Ganesh sat in the office waiting for the former Gramsevak. The government had given a grant and had got a nice office constructed in the ground where the weekly bazaar was held every Thursday. Ganesh could not start work until he officially took charge from the previous Gramsevak. Just then he sensed someone at the door. He looked up.
So, the former Gramsevak seemed to have arrived.
He waited for him to come in. But for a long time no one came in. Once again staring at the walls Ganesh waited for the Gramsevak. Again, he saw a movement at the door.
Some villager must have come on work.
Bastards, I have not yet taken charge and already people have started coming....
“Who is it?” Ganesh raised his voice and called out from his seat.
“It’s me, Sir. Pandu.”
“Look! I have joined just today. I haven’t even taken charge of my work. Come tomorrow.”
“No, Sir. I am the peon here.”
“Peon? But when I arrived to take charge I was told that no one else was here.”
“No.. it is not like that..Sir”
He came near like a dog wagging its tail and walking towards its master.
“How come, Kharade Saheb hasn’t yet come?” Ganesh asked.
“He’ll be coming now, Sir. He has to come from his village. As such, at times, he is delayed.”
“Delayed? He was supposed to be here in the morning. It is already past noon and he has not yet come.”
“He’ll come, Sir. At times, things like this do happen.”
“And where do you stay?” Ganesh asked.
“Just on the other side. I heard movement in the office. I thought that Kharade Saheb had come. Then, I met Sarpanch on the way. He told me that the new Saheb has come.”
It was clear that there was no fixed time for the former Gramsevak to come to the office. Ganesh did not say anything.
Once again he looked into his watch impatiently.
“Shall I get you some tea, Sir?”
“Tea? Is there a hotel nearby?”
“No, Sir ”
“Then, from where would you get the tea?”
“I’ll get it from a neighbour… from someone.”
“Who can dare to take money from you, Sir ?”
“But how can we … how can we take anything free of charge, without paying?”
“Sir , the public here is a fool. It will not accept money even if we force it into their hand … then why should we bother? Whether it is free or not?” He held out a hand to Ganesh expecting Ganesh to clap on it in appreciation of his wit.”
Ganesh looked at his soiled clothes and sweaty body and drew back the hand that he was about to give him an appreciative clap. Obviously the peon was trying to make him open up and feel free.
Once again there was a movement at the door. Ganesh and Pandu looked up. At last, Kharade Saheb had come. Kharade Saheb was in white pyjama and a coloured silk shirt, his face was oily, the thinning hair that was heavily oiled were still dark.
So, at last Kharade Saheb had arrived.
“Namaskar, Sir,” Pandu greeted him.
Ignoring Pandu’s greeting, Kharade Saheb spat red betel leaf juice on a wall in the corner.
“What could I do? I left home in the morning itself. But managed to reach here only now, in the afternoon,” Kharade Saheb said looking at Ganesh and sitting in a chair.
Ganesh merely gave a weak smile. He knew that instead of dwelling on the subject of his arriving late, the task of handing over the charge would be completed soon, if he straight away plunged into the work. Otherwise it could easily take another day.
“How much time it would take to take over the charge?”
“You see Ganeshrao, it would not take much time for me to hand it to you. It’s just a matter of five minutes. But it is up to you to decide, how much time you would need to take it,” Kharade Saheb said, chuckling at his own wit. He stretched his legs under the table.
Pandu came nearer and he handed his bag to him. Pandu kept the bag in a door-less cupboard built in the wall nearby. There were several more papers in the cupboard catching dust. In a corner there was a steel almarah.
Perhaps all files must have been stored in it.
Ganesh was thinking. Seeing that Kharade Saheb did not show any sign of starting the work, Ganesh suggested, “Shall we begin?”
“Have patience, Saheb. What’s the hurry? First let us have some tea and then we can start our work. Have you ever seen government works getting finished so quick …. Of course, you are new … but slowly you’ll get used to it. When I was new, I too was like you. But shall I tell you something … earlier I used to become very angry .. at the government employees …I had decided to change the entire system,.. but, look, I had started to change the system and it was the system that changed me… “ Kharade Saheb rambled.
Ganesh heard him out silently. He knew that there was no use saying anything. It would have only added to the delay.
“Hey Pandya …go and get tea from Shantabai,” Kharade Saheb ordered. Pandu quickly ran out. Kharade Saheb moved his chair to a more comfortable position. “So… will you be living here or daily make up and down trips?” Kharade Saheb asked
“Sarpanch has given me a room here.”
“Is that so? Sarpanch is very generous.”
Kharade Saheb looked around to see that no one was within hearing distance. Then he leaned over Ganesh and said, “One personal thing … I want to give you a sincere advice… “
Ganesh waited to find out what Kharade Saheb’s sincere advice was.
“People here .. are very bad… Don’t get involved with them… Here, it is best to keep to our self. … If you advice one, another pounces on you … If you bring another one closer, third becomes angry… the village is very bad. In my entire career I have not seen any other village that is so bad,” Kharade Saheb kept telling him.
Ganesh had no interest in listening to Kharade Saheb’s chatter. He was anxious to take charge as quickly as possible.
“I think all files must be in this almarah, are they?” Ganesh again tried to raise the original issue.
Kharade Saheb did not answer him. Once again he got up, spat out a stream of betel and tobacco in a corner and returned.
“You must be keeping the almarah keys with you…” Ganesh said trying to hasten things.
“What Sir … You are in such a great hurry .. But in a government office such sincerity is of no use … Such sincerity only fetches us trouble… I am saying this out of my experience .. If you want I can give you in writing… “
Ganesh was at a loss to know how to handle this person. He was getting irritated and was also amused. But there was no use getting annoyed. Laughing also would not have helped. It would have further spoilt matters. At last Ganesh decided to go along with Kharade Saheb’s mood even if it took a couple of days more. Even otherwise what alternative did he have? As Kharade Saheb went on chattering Ganesh got immersed in a different world where he was able to hear Kharade Saheb’s chatter but was neither annoyed nor amused.
(to be contd ..)
Original Novel by Sunil Doiphode
English Version by Anil Ekbote