, of the kind
only another maker can understand.
I have a long memory of gardishes. But the truth is that no day is free of
gardish, nor does gardish have an end. It’s another matter that, for purely
decorative purposes, we might select or highlight a few choicest gardishes,
that we might put make-up on them, teach them a few beguiling tricks —
the livelier a gardish the better it is — then tell the reader, “Here, brother,
look at my gardish.”2

2
“The Days of Gardish” was originally published as “Gardish ke Din” in 1971–72.

113
Biographical Notes

Harishankar Parsai, the noted satirist and humorist of modern Hindi lit-
erature, is known for his simple and direct style. His satires deal mostly
with the absurdities and hypocrisies of socio-political life. Parsai was born
at Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh in 1924. After completing his MA, he started
his career as a teacher but gave that up to become a free lance writer. His
writings include Hanste Hain Rote Hain, Tat Ki Khoj, Tab Ki Baat Aur Thi,
Jwala Aur Jal, Bhut Ke Panv Piche, Rani Nagphani Ki Kahani, Jaise Unke
Din Phire, Beimani Ki Partein, Sadachar Ka Taviz, Aur Ant Mein, Aisa
Bhi Socha Jata Hai. He received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his satire
Viklang Shradha Ka Daur in 1982. He died in 1985.

C M Naim teaches at the University of Chicago in the Department of South


Asian Languages and Civilizations. He hails from Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh
and received his education in India and the United States. He has published
stories, poetry and criticism and has also translated numerous modern Urdu
poets and short story writers. He is a former editor of the Journal of South
Asian Literature, and the Annual of Urdu studies. His translation of Zikr-e-
Mir, the autobiography of Mir, one of Urdu’s foremost poets, was published
in 1999.

Vishnu Khare is a Hindi poet, critic, translator and columnist. He has


more than fourteen works to his credit.

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